fffunction

fffunction is a web design and development agency with a focus on user experience. We live and breath the user-centred approach throughout our design process to create beautiful websites that are easy to use and achieve our clients' needs.

We are far from a ‘typical’ web agency. Our small team has a diverse background and collectively over fifty years experience working with the web. Besides our expertise, we each have skills that cross disciplines to ensure that our entire process flows smoothly and nothing is missed. We work with the most appropriate techniques for each of our projects – typically producing responsive websites with the latest web standards and a maintainable, scalable codebase.

We are split across two locations in the South West of England – Bristol & Penryn – and we work with clients globally. We work on a variety of different projects with companies of varying sizes. We value working for good causes and nice people.

In short, we do good work for good people.

By the way, our name stands for ‘form follows function’ – but you can call us ‘function‘.

fffunction can be found on Twitter @fffunction.

Published Thoughts

I was recently asked by a friend who's son had dropped out of his degree at Sheffield University for some advice as he was seriously thinking about moving from a physics degree to web programming. This got me thinking about the cost of a computer science degree over a web programming degree and then my mind moved onto wether I would advise doing an under graduate degree at all.

There is a rise in independent programming schools opening up on both sides of the pond. Most noticeably for me is the Iron Yard, started in Greenville - South Carolina, it now has many schools across the USA. They used to offer a guaranteed job at the end of the course, but maybe that proved a little difficult as they have grown.

My advice to my friend was eventually quite simple, $12000 for an intensive 12 week course on programming plus flights, living and accommodation - £10,000 could cover it for those 12 weeks. And an amazing experience would be had, life skills would be learnt and jobs would become available.

Compare that to a debt of £30,000+ after doing a degree, I can't help but think that the opportunity to spend some time in the USA and gain an education, that will allow him to gain meaningful employment straight away is a no-brainer.

So why are these schools starting up? The obvious facts are that a degree course is three years long, so at the time of writing they can become out of date very very quickly. Are educators able to pivot quickly enough when the landscape changes? This then got me thinking about designers and the Unicorn Institute, kickstarted by Jared Spool and Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman. Would I advise friends to send their kids to an independent design school?

I would say that if someone was looking to get into User Experience design then the Unicorn institute would be an amazing place to study, but does it trump a bachelors design degree? The cost of a unicorn education is $59,000 around £40,000. A degree will set you back around £35,000 for three years education over the two years at the Unicorn Institute.

At fffunction we provide sessions with the third year graphic design students at Falmouth University. Teaching them design processes that they otherwise may not get to see until they are released into the working world.

These sessions mainly serve as ways to teach students the way we would tackle design problems on a real live project. Show them the methods we use and how we start to understand our customers needs and those of their users. We don't touch any code, we keep away from visual design too - these sessions are all about understanding problems and getting started on that user experience journey.

All of the students we see, have the ability to solve problems, they are being taught how to be good designers. What we achieve is the ability to show the students that the skills and knowledge they already have as young designers is what we do in our day jobs. What we have, that they don't, is the knowledge and understanding of the methods and processes which allow us to successfully start to think about users, empathise with them and start the research process.

Falmouth has recently decided to stop running its digital media course. This sounds crazy at first read. Digital is where the world is at. But I am guessing that they just can't keep up with the changing landscape in technology and prefer to focus on creating successful designers. Individuals who know how to solve problems. It's then left up to the employers to get these individuals up to speed with the tools that they use to get the job done. Alternatively keen students will teach themselves to do the bits the course isn't teaching them.

I think if you are going to do one thing well then creating designers is the best way to go. The question is then, can they create successful web designers who don't truly understand the technology that goes behind the designs? Whilst studying and solving design problems, I think so. Plus these skills can be learn't relatively quickly on the job or in spare time outside of university hours.

Universities will struggle to keep up with the likes of the Makers Academy in London, when teaching technical skills. Though I am not suggesting that these alternative courses are the equivalent to completing a computer science degree. But if one was looking to get into meaningful employment programming on the web, I would still advise my friend to convince his son to sign up to the Iron Yard. With £10,000 in his pocket he will learn a new language that will allow him to gain employment quickly and have a wonderful experience at the same time.

I would also encourage designers to go to design school and spend three years immersing themselves in design theory. Meeting other designers and being creative. But also be sure to get some of those technical skills under their belts as soon as they possibly can.

