It was a typical Wednesday. Or was it? I found myself heading over to the WSO2 office at Palm Grove. Why you ask? Well it’s simple. It’s the UX Colombo Meetup. Well, the 5th one to be a bit more precise. I walked into the hall to find a bunch of familiar faces along with some new ones too. Taking my seat, I was greeted to some catchy tunes played over the sound system. It helped freshen the mood especially as is was a long day at work.
Anyhoo, on to the event. The topic for the day was typography.
The first speaker for the day was Pathum Egodawatta, a graphic designer whose work revolves around fonts. He started off his session by explaining that one can have all tools at their disposal, but if you can’t use them for the work at hand, they’re pretty useless. He then got down to the brunt of the matter; Sinhala web fonts.
Most Sinhala fonts are more or less based on one of the very few actual fonts available and are just rebranded and slightly modified. These are then repackaged as a new font with the new developers name as the font name. Pathum also talk about Pushpananda Ekanayake and the FM Abhaya font which was originally released in 1997. According to Pathum’s research Sri Lankan newspapers for example, utilize 1 of 26 predesigned fonts. These fonts however, are non-standard ASCII fonts rather than Unicode and thus cannot be indexed or searched for in websites.
Technologies such as translation, transliteration, text to speech and handwriting recognition, have come a long way, especially with regard to Sinhala. But when developers use ASCII based fonts rather than Unicode, you end up with basically the same system font, spread across all websites.
Recently though, people have switched from ASCII to Unicode. Statistics have shown a steady increase in the use of our native language in Sri Lanka, especially with regard to the previous presidential elections. Pathum used India as an example where approximately 120 million people can read English in India and are also proficient enough to use the internet. An additional 5 million people obtain access to the Internet each month but here’s the catch. They cannot speak English, but rather they expect content to be delivered to them in their native language.
Web fonts are an essential part of providing a good UX. Pathum repeatedly stated the importance of switching to Unicode fonts as opposed to ASCII. The logic being profoundly simple. Technologies such as text-to-speech and translation cannot decipher ASCII and therefore will not work with these technologies.
To design a proper Sinhala font, a developer needs at least a minimum of 700 individual characters including consonant modifiers. To carry it off properly though, one needs at least 1500 characters.
Pathum went on to say that most Sinhala fonts were basically done by a bunch of developers who went crazy with fonts and started developing them with no rhyme or reason. These were developed without consulting others with regard to how the characters should actually look but rather focused on aspects such as character spacing and making the font compatible on other devices. He also said that FM Abaya, the original Sinhala font is illegal to use in documents and that anyone using said font on their website/s can and will be sued by the original developer.
Pathum also spoke a bit about the “Stick No Bills” font. The font is used across all major signboards and road signs across Sri Lanka. The initial drawings of the font were developed by Martyn Hodges for uppercase and numerals with mooniak revamping it and adding a lowercase design as well.
Pathum’s session drew to a close and he was handed a token of appreciation courtesy of Calcey Technologies. Next up we were treated to a guitar wielding Chandima Nuwan Kumara of 99XT who’s dulcet tones set the audience’s toe-a-tapping.
The first half of the session drew to a close and we headed to the kitchenette of WSO2 for refreshments. We also took the time to delve over how the massive aquarium at WSO2 is kept clean. We suspect that the fish are given standard issue brooms to clean up after themselves (we think there’s fairy involvement too).
The second session began with Marlin Jayakody, UI/UX Lead at ExcelSoft (Pvt) Ltd talking about Leading UX and how to lead UX team.
People with positive energy tend to work better.
“Focus on the positive energy of the team”, Marlin says. He also advices people who deal with UX and UI teams to keep an eye out. If you feel that your team is not performing up to the mark, it may be due to a lack of positivity.
In the event of a crisis or deadlines, always remain calm. That was his next piece of advice. In a blatant 80’s pop culture reference, Marlin uses Darth Vader with the words “Keep calm and use the force”.
He also spoke about the Gibbs reflective cycle; a cycle of steps to take when faced with a critical situation. The included steps revolve around things like a description of what happened, the feelings you have about the issue, an evaluation and analysis of the issue and its resolution, a final analysis and a action plan.
His next point was about avoiding or rather not paying attention to distractions. You can’t avoid helping a person. It’s the human side of us to help those in need, but at the end of the day, if you let that affect your workflow, then it’s a distraction.
Stand up for what you believe. Another good point to always remember. Just like Bob Marley said, we should always get up and stand up for your rights. It can also be taken as standing up for what you believe in. If you feel that a certain element of an application should be in another color for example, then show the developers why it should be so.
Being an active listener is also a trait that a team leader should cultivate. Pay attention to your team members. More often than not, they will approach you with personal issues that they have, so you should show that you’re listening and provide adequate feedback.
In addition, Marlin spoke about more serious elements such as measuring the overall performance of a UX team. Deploying tools such as Qualitative UX KPI and Quantitative UX KPI, you can figure out for yourself to know when to tradeoff and maintain balance.
Marlin’s session drew to a close with him too being presented a token of appreciation courtesy of Calcey Technologies.
The final vote of thanks was delivered and with everything done, we wrapped up, signed off and headed home.