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Christmas 2015 Office Closure

After a record breaking year, the Focus team deserve a bit of time to put their feet up.....

So our office is closing from 12pm on Christmas Eve and will remain closed until 9am on Monday January 4th 2016.

We are running our emergency support email address:

This email address should only be used for business critical emergencies and whilst we can't guarantee any response times, we'll do our best to monitor incoming emails.

All that's left is to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas from the entire Focus team, we look forward to catching up in the new year.

Neil Smith

Created on Wednesday December 23 2015 12:27 PM


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In focus: 2015 reviewed

Apart from Noddy Holder, nothing shouts "Christmas" like an end of year review; so when Jordana asked if I preferred the 'snowman' or 'reindeer' themed version of the Focus logo, I knew it was time to start looking back over the last twelve months.

The headlines make impressive reading. The Focus team has expanded; we have welcomed lots of new clients on board; our work for local authorities has gained significant national recognition; and our accountant is very happy, as 2015 has seen revenue up approximately 60% on the previous year. It's been a record breaking year for Focus in many ways; and by far our most successful trading year since we started in a small kitchen in Redland in 1996.

Success has come quickly and we are open and honest enough to admit there has been the odd hiccup. We have certainly learned some lessons along the way.

Jenny, Stefano and Jon have all joined the team during the year. Jenny has raised our profile within local government and led our presentations and workshops at the NAFIS 2015 Conference in London. With his years of web development experience, Stefano has bought a measured and calm presence to the studio and I'm sure Jon won't mind me describing him as akin to a Jack Russell - whipping through work and nipping at our heels for more.

It's been fantastic to welcome lots of new clients to Focus. We've built new software for Alive Activities, who do great work to improve the lives of older people in care. We've launched a new web site for KDVI - global suppliers of management and leadership coaching - and there's lots more work with the KDVI team lined up next year. We've been busy automating processes and improving communication 'behind the scenes' at Barriers Direct which has helped them achieve their most successful trading year in history. And with our good friends at the Watershed we launched Rife Guide - Bristol's newest guide to events and activities for young people.

We have also had the opportunity to see the impact that our work has had. In the summer we met parents and young people at the launch of the SEND Local Offer for the London Boroughs of Kingston and Richmond, where as well as chomping through several ice creams we met the SEND Champions, a group of young people who have been contributing videos, blogs and other content for the site. October saw Annette and Simon make the trip north to help Hartlepool Borough Council officially launch Hartlepool Now, a web site based around duties from The Care Act 2014. The Borough Council's Chief Executive Gill Alexander said the web site 'put Hartlepool far ahead of other local authorities' when it came to information and advice around social care.

October also saw the Department of Education note our work for the SEND Local Offer as a 'benchmark'. Cue lots of high fives in the office that day.

We passed our annual ISO audit with thumbs raised and flying colours. Our only 'area for improvement' noted centered around MD Simon's induction documentation - a week on the naughty step for him followed.

All in all it's been frantic, a little edge of seat at times, but great fun and the team at Focus should really grab a moment to step forward on the stage, and take a quick bow.

And so what's next? 2016 is going to be based around two key phrases for us: innovation and impact. It's going to be worth keeping an eye out for and we're looking forward to getting stuck in.

In the meantime, a massive thank you to all our clients for their continued support and custom, we hope you all have a restful break over the festive period and look forward to putting the world to rights in 2016.

Merry Christmas to everyone from the entire team at Focus.

Simon Newing

Created on Tuesday December 22 2015 03:24 PM


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Meet Jon, our newest team member

We are chuffed to shout a big, if slightly delayed, hello to Jon Wait, who joined the technical team at Focus in October.

Jon graduated from UWE with first class honours in Multimedia Computing and brings a solid background in a wide range of web technologies including HTML5, CSS3, SASS, JQuery and Responsive Design.

He's already got stuck into several projects including new sites for Bristol Balloons, BrunelCare and Hartlepool Borough Council.

Jon's interests away from the office include exploring the Far East and its language and culture.

Neil Smith

Created on Tuesday December 15 2015 12:54 PM


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Accessible blogging - Top tips

Accessible blogging - Top tips

I sit, staring at a screen more blank than my expression. Sometimes it can be so hard to write a blog, let alone write one that's accessible to people with disabilities. When doing so, there are many things to consider, for example Screenreader compatibility. Below is a list of things to keep in mind that may help you.

(So that you don't abandon my blog to instead watch a YouTube cat playing the piano, I've kept it brief, plus we all love a bullet point, right?)


- Use real text not text within graphics.
- Choose simple, easy to read, sans serif fonts such as Arial.
- Limit number of fonts.
- Ensure sufficient contrast between the text and the background.
- Avoid small font sizes (less than 12pt).
- Limit the use of font variations such as bold, italics, and ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.
- Underlining is best kept for hyperlinks.
- Numbers: Use symbols (1,2,3), not words. 


