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Very proud to have finally launched it :-), posted about 1 month ago

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Secret Santa Puzzle - Solution!

Ok, so, as promised, a solution to the Secret Santa puzzled that I previously outlined here.

There's any number of ways you could do this, but the one I was thinking of was nailed by Jim (in the comments) and Steve (in the office) - so Christmas Congratulations to you both.

It works like this:

  1. Shuffle the list of people into a random order.
  2. Make a list where everyone is buying for themselves: Alice -> Alice, Charlie -> Charlie, Bob -> Bob.
  3. Now move the person that everyone's buying for along one in the list, and bump the other to the far end: Alice -> Charlie, Charlie -> Bob, Bob -> Alice.

And that's it! The approach works fine no matter how many people are in the list, never involves giving up and starting again, and ensures no-one will ever be buying for themselves.

It's not absolutely perfect in the randomness stakes; if Alice knows she's buying for Charlie, she knows for sure that Charlie isn't buying for her. (Unless the list has only two people in it!) … but in practical terms, it's almost certainly good enough.

As a postscript, I used this routine a few times in the run up to Christmas, and several times a request came up - can I set it up so that partners don't buy for each other? For example, if the Secret Santa-athon involves 3 couples, you probably don't want to randomly assign it so that people are buying for their partners.

You could achieve that by splitting the lists in two, and running two smaller Secret Santas. 

If, for example, Alice & Archie, Bob & Barb and Charlie & Cindy were in couples, you could make two lists [Alice, Bob, Charlie] and [Archie, Barb, Cindy] and run the above process twice. Anyone not in couples could be assigned randomly across the two lists; it wouldn't  matter.

(You could even group men and women into two lists, if you think the genders will buy better gifts for their own genders - but I'm certainly not getting involved in that Christmas argument!)

Anyway, thanks for reading and here's wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Neil Smith

Created on Tuesday December 25 2012 09:53 PM

Tags: christmas

Comments [0]

Christmas fun at Focus

Christmas fun at Focus

We know how to party here at Focus! (?)

Prior to our Christmas meal, we ran a competition: each of us drawing a team member's name at random, to make an appropriate sock puppet.

Efforts were... varied to say the least. Simon disqualified Steve for making his brother do all the work. Kyle used the most potent glue ever, it still stinks now. Paul used some excellent hair-making materials. Jordana (with a bit of sisterly help) got a highly commended due to decorative efforts. I had to make two! but one was me :-) And one no-show meant Steve is replaced in our gallery by a Pug in socks (obvs).

But, Neil was our winner, being the only one to make his 'Jordana' all by himself. Well done Neil - and you win... a pair of Christmas socks!

Can you guess who is who? No, don't expect you can....

Have a fab Christmas everyone!

(Bigger pic here)

Annette Ryske

Created on Friday December 21 2012 12:29 PM

Tags: christmas

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Secret Santa Puzzle

Secret Santa Puzzle

[UPDATE] A solution post is now available to read right here.

It's always a nice feeling when someone comes to me with a technical issue that they perceive will be really difficult to solve, and I'm able to tell them the solution is really straightforward.

However, sometimes the opposite is true; something that sounds simple at first turns out to be a bit more complex when you consider it further.

Christmas is just around the corner, and in offices, that means it's nearly time for Secret Santa to put in an appearance. So, I'm asked, can I knock up a quick computer program to allocate a random person to each person in the list, and email them telling them who they have to buy a present for?


So let's think about how we'd do it in real life. Probably the first thing that comes to mind is "names in a hat". Each person pulls a name out of a hat. Can't get much more straightforward than that.

We can write a computer program to take this approach - simplifying things a little, it reads:

1) Make a list called "hat" containing [ "Alice", "Bob", "Charlie" ]
2) Loop around for each person in the hat:
2a) Remove a random name from the "hat" list
2b) Allocate it to the person we're currently looking at

So, you run this a few times, and notice a bit of an obvious error; sometimes Alice has to buy a present for Alice. That's not much fun. (Or is it? At least Alice will get what she wants!) But, assuming that's probably not desired behaviour, we should probably fix that.