How playing video games is influencing my design thinking

Many of my teenage years were made up of playing video games. My education and other social activities fell by the way side as I spent most of my time connected to the virtual world. I wasn’t necessarily addicted but I could quite easily play a game for 8–12 hours straight. As I got older other priorities muscled their way in. I began to spend more time on my university degree and less playing games. Then upon starting work, less again, until I played no games at all. Recently I have got back into video games. I don’t play as much as I did in my teenage years but I do spend a significant amount of my spare time playing games. The key here being spare time, it’s now something I only do if I have down-time.

I now have a completely different mind set when it comes to games, my game choices haven’t changed but the way I view them has. Playing games was always an enjoyable way to pass time, giving me the opportunity to be transported into another world. I could become immersed in a way that I never could in a film. Now I have a more analytical approach to playing games seeing not only the current mission but the design choices made behind the game. This started with my trip to Lionhead Studios where I did work experience to test a game called Fable 2. I played the same part of the game over and over again, reporting bugs and offering suggestions. This was the first time I saw another side of the video games industry.

I began to admire the finer details of video games, from the moment you are introduced to the game to the intricacies of the mechanics that leave you with a lasting positive experience, which encourages you to play more. Having studied design, and from working in the web industry, I began to view video game design as I would a website. This then lead me to think how the design choices in video games has potentially influenced my thinking in designing for the web.

One factor to a games success which is often overlooked is its user interface. Without a well thought out and easy to use UI a game can become frustrating to play, even if it has a great story or a good combat system. If navigating the various menus and HUD isn’t intuitive then the rest of the game suffers as a result. The same could be said for apps and websites, when navigating the product isn’t clear then the whole experience can fail, no matter what other great systems are in place.

Video games a are great way of seeing how creative you can get with a user interface without hindering the experience. Destiny is a prime example of this, it has a very clean and simple UI which uses a cursor to navigate the screen (this is not a standard convention for video game consoles).

Destiny UI - Courtesy of The Destiny Blog
Destiny UI - Courtesy of The Destiny Blog

This design invites the user to explore and discover the areas of the interface, using subtle effects and transitions to create delight while navigating. Yet it doesn’t hinder the experience of the game as the options available to you at any one time are limited. Overloading the design with options would ruin its intended purpose of exploration. It’s a great example of an effective way to encourage the user to take a journey through your product, leaving the experience of discovery with them.

Could this approach have the same effect with apps and sites? I believe so. We are always looking at ways to encourage our users to take a journey of exploration and discovery through our products. Why not look at a system that already achieves this? Yes the web has different restrictions to video game design that sets it apart, but the thinking is already in place. We just need to find a creative solution to applying this design thinking to other disciplines of interactive design.

I have only scratched the surface and plan to explore this idea further, looking at other areas of game design. Hopefully this encourages you to play video games and see how it could influence your decision making with other areas of design.

by Ben Darby — @ben_m_darby

Nothing Gold can stay

Design is problem solving. We’ve all heard that rhetoric by now. And I’m sure we all agree.

Great, end of article then? Everyone get on with your day.

But after hearing this phrase over and over, I suppose I got to wondering.

When and why does something actually become a problem?

Problems aren’t problems (before they become problematic)

For something to have become a problem, chances are at some point it wasn’t one at all. Somewhere since however, things got complicated.

Just look at Language as an example of a design system that’s constantly solving new problems.

Everyday words take on new meaning (just look at how many meanings in English there are for the word ‘Sound’). Nouns become Verbs (as Stephen Fry succinctly puts it, just look to Shakespeare, who made a doing-word out of a thing-word, every chance he got) and countless Neologisms are created along the way. Language spots, reacts and adapts to problems.

It’s the ultimate system design. Bound by complex rules, yet able to flex, jam, borrow, steal and re–purpose itself again and again to meet the needs of an ever changing environment.

And it is never finished.

Designing in the flat–circle

As things change, there will be problems. Of that there is no doubt. This is where the decline begins.

Nothing Gold Can Stay...

To paraphrase Chuck Palahniuk (by way of Edward Norton). “On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everything drops to zero”. Or to put it another way. “Everything eventually turns to shit”.

One of our challenges as designers is pushing against this tide of inevitability. To improve and keep on improving, something that can always be better.

Our job is never done, and nothing will ever be perfect. Get over it.

