Show 92: Royal Air Force

On this week’s show: Paul asks how much you should blog, Marcus takes a look at the state of music online and John Oxton joins Jon Hicks in discussing the benefits and drawbacks of home working.

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News and events | Music on the web | How much to blog? | Hicks and Oxton on home working | Housekeeping

One quick thing before we dive into the news. I am lazy. Yes, I know it is a shock. I am always looking for the easiest way to do things. But as well as being lazy I like pretty shiny things. One thing I particularly like is pretty desktop pictures. However, looking for cool ones takes too long. You can therefore imagine my delight to discover a mac app called Desktoptopia that basically pumps gorgeous background to my desktop on a continual basis. What is more you can even add your own RSS feeds if you don’t like their images.

So I wrote to them saying I liked their software and they offered me a $5 discount for all you boagworld listeners until the 18th September. That means you can buy the software for only $15! All you have to do is go to desktoptopia.com/store and enter the code “boagworld”. I know this sounds like an ad but it isn’t. They aren’t giving me anything. I just liked their product.

Anyway if you know of any other cool apps that you want me to go after a discount on that drop me a line.

News and events

The Mobile Web

This last week has seen the release of Cameron Moll’s book on the Mobile Web. I have been waiting a long time to read this book and although I have yet to finish it, what I have seen justifies the wait.

You maybe tempted to think that the mobile web isn’t really something you need to concern yourself with, but I would strongly encourage you to reconsider. In Cameron’s book he explains that 59% of the entire world population will have a mobile phone by 2010. In 35 years – roughly the same amount of time as the PC and nearly one-forth the time of the landline phone – mobile phone penetration has surpassed the PC and landline phone combined. It is a massive growth area. Admittedly not all of those phones are internet enabled and even if they are that doesn’t mean people use them. However, in the UK and US mobile access to the internet is already one-fifth the size of those accessing from a PC.

The book is only $19 and can be downloaded in PDF format from mobilewebbook.com.

If that has wetted your appetite for the mobile web you should also check out an iphone article that has appeared on the List Apart website. It provides loads of great advice on developing sites that work well with the iphone and although it is iphone specific a lot of the information applies to other mobile devices too.

Incredible image scaling

Next up is a video demonstration that is causing considerable excitement online. The video shows an amazing technology that can dynamically scale an image up or down to fit the available space. We are not talking pixel scaling here, we are talking about adding or removing pixels in a seamless way by following the contours of the objects in the picture.

Its an incredibly hard thing to describe on an audio podcast and so I would encourage you to look for yourself.

What I can say however is that this is an incredibly exciting technology which the big players are taking seriously. Adobe has already hired one of the creators of this technique.

Finding a domain name generator

My next news item for today is a great little post I came across on the sitepoint.com website which lists three domain name generators. These “generators” help solve a growing problem you encounter when launching a new site or product; finding an available domain name.

You can tell just how hard it has become to find a good domain name by the way that web 2.0. companies have started dropping vowels in order to get the word that they want.

The sites listed in this blog post allow you to enter keywords and it will suggest domain names based on word combination, plurals and even thesaurus lookups. Best of all one of the sites mentioned also works nicely for those of you who are looking for language specific URLs.

Very useful indeed.

The ultimate design brief

Last up in today’s news segment of the show is an article about writing a design brief. It is not directly written with web design in mind but ever word is applicable. The article applies equally to designers as to clients and talks about the important role that a design brief fulfills. It suggests that designers need to encourage clients to put together a formal design brief outlining exactly what their requirements are. It then lists a series of suggestions of things which should be included. The list it includes is far from being comprehensive (at least not for web designers) but it is an excellent starting point.

I really cannot emphasis enough how important a formal brief is no matter how small the project. It is a strange coincidence that this post comes out in the week that I am drafting a chapter on brief writing for my book. While working on this it has reminded me of just how bad things can become if all parties are not entirely aware of each others expectations.

If you tend to be a bit slack when it comes to writing down requirements then make a point of reading this article.