Ok, so what would we do in real life? If Alice pulled her own name out of the hat, we'd probably say: "Oh, just put it back in, and choose another". If she happened to pick her name again (tsk!), we'd simply ask her to repeat the exercise as many times as necessary. Ok, let's code that up:

1) Make a list called "hat" containing [ "Alice", "Bob", "Charlie" ]
2) Loop around for each person in the hat:
2a) Remove a random name from the "hat" list
2b) If the random name is the person we're currently looking at, put it back into "hat" and pick again
2c) Run 2b as many times as necessary
2d) Allocate the random name to the person we're currently looking at

Ok, this looks better. We'll run it a few times, and the results look pretty good. However, every now and again, the program just runs for ever and doesn't finish. Why?

Let's say on the first run through the program, Alice got allocated Bob. Great, let's carry on. Next up is Bob, and he gets Alice. Great, no problem there.

Charlie picks the only remaining name, and it's of course Charlie. He therefore puts it back in, and picks again, to find he's picked Charlie, obviously! A computer program does exactly what we've told it to, so will keep dutifully putting the one remaining name back into the hat, and pulling it out again, most likely forever.

Certainly he won't be done in time for the Christmas party.

So what to do? In real life, we'd probably just tell everyone to return their names, and try the whole process again - and, indeed, we certainly can tell the computer to do that.

We could add in a step before 2a that says "If the person we're currently looking at is the only person left in the hat, just forget everything that's happened and start again from scratch".

However, this is a little inelegant, and if we're really unlucky with our random choosing, it could take a long time to run if we have to abandon everything and start over several times.

So, consider this a Christmas puzzle, then - can you think of a more elegant solution to this problem that never involves giving up and starting over?

Let us know in the comments - but whatever happens, I'll post an update at Christmas with a nicer solution in it!

[FOLLOW UP] It would, for obvious reasons, be ideal if your solution worked with any number of people!

[UPDATE] A solution post is now available to read right here.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user Bart Fields, used under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.)

Neil Smith

Created on Wednesday November 28 2012 10:12 AM

Tags: christmas

Comments [2]

Proud re-launch for WECIL

Proud re-launch for WECIL

I caught up with WECIL in the Summer to find out more about their exciting rebrand - how could we apply this to their web site to not only bring it up to date visually, but also bring it more in line with the organisation's needs and objectives? With much of their offline materials already rebranded, WECIL were very keen to get their online presence sorted ASAP!

As a team, we went through the existing site and identified key areas that needed to remain in the new build, and other features to be either removed altogether, or reorganised into different areas.

Suggestions were made for some new features, which were considered against WECIL's available budget. Finally a specification was drawn up and agreed, and we started work on the design. Working with the new WECIL brand guidelines, we soon had page templates created for a home page and inside page templates; along with visuals for new features such as the Events Calendar and YouTube integration. The site needed to be engaging, visually attractive, and accessible. It also needed to provide multiple areas for updated information, to really demonstrate how active WECIL are in their projects and activities.

So as build progressed, the Events Calendar was key - WECIL hold a good number of useful, informative and fun events and needed to demonstrate this to their service users. Users can search by keywords, regions and even different Types of event - all of which WECIL can add to as time goes on. And not only that, but should a particular event be of interest, you can have the calendar email you with a reminder. Handy!

One specific change was the presentation of WECIL's key projects and research work - moving these into a Resources area has meant that although still readily available, the details are not in the way of more current areas of the site such as how to Get Involved, and the Events Calendar.

Feeds from their Twitter and Facebook accounts also feature, with regular updates from WECIL; plus a suite of visual signposts, to reinforce key areas and link directly to them.

WECIL are also benefitting from an upgrade to the latest version of Quantum - our bespoke, Rails based content management and administration system - giving their team a much easier interface to work with including access to the new modules such as the Calendar and Slideshow Feature Box on the homepage.
 They have admin access to update most of the site themselves, which means independance and control for them - but of course we're here to help when they need it!

Over the coming months, we'll keep a close eye on Google Analytics, noting areas of the site which are popular, not so popular, and how users are interacting. We'll work with WECIL to ensure we're getting the most of out the site for them, and make recommendations for updates or additions as they become relevant. Big thanks to the team at WECIL for making this a really smooth and enjoyable project to work on! You can visit the new site here.

"Can I offer our compliments on the site; it looks really good and you have dealt with us with the utmost professionalism and interpreted our requirements perfectly."

