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The power of television

Categories: Extra-curricular, Learning things, Our work, Silly

For the past couple of weeks, my Tuesday nights between 8pm and about 10pm have been spent monitoring the impact of television. This is not a round-about way of saying I've just been sat there watching the telebox – oh, no; this is work! (Ish)

The very talented Lauren is currently doing rather well on BBC2's The Great British Sewing Bee and, having built the website for her haberdashery Guthrie & Ghani (have a look at the case study), we decided to monitor visits in real-time as we anticipated a traffic spike while the show was on-air. And we were right … sort of.


The site was viewed on a range of different devices and, right, spot the episode spikes within 'hourly views'. Zoiks!

FUN FACTS:

  • There was a massive spike in visits on the day the first episode aired – although the following day actually saw an increase in daily visits to the website.
  • Even discounting the on-air spikes, average daily traffic to the site has increased by a whopping 1000% since the first episode.
  • Episode 2 encouraged 13% more visits than episode 1. (The second episode also got slightly higher ratings – 2.57m compared with last week's 2.56m.)
  • During the show, there were spikes in activity on the website just after Lauren appeared on-screen, and just after she tweeted – particularly if the tweet included a link to the site (unsurprisingly).
  • There was a noticeable increase in activity on Guthrie & Ghani during the programme's 'history of sewing' item … which, ummm, may perchance suggest that some folks aren't hugely enamoured with this part of the show?!

So our hypothesis was correct, that a prime-time TV show would impact the website while on-air – but what we hadn't anticipated was that the number of concurrent users would actually reach its peak about 10 minutes after the end of each programme. I guess it's not that surprising – as people rush to their computers once the show's finished to find out more – but not something that had occurred to us before it happened.

Same again next week – Lauren, pictured above with those troublesome trousers, is still in the running for the title Britain's Best Amateur Sewer (shame about that homonym). Be sure to watch the next installment of The Great British Sewing Bee, BBC2, Tuesday, 8pm to see how she gets on. 

And while you do that, remember I'll be sat on a sofa with the TV on but actually watching my laptop, tabbing repeatedly between umpteen browser windows monitoring real-time stats, following who's tweeting what … and no doubt subconsciously learning a bit about sewing at the same time. That is the power of televsion.

Nine

Categories: Learning things, Our work

 

Nine lives, dressed to the nines, cloud nine, a stitch in time saves nine, nine-to-five, the whole nine yards … errrrr … nine years since the last all-new Corvette … ummm … Fluorine has the atomic no. 9 … okay, this is getting tenuous (but I knew A Level Chemistry would come in handy one day).

 

I've been thinking about the number nine because this Saturday, 19 January, Supercool turns nine years old. Nine! That's a lot of years!

Over these years we've been lucky enough to work with loads of great people on some really interesting projects – and every year we learn more and more, helping make us better and better at what we do. It's a pretty darn good job, all-told. Like I said – lucky.

The last batch was ace, so here's to the next nine years.

The current state of design

Categories: Events, Learning things, Nice stuff, Useful/interesting

Gov.uk was officially switched on yesterday, replacing direct.gov and Business Link. It's all part of the government's 'single domain strategy' – a move which will eventually bring all government sites into one place.

Gov.uk crown logo

As part of Supercool's 'Conference Tour 2012', Josh and I went to the Theory of (R)Evolution conference run by Shropgeek the other week. There were lots of good talks but the one that really stood out for me was by Paul Annett, Creative Lead at Government Digital Services (GDS).

GDS was set up in 2011 to revolutionise the way government carries out its digital projects, and how we interact with the government online. The idea has been to change the approach from large, lengthy (and pricey) outsourced IT contracts and move more in-house; to be more efficient and transparent.

Although GDS is a relatively new department, it already has some staggering stats:

  • They've closed down 1,500 government-run websites – so far. The plan is close down around half of the remaining 600 or so. 
  • Long-term contracts have meant that it has previously cost up to £50,000 to change one line of code on a live site. (Red tape is really expensive.)
  • Currently, 1 in 3 phonecalls to government agencies are about a failed online transaction. By eliminating these calls, it's hoped that call-centre costs will be reduced by £1 billion.
  • Despite now using Gmail and, what you might think would be prohibitively expensive, iPhones and Apple Macs, GDS's overall IT costs are already 80% less than those of direct.gov.

The most interesting part of the talk for me, however, was hearing about their approach to design. Just the idea of a government project using words like 'design', 'usability' and 'user-experience' is virtually unheard of in this country – but Gov.uk is showing some real innovation.

Paul took us through the GDS design principles; a brilliantly articulated guide for any large development project. Loosely it's about keeping projects small (as in cutting out any 'bloat'), simple, open and agile. 

An example of the design principles in action

The design principles also include a style guide for written content, which is something even small organisations can follow with regard to writing good web copy.

Of course whilst the Gov.uk site is all shiny and new, content will be tidy, and easy to both find and understand. It'll be interesting to see if, and how, that changes as more content is added over time.

But at the moment it feels a bit weird to be so proud of the government's website.

Better CSS

Categories: Events, Learning things, Useful/interesting

Recently James and I went to Canvas Conf and listened to a number of great talks on web development. We particularly got a lot out of Harry Roberts’ (Senior UI Developer for BSkyB) talk 'Big CSS' which focussed on writing maintainable CSS for big projects. While we predominantly write CSS for relatively small projects we still came away with some very useful ideas and practices that will help us do what we do better.

With CSS we'd always tend to write a rough set of styles that broadly cover the whole project, setting up basic things like a reset, typography, header and footer etc. and then write the rest of the CSS as specific chunks of code that do one thing.

Instead of doing this however we’re realizing that we can break down a lot of that stuff so it's more re-usable, so more efficient. Take, for instance, a list of links that supplements an article; there are many abstractions to this one object that we can break out and re-use:

  • A vertical list without bullets.
  • It has links inside.
  • It might have icons on the left of each link.

We can then apply some or all of those abstractions to another object, like a list of downloads, which would have all of the above plus an additional rule for the filesize meta-data that forms part of each link.

Another aspect we took away from Harry's talk was how important it is to structure your CSS sensibly. Firstly, we have to get out of the pattern of writing our CSS in the same order as the markup ... that just doesn’t make the best use of the cascade!

So instead I think we’ll be following something along the lines of this:

  1. Table of contents
  2. Reset
  3. Typography
  4. Structural framework
  5. Generic objects
  6. Specific components
  7. Style trumps

All the while we can be picking and choosing from our growing library of abstractions.

The final part of all this is comments. We came away determined to use more comments in our CSS; the uses comments can have are endless but for us I think the following practices will be fairly revolutionary:

  • Linking markup to the CSS by adding in blocks of HTML as reference.
  • Explaining weird bits of code or specific techniques used.
  • Linking back to an abstraction when overriding something further down the cascade or in another file.

So over the next few months, we’ll be steadily building a little CSS framework that works for us, with lots of abstractions that we can re-use and a structure that makes sense.