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Marcus’ bit: Music on the web

I remembered writing an article for the Headscape website a long time ago on this subject so I thought I’d go back, have a look, and compare it to how things have actually changed in the past five years.

At the time, before the general take up of broadband, the use of music on websites was limited to annoying, over-compressed loops that bore little relevance to the rest of the site. I hoped that the advent of broadband for all would lead to music being created for sites a lot more often and the role of web music developer/designer becoming a reality.

So, has anything changed?

Well, to be honest, not really. The sites that used to include music; ‘cool’ sites like trendy design agencies, band sites etc still do and they do it a lot better. The quality has improved along with the choice of what you can listen to. But that wasn’t what I was hoping for.
At the time, there was a bit of a buzz about audio branding – promoted by Intel’s audio ‘logo’. This lead me to think that a lot more companies would start to introduce audio branding and add it to their sites. This hasn’t happened at all apart from a few big names

like Philips and Ford.

Why not?

The main reason for the lack of take up of music on sites is, I think, that music needs to either sit on it’s own i.e. you don’t associate imagery with it at all or, it needs to synchronised with imagery. Music works great with films/ads/etc because they’re fixed – you can stop and start them but that’s about it. They can’t be viewed in a random way like the way people navigate websites. This means that music on websites will always feel like a bit of an add-on and, at worst, as a distraction.

Additionally, websites are generally seen as information portals and not as places of entertainment per se. They provide entertaining things to download, watch, etc but in themselves they are simply shells for content, most of which is written text. While I’m on ‘text’, one thing I thought we would see more of was voiceovers – but again, this hasn’t caught on.

Any positives for the composer?

Yes. What has exploded since the take up of broadband is video. We are seeing more and more video online. Video, which is a fixed entity, usually benefits to a lesser or greater from the addition of music.

Though the creation of quality video is a specialist field, I can see web design agencies being asked to produce more and more video (for example: client testimonials, staff interviews, product demos etc). Quite a lot of the time I expect that library music will be used but I expect that little by little, more new compositions will be required for video on websites.

I’ll check again in five years!

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Paul’s corner: How much to blog?

I recently received a question from Dan:

For as long as I can remember the prevalent thought has been that the key to success for blogging and podcasting is to post frequently and on a regular schedule. Now, this made a lot of sense because websites had to get visitors to comeback manually to find new content. But now in the age of RSS feed is this advice still as important as it used to be if at all? Also in terms of how web managers spend their resources is it more important to do a few updates with stella quality or to manage your time so that frequent updates are the priority?

With over 66% of blogs not updated in over 2 months and anywhere between 60% and 80% abandoned within their first month this seemed a good subject to examine in more depth

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Hicks and Oxton on home working

Paul:
Okay. So joining me today are two towers if British web design genius, in the form of Jon Hicks and John Oxton. Hello guys.

Jon:
Hello.

John:
Hello. I think he is trying to tell us that weíre fat.

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

Paul:
[laughs]

John:
I was just agreeing with him. [laughs]

Paul:
Itís always good practice, if you are doing a podcast, to butter-up your guests in advance.

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

Paul:
[laughs]

John:
Oh, I always wanted to be greased up. Thank you.

Paul:
Enjoy. Okay so the reason we dragged these two guys onto the show today is really to talk about a change that they both made in their carriers recently. So you guys have been freelancers for a while, is that right?

John:
Yes. Iíve been 5 years. How long have you been John?

Jon:
On and off for about 5 years as well.

Paul:
Okay.

Jon:
With three years committed.

Paul:
So that is quite a while to work as freelancers. And I guess that you both used to work out of home offices. Is that right?

John:
Yes. Iíve worked for the first three years from a home office. And the last two years I have renting a little desk in a local print design company.

Paul:
Okay.

Jon:
So it kind of like the next step-up.

Paul:
What about you Mr. Oxton?

John:
I worked out of a bedroom, like every proper developer should.

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
For as long as I have been doing web design I never had my own office.

Paul:
Okay. And then, relatively recently the two of you decided to get together and move into an RAF base, is that right?

