World Usability Day 2013 at the M Shed this year had a host of great talks from usability professionals and enthusiasts from around the world. One talk really caught my attention and that was "BBC Olympics: An Accessibility Study" by Alistair Duggin the lead front-end developer at Money Advice Service. The talk looked back on the BBC Olympics website and the huge task taken on by the BBC to cover the Olympics in the digital age They wanted to make 24 HD live streams, over 2500 hours worth of video coverage as well as huge amounts of stats and data available world wide to a massive audience across mobile, tablet, PC and connected TV.
By the end of the project there had been 37 million UK browses, 66% of the adult population had visited the website as well as having 57 million global browses with 111 million video requests across all available platforms. These numbers were not the only difficulties of the project, the team at the BBC had an immovable deadline of a huge profile event and were working with teams of mixed knowledge in terms of accessibility. On top of this for added pressure the Australian olympics had been sued for being inaccessible.
So the team had one page for each of the 10,000 athletes, 205 countries, 36 sports, 304 medal winning events and 30 venues that they had to make usable and accessible for people with a range of visual, auditory, motor and cognitive abilities. This is where I was really surprised by the talk, I was expecting a full range of teams running huge usability studies and endless testing to make sure everything was perfect deploying more resources than is possible in a normal sized project. In reality the methodology and practices followed by Alistair and his team were reusable on any scale and in fact should be used on all web projects. It is not spending a lot of time changing designs and code to make it accessible, if you have accessibility in the back of your head when creating websites then you should only have to do it one time.
These are all the kind of coding practices that we can all follow on our websites but not necessarily something we check as often as how a page looks in IE7 or displays on a mobile device. I learned a lot from Alistair's talk, especially coming from the view point of a front end developer it showed me how important accessibility is for users, we should not be thinking about making it better for a minority of users but instead creating universal accessibility. He also talked about having a website that is one hundred percent accessible as not being realistic and that we need to prioritise in real world projects but that accessibility does not have to compromise design or ingenuity in websites.
Created on Monday December 09 2013 10:00 AM
Last week I took part in the first webinar of the #TwitterAcademy series "How to grow your business with Twitter". This was a short session which I was able to fit into my day, at 30mins tops. Keeping it short also meant keeping focused!
I thought it was a good, easy to digest session. Yes, it was a bit 'back to basics', but even so there was some really useful pointers to take to get you back to having a strategy, however simple, and sticking to it.
In summary, these are the key points which I'm taking away and aiming to refine not just our Tweeting, but also our clients approach to Twitter. It's simplistic stuff, but I think we can all agree we can make some improvements to the way we use social media.
- Look at what the big boys are doing - the example in the Webinar was Pret, showing their timely Tweets over the lunchtime period, and answering questions and Tweets quickly and in good humour.
- Follow your competitors. That's obvious!
- Retweeting other accounts tweets can be a simple but effective strategic move - mentioning their @ handle in your tweet suddenly has the potential to reach many more recipients.
- Reply to followers questions and comments - again, this helps to reach new recipients, but also gives an opportunity to show some personality and character to your brand on Twitter.
- Use #hashtags - see what's trending, or what's topical in your market, and use that hashtag. Anyone researching or looking at that subject matter might just come across your Tweet.
- Use the Advanced Search https://twitter.com/search-advanced feature on Twitter. Search for keywords and look at conversations that relate to your product or service, or as importantly your customer base - then tailor your Tweets accordingly.
- Use links, pictures, proverbs, news... something other than just your 140 characters!
- Providing value + achieving your Business goals + entertaining = the ideal Tweet. Remember why you're doing this, but have some fun at the same time..
If you'd like an informal chat about Social Media, or need some help planning your activity, please get in touch!
Created on Wednesday November 27 2013 04:18 PM
Last month saw us launch a new web site on behalf of the Parent Partnership team at Bath and North East Somerset Council.
Connecting Families is a new programme designed to help families with multiple complex needs in the BathNES region - and is part of the Government's Troubled Families Initiative, which aims to change the lives of 120,000 families by 2015.
The web site provides users with access to a database of support groups and organisations who offer help, guidance and advice. The database is categorised into easy-to-follow scenarios and topics that are relevant to individual family members - so it's clear where everyone can find the information most appropriate to them.
Additionally the site has built using underlying responsive tech - with the layout of each page changing based on the device being used to view it; whether it's a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile smartphone. We include a responsive layout with all our new web site projects - helping provide engaging user experiences across all devices.
To see the new web site please see:
Created on Friday November 22 2013 10:00 PM
Recently myself and another previous student of UWE returned to the User Experience module of the new Digital Media degree to talk in one of the first lectures of the year. We were asked by Praminda and Paul, lecturers at UWE we were previously students for, to do an introduction to User Experience and to try and talk about what we had learned in our first years as graduates. My partner in crime was Richard Foggin who is working at True Digital, we sat down before hand to try and work out what we would have wanted to learn about User Experience in our introductory lectures and what insights we could give as students who had been there before.