Janice Saunders
Resources Manager


Annette Ryske

Created on Friday November 23 2012 04:54 PM

Tags: website charity new-web-site youtube analytics quantum launch disability wecil

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Designing Web Sites with Children and Young People

Designing Web Sites with Children and Young People

Last week I spent the day with Camden Council and a group of young people involved in the Children in Care (CIC) council discussing the design of a new web site we are currently developing for Children in Care in Camden.

Normally when we design a web site we work with a small group of representatives of an organisation, so working with such a large group in terms of the design of a web site was new to me - although Focus has done this on a number of our web sites before so I was able to speak with the team here about what to expect.

The main feedback given was that these session needed to be clearly structured, otherwise it could easily descend into design by committee.

I had worked with Camden Council on a functionality list before the meeting - this was based on some of the previous sessions they had held with young people. We had put together some wireframes, design ideas, fonts, colour wheels and had a selection of example web sites to provide a starting point for a more focussed discussion.

I'm pleased to say that the feedback we had on the majority of our ideas was very positive. We got some great feedback from young people and ignited a number of ideas for the design. It also provide some thoughts in regard to the content and on-going management of the site.

We've come away from our meeting with some really great ideas that our designers will enjoy adding their creative input to - I'm really looking forward to seeing the results!

Created on Wednesday November 07 2012 10:27 AM


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Why Wireframe?

Why Wireframe?

Creating a wireframe may seem an obvious step to us but others may find it an unnecessary one. Having only recently been introduced to this method myself, I most definitely intend to continue with it, and here's why..

At the wireframe stage we don't worry about design details such as fonts and colours, it's purely about structure and content. This is why we generally strip it of all colour. We limit the variables so the conversation remains focused and productive. We want the wireframe to be a powerful representation of the final product without implying that we're committing to a particular colour or style. Wireframes are a great aid when explaining to clients what we propose to do and why. It's a habit worth getting in to, keeping us focused and constantly evaluating whether we can do things better. We can bring the team's thoughts and ideas together and turn them in to something more palpable. Not everybody has a strong ability to visualise so having it before their eyes prevents any such struggle. We're confident our idea's will work and a wireframe is a quick but clear way of demonstrating this. They outline the structure and elements that sit on the page creating a visual hierarchy with placement of white space and a balance of typography.

Why lose precious time spending hours upon hours designing detailed web pages that can be dismissed in seconds? Producing a quick wireframe to represent our thoughts means we receive feedback earlier in the process. It is far easier to make changes to a simplified wireframe than re-work a full design mock-up. A little time spent on this saves a lot of time on the entire project; designs are more calculated and the development team understands what they are building.  Everything just becomes much clearer, all involved know exactly what the web site is supposed to do and how it is supposed to do it.

Building a web site is a process. Wireframing is a part of this that should not be skipped, it is a small step that has an important place in a big process. 

Jordana Jeffrey

Created on Monday October 08 2012 11:05 AM

Tags: web-design

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Responsive Email Design

If you send email based newsletters and other emails as part of your digital marketing activities, it’s more likely that your customers and subscribers are now reading your emails on a mobile device or smartphone – such as an iPad, iPhone or similar. In 2011, Campaign Monitor found that almost 20% of emails were being opened on such a device, and in April 2012, email providers Litmus showed that mobile 'opens' had reached 36% of emails, overtaking both desktop and webmail.

This trend will only continue – hence marketers and designers need to assess the impact this is having on their email marketing. One of the most important points is to ensure your email displays properly on mobile devices - remember with mobile you’re generally working with less screen and a different method of navigation (that being based on ‘touch’ rather than mouse-based pointing). Without taking action your mobile using customers could be set for poor user experience.

Techniques exist for overcoming the challenges that mobile throws at us – and they’re generally the same as those used for responsive web design (that being the creation of a web site who’s design and architecture responds based on the device being used to view it). It is possible to work with the code used to build the email; and to define one layout for say, standard email clients, and another where screen width may be restricted (in fact, you could really go for it and start building device specific emails).

By doing this your ‘mobile friendly’ email can:

  • display big, clear, readable text with a minimum font size.
  • offer chunky, touchable buttons for links rather than text (in fact you could adhere to Apple’s iOS guidelines to ensure usability).
  • send your customers to a mobile optimised web site.

Of course designing a responsive email involves more than code tweaking; you need to consider the structure and content of the email, the visibility of the ‘call to action’ and the use of images (new iPads come ‘retina display’ enabled so you could include higher resolution images for these emails). Our own newsletters are now responsive, it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on usage and engagement statistics as time rolls on.