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

Jon:
Thatís right… over. [sound of CB radio clicking off] Yeah, I mean… do you want to tell the story John? Or should I tell the story?

John:
You tell the story.

Jon:
Iíve been renting a desk for two years. It was a nice place to rent and nice people. But it really was though… ìWe have a spare desk in the corner and you can come and use it.î John mentioned that we wanted to find an office, so we were looking for anywhere sort of halfway between where we lived. And this place came up and I think I have to admit, there was kind of a boy-appeal to the whole RAF based thing. I mean it is not big, an RAF base, about 8 or 9 years ago. But, there is still an airfield here and it is still being used. And, itís great.

Paul:
So, beyond this being some nice reminiscing about how youíve got a lovely office together and shouldnít we all be envious of you? I mean, the reason I kind of got you on is to talk a little bit about home working and working in an office, and working as a freelancer really. And setting yourself up and stuff like that. What made the decision for you to move out of a home office and into an office working together? What triggered that decision?

John:
I think for me, the key was having young children. Working at home with young children is an nearly impossible I think.

Paul:
Hmmm.

John:
But it is also the fact that we kind of worked together for the year before hadnít we, on a project, and we found out that we get on quite well.

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

John:
So those were the two elements for me really. Find someone you can get along with and just wanting to get out of the house because of the kids.

Paul:
So was it a desire to be in an environment where you could bounce off of somebody else and have other people you could speak to as well? Or was it just getting away from the kids?

Jon:
That that is one aspect of it. Certainly, going back to the place that I was renting the desk from, they are lovely people and they were good print designers, but I couldnít talk to them about anything web related.

Paul:
Yeah.

Jon:
Ummm. I mean, they did websites using Freeway.

Paul:
Right.

Jon:
So you know you couldnít talk code to them, you could talk about IE bugs – and that kind of thing. Ummm, although I could do my thing of asking people what color something is, if I needed to check… but that was about it. So yeah, that is an element to it. Having someone there you can actually talk to about these things, or you know passing around things like… discussing things like the blueprint of CSS framework or what was that one called Moonfall, or something. It was the Perl script for doingÖ

John:
Oh yeah.

Jon:
CSS variables. These sorts of things, beforehand I wouldnít know anyone to talk to about that. You know, that makes the difference.

John:
And Iíve got somebody that can identify fonts for me now…

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

Paul:
[laughs]

John:
…which is a huge bonus! And what about merging two big iTunes libraries.

Paul:
Ah, I didnít think about the iTunes libraries.

John:
It is all about the music really.

John:
I mean it is difficult. There are definite advantages to home working. Ummm. Not having to travel is a huge one. Especially when you think about the environmental costs. As well as the financial cost of traveling somewhere to work.

Jon:
If anyone mentions carbon footprint, I hang up.

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

Paul:
[laughs]

John:
Yeah. We donít think it matters a bit. And everything is there. If you want to go and make a bacon sandwich at lunchtime you can. If donít have to go out and shop necessarily. And it is a nice familiar environment. And it is definitely cheaper. Thatís the thing. You are paying less over head.

Paul:
Hmmm.

John:
But, for me that would only work if I could afford a big house.

Jon:
Yeah.

John:
And we had the space to do that. And the space enough to be far enough away from that other activity as John says like children.

Paul:
Hmmm.

John:
And even if you lock yourself away in a room they still come in and talk to you.

Paul:
Do you think there are actual business benefits to being in an office rather than working out of your home?

Jon:
Well definitely. One of the things here, when they took over the RAF base, they took over what was the officers mess. They turned the rooms into separate suites. So there, what do you say John, about 20 other companies here?

John:
Yeah.

Jon:
Quite a lot.

John:
As well as some other virtual companies. Yeah, and a load of them Jon is working with other companies in the building.

Jon:
I think there is definitely an element where, ìYou can afford an office you must be doing something right.î I think he makes it look a bit more professional, for a start.

Paul:
Umm hmmm.

Jon:
You have a real live office, and you are not working out of your bedroom. It is a nonsense perception, but never the less it is true and it is a factor.

