Monthly Archives: December 2009

Merry Christmas Everybody!

25 by Leo Reynolds.I started working at Edge Hill around the same time IT Services launched the GO portal and there was talk in the office the first Christmas about how many people would be logging in on Christmas day.

We don’t have the stats for Christmas day 2006, but we do have last couple of years so now you can check out how many people were logging in a year ago today (except I’m writing this in November so it’s not a year ago for me).

Last year GO received 840 visits on Christmas day.  Here’s an hourly breakdown – thick blue line is 2008 stats and the thin green line is 2007:

GO stats for Christmas day 2007 and 2008

The main Edge Hill website received even more visitors. Again, thick blue line is 2008 stats and the thin green line is 2007:

Edge Hill University website stats for Christmas day 2007 and 2008

I wonder if either site will beat those figures this year!

That’s all for 25 days of blogging – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading some of the posts and thank you to everyone who’s commented.  See you in 2010 where we’ll start it all again with some very exciting projects on the cards (well, on the product backlog actually!)

2010: The Year of Open Data?

I don’t like to predict the future – usually because I’m wrong – but I’m going to put my neck out on one point for the coming year.  2010 will be the year that data becomes important.

I’ve long been a believer in opening up sources of data.  As far as possible, we try to practice what we preach by supplying feeds of courses, news stories, events and so on.  We also make extensive use of our own data feeds so I’m always interested to see what other people are doing.  Over the last year there has been growing support for opening up data to see what can be done with it and there’s potentially more exciting stuff to come.

A big part of what many consider to be “Web 2.0” is open APIs to allow connections to be made and they have undoubtedly let to the success of services like Twitter.

Following in their footsteps have been journalists, both professional and amateur, who are making increasing use of data sources and in many cases republishing them.  The MPs expenses issue showed an interesting contrast in approaches.  While the Daily Telegraph broke the story and relied on internal man power to trawl through the receipts for juicy information the Guardian took a different route.  As soon as the redacted details were published, the Guardian launched a website allowing the public to help sort through pages and identify pages of interest.  Both the Guardian and the Times have active data teams releasing much of their sources for the public to mashup.

The non commercial sector have produced arguably more useful sources of data.  MySociety have a set of sites which do some really cool things to help the public better engage with their community and government.

In the next few months there looks set to be even more activity.  The government asked Tim B-L to advise on ways to make the government more open and whether due to his influence or other factors there are changes on the horizon.

But it’s set to be the election, which must be held before [June], which could do the most.  Data-based projects look set to pop up everywhere.  One project – The Straight Choice – will track flyers and leaflets distributed by candidates in order to track promises during and after the election.  Tweetminster tracks Twitter accounts belonging to MPs and PPCs and has some nice tools to visualise and engage with them.

I believe there will be an increasing call for Higher Education to open up its data.  Whether that’s information about courses using the XCRI format, or getting information out of the institutional VLE in a format that suits the user not the developer, there is lots that can be done.  I’m not pretending this is an easy task but surely if it can be done it should because it’s the right thing to do.

Since I started writing this entry a few days ago, the Google Blog post on The Meaning of Open. Of course they say things much better than I could, so I’ll leave you with one final quote:

Open will win. It will win on the Internet and will then cascade across many walks of life: The future of government is transparency. The future of commerce is information symmetry. The future of culture is freedom. The future of science and medicine is collaboration. The future of entertainment is participation. Each of these futures depends on an open Internet.

Let’s do our bit to contribute to that future.

New Homepages for 2010


We’ve recently used heatmap software to get an impression of the way people use our homepage; disappointingly, the central area, which we use to promote university achievements, major news and events, is often bypassed. This indifference is largely down to everyday visitors using the homepage as an entry point to the GO portal, but we are concerned that major announcements are going unnoticed.

We’ve had some strong homepages over the past year, as yesterday’s blog post attests; but we seemed to have got stuck in a rut by using the same three story template time and time again. It is clear that the single story homepages with the dedicated background images have far more visual impact, and are harder to ignore as a consequence.

compare

The obvious step was to add some interaction, so that we can navigate between stories, therefore individual stories can fill the whole area making a greater impression. Also by adding a random element we can ensure some freshness for each visit.

newGraduation

Typography

We’ve been using uppercase Futura Bold for our homepage headlines since the 2008 redesign; the justification for this was simple, that I felt it had more impact. Over time I’ve noticed that the blocks of text have a solidity, that consumes too much of the negative space around the letters; as a consequence the headlines are less readable.

futuraBold

So I’ve opted for lowercase Futura Book instead, as it seems to create more breathing space, but still has enough oomph for a headline.

futuraBook

Navigation

The coloured bar on the right will be used to flip between screens, there will be a colour association based on tints in the image itself, or as a direct contrast to the background colour; and this will also be used as the highlight colour in the headlines.