Instead we must strive to keep spotting and solving the problems (as and when they arise) and do our level best to keep pushing against that flow of the inevitable decline.

Mr Anderson...

Work/life balance isn’t just about going surfing

I see lots of folks talking about how as employers they offer a good work/life balance. But they often lean towards leisure: going for a team ride at lunchtime (thus enabling the obligatory gorgeous bikes in the studio hallway pics), enjoying Friday beers on the roof terrace, knocking off early when the surf’s up (a common one with employers local to me).

Those things are all great but work/life balance has a less glamorous side: having to deal with all the day-to-day things and the shit that life throws at us. We might have to stay home to receive a parcel, take a couple of hours out to get the car MOTd, look after a sickly infant for three days when there are no other childcare options. Sometimes our beloved pets get sick, sometimes they die. Sometimes the same happens with friends or relatives. Maybe we have to spend more than normal on the phone for a few days trying to get tradespeople to even get back to us to give us a quote.

It’s difficult to sell yourself to clients and employees on stuff like this. You’d struggle to get a beautiful promo video made (with super shallow depth of field and corresponding focus pulls, natch) to showcase your commitment to helping everyone deal with the mundane. But it’s important and it counts. Yes, draw up policies and guidelines if you must. For me it’s about accepting, demonstrating and defending some simple give and take to employees and clients alike.

By Dan Goodwin - @bouncingdan

What you see is all you get

I am relatively new to front end development and with every task I take on I am learning something new. I am experiencing a series of eureka moments which are intoxicating and motivating in equal measure. Having come from an almost exclusively print design background, when crossing the road to digital I was faced with a choice. Namely, to code or not to code.

There are a number of wysiwyg (What you see is what you get) website editors now on the market from Adobe Muse to Macaw and as some one who’s primary tool has been InDesign for many years now, wysiwyg initially seemed like a tempting path. I mean what’s better than designing a site as if it is a print document and getting an application to translate it into browser ready code? Why would anyone risk getting their hands dirty by going under the hood?

The primary reason I chose to pay the iron price and learn how this stuff actually fits together, is that I don’t simply want to make something that (magically) works, I want to understand why and how it does what it does, in as much detail as possible.

There is an intellectual satisfaction in learning how the web languages work. By teaching myself to think in a systematic and logical way about how the code is semantically structured, I am not just making a website. I am improving my thinking and my approach to the work I do. Learning new ways to think about solving problems rather than treading old ground.

The benefits are tangible too, by getting knee deep in the code I am learning when and how to use templating logic to keep the content and the structure elegantly separate. I am learning about accessibility and how to ensure the content is easily reached by those who need to find it. I am learning how to design systems of information that first and foremost serve the user in the best way possible. What you see is not all that you get but merely the tip of the iceberg.

I am not saying that wysiwyg editing is entirely without merit. I can see myself finding Adobe Muse or Macaw very useful for rapid prototyping or proof of concept work. Macaw also does a much better job of showing you what it is doing under the hood as you edit and I can see it being a useful gateway into learning the structure and logic of code. However I have made a personal choice to speak web languages whenever I can and it is my intention to keep speaking them until I have achieved a high level of fluency, without the need for an interpreter.

Post by Martin Coote of @fffunction. Martin tweets from @martincoote.

Dear Visual Design

This is hard for me to say and as much as I don’t want to hurt your feelings, I feel like it’s not going anywhere between us.

It was great at first, do you remember? There was something exciting about starting with a blank canvas. The web industry is always in movement with emerging technologies and visual trends. There’s always something new to see!

Being a web designer is hard though. Print still influences web design in many companies. The former cares about the delivery, the latter the continuity.

“Picking my fights”? No way! I put too much effort and energy into projects which would ultimately be disappointing to my eyes. To this day, I still don’t know how to create a corporate-friendly-clean-approachable-personal-serious design.

You’re an obvious target for criticism, Visual Design, because everyone has a personal opinion about you. It makes me wonder who you actually work for; the user or the client? When you say “this typeface looks more playful and young”, are you certain the business is actually playful and young?

My self-confidence had been crumbling like cookies in a kid’s party for too long. I did not want this on my shoulders. I did not want to take responsibility for something I could not control. It’s not you, it’s me, you know.

Oh, and I met someone else. A close friend of yours: User Experience.