It was a hard decision to either talk about primarily what they would need as students of that module to pass, or what they would need as young professionals going out into digital and web work. User experience is such a vital part of our industry that it is almost certainly going to be part of their job in some way no matter what specialisation the students decide to go into. Rich and I decided that we would give an introduction to ourselves, the subject and what it meant to us but that we would need to get practical in order to give the students a real taste for UX work.
We decided to run the students through a practical that Rich and I had taken part in during a talk at UX Bristol by John Waterworth. We had the students design mini user interviews picking subjects they had an interest in and then took it in turns to be the interviewer and facilitator / note-taker. This was to give the students a feeling for all of the skills required to gain insights and collect requirements from user interviews. I think at the end of this process we had probably learned more than the students, I had not fully understood how hard it would be to run a workshop, keep everyone on track and making sure they got the most out of their time there.
We finished off our talk a bit exhausted with our collection of cheat-sheet / hacks for student life, little techniques and lessons we wanted to pass back as previous students to try and make it easier being a student! It was definitely a real experience going back to UWE, brushing up on our public speaking skills and really surprising just how much information you have that you want to share, it isn't until you start planning your time you realise the extent of the user experience subject. I would definitely recommend to any other professionals to go back to their universities and offer their services, it is a lot of fun and could be a good excuse to meet up with old university friends to work on something together.
Created on Friday October 25 2013 01:19 PM
Speed on the web is as important as ever, with figures showing that better performing websites get more business, and that performance may also have an effect on SEO rankings.
Recently, we've been asked by several clients to measure how their site performs, and what could be done to speed it up.
For the first client (a multi-national blue-chip insurance company), they primarily wanted to know how many users their system could support - how many users could use the site in an hour, say?
The first thing we needed here was a program to simulate being a real user. PhantomJS is an excellent tool here, because behind the scenes it's basically the same browser as Google Chrome, but there's no visible front-end - we can "drive" it automatically and measure the results.
So, we produced a PhantomJS script that hit the website, logged in, and performed the operations our client wanted testing. (Measuring all the times as it went.)
We then produced a large queue of those scripts to run, and fired up a whole bunch of Rackspace Cloud servers, and told them to share the queue of jobs - this is to simulate concurrent users, which is very difficult to emulate with a single computer.
We ramped up the simultaneous servers gradually, and found the spot at which we'd hit a limit - meaning that the system couldn't deal with more simultaneous users than we were throwing at it.
Armed with these numbers, we could then dive a little deeper into the figures at certain points of the process, and find some likely candidates for the stages that were specifically slowing things down.
The tools we have available for this kind of work these days are frankly excellent - without PhantomJS (or something similar), our tests would have been significantly less "real", as it wouldn't have used real-life browsers to do the testing. And without Rackspace Cloud, I dread to think of the work involved in actually firing up that many physical servers to perform the tests!
Next time, I'll talk more about what happens next - how web pages can be made faster.
In the meantime, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us if you'd like us to performance-test your website!
Created on Tuesday September 17 2013 01:45 PM
Yesterday our good friends at MS Ireland launched their 2013 MS READaTHON campaign. It's Ireland's largest and longest-running sponsored read for young people, and this year once again it's supported by a fun Focus microsite!
Featuring moving robots, the site has stacks of information for kids, teens, teachers and librarians about how to sign up for this year's campaign. MSI were keen to ensure the site had a balance between informing young people about MS, and providing fun and engaging ways to get involved.
The site also features a video embedded in the site, ensuring schools who block videos-streaming sites such as YouTube still get to view the video and find out what it's like to have a family member with MS.
The Comms team at MSI have lots of control over the site, and are able to update much of the content themselves. They also have prizes to be won, games to play and other ways to get involved.
Head over to the site now - we'd love to hear what you think!
Created on Tuesday September 10 2013 11:54 AM
'Big Wecil' has been the affectionate name throughout the summer for one of our larger and more complex projects - which gets it's first serious airing tomorrow (Wednesday 11th September) at Disability Somerset - the south west's leading independent living exhibition.
We're not going to give too much away at this stage, but it's a hugely exciting and innovative way for adults who require social care to plan their care and manage their personal budgets - all in line with the ongoing requirements from government for more personal choice and decision making.
'Big Wecil' has been designed from scratch to work across all platforms and devices, such as iPads and iPhones, includes lots of features to enhance accessibility, and throughout the project there's been a real focus on system usability. The software looks set to provide a truly collaborative environment for professionals such as GPs, social workers and health visitors.
With the BBC and other news outlets at tomorrow's exhibition, we're looking forward to revealing a little more about the project - meanwhile as we might be on telly, we need to go and check our hair.....