There will be sub navigation across the bottom where applicable: the links will have titles if the sections are different, or can be generic circles if you are flipping through a gallery.

125prev

The new homepage style will make its debut for Edge Hill’s 125th anniversary celebrations, which begin in January 2010.

125prev2

Winter bugs

Here at Edge Hill we’ve used Trac for quite some time in Web Services. I’ve been here for more than a year and a half now and during this period the team have greatly increased their use of Trac for ticketing problems, monitoring source changes, and more recently tracking Scrum Sprint progress. While Trac is great we need more – we want more – we’re bias.

We use Confluence heavily, the Faculty of Health have it as home to many documents and information for staff, students and external partners, we’re moving our Intranet into it, we also use it as our team wiki for documentation and the like. So as you can see, we have a fair bit invested in it. Confluence is made by Atlassian and these great folks also make JIRA.

We’ve heard many great things about JIRA and seen it in action ourselves when dealing with Atlassian. We think it’s great, has good integration and with the GreenHopper it’ll help us with our Scrum agile project management!

That’s the plan anyway!

Whilst we’re at it we’re taking the opportunity to install FishEye too. This will give us some awesome insight into what we’re actually coding and allow some great collaboration and knowledge sharing without much effort at all. If your a stats junky the numbers and graphs this thing makes is awesome!

Do your use JIRA?

One project to rule them all (ala Second Life’s Linden Labs) or many little ones?

What are your favourite things about FishEye?

Electronic Waste or e-waste


Day 20“Electronic waste” can be defined as all secondary computers, electronics, mobile phones, and other items such as television sets and refrigerators, whether sold, donated, or no longer wanted by their original owners.

E-waste is one of the fastest growing types of waste, much of it ends up dumped in Africa and Asia. Take a look at Greenpeace’s electronic waste trail map.

The United Nations tells us some, 20-50 million tonnes of electronic waste – or e-waste – is produced every year. The recycling of electronic waste in developing countries such as India causes serious health and pollution problems because electronic equipment contains some very serious contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium and brominated flame retardants. Exposure to these dangerous chemicals is rewarded with as little as $3 per day, picking through these parts leaves people, many of them children, with constant cuts, scrapes, watering eyes and headaches.

Even in developed countries like our own, recycling and disposal of e-waste involves significant risk to workers and communities and great care must be taken to avoid unsafe exposure in recycling operations and leaching of material such as heavy metals from landfills and incinerator ashes.

We all want to be part of developing technology so we owe it to ourselves and our planet to recycle responsibly. Manga-Fu and PDC are two companies within the UK that can help you recycle that unwanted IT and Electrical equipment. So if you get a new mobile or computer for Christmas, think twice about what you will do with the old one!

Form Follows Function, But How Far Behind?


I go into this blog-post blind, but I am conscious of two things: firstly that I have a question, but no conclusion; secondly, I’m haunted by an image of neatly aligned post-it notes, stuck on a whiteboard.

The Question

Does the designer need to be involved in a development project from conception to sign off, or should they be roped in once all development work is done?

That Image

This picture is taken from the presentation How We Make Websites by Matthew Wood and Michael Smethurst of the BBC, given at the Institutional Web Management Workshop 2009. I remembered the image as a page layout, and I imagined the different coloured notes to be some kind of attention mapping.

OK, I got it wrong as it turns out, the image is from the “Design your URI schema” slide. In my head it is linked with Matthew saying, and this could possibly be a misquotation “We don’t do any mock-ups in Photoshop” which is more likely to have come during the “Apply decor CSS” section.

What am I on about?

The workflow outlined in the presentation is dealing with masses of data, so I can understand why the web designer is being brought in late in the process.

We do however seem to have two concepts of design, and two stages of design: firstly design as a process of organising and structuring information; secondly design as a process of decoration. In essence, one is functional, the other is frivolous.

I agree that form should follow function; the site needs to work, but I think some degree of designed visualisation throughout the process can improve the final outcome.

Grids, Wire-framing, and Attention Mapping

Loads has be written about these so I don’t think I should write an overview, but I think they really help set the agenda for what you want an application to do. I think they can help a designer communicate ideas with a developer, and the developer can feedback whether or not something is workable…

Some Examples

I designed a homepage for E42, Edge Hill’s magazine and mocked it up in HTML and CSS. I figured it was a simple job for the developer, so I gave to him and said “Make it work!”. Presenting the stories in two columns turned out to be a nightmare, something to do with odd and even numbers of stories, and closing div tags. Anyway a bit of communication and a simple wireframe mock-up could have saved an afternoons work.