What appealed to me was the constant questioning: why are we doing this? It wasn’t pretty at all and didn’t care about slick mockups. The pitch was the action, the collaboration, making stuff quickly, test it and throwing them if it didn’t work. More conceptual, more post-its, more sketching…

Working for the user is refreshing. It’s comforting and rewarding to think I could actually make things a bit better for people. Of course, there’s the occasional discussions and criticism. It’s much easier to embrace, because nobody around the table cares about the colour of the boxes on a notepad.

We had many highs and lows on our emotional roller coaster. Now I understand I like my relationships stable and without drama.

Can we still be friends? As long as I don’t have to carry a paper bag to breathe in every time there’s a meeting, I’m sure we can still enjoy each other’s presence. Tweaking a couple of typefaces or colours, maybe even create some CSS transitions for your next design.

No hard feelings I hope. I believe you deserve to be with someone who understands and accepts you for what you are. Someone good with compromise.

by Laura Nevo — @lauranevo

Follow this conversation with this excellent response Dear Laura from @robeam.

Note from the author: A previous version of this article inadvertently used some offensive words. That’s corrected now. :) I apologise if it offended anyone.

Go for a walk

Hello. Hopefully you came looking for inspiration. And why not, there’s an awful lot of fantastic inspirational writing here.

But I’m going to ask you to switch off your computer and go out and do something less boring instead: I’d like you to go for a walk (the clue was in the title I guess). Seriously, put your computer to sleep and go for a walk. Now.

Still here? OK, how about this: if you’ve got a problem to solve or you need to generate some ideas around a theme, go for that walk now and look at things that you see on your walk. Pick a thing and try to frame your problem or theme in relation to that thing. How can you use it to solve your problem or generate ideas? This is a technique which I first learned at an excellent UX Bristol workshop run by Matthew Solle and Nic Price and it really does work.  It’s all about shifting perspective, a technique that’s also the basis of brainstorming with random words or random objects or indeed using cards such as Oblique Strategy Cards or Constraints Cards as part of your design process. So yeah: go do the walking, looking at things, problem framing, perspective shifting thing. Walkies!

Right, you’re still reading. Seriously, I want you to stop reading and go for that walk. Just twenty minutes. If it’s raining, put your coat on. What’s that? You need more convincing that you’re going to get something out of this? And you want to read more stuff before you decide that going for a walk is for you. Sigh, fine. Check out James Webb Young’s ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’, a book you can read in about ten (OK, maybe twenty) minutes before you nip off for a walk. Incredibly, it’s about seventy years old. It was written to teach a very simple technique for creative thinking to advertising students and professionals. To summarise (badly): it’s about gathering raw materials, working these over in your mind for a bit and then doing something else to give your subconscious mind time and space to chew properly thereby allowing inspiration and ideas to spring forth. That something else might be bathing or showering (we’ve all experienced the Eureka cliché, don’t deny it), watching a play, having a nice meal or (yeah) going for a walk. I can say with certainty that every single talk or blog post that I’ve written has been conceived and/or developed on my daily 6am dog walk. So you should try it. Now.

This is getting silly. You should not be reading this. You could be half way through the most amazing, thought-provoking walk of your life but instead you’re about three quarters of the way through a blog post. I’m going to have to resort to dirty geek bribery. I’ve got an extremely limited number of special bouncingdan designed, fffunction approved “I went for a walk” stickers . Tweet us with some evidence of your walk or even better the amazing creative outcome which I’m guaranteeing to you right now will occur and we’ll get a sticker to you*. You can stick it on your laptop lid and it will then be seen by thousands of people watching your keynote at some megabucks conference which you’ll be invited to as a direct result of the incredible stuff you did after going for a walk. Thus granting you membership to what is surely the most exclusive club ever advertised on a blog post written by me on the Pastry Box Project. Boom. Off you go.

@bouncingdan

* This is not a binding contract; not everyone will get a sticker; the value of stickers can go down as well as up.

References:

UX Bristol Workshop: Remind me what are we making here?

Brainstorming

Oblique strategies

Constraints cards

A Technique for Producing Ideas

Walking

To the power of two (or more)

I used to be a freelance web designer, a jack of all trades who dealt with every aspect of producing a website from the first client meeting to the launch of the site. This meant I would work through the entire design & development process alone, working on user research, information architecture, wireframing, visual design, front end code and development, not to mention managing the project and the occasional nightmarish server admin task. 