- Avoid jargon.
- Avoid too much information on one page/blog.
- Bullet points should be used to break up information (avoid numbered lists).
- Abbreviations and acronyms should be avoided if possible. If not possible, first refer to it in full with the acronym in brackets for example ‘Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)’
- Always check spelling and grammar before publishing. 


- Don’t use 'eg / ie', write ‘for example / specifically’. 
- Don’t use '&', write ‘and’.

And a few final points:

- Images should be used as much as possible.
- Blogs should have meaningful titles that help users identify the page in search results.
- Avoid using ‘click here’. Ideally the purpose of a link is clear, even when the link is viewed on its own.

For those of you who aren't by now listening to the sweet sound of paws on a piano. Here are some links to my other blogs about accessibility that may also be of help:

Accessible Colours and Web Design 

Designing for Accessibility

Screenreader Compatibility Tips

Making Information Accessible

Accessibility at the BBC

Accessibility and the Web

Jordana Jeffrey

Created on Wednesday November 11 2015 10:53 AM

Tags: blog accessibility

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Coming to a high street near you - Amazon

Coming to a high street near you - Amazon

It's interesting to see that Amazon have opened their first 'bricks and mortar' store in University Village, Seattle - a clear departure for an organisation previously critised for helping to end the presence of many bookstores at cost to local communities.

Data plays a huge role in the way the new store operates, with Amazon tapping in to their countless sources of product and customer data which as you'd expect, allows them to do things a little differently. Books are presented on shelves based on customer ratings ("all books on this shelf are rated 4.5 and above") which means titles that are little known, but well loved, get just the same exposure as more recognised books and authors.

There's also shelves for 'most recommend cookbooks' and 'best books for 6 to 12 year olds' and customer reviews are placed on cards directly below each book.

Amazon have also made the decision to lay all books out 'cover facing', rather than stacked with only their spine showing. Whilst this obviously reduces the number of books that can be displayed, Amazon feel it's more important to give each book as much and as equal exposure as they can.

Another advantage Amazon will have is utilising their huge selling power on unsold stock, something that high street bookstores have consistently struggled with.

And more stores? An Amazon spokesperson said "We hope this is not our only one. But we’ll see."

It may be another step on the marketing juggernaut that is Amazon, but it's interesting to see how data from the web experience is being used in the physical world. 

Simon Newing

Created on Thursday November 05 2015 09:04 AM


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Hartlepool Now web site launched

Hartlepool Now web site launched

Monday 19th October saw Simon and Annette travel north to join Hartlepool Borough Council for the launch of Hartlepool Now, a new web site created by the team at Focus that helps the local authority meet new information duties from The Care Act 2014.

Taking place at Hartlepool College of Further Education, the launch event was a great success. Attendees had a number of workshops to choose from including a run through of the web site itself, a demonstration of the new online Equipment Finder and a chance to see The Ricochet Project from local charity Incontrolable, which lends tablets to disabled people in the community and provides basic training in using them.

Following the workshops, Hartlepool Now was officially launched by council Chief Executive Gill Alexander, who stated that the new web site "helped Hartlepool set a new standard for publishing clear information and advice".

Our branded cupcakes went down a treat as well.

A massive thanks to the project team at Hartlepool for inviting us to the launch, it was great to be part of the event and hear the positive feedback the web site is already receiving.

Annette Ryske

Created on Friday October 23 2015 11:36 AM

Tags: website thecareact

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Introducing Rife Guide

Introducing Rife Guide

Rife Guide is a dynamic online platform where young people can keep up to date with what’s happening in Bristol and get involved in a wide range of activities. Part of Bristol City Council's pioneering online virtual youth service and created by Focus in partnership with Watershed, Rife Guide is managed by a team of talented young journalists, content creators and editors who know what’s important to Bristol’s young people.

Rife Guide includes a calendar of events and activities in Bristol as well as information and advice on important issues such as housing, drugs and sexual health. What’s more, visitors can create a login that will give them access to a portal of content that is appropriate to them - events and services are suited to their age and preferences and then pushed to them every time they log in, without the need to search.

As well as being a hub for young people, Rife Guide is also a platform where local businesses, organisations and providers can promote their services - they too can create a login and upload the details of their organisation or event which is then moderated by the Rife team before being published to the website.

Annette Ryske of Focus says the involvement of young people at all stages of the project has been crucial in it's success:
"Consultation was key. From the very beginning, we worked closely with Watershed on a series of workshops and engagement sessions with both service providers and target users. This involved visiting local schools, youth groups, clubs and children in local authority care. Our work with providers led the development of systems for publishing their information quickly and efficiently."
"Working with young people showed us that the majority of their internet use was via mobile, they were using social media to share content and the content itself should consist of less text and be rich in images and video."

Now that Rife Guide is live, ongoing engagement with young people is more important than ever, and we are already planning new content and features based on feedback from users. 

Annette Ryske

Created on Friday October 23 2015 09:39 AM

Tags: website

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Accessible Colours and Web Design

Accessible Colours and Web Design

For some it's driving fast cars, for others it's a risky bungee jump, for me I get plenty of excitement from discovering handy tools like this accessible colour palette generator!
Stay with me, I'll get a life right after I tell you why this is worth shouting about...

