Last week Jenny and I went along to the Bristol Health Tech meet up - an event exploring how health and technology are working together to share information and improve communication between different kinds of services.
Hosted at the Engine Shed, there was a big turnout with lot of networking and scoffing of bahjees, samosas and yummy fruit juices.
Kicking off the talks was Bristol Health Partners Director David Relph. He gave a really engaging presentation (seriously, one of the best I've ever seen) explaining how the NHS partners work together, and the different areas they cover in terms of service provision and location. We learnt how the pioneering technology project that Relph and his team are working on is changing not only the way patients are being treated, but also making the whole system far more efficient.
By joining up patient notes from every touch point that a patient has within the NHS - doctors, social workers, GPs and many other professionals can access a wealth of information from within one system, despite all 17 NHS partners individually using different systems! Currently in trials, the project so far sounds like it's proving successful. We'll be really keen to hear how it progresses over the coming 12 months.
After a networking and chocolate break :-), next up was Paul Wilson, CEO of Bristol Is Open. Used for research and development work, Bristol Is Open is an innovative experiment that connects partners together across a network using different elements of connectivity:
- A fibre-optic network running through ducts between the University of Bristol, At-Bristol, Watershed and Engine Shed
- A mesh network, using 1500 lamp-posts as a self-healing canopy of connectivity across the city
- A next generation (5G) wireless test running along the Brunel Mile (Temple Meads to the SS Great Britain).
All of this is controlled by a system running at University of Bristol. Customers get a virtual 'slice' of this network, to run and collaborate on their projects. An example of this is at Watershed - one of their cinemas has been upgraded to a high definition 4k projection environment.
Sounds techy - you bet it is! But it's super clever and part of Bristol's plan to be a smart city. Find out more on the Bristol Is Open website.
The event was a really good learning curve - and made me feel proud to be working and living in such a forward-thinking city, doing exciting work that is really shaping our future. Plus, Engine Shed is a pretty cool venue, too.
Created on Thursday April 30 2015 02:38 PM
Back in May 2010, one of our most popular blog articles took a quick look at the web sites of the leading four political parties just before election night. It turned out that Labour had the worst performing web site in terms of code validation - and look how that turned out for them.
So clearly, the true test for how an election will end up is a test of their web site against W3C standards (obviously). Five years later, and it's time to do it all again before we all go off to the polling station.
Here's how the seven (seven?!) main party web sites fared:
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: Yes.
Validation errors: 7 errors and 3 warnings, that's a worse performance than 2010 for the Tories.
2. Liberal Democrats.
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: Yes.
3. Labour Party.
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: Yes.
Validation errors: 16 errors and 11 warnings. Much better than 2010's stats of 286 errors and 45 warnings. But web site usability not helped greatly by the instrusive splash / signup page on entry.
4. Scottish National Party
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: No! Our first fail.
Validation errors: 3 errors. But lots of points lost for all those tablet and mobile users.
5. Plaid Cymru
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: No! Disappointing again.
Validation errors: It gets worse, the W3C validator is unable to validate Plaid Cymru's web site due to an encoding issue. Doesn't bode well for May 7th.
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: Yes.
Validation errors: Oh dear Nigel. 115 errors and 33 warnings.
7. Green Party
Does it pass Google's Mobile Friendly test: Yes!
Validation errors: 4 errors and 1 warnings, not bad at all.
So it's quite clear - on the 8th May we'll have a Green Party majority, and UKIP will be in the pub fixing those validation errors. But some time on the naughty step please for the SNP and Plaid Cymru for those mobile-unfriendly web sites. *
* yes, we know there are other parties, but this is a bit of fun and in no way endorses any political party or policy - apart from having a responsive web site.
Created on Friday April 24 2015 02:57 PM
At the heart of this rather apocalyptic term is a fundamental change to the way that Google is ranking search results. Up to now, web sites that are suitable for display and use on a mobile phone were highlighted in their search results, but Google are now ramping things up and taking the 'mobile friendliness' of a web site as a significant factor in how highly your site will be ranked on their results pages. So if your web site isn't optimised for being used on smartphones and tablets, you could start to lose some valuable Google rankings.
This could spell big problems for business-critical sites such as eCommerce stores and SaaS platforms, with USA Today claiming at least 40% of 'top web sites' could be hit. The commercial aspect of search engine rankings are vital for online businesses, particularly where the majority of their traffic comes from Google searches. But just as important is the effect this will have on non-commercial sites, where users often search Google to find relevant information, advice or support.
