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Plug it in

Categories: Learning things, Our work, Useful/interesting

We're always interested in making things better through design, and as technology develops we're increasingly able to improve functional – as well as visual – design 'under the hood' of the websites we build.

A great user experience for admins as well as website visitors? In the web parlance of old; EPIC WIN!!11!!.

Many of these improvements are made possible by judicious use of plugins.

What's that now?

Avoiding too much techy jargon, a plugin is a bit of code that gets added (plugged-in) to an existing software application to help it do more.

Plugins come in all shapes and sizes – some tweak an existing feature to make it work in a slightly different way; others are incredibly involved and drastically extend the capabilities of an application.

As an example of the latter; an off-the-shelf content management system (CMS) won't necessarily come with an integrated shop, so if a website needs to sell something, that functionality needs to be added – in the form of a plugin. (It's either that or build a shop from scratch, which will have a fairly drastic impact on cost and timescales.)

In essence, plugins add specific features to an existing application.

Why we use plugins

Our favoured CMS, Craft – a beautiful, simple, lightweight system – has a good deal of built-in functionality, but sometimes we need it to do more or do something a little differently.

So, we tailor Craft to each project by adding certain plugins – giving the system the precise features to meet a project's needs without it getting weighed-down with superfluous functionality.

I guess the mantra's "Start simple and add only what's needed."

We sometime use plugins made by third parties but when there's nothing out there that does the specific thing we need, that's not a problem; that's when we build it ourselves.

Plugins we've made

Pimp My Matrix
Keeps a complex and long list of design functions neat and easy-to-use.

Button Box
A set of field types for colours, text size, star-ratings, customisable buttons …

Table Maker
Our most recent release is Table Maker which allows website administrators to define their own table columns; something Craft's in-built table function doesn't (yet) do.

This plugin was developed so one of our clients can easily and flexibly create tables of wildly differing datasets, without needing umpteen table templates to choose from – pretty fundamental for a governmental finance organisation.

We build Craft plugins which are freely available for other developers to use –

This post was co-authored by Josh.

Season’s Greetings 2014

Categories: Silly

'Tis the season for impossibly busy shopping centres, boiler-breakdowns and treacherously slippery pavements. Bah!

But it's not all bad …

Christmas trees, nativity scenes – and especially fairy lights.

Christmas music!
There's a suitable festive tune for everyone, whether Bublé's your bag or you're more the South Park Christmas Album type. (Howdy-ho!)

Food and drink!
Mmmm; stollen, nuts, mulled wine, spiced biscuits, chocolate coins, satsumas, party food and Christmas dinner … except the sprouts.

There's something special about (almost) everyone having the same day off work at least once a year.

Needs no explanation.

Warmest winter wishes from Supercool.

A fine vintage?

Categories: Silly, Useful/interesting

Official Pantone image of Color of the Year 2015 – Marsala

Towards the end of each year, Pantone announce their Color of the Year, and for 2015 this honour has been bestowed upon Pantone 18-1438 – named Marsala for descriptive and, potentially, ease-of-copywriting purposes.

The Pantone website describes the colour with words like robust, earthy, full-bodied, rich, elegant – borrowing many an adjective from a sommelier's handbook.

I don't know if it's just me but Marsala seems very 1970's. See what I mean?

Seventies-tastic images of clothing, bike, radio, cars – all 'marsala' coloured

It brings back childhood memories not because I used to drink marsala as a child (I didn't) but because I'd automatically call this colour 'maroon' – a word which as a 4-year old I simply could not pronounce. "Ra-moon." "Raaa-moooon!" Nope.

It's possibly a bit of a weird one for a 4-year old but I had a maroon coat that I loved showing-off, and my parents – sticklers for colour correctness – weren't about to let me call it 'reddish-brown'. (Mum worked in the Dulux paint lab before having me, so knew all the colours.)

Other than its retroness, another immediate reaction I had to this colour is that it's very much in the make-up department; show me a cosmetics counter without this exact shade of blusher, lipstick and nail polish.

But I understand the name Blusher wouldn't really cut it so, for what's essentially a wine-like colour, Marsala is as good a name as any. Especially as a similarly appropriate word is already widely associated with something else …

Ron Burgundy

Science, art and naked mole rats

I recently joined around 600 arts marketers at the annual AMA (Arts Marketing Association) Conference, this year held across joint venues Colston Hall and Watershed in Bristol.

There was a lot to take in over the two days, but one of the more intriguing sessions was Lessons From The Science Side: Innovation and Engagement. I went along to find out what it was all about and discovered a panel of experts from the science world discussing how they work with, and engage, audiences …

Peter Linett of audience research agency Slover Linett discussed how our traditional 20th century view of stuffy museums and 'men in white coats' science is being transformed into a more subjective, democratic presentation of the subject. In particular he highlighted Zooniverse who actively use their audience as part of their research, allowing thousands of people to contribute data; "We make citizen science websites so that everyone can be part of real research online."

Image: Guerilla Science

Jen Wong from Guerilla Science spoke about bringing science to festivals, and other surprisingly non-scientific places, showing that it's a part of culture rather than separate from it. And their projects do feel more like performance art; disrupting the norm and catching people unawares with a bit of science when they're not expecting it.

Finally Steve Cross, who day-to-day is Head of Public Engagement at University College London, talked through his extra-curricular role hosting and promoting Science Showoff – a regular stand-up night which encourages anybody and everybody to make jokes at the expense of science.

This 'loosening-up' isn't new or science-specific – along with science we’ve seen growing democratisation of other sectors such as business, journalism and politics. This ability for people to not only observe and learn, but to increasingly participate in and share undoubtedly owes some thanks to the internet and social media.

But a hundred years ago the art world had post-modernism which, in many ways, I think this openness and playfulness mirrors – it also allowed the audience in. Things like poetry slams, flash mobs and Instagram are continuing to blur that line between the audience and the stage.

The marketing of arts, however, may have a bit of catching up to do – it was suggested that the promotion of the art doesn't always accurately reflect the art itself. For example, if your performance involves the audience, perhaps your marketing should too? If you’re an exciting, off-the-wall organisation, shouldn't your approach to marketing reflect that and be just as edgy; risky even? Using the work itself as an integral part of marketing may sound conventional to those who work in visual arts, but it could produce some really special  results for art forms more focused on performance, for example. If science can do it, the arts can do it … maybe even better?

Steve Cross made the point that, as far as he's concerned, marketing and product can be the same thing – using the Twitter account @TehNakedMoleRat as an example of an entity that promotes itself by simply doing its thing. Although this won't be true for everyone it's an interesting thought; and ties-in with several other discussions throughout the week. The sense that roles and boundaries are becoming less and less defined was a recurring theme; suggesting there are plenty of interesting and unexpected opportunities which arts marketing can seize.