Colour is super important in web design. It's not only used to make the website visually appealing but also to increase it's usability and accessibility.

What we must remember is not to assign too much meaning to colour in web design as this is of no use to users who cannot view the colour as you intend them to. That’s why when designing a website you should ensure that the information conveyed with colour is also provided through another means.

We must also ensure there is sufficient color contrast for all content. The goal is to make sure that all visual designs meet the minimum color-contrast ratio for normal and large text on a background. There is a lot to consider but this colour palette generator does much of the thinking for you. It is based on WCAG Guidelines of text and background contrast ratios.

You simply set up the canvas and text by entering a background color and the styling of your text. Then accessible text colours are generated with WCAG Guidelines recommended contrast ratios. Ready for you to simply pick your favourite!


Jordana Jeffrey

Created on Tuesday October 20 2015 10:48 AM

Tags: web-design usability web onlinetool

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Designing for Accessibility

Designing for Accessibility

Guesswork can only get you so far before it becomes a problem. My 'genius' theory of 'If in doubt choose B' served me well in my multiple choice French exam. It proved less useful in my oral exam when I told my teacher I keep a large duck in my kitchen every other day.
Yet it's come to light that many people with disabilities are navigating websites with the help of good guesswork, such as assuming the 'Contact' button will be the last link in the navigation bar.

A website should be intuitive to anybody who chooses to use it. Nobody should have to guess their way around and risk missing much of it's content. Accessibility enables people with disabilities to perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to the web.

Alastair Campbell oversees both usability and development aspects at Nomense, a company that believes, just as we at focus do, that everybody has the right to access inclusive design, regardless of ability. He spoke with us about the importance of considering accessibility right from the start of the design process. We want to share a few of those things with you.

Skip links
The main content is often not the first thing on a web page. Keyboard and screen reader users tend to have to navigate a long list of links, sub-lists, corporate icons and more before ever arriving at the main content. So these users will thank you for enabling them to bypass or 'skip' over repetitive web page content. You can press the tab key on the Nomensa site for an example of a skip link

Keyboard test
You should be able to achieve everything with keyboard controls alone.

• tab key to progress through links and controls
• shift-tab to reverse
• enter to follow links
• space to select form controls (e.g. tick boxes)
• cntl-f / cmd-f to find a link or text

Have a go on the BBC website for a good example and the Zoopla one where you'll get lost the moment you reach the first drop down menu

Zoom view
On many sites, the closer you zoom in, the more of the site's content is lost off-screen. Not with the Microsoft website: this responsive site behaves as if you are viewing it on a smaller device each time you zoom, so eventually you are looking at a mobile view with all content still easily accessible.

User input
Make sure the results of user input happens close to where they perform the action. To experience the difficulties that incur if you don't, zoom in on this website and add something to the basket. When you do, you're left wondering as nothing appears to change, unless of course you navigate all the way to the top right of the screen and view your basket. Do the same on amazon and an 'Added to Basket' notice immediately appears within view. Yes, that ab-cruncher I'll never use is mine all mine!

Alistair, photographed above, says there are 4 questions to ask yourself:

• Can you use it with a keyboard?
• Can you see it when zoomed?
• Does it provide appropriate information to
screen readers?
• Is it easy to understand?

Yes, it's a lot to take in and on the surface it may seem that this will limit your creativity. If anything, these guidelines will push these limits as you discover visually pleasing designs that improve the online experience for a wider set of users. And that's a fact. Even in French.

Jordana Jeffrey

Created on Friday October 16 2015 11:42 AM

Tags: website technology web-development accessibility ux

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Are you keeping track of your web site enquiries?

This week my eyes have been opened as to how poorly it appears some businesses appear to be monitoring enquiries sent through their web site.

As things are growing rapidly here at Focus I've been seeking a new supplier for some financial related services. On Tuesday night (the 1st September) I made three enquiries to Bristol based businesses that provide exactly the thing I'm looking for - through the 'Enquiry / Contact Us' forms on their web site (because a) it was 10pm, and b) I really do prefer doing this sort of thing over email, especially initially).

As I write this at 4pm on Friday 4th, not one of them has replied to my business enquiry - which is as pretty close to a hot sales lead as you can get.

I won't name and shame these businesses; but they are not one man bands - they are established names all claiming on their web sites to consist of large teams and proactive staff. I know I'd be disappointed if we at Focus failed to follow up enquiries like this. Colleagues have mentioned this sort of thing before and excuses have included "James deals with enquiries, and he's off sick", or even "I'm not sure who looks after the web site". Not good enough by a long shot, not these days.

So SME's and businesses - having invested in your web site, and probably taken the time to update it with news, and probably paying someone to tweet on your behalf - why not check for a moment and see if anyone is actually dealing with enquiries you might be receiving.

As for me, maybe if I send a fax to those three companies, they'll get in touch....


Simon Newing

Created on Friday September 04 2015 03:09 PM


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