This is, of course, another good reason to ensure that your web site is optimised for mobile - something that we at This is Focus have been doing for over three years now. For our customers, 'mobilegeddon' means their web sites will appear healthily in search results, with a nice reassuring 'mobile friendly' label.
But there's other important reasons for optimising your web site for mobile:
User experience: ensuring that whatever device your users employ, they can obtain the information they need.
Accessibility: why should users who only have access to a specific device be penalised?
Sustainability: new devices surface so quickly. Being 'mobile friendly' is more than 'doing a mobile version of your web site'. There are many combinations of screen sizes - iPads have mini-versions, iPhones have big versions. Our technology means we take screen size as the key factor in how a web site is displayed - not just the device accessing it.
There's no doubt that Google set trends and in some ways, govern the way that web sites are delivered. Google react to how users search for information, and they clearly think that this core change in their ranking tech is delivering users the content they want in a format they need. It could be the first of a series of changes they implement that favour well designed, robust and useful web sites.
Handily, Google have provided a nice online tool to check if your web site is 'mobile friendly'. Simply visit:
https://www.google.co.uk/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/ and enter your web site address. If it fails, then please do feel free to have a chat with the This is Focus team to see how we can turn that red cross into a green tick....
Created on Friday April 24 2015 11:17 AM
After some deliberation, Annette and I decided that two laptops AND an ipad between us definitely wasn’t technology overkill, so we headed off for the BAWA Centre in Filton – the venue for the WECIL conference 2015. The subject of the day was Direct Payments and employing Personal Assistants; an area of Adult Social Care that we both felt we would benefit from learning more about.
We arrived nice and early and set up our stand, right next door to Well Aware and not too far from the tea and coffee. The room filled up and Claire Charras (WECIL's Online Systems Project Developer and friend of Focus) welcomed delegates, following up with an introduction to My Support – a new online PA matching registration service.
Keynote speaker Alex Fox CEO of Shared Lives Plus was up next and spoke about the changes around Direct Payments and the potential effects of these changes; his thoughts on the importance of tackling isolation through Community engagement really struck a chord. SLP appears to take a different approach to Social Care which poses the question - when considering wellbeing, do we need to think less about how much money is needed and more about how much Community is needed? Certainly food for thought!
Throughout the day we had lots visitors to our stand and plenty of interest in ‘what on earth we do’…. perhaps we needed to rethink our banner (!) Once we got over any initial confusion the feedback on our websites was excellent; everyone seemed to engage with the concept of our solutions and had lots of questions for us. We took the opportunity to give demonstrations to on-lookers and hopefully raised awareness of the exciting work going on at Focus.
I think everyone in attendance would agree that the day was an all round success and we came away with an enhanced understanding of the changes heralded by the Care Act 2014. The team at Focus would like to say a big thank you to WECIL and to Claire in particular for inviting us along - we look forward to seeing you all again soon!
Created on Tuesday March 31 2015 02:47 PM
2015 has already seen the Focus team working with a number of new clients, one of those being Bristol charity Alive!
Alive! are a great charity dedicated to improving the quality of life for older people in care. They get people dancing, singing, painting, reminiscing and using new technology - such as their 'Memory Apps' project which engages older people with iPads.
Alive! are growing quickly and like any expanding organisation, things need to change 'in the office' to help support that growth. So the charity have turned to the tech team at Focus to design and build a bespoke customer relationship management system, which will provide a single, centralised resource of data and information for the charity to use. On top of this, we'll be automating some business processes to save administration time and putting in place functionality to ensure smooth and consistent communication between the charity and their customers.
This bespoke approach is very much our thing at Focus - having implemented a web based project management portal for one of the world's largest ink manufacturers, as well as a bespoke digital mailing application for one of the UKs leading utility groups - we've seen the difference our tech has made to the day-to-day running of businesses and organisations across all sectors.
We'll be making sure the transition to the new system is seamless and will also be running a series of workshops and training sessions with the Alive! team, as well as the publishing our ever-popular screencast-based online help, which always receives really positive feedback from our customers.
We're looking forward to cracking on and ensuring Alive! can spend their time on enriching the lives of more older people in care.