Jon:
And it is somewhere you can bring a client to. When I worked home, we would always have to meet clients at their place or at a pub… which wasnít a bad thing.

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

Paul:
[laughs]

Jon:
But sometimes a pub isnít the best place to meet. If you actually have got the nitty-gritty to discuss. So like here for example, there is a huge meeting room and a smaller meeting room. You hire it by the hour and they bring you in tea and coffee. And clients like coming here, donít they John?

John:
Yeah. Itís a nice journey.

Jon:
Again, as we all said about the other thing, clients here are greeted properly. Not like knocking on your house door and being jumped on by children.

John:
Yes. [laugh]

Paul:
Yeah.

Jon:
The phones get answered properly. There are lots, from a perception point of view ñ making you look more professional ñ I think.

John:
Absolutely.

Paul:
I mean we have a quite a few people listening to this show that would be enthusiastic amateurs at the moment. People that donít do web design full time, but maybe thinking about going freelance. Or, they are working for an existing company as a web designer and they are thinking about coming out of that and setting up freelance. What would you advise to people like that? Would you say start off in a home office or would you say go professional and go into one of these units straight off at the bat?

John:
Iíd be inclined to say, ummm, to start off at home if you can, but it depends what you are going out to do really. If you are going out with share holders and big plans for a product then probably go straight into offices. But if you are going out to be a freelancer who builds backends or frontends then you probably want to keep your overheads a small as possible to begin with.

Paul:
Hmmm.

John:
And then you can cut your position a little bit. And I think that was my attitude for a long time.

Paul:
So I mean would you have any particular advice for people who are working out of their home? As to… what things to avoid and what things to do in order to make yourself as productive as possible?

John:
I liked the Mark Bolton thing that he wrote, where he said to actually leave the house and walk around the block in the morning – to put his shoes on and actually leave the house. Because you know there have been days I have sat and worked with just my socks on. [laughs]

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
And it is all too easy to sit down and read a book. You know trying to make some mental separation between home and work is one of the key things.

Jon:
Yeah, definitely. That is something actually as well that I have to do here too. Ummm. Perhaps less than I did at home, but…

Jon:
And the longer you stay in front of a computer the less productive you can be. And a lot less stimulated your brain is. And just a simple thing of like, it doesnít have to be a long walk, just a couple of minutes. Get out and get some fresh air. Go around the block and come in again. And it has reinvigorated you. You if do it like a curve graph you see a sort of dip and over time it would get lower and lower the longer you stay in front of a computer.

John:
Yeah. That is for sure. I tend to go for short bursts, I pace a lot.

Jon:
Yeah. Yeah. We recorded ourselves recently doing that. And it proves how much I stay just rooted to a computer, while John paces and jumps up, and dances quite a lot.

John:
[laughs]

Paul:
[laughs]

John:
I like dancing.

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

Paul:
[laughs]

Jon:
But…

Paul:
That would be worth seeing. You recorded that…

John:
Ah huh.

Paul:
…on YouTube?

Jon:
Video I think.

Paul:
The actual work environment that you create, either at home or in the office. You know is there a certain setup that you like? That kind of makes working easier for you?

John:
I think it is a little bit like, old men and their sheds.

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

Paul:
[laughs]

John:
You know how when youíre an old man youíve said, ìWhen they get old they wouldnít even need their space.î When they need things around them they would say, ìI am going to my shed.î And when I was working from home it was like, ìI am going to my office.î

Paul:
Yeah.

John:
The thing about the office it that, it is the place where you control how it looks. It is your posters, your books. Your not necessarily mingling with everyone elseís. I think what we have done here, weíve created an environment that… well we havenít got an interior designer or anything… but we just kind of say we are an RAF base so letís go with an RAF theme. Some really nice 1940ís posters up on the walls. Even the famous ones you see everywhere, ìCome and Carry Onî, and Government advise posters.

Paul:
Yeah.

Jon:
It isnít too corporate in here is it?

John:
No.

Jon:
Itís clean and white. But the important thing is that it has all of our books and itís got our music.

John:
And we are quite lucky that we have some space in the back where we can hide all of our horrible stuff like filing cabinets.