These days this wide range of disciplines are more specialised and unlikely to be undertaken by one person, so it’s no wonder I suffered from the acute anxiety of knowing that I would never be as good as I wanted to be in some of these areas. I worked hard for years to get across The Gap, as Ira Glass describes it (here’s a great video covering this: https://vimeo.com/85040589 — courtesy of @frohlockecom) and enjoyed success with some areas, but other areas such as visual design and development I felt stuck at a level I was not happy with. 

With such a diverse array of roles I would always suffer from Impostor Syndrome on meeting a new or potential client, or talking to my peers. A crippling fear of being a pretender about to be found out. Initially I tried to specialise, to work for design agencies with the skills I was good at, and this helped a little. I focused on UX and front end, thinking they were my strongest areas but was not happy with just being able to help with parts of a project, I still wanted to do it all. 

From January 2012 I was no longer a one man band, having co-founded fffunction. In those early days I found an almost instant benefit of being a “we” rather than a “me”. Previously I found it very hard to talk about and sell myself — now that I wasn’t selling “me” I could forget about the anxieties. I could talk about Adam being amazing at UX, and Pete being one of the best visual designers I’ve seen. By leaving myself out of the equation altogether I had a newfound confidence in the “we” rather than the “I”. 

fffunction has grown to a team of 8 and I’m confident that whatever topic surfaces we have someone in fffunction who can talk about it. Now when I meet new people whether they be new or prospective clients, friends or people in the web industry, I still have the same feeling that I’m able to promote fffunction far better than I can promote myself and so I kind of bypass the impostor syndrome by forgetting to talk about myself. 

I’m afraid I don’t have the solution to get past the impostor syndrome, and still suffer from anxiety in initial meetings, and the odd pitch scenario we partake in. Specialising helped, collaboration helped and I think if I had spent more time learning to talk about what I did that would have helped too.

By Ben Coleman - @bencoleman

Insomnia creeps up on you

The first few nights can be explained away — a sound that wakes you in the middle of the night, some dehydration from one too many glasses of wine. It’s not until you’ve hardly slept for a couple of weeks that you realise you might have a problem here.

Eight years ago I suddenly got tinnitus — that constant ringing in your ears that you get after a loud gig. Except this didn’t happen when I was rocking out to Deerhoof, it just switched on as I was walking down the street. The first few days of this I was positive it would drive me mad. To have that ringing sounding all the time. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

To my relief I adjusted within a few days, and it seemed to go away. But it’s never really gone, just submerged below other sounds; you tune out of it without realising.

Well, it’s back now. I’ve been waking up after a couple of hours sleep, and it’s like a switch being flicked. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

It’s not the ringing in my ears that’s keeping me awake though. It’s my busy brain trying to solve the checklist of work issues that suddenly occur to me in the middle of the night. 

Some I know I’m going to get fixed, others are bolts from the blue that kick in a dose of adrenaline. The fight or flight response. That’s useful at three in the morning isn’t it?

You know what brain? How’s about letting me sleep until a reasonable hour, and letting me deal with this when I’ve had some rest?

These work issues that wake me up during the night, they accumulate, start to gain a kind of weight, so that I’m already worried I won’t sleep each time I go to bed. 

It doesn’t have to be like this. A problem that seems absolutely critical in the dark gloom of the lounge — where I have retired to avoid waking my long-suffering partner with my thrashings — once the morning has arrived, it again seems manageable, a regular problem that will be solved by going to work and getting it done. So what changed? 

I need to remember that I’m surrounded by talented and able friends at fffunction. That we get this stuff done, all the time. But my brain seems to forget that every night, and starts racking up the issues into some orderly queue. What about this. And this. Have you thought of that?

Well, I’m glad to say that the insomnia has decreased in the last month. I’m still waking up around three or four most nights, but I’m finding I’m able to sleep again. These things come in waves, I tell myself. Work is either too boring, or too stressful. Finding that sweet spot right in the middle is the holy grail.

I’m lucky that I have that sweet spot more than most. I’m thankful I’ve been supported through my insomnia by friends and family. I hope that by writing this I’ll have worked it out of my system a little.

And maybe it’ll help if you ever have this. Because it does get better.

I don't write much anymore

I don’t write much anymore. And for that I could say I’m sorry. But in truth I’m not.

Is it that I’ve run out of things to write about? Probably not.

Do I care less than I used to? I don’t think it’s that either.