Created on Friday March 13 2015 02:30 PM
Jordana, Jenny and I recently attended Bristol Parent Carers (BPC) annual conference, and this year’s theme was ‘Shape the Future’.
BPC is an independent, local organisation of parents and carers of children with disabilities and special needs. The group works in partnership with Bristol City Council and the NHS to shape service provision for children and young people with disabilities and special needs.
I’ve been attending these conferences for the last few years, and I have to say this year seemed better than ever. A brilliant turn out of parents and carers; plus key professionals from Bristol City Council and NHS Bristol, all eager to talk to parents and carers of disabled children and get to grips with their challenges.
We girls wore several hats throughout the day; interested observers, knowledge gatherers, IT consultants (!) and a few more too!
The key subjects of the conference were:
Children’s Community Health Services
Priorities for 2016
Bristol’s Local Offer.
Back in September 2014 we proudly went live with www.findabilitybristol.org.uk - which is our online solution for Bristol’s Local Offer. We were excited to be launching it ‘proper’ at the conference, and get some on-the-ground feedback and input from both parents and carers, and the professionals offering the services found on the website.
During the afternoon ‘Local Offer Live’ session, we helped set up multiple tables with a laptop or tablet running the website (IT consultant hats :-), and liaised with groups of parents and carers who were using the site in earnest. The outcome of this is lots of real feedback from actual users, which is totally invaluable and can only lead to improvements and enhancements to the website - a really positive result.
We had lots of chats with lovely people, and all feel like we’ve not only improved our knowledge base, but also enjoyed participating and helping out with the day as a whole. I’m now really looking forward to catching up with the core Local Offer team later this week to discuss our findings from the day.
Created on Tuesday March 10 2015 05:31 PM
Thankfully the sweatband and spandex was entirely optional when accepting my role as 'Accessibility Champion' for Focus.
I attempted to earn that title by heading along to a well delivered talk from Ian Pouncey - the BBC's Senior Accessibility Specialist (pictured). I had to start somewhere and rumour has it the BBC just might know what they're talking about!
With genuine enthusiasm, Ian talked us through how accessibility is embedded in to the process of delivering websites and applications at the BBC, covering standards, training, philosophy, and organisation.
They've got great training available at the BBC but unfortunately for those of us outside of the 'circle' it's all in-house. I was hoping some of you superbly knowledgable readers might know of any courses available to the public that are similar to these that the BBC have for their team:
- Accessibility for web developers (on-line course, 2 hours)
- Introduction to screen readers (1 day course)
In return I give you my discovery; web aim's colour contrast checker http://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/ - da daaaa! It's amazing, simply select the colours you wish to combine and they'll let you know whether they pass or fail accessibility standards.
But back to the BBC, I was surprised to hear that their accessibility team only consists of three members. That didn't make me furrow my brow as much as this did though: 'The BBC are exempt from the accessibility law… providing they exceed the requirements'. I'll leave you alone for a minute with that one!
For a while now there has been an awareness of accessibility and even an understanding of how it works, but many are still unsure as to why it is so important to consider accessibility right from the start of the design process.
These words from Tony Hall (BBC DIrector, 2013) answer that quite simply: "Everybody deserves the best" - we should all remember that. Everybody deserves the same level of consideration. I must confess there was a time when I felt making a website accessible would negatively affect the visual appeal of my design but there is no reason why the two can't go together. Yes, it makes it more challenging but that's all part of the fun and even the ultimate world-saving Champion 'Superman!' came up against a little Kryptonite now and then.
With great power comes great responsibility! Maybe I'm letting this whole 'Champion' thing get to my head but seriously Ian strongly advises companies to nominate a Champion and stressed the importance of such a role. This includes networking, extending reach and spreading knowledge within the company. It's not just for developers and you don't have to be an expert already.
Muhammad Ali started training at the age of 12 to become one of the greatest heavyweights in sport's history. I'm about 20 years late for that kind of a start but I can still be a champion in the accessibility ring!
Created on Friday February 27 2015 11:31 AM
The office saw high fives and big smiles all round last week as it was confirmed the good folks at Hartlepool Borough Council have commissioned us to create a new web site for their Child and Adult Services Department. Following a competitive tender process which saw a final list of six potential suppliers 'pitch', Focus were selected, ahead of some rather big boys, and we couldn't be more pleased.