Jon:
Yeah.

Paul:
Oh. Thatís good.

John:
We can keep it quite clean, canít we?

Jon:
It is a bit like the extension of the house really.

John:
Yeah. You know I have a window sill with all of my Doctor Who toys on it. It is creating an environment that makes you feel glad to be here.

Paul:
Ummm.

John:
That is one thing that I felt I when I went on holiday for two weeks, and coming in on Tuesday I felt it was great and feeling really excited to be going back into my office.

Paul:
Hmmm.

John:
We have quite a lot of things there and we have looking like we want it to look.

Paul:
Yeah.

Jon:
I find that quite a thing in the morning for me. Especially having this be the first office, with the actual leaving the house and coming to work, my brain actually starts thinking, ìI am going to work. I am going to work.î

John:
Yeah

Jon:
And at home, it was always a bit of a hard thing to do. Sometimes I would have to go out and come back, you know go and get something from the shop and come back to get the mental thing kicking in. So…

John:
Yeah. Well that is a huge thing. A lot of people talk about that, the separation of your home life and work life.

Jon:
But the actual office itself isnít geared up for relaxation really. It is geared up for calm working moments.

Paul:
When you guys worked at home, did you make sure you had a completely separate room dedicated to work? Because that always strikes me as being very important…

Jon:
Yeah. I did.

Paul:
…not to mix the two.

John:
There was occasions when I would go downstairs if I was doing something that I wasnít really motivated. I would sometimes go downstairs and just be amongst the family.

Paul:
Yeah.

John:
To have other people around me so I wasnít so excluded. So occasionally that could work for me to get me going, but generally… yeah, shut the door, put the music on and design away.

Paul:
I mean you talked about several things here about the need to get out and walk around a bit to clear your head. The need to sometimes to go and sit with other people, just to get that external stimulation. You talked about needing a quiet environment sometimes. What other kind of techniques do you use to help you be productive and get stuff done?

Jon:
Yeah. Setting deadlines is a big one for me.

Paul:
Okay.

Jon:
You know. Setting myself with burst deadlines when I had to get something done by setting that with the clients with an expectation otherwise I tend to get all, ìWell Iíll research that for a bit longer.î

Paul:
Yeah right.

Jon:
Deadlines are a important and acknowledging that sometimes Iíll do my best work at 3 oíclock in the morning – and going with that for a certain extent.

Paul:
Okay.

Jon:
Yeah, but I try and not do that too much anymore. But sometimes if I am struggling on something, 3 oíclock in the morning seems to be a good time.

John:
[laughs]

Jon:
I donít know why.

John:
Well I think for me, the simple fact of moving into an office was a big motivation booster. For a start, the change in environment was great kind of it reinvigorated me. But also, just the simple fact of, ìIíve got to do work to make money to pay for this place.î

Paul:
Yeah.

John:
…is a big booster in itself. But, yeah I use various things to sort of productivity in the sense I set a to-do list in yoJimbo a Mac application. I use Billings and BaseCamp a lot. Which I find that Billings can be very motivating the way I do these timesheets for everything I am doing.

Paul:
Okay.

John:
I never used to be very disciplined about recording time spent on things. But for some reason now, I am starting to do this. It is a very easy way to do it in Billings. And I find that quite motivating actually.

Paul:
Yeah.

John:
Actually recording how long things take.

Paul:
So, I mean kind of the final question that I wanted to ask is… The two of you have moved into an office together. But you still work very independently in your businesses or do you find that you are doing more stuff together? Is this the first step in becoming Jon and John Design, or…

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

John:
If you ask us that, we will put to you a different answer from the both of us.

Paul:
Oh dear. I have touched a nerve.

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

Jon:
You b****rd! [laughs]

John:
I mean at the moment we are very much independent. Ummm. But that is not to say that in the future…

Jon:
…I think that we touched on the subject and we are not willing to commit to any kind of answer yet are we?

John:
We are kind of looking at the projects in the future that we can collaborate on.

Paul:
Hmmm.