Created on Tuesday September 10 2013 11:36 AM
We've going through a bit of an upgrade period here at Focus towers. The web framework we use for all our websites is Ruby on Rails, and version 4.0 has just been released.
Major "point" upgrades, when systems go from v3.x to v4.0 are always an exciting, and yet challenging time. Normally major upgrades have exciting new features that we want to use, but the downside is they often require other code or libraries to be upgraded to work correctly.
Ruby on Rails v4.0 requires Ruby 1.9, dropping support for the older Ruby 1.8 series, which means servers running 1.8 need to be upgraded in order to use Rails 4. However, Rails 4 also supports the also-new Ruby 2.0, which brings performance optimisations and other nice language improvements to the table.
The best approach would seem to be to install multiple versions of Ruby on some of our servers, making them able to serve sites both old and new.
This is thankfully easily achievable - IF we upgrade Phusion Passenger, which serves our Rails sites on our production server to v4.0, which is the first version to support multiple Ruby versions at the same time!
So, we find ourselves wanting to upgrade to Rails 4.0, Ruby 2.0 and Phusion Passenger 4.0 at the same time in order to achieve what we want! It's an exciting time, but also one that involves a lot of testing!
Version numbers aside, you may be wondering what the point of these upgrades is. It's generally true that a website created in Rails 4 can't (from a user viewpoint) really achieve anything that fundamentally a website in Rails 3 (or even 2, or 1) can. (There are a few specific exceptions, but I'll leave these for now!)
Rails 4 brings the developers some nice additional tools to the table, meaning we can write code in simpler, better and more consistent ways. This helps us write code quicker and reduces the possibility of making any errors.
The main customer-facing improvement, however, is probably performance - Rails 4 gives us some great tools (such as "turbo links" and "russian doll caching", believe it or not!) to make your websites run faster for your users.
Everyone is clamouring for more speed on websites these days - figures show that faster websites convert customers better (and generate more revenue), and Google is factoring load speed into it's ranking - meaning faster websites could rank better in the natural listings.
Therefore, it's great for everyone that we're getting an even better set of tools for making your websites run faster.
If you'd like to know more about any of our technologies, or would like to talk to us about website performance, please do get in touch!
Created on Wednesday August 14 2013 12:17 PM
Another go-live during our busy Summer was the dedicated Mobile site for Findability Bristol, an online directory for disabled children and their families.
Since the main site went live back in March 2012, we're been monitoring the Analytics, and seen a month-on-month increase in visits from Mobile devices. The figures spoke for themselves - a 481% increase in Mobile visitors in May this year compared to May 2012 - and it was only increasing. This, along with a need by the Family Information Services team at Bristol City Council to make information available and accessible to as many families as they can, made the case for developing a dedicated Mobile site a compelling one.
- The number of visits made using a mobile device had almost tripled compared to the first 6 months of launch.
- A 21% drop in pages-per-visit suggests people have grown to expect websites to be mobile compatible - and are losing patience with those that aren't.
- The average visit duration when accessing via a mobile device had dropped to less than a minute.
- Almost a 10% increase in new visits being made using a mobile device.
- 14.36% rise in bounce rate suggests users are getting increasingly deterred as soon as they see the site is incompatible with mobile.
So, we set about developing an easy-to-use site that kept the fundamental features of the desktop version, plus a couple of extras to make full use of the mobile environment - for example, smart phone users who have geolocation enabled, this plots your location and the nearest organisations to you from your search!
- The mobile home page features clear navigation to key area, plus keyword and location search of organisations and events.
- Search results are displayed along with a Google Map - this links through to view full Google Map and associated functionality - including "show me directions from my current location".
- The events calendar provides users with a menu offering 'view events for current week' - organised by today, tomorrow, remaining days of that week.
- Clicking a specific event takes the user through to an individual page for that event, including a Google Map.
- It's also easy to make contact, provide feedback, and visit the related Facebook (mobile) page.
It's only been a couple of weeks since go live, so we'll be keen to view the analytics in due course and report back on the difference having the dedicated Mobile site has made. We hope this will be more returning visitors, who spend the right amount of time on the right pages, finding what they need quickly and easily.
We'll report back later in the year!
If you'd like to know more about dedicated Mobile sites, please get in touch.
Created on Tuesday August 06 2013 12:07 PM
Amongst our summer of new web sites is an eCommerce store for Roadcraft - manufacturers of safety products, road marking and paints for over thirty years.
The new site concentrates on Roadcraft's industrial paint product range and allows distributors and the public to purchase online. The site includes lots of best practice eCommerce features such as an isolated checkout to increase conversion rates, an auto-completing product search, integration with SagePay for processing online payments and of course, a complete administration system for managing all aspects of the store.
Web site activity is tracked using Google Analytics, so we can keep an eye on user behaviour and ensure the site continues to meet it's objectives and KPI's.
Have a look at the new site at:
Created on Friday July 19 2013 02:49 PM
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