Simon Newing

Created on Wednesday September 19 2012 11:12 AM

Tags: userexperience emailmarketing emails

Comments [1]

Who's Hungry for Reading?

Who's Hungry for Reading?

We're very excited to have launched a charity microsite for MS Ireland and it's been seriously good fun! The site is vibrant and energetic which perfectly reflects the excitement of MS Ireland's upcoming READaTHON.

The month long event kicks off on October 12th 2012 and is their biggest fundraising event. It was 25 years ago that the late, great Roald Dahl launched the first campaign. Ever since then the MS READaTHON has been encouraging young people to read while raising much needed funds for services to those living with Multiple Sclerosis in Ireland. The concept is straightforward; Children are sponsored by family and friends to read as many books as they can in one month, it's simple but extremely effective.

With the design theme focusing on monsters that eat books we've gone back to our childhoods here at Focus and let our imaginations run wild! We threw in scratches, claws and bite marks, adding character and a sense of chaos. We have also emphasized the fun factor and encouraged interaction by embedding videos and games.

The site, just like the event, appeals not only to kids and teenagers but adults too. So, why not enjoy yourself and do a great thing for charity by getting involved? You’ll be glad you did!

Our latest go-live....

Our latest go-live....

The next in a series of projects we've completed over the summer - and it's a big well done to Annette, Steve and Jordana from Team Focus for their work on the new Pace web site, launched in mid August.

Pace are a design consultancy based in Clevedon - managing creative projects for Lloyds TSB, the NHS, Clevedon School and Merlin Housing Society, amongst others.

The new site shows off Pace's refreshed brand and range of design services and also includes a blog that is regularly updated by the entire Pace team. We've also integrated the site with their Twitter profile so that it features latest updates - a nice touch in helping to send traffic both to their social media account and web site.

Nick Cleeve, MD at Pace says:
"We've found Focus to be so easy to work with right through our web site development. They had a professional approach,understanding our business and exactly the direction we wanted to take it forward in. As the business owner I'm not used to being managed, but Annette managed us well, keeping us focused on the end goal and working together as a partnership to achieve the final result.

We've had nothing but positive feedback on our new site since go-live, and I look forward to an ongoing relationship with the team at Focus."

See the new Pace web site at:

Simon Newing

Created on Friday August 24 2012 11:15 AM

Tags: website web-development new-web-site

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Brand new site for MS Ireland

Brand new site for MS Ireland

Thrilled to bits! That's the reaction from our friends at The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland to the launch of their brand new website yesterday!

The Society, one of Ireland's largest charities, work with people with MS, their families and carers, health professionals, students and others who are interested in or concerned about MS. We've been working with MS Ireland since 2007 - not only helping to create their main Society website, but several dedicated campaign microsites too - such as ReadAThon and Tea Party (with McVities). So we were excited to begin working with the Comms team on the structure and design of their brand new site earlier this year.

As well as making sure the web site would be engaging, contemporary and informative, we were briefed that it's key objective was to help create a community of users who could interact with the site and each other through it - providing users and viewers the opportunity to contribute, comment and collaborate on news and views surrounding Multiple Sclerosis.

Through a number of workshops and presentations, the site began to take shape; the creative phase concentrated on site design, navigation and the organisation of information which included introducing 'real life' signposts helping direct visitors to information relevant to them. The administration system that manages the site has been given a complete overhaul to the latest version of Quantum - our bespoke, Rails based content management system. The web site has also benefited from a number of functional improvements  including a brand new and enhanced events calendar, which not only features a far more engaging interface, but also invites users to submit their own events.

The site also includes national and regional blogs updated by geographical editors, five separate blogs with editorial content from the different teams at MSI and user polls - helping get real feedback on important issues from real users.

It's been a brilliant experience working with the team at MSI, and we're so pleased to have this site as part of our portfolio.

Best go and take a look then!

Looking forward to working with the team again on their next campaign site… look out for more on this soon.

"We are thoroughly delighted with our new website. We wanted something brighter, more modern and interactive and which reflected the care and support our organisation provides to people with MS. Focus were wonderful throughout the project, listening to our needs and building on those to give us exactly what we wanted."
Taragh Donohoe
Communications Manager, MS Ireland