Jon:
I think there is more of a chance of us hooking up, because we are in the same office to collaborate on something ñ than we are about to becoming suddenly a big limited liability company with loads of employees.

John:
Yeah.

Jon:
That is nothing that I can see in the future… yet.

Paul:
Okay, well thank you very much guys for coming on the show and you never know, one day in the future we might get you to actually come in and talk about web design or something.

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

John:
I donít know anything about that. [laughs]

Jon:
How many episodes of Boag World have you done so far?

Paul:
You canít ask me that question because I do not know when this interview is going to go out.

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

John:
I see.

Paul:
I am going to take a stab and say 92.

Jon:
Well, there you go. After 92 podcasts what could we add to your web design conversation? [laughs]

Paul:
Obviously I know absolutely everything about web design. And there is nothing more to say other than what I have already said.

Jon:
Or catch me on a day when I am in a bad mood, and then I will tell you what I think about web design.

Jon:
[laughs]

John:
[laughs]

Paul:
[laughs]

Paul:
Excellent. Well, it was really good to talk to you and no doubt we will get you back in soon.

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Housekeeping

And so that pretty much wraps it up for this week’s show. However, I do want to quickly mention one or two things before we go. If you are a web designer and live in the South West of England I just wanted to mention a new mailing list I have setup. It is exclusively for those in the South West and is designed to help build a community among web designers there. There is so much going on in places like Brighton and London and I thought it might be nice to build up a community in the more “rural” parts of Britain! You can find out more about the group at groups.google.com/group/swwd.

Also a quick reminder about the live recording of our 100th episode up in London on Saturday 20th October. If you are intending to come please sign up at upcoming.yahoo.com/event/224744.

Finally, because of d.construct and a trip to Cork I have at the beginning of next week, I am not 100% sure when we can get the show out next week so it might possibly be a few days late. However, don’t worry it will appear.

Thanks very much for listening and don’t forget to vote for our panels at this years SXSW at panelpicker.sxsw.com. We need all the votes we can get!

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  • http://spongeproject.co.uk/blog Rob Mason

    Been subscribing to the RSS for ages but never got around to listending to the podcast…until now! great stuff mate. Keep up the good work.
    Cheers

  • Matt ‘The Editor’ Early

    That DesktopTopia is bloody genius…
    What a great find!

  • Matt ‘The Editor’ Early

    That DesktopTopia is bloody genius…
    What a great find!

  • Matt ‘The Editor’ Early

    That DesktopTopia is bloody genius…
    What a great find!

  • Virbana

    I just found your podcast about a week ago, and was hooked at once! I’ve tried to listen as many episodes as possible since and I’m some what on track at the moment. Okay, I’ve listened a third of your shows, not all, but anyway, you’ll get the picture. :)
    Now I just wanted to say, that right after listening a few (early) episodes I had to say to myself: I really want to work for these guys! I can totally agree with you professionally (that’s quite rear today) and you’re funny! (yes, really) So, what I’m trying to say is I really enjoy your podcast, thanks!
    Oh, and thank you for making me feel again proud to be a web designer. I’m enthustiastic again about this sturff, and that’s brilliant! :)

  • Ben Hayman

    This is honestly the most fantastic podcast I have ever listened to! Even though I have actually been subscribed to your podcast for quite some time I have never actually visited the site!
    A big thank you to you guys for making such a great podcast! :D

  • http://www.paulmycroft.com Paul Mycroft

    Hi guys,
    Podcast #92 is cut off in my iTunes at 24:16.
    Maybe it’s because it’s American and we all know what you think about that!
    ;)
    - Paul

  • http://www.shatterglass.net Brett

    Hooray! Macs for everyone!!!
    Marcus, do snap up a Mac and Logic Pro. Logic’s been stalled on version 7 for a while now, but the built-in instruments introduced since it went Mac-only are fan-frigging-tastic.
    One of us. One of us. One of us.

  • Doug

    Am I the only one who didn’t catch the punchline to Marcus’s joke? I repeated it several times but couldn’t make it out. Arrgh!

  • Bill Posters
Headscape

Boagworld