Maybe I just tolerate a little more and react a little less. I’m pretty sure that’s just wishful thinking.

But still it continues…

And when I stop to think about it (and I mean really stop and think about it), then I often arrive at this conclusion:

Other’s perception of me, and its impact on my self image, at least in a larger ‘professional’ context, frightens the bloody-hell out of me.

Of course, this sort of thing happens to writers all the time – often after some commercial success. The legendary case of ‘writer’s block’.

That’s a nice way of naming and dealing with the issue, but I’m not not up for taking a walk on Beale or listening to Mural’s piano playing every time it happens.

If only it were that easy.

But I get it. The more you get known for ‘what you do’ the more the doubts creep in about ‘who you are’.

Amplified to eleven. And that’s one louder remember.

But for me that’s not quite the reason either.

Here’s what I think it might be.

The further you progress in your career, the harder it is to take issue with things you once did. To discuss subjects that you once were openly opinionated about. To show things you’ve created to a wider audience. Because somewhere along the line, you’ve been forced to give up a value or conviction, that another, greener version of yourself might have fought tooth and nail over.

You’ve had to compromise for the sake of ‘getting things done’ or ‘going to bed at a reasonable hour’. You’ve had to realise that things are rarely perfect, and frankly the first time you found that out it sucked.

And you know what else? The more it continues, the worse it gets.

You end up doubting your convictions more and more. What you once would have said or done, however honest and well meaning, now seemingly needs to be more…

Measured. Restrained. Controlled. Edited. Refined.

Perhaps unknowingly, you’ve started to create a strategy for conversation. You’ve created a strategy for social media. Hell, you’ve created a strategy for everything you do. Just in-case you’re called out or questioned.

Best to get the guards up early right?

And slowly, day–by–day, piece–by–piece, you become an alternate version of yourself. Perhaps you don’t even notice it happening.

This version of you is known by more people (and ‘knows’ more people) than you will ever really know. You’ve constructed a personality, existing on a set emotional plain, expressing everything from mundane, to the heart-warming, to the hilariously funny. Best leave out the other parts though, just in-case.

And this pseudo persona will live on long after you’re gone. A small pocket of yourself that represented you as a whole.

As of right now, and forever after, you’re creating a digital legacy that will define who you were and what you did. Or rather, who relative strangers thought you were; And believed about what you did.

And sometimes it scares me as to which version of me others believe I am, and which one version I might be leaving behind.

And this is why I don’t write much anymore.

by Pete Coles — @fatelvis

Get good at talking to people

A while ago someone tweeted asking people for folks to say what the best thing you’ve ever done for your career in tech was. My answer was this: “Get good at talking to people.”

Like all the best “what single piece of advice would you give?” answers, it’s a bit sneaky because it’s actually multiple pieces of advice. Being good at talking to people can help you get a good job, get good work that’s interesting for smart and nice clients, find good people and organisations to collaborate with, and learn more from your peers than you would listening to a talk or a workshop.

It’s also crucial if you want to work effectively with your clients to help them achieve their goals and aims (and even to help them learn what those goals and aims actually are) and if you want to put users at the centre of your design process. I really hope you do want to do both of those things. Interviews and workshops with stakeholders and users are a key part of an effective design process and if you’re good at them, the insights you’ll get will pay dividends.

Then there’s the whole public speaking thing. Even if you don’t want to make it big on the conference circuit, if you can step up to rather than shying away from running a meeting, leading a workshop or giving a two minute pitch at a networking thing, you’ll earn the respect of your colleagues and your peers.

If I looked at myself fifteen odd years ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be very good at any of these things since I’m essentially an introvert. But I genuinely think that getting good at these thing has helped me enormously in my ‘career’ (I’m still rather reluctant to think I have one of those).

So how do you get good? Actually the only tangible thing I can think of which I’ve done is a telephone and face-to-face counselling course I took with Nightline when I was at university. Being taught how to listen properly and how to reflect and respond without leading, judging or offering opinion has ended up being very useful to me in just about every situation where I’ve ended up talking to somebody ever since. Other than that, it’s all about getting on and doing it. The more you do these things, the better you get at reading people, judging the situation and knowing what to say and how and when to say it. Remember that everyone else is learning how to get better at this all the time so we’re all in the same boat. Be positive, be enthusiastic and just be there doing it and you’ll reap the benefits of being an effective talker.

By Dan Goodwin - @bouncingdan