As part of The Care Act 2014, which comes into effect in April, all local authorities need to provide a resource of information for people who are searching for care, support and services in their area. Not only will the new web site include a searchable directory of providers, events and activities but our technology will allow users to create a personalised portal of information and content relevant to them and their circumstances.
Simon and Neil also discovered that Hartlepool is home to HMS Trincomalee - the oldest British warship still afloat. We were tempted by the offer of a tour that told of 'tales of bloody wars and rat-infested dinners', but chose a local Thai restaurant instead.
The new web site is due for launch by April 1st.
Created on Thursday February 19 2015 09:21 AM
We are expanding the technical team at Focus and so we're looking for two full time web developers to join us at our HQ in Temple Quay, Bristol.
You'll be working on lots of projects for our varied range of clients, including local authorities, government agencies, charities and commercial organisations. We're looking for someone with a focus on 'front end' web development, and someone with more 'back end' and programming experience.
Both roles are paid between £24k and £34k based on experience but if we meet the right person and they like us, those salaries aren't fixed. They do however represent the level of skills and experience we'd like for both roles.
We are a friendly team with a non-corporate working environment based in swish new offices right by the train station, overlooking the 'World of Food Fair' that takes place every Thursday in Temple Quay (yum). Everyone gets lots of time off including extended Christmas breaks and the whole team have significant input into company strategy.
For the 'front end' role we're looking for:
- really strong 'build' skills in HTML, CSS and JQuery and a solid portfolio of well built, semantic and responsive web sites.
- knowledge and passion for creating and building usable and accessible web sites.
- some experience with Git or other version control.
- any knowledge of an open source framework such as PHP or Ruby would be of some advantage.
- whilst commercial experience in a similar role may be of benefit, it's not a show stopper.
For the more technical 'back end' role, ideally we'd like:
- a good grounding in developing web applications in an open source framework - ideally Ruby on Rails (as that's what we use) but we are keen to meet with people with relevant experience in other open source languages.
- some 'front end' skills including HTML, CSS and JQuery.
- working experience with Git or other version control.
- working experience of automated tests or test driven development would be a significant advantage.
If you'd like to apply then please send all the relevant details to:
CV's are great but we're really keen to see examples of your work.
We're hoping to interview before the end of February.
Strictly no agencies.
Created on Friday February 06 2015 03:17 PM
Sure, I was hungry but I wasn't just there for the sandwiches. When I heard Accessible Bristol was hosting an event for anyone interested in the web and accessibility, I saw it as an opportunity to ensure our clients get what they want. Here at Focus we work with a lot of local authorities and for websites such as theirs, accessibility is key.
I was keen to hear from one of the most recognisable and respected people in the web accessibility industry; Steve Faulkner (pictured). An enthusiastic man who has dedicated 15 years to web accessibility. In 2001 he started his career with vision Australia. Today he has kept his accent and is Principal Accessibility Engineer at The Paciello Group as well as being co-editor of the W3C HTML5 specification, and a contributor to other specifications including Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA).
Sitting excitedly in the front row I was pleasantly surprised when the casually dressed, relaxed man sat amongst us took to the stage. This immediately likeable character delivered a highly knowledgeable presentation and although it was very much focused at developers rather than designers such as myself, I still felt included despite being somewhat outnumbered by the 'techies' in the audience.
Steve went through an alphabet themed slideshow; A is for ARIA, B is for Button, C is for Canvas and so on (view slides). Admittedly it was like learning a new language but I always strive to be a better designer, and if learning 'techie talk' and understanding ways I can work more in sync with the development team will help towards that, then count me in.
Once the sandwiches were scoffed and the slideshow slowed to a stop, it was question time. I plucked up the courage to ask a design focused question and felt all eyes on me, then a few more of us admitted to being in the design 'camp' and conversation started to flow. Talk ranged from not knowing where to begin with a blank canvas, to a woman with dyslexia and dyspraxia expressing her frustration when surfing the net.
When it all came to an end, the message that stood out for me as a designer was this;
“Think about accessibility first and foremost, because if you get it right for disabled people, you get it right for everyone.”
If you would like to know more about accessibility, Steve recommended the website http://webaim.org. On there you can find a simple checklist that presents Webaim's recommendations for implementing HTML-related principles and techniques: http://webaim.org/standards/wcag/checklist
You can keep up to date with all Steve has to share by following him over on Twitter @stevefaulkner
Created on Wednesday January 28 2015 12:09 AM
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