Conversely our main events page was created by the development team: it functions perfectly, but has no visual punch. If a monotone wireframe had been used, the focus could have been drawn quicker to the latest event; and if some attention mapping was done, you wouldn’t have to scroll down to find the button to the Events Timeline!

One Thing about Wire-framing

Wire-framing is great in certain contexts, getting the balance and composition of a static page right, early in the workflow, increases consideration for the end user throughout the process.

With applications like GO, where the end user can add and remove their own content, they are also creating their own page composition: In this context it is worth concentrating on the individual components.

By using Photoshop layers you can compare how the components sit next to one another, and see if you are achieving harmony or just making noise.

The Accidental

Experience has taught me the importance of planning up front: however nothing is conceived and visible in an instant. Just about every project hits a lull, where things look OK, but there is a lack of balance, or something just isn’t standing out the way it should do.

This is where a happy accident often occurs, usually by hiding layers in Photoshop the right juxtaposition of text, imagery and colour can miraculously happen, and everything falls into place.

This can’t be built in as part of your core plan, but by involving a designer throughout, little twists to the plot can happen, and you could end up with a more effective website.

To Conclude

Well the answer to the original question is no: let’s face it if something works it works; but people are becoming more conscious of the visual appearance of applications and how the intuitiveness of a layout gives them confidence as a user; also there is a psychological element that if something looks good it probably works better too.

Obviously there are other aesthetic questions: why do so many interfaces resemble a Mac operating system, or the dashboard of an Audi; but this is beside the point.

125 by 125

Do you ever have really great ideas that on second thoughts are incredibly stupid?  Yeah, I have them all the time but usually I’m sensible enough not to tell anyone about them.  A month ago I was caught out by an email from Corporate Marketing Communications and Student Recruitment asking what people are doing for the anniversary celebrations.  I had a flash of inspiration and fired off a reply:

I’ll do something with Twitter or a blog for 125, maybe similar to the 365 projects that people do – one photo per day for 125 days.

It was that quick.  Fast forward 30 days and I’m starting to think that was a really, really stupid suggestion.  Writing 25 posts across the whole team has been difficult enough so what am I playing at committing to posting every day for four months?!

If I’m going to have any chance of making this work I’m going to a) need help and b) make it simple, so give me your ideas, people!  My initial thought was to raid the archives, take a load of photos and just post them rather than having to write lots for each day – that way I could spend an hour or two every couple of weeks and schedule ahead.  I could also broaden it out and persuade other people to blog or highlights from some of the 125 events happening on campus.

Picking things that might be of interest is also important – I’m not doing this for myself – so what would you like to see?  Post your comments below!

Making the best use of the Information Screens

Digital SignageIT Services Information Screens (Digital Signage) are located in some of the most vibrant areas of Edge Hill’s campus. These screens are able to display announcements as well as play video clips such as the recruiting TV advertisement for the University.

These signs improve communication as well as provide an important and compelling information resource, a real opportunity to capture the imagination of viewers.

What Can Be Displayed?

The screens can be used for advertising events, displaying University information such as: Conferences, Seminars, Awards, Special Events, Faculty recognition, Community information i.e. Rose Theatre, Sporting Edge and much more.

The information on the Digital Screens differs from other communication mediums such as websites, (newspapers), posters, circulars, TV and other types of advertising, as each medium is unique in what a viewer is typically doing when they see messages. Web users interact with the information by clicking, TV viewers are sitting and flicking within the channels, (newspaper) readers are flipping pages, etc.

DS viewers are typically on the move from one place to another or involved on some other activities such as eating, studying or resting. Therefore they will only see your message for a few seconds as they won’t stand in front of the screen waiting to read all the information on them.

The content is most effective when it is clear; fewer words are better combined with a clear headline and/or an eye-catching graphic. The best messages present basic information and ask for action in a succinct and direct manner. The duration (i.e. length) of a message should be in the context of the viewing time and the overall playloop time.

“Content” messages are composed according to a style guide that assures that branding and messaging are suitable and the presentation through fonts and colours are “professional” looking and compelling.

Communications objectives are achieved based on information presented along with a “Call to Action” implicitly or explicitly directing a viewer to do something such as “plan to attend”, “visit the site,” “remember”, “take note”, register, visit, dial, etc…

For more information please contact: webteam@edgehill.ac.uk. Web services will initially request 2 weeks notice where possible and may not be able to accommodate a late submission so please plan accordingly. Events must be advertise at least 4 weeks before they are taking place.