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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.

TL;DR
We build Craft plugins which are freely available for other developers to use – plugins.supercooldesign.co.uk

This post was co-authored by Josh.

Red all about it

Categories: Our work, Useful/interesting

If you've been anywhere near Birmingham city centre recently, you can't fail to have noticed the abundance of – very red – promotional bits and pieces we've designed for International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014.

It really does appear that IDFB's painted the town red – handy really, as one part of the festival is a participatory strand cunningly named Paint The Town Red.

We also did the promo for the previous IDFB in 2012, but this year is a whole new kettle of fish (red snapper?), what with IDFB being the 'signature festival' of the city council's new Festivals Birmingham initiative. There're posters, flags, banners, planter boards, scrolls, bus 'supersides', digital screens, airport toblerones, phone boxes …

I've been out and about taking photos of various ads, as well as being sent pics by other folks – here are a few of 'em:

Photos of various bits of IDFB outdoor promotion – flag, poster, banner, bus, train, phonebox

Keep an eye out for all the other stuff – and have a browse of the festival website to find out what's on: idfb.co.uk/whats-on

(IDFB 2014 runs from today until 25 May.)

Craft-ing

Categories: Learning things, Our work, Useful/interesting

Craft is a new CMS that we have been using here at Supercool on a number of our smaller sites for a little while now.

Built by prominent member of the ExpressionEngine community (Pixel & Tonic), it focusses on being easy to use, flexible and (importantly) beautiful. For me as a developer it makes life that little bit easier when building a small site as it is faster and simpler to set up; however it's the control panel I'd like to focus on right now.

One of the things we like about Craft is the Live Preview option. This lets you preview your post as you write it, right beside the publish form; meaning you can do things like check how an image works within a block of text before you publish it.

Another aspect of Craft that is becoming more and more useful is that it all works seamlessly on mobile phones and tablets. It is fully responsive and doesn't assume anything about the device you might be using to edit or create content with, making writing that blog post on your phone during the train to work much more enjoyable!

Mock-up showing how the editing interface looks on mobile

Finally Craft keeps it simple – you only see what you need to see to do your work. No more clutter and a clean, intuitive interface throughout that doesn't get in your way.

Screengrab of a minimal interface

So, Craft is ideal for smaller websites and microsites right now – but as it grows and additional functionality becomes available, expect to see us using this slick new CMS on larger projects.