This week on the Boagworld show we talk Brexit, technology choices, co-creation and more.
Paul: Hello And welcome to the Boagworld show the pod cast about all aspects of digital design development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag and joining me on this week’s show is, are you ready for this, Marcus Lillington, Rachel Andrew, Dan Edwards and Sam Barnes. Hello all.
Paul: Hey, all those people, so exciting. So we doing something a little bit different this season of the podcast. Welcome back to the new season of the show I should say! We are going to do something a little bit different we are going to try a new technique, we are going to have a round table discussion with five of us on the show. What could possibly go wrong?
Paul: Well, yes Quite. If we manage to make it through this show with out anyone dropping out or anything going wrong that would be impressive. So what we going to do is we going to ….. each week we’re going to have somebody or a group of people come along and that group of people are going to represent different aspects of digital design, development and strategy. So, we’ve got Marcus who is going to kind of cover kind of agency, sales side of things. Is that fair to say Marcus?
Marcus: Certainly for maybe the first two shows I might be able to keep to that. Yeah.
Paul: Then you’ll be talking about cricket
Marcus: Cricket, guitars, I’ve got a….. I really want to buy a pedal steel guitar. So I’ve got to talk about that at some point.
Paul: Okay, we’ll get that. And Rachel you will be talking about what development and start-up culture kind of stuff.
Rachel: Yeah,I guess so, something like that
Paul: You don’t know do you! you’ve no idea.
Rachel:Yeah, I’m just gonna talk about stuff that happens across my brain during the week.
Paul: That pretty much sums up what we’ve been doing for the last 10 years so that works out well. So then we’ve got Dan. Now Dan you and Andy are going to kind of take it in turns and do various things because Andy Clark is travelling the world at the moment and you’re kicking off for him, is that fair to say?
Dan: Yeah and I’m not going anywhere so I’m just here.
Paul: So you’re just here and you going to be talking about designey! related stuff
Dan: Designey related stuff is correct, yeah.
Paul: Then finally we’ve got Sam Barnes. Hello Sam
Paul: And what contribution are you going to make to all of this?
Sam: So I’ll be looking at from a sort of project management, delivery background I guess.
Paul: Okay, which is great.
Marcus: You had the opportunity there to say the best…….. that I’ll be the best one of the group. (laughter)
Sam:I won’t tell you what went through my head. That was the pause.
Paul: Of course the big question is what do I bring to the table. I’ll talk about kind of, I don’t know, strategy stuff I guess. I really should have put some thought into that. So that’s the idea. Hopefully every show there’s going to be something for everyone which would be very, very nice. And we’re going to go around the table. Let’s actually start off by doing that very quickly and go round the table and just say if you, if you wouldn’t mind, a little bit about yourself and, you know, what kind of stuff you do and things like that. So Dan tell people a little bit about you and your background.
Dan: Okay, so I’m the creative director at No divide which basically means my design stuff half the time or a little more than half the time and the rest of the time I spend doing business the stuff around the agency. I started that with Ryan Taylor friend of mine, coming up for two years in November and we are a small digital agency and as I said my time is basically spent doing visual design and stuff and trying to run a business at the same time. Yeah and just trying to juggle those things
Paul: Which always works out really well. So Rachel what about you? Tell us a bit about your background and what you’re doing these days.
Rachel: Well I’m one half of a company and really what we do these days is we have a product called Perch which is a content management system. So I run that company with my husband Drew McLellan when I’m not doing that I am an advisory expert for the business working group and I sort of wonder around the world talking about stuff mostly at the moment CSS and CSS for layout.
Paul: I “love wonder around the world”. I’ve just got this image of you randomly walking into bars and things and starting to talk about CSS layout.
Rachel:That’s pretty much what it’s like (laughter)
Paul: That probably is actually now I think about it. Sam, what are you doing these days. You’ve moved recently haven’t you?
Sam:Yes, so I’m now an engineering manager at Marks & Spencer’s. I’ve been there about four months now, I’ve got the background in project management and a teeny bit of front-end development but really my job right now……. I think the last time I was on the show…….. I think my job is line management is what it’s known as but really it’s sorting stuff out. Whatever it might be, seeing what stuff is coming trying to avoid it and if it hits trying to sort it out.
Paul: Marcus, I know we’ve been doing this for years but there might be people that that are listening to the show that you don’t know us. So what about you? How would you describe what you do these days?
Marcus: Quite similar to Dan apart from all the designing bit, half my time is spent doing kind of business and sales type stuff. Writing proposals, attending pitches that kind of thing. I spend the other half my time it seems doing more and more consultancy type work where we will help our clients work out who they are and who they do stuff for. So I write a lot of documents and do a lot of workshops where I bully people and make them decide on things and that kind of thing. So yeah, very much 50–50 one side consulting one side trying to get business for Headscape and Headscape’s been going for nearly 15 years now.’s
Paul: That’s scary isn’t it, wow. As for me, I’m an independent user experience consultant and do a lot with digital transformation as well. So we’ve got a nice mix actually of different people, were a bit light…… we could do with the content person is what we could really do with. But I’ll have to work on that for future seasons.
Marcus: Can’t you just pretend to be a content person Paul?
Paul: I pretend to be all kinds of things
Marcus: That’s why I asked
Paul: Yeah, I could do that, I could…..
Sam:Surely we’ve all pretended at one point to be a content person.(laughter)
Paul: This is very true Sam. Okay so that’s the team, that’s the group of people that are going to be covering different things were going to get into different discussions into just a moment but before we do that I want to quickly talk about our first sponsor of the day which is Mighty deals, which is a daily deals website aimed at creative professionals they offer a whole range of different deals on things like fonts, templates, apps, e-books to icons and loads of other stuff. Recently I’ve been producing a set of kind of tip cards, advice cards and I needed a nice set of illustrations and so I picked them up on mighty deals that worked really well actually. They are deadly cheap which is great. Discounts range between 50% and 97% off. You think, 97% that’s a very specific percentage there isn’t it. And they’re available for a limited time only. They focus on products and services for web designers and developers really. So for example the illustrations I mentioned for those cards. While other sites may offer you the option to download those files for an extra fee…… You know what happens often for me, I buy things like this on these sites then I lose them and I want to get them again and a lot of sites you can’t do that but mighty deals keep everything for you all nicely organised so that you can go back and get your hands on it any time you want to in the future. It’s quite a nice way of buying these different things because it’s all held together and managed. Also they’ve got a great 30 day full refund place. So go along and check them out and see what they’ve got to offer they’ve got loads of stuff. If you use a coupon code of Boagworld15 you’ll get 15% off all of the deals that they’ve got on their website, which is pretty good. So on top of the deals that they are currently offering you will get an additional 15% off. Which is pretty good so check them out at Mighty deals. So that’s them, which is good. So, the way that this is gonna work is that different people are going to come along and talk about whatever it is that they are into at any particular time. Marcus, if it is okay you’re going to kick us off.
Marcus: Happy to.
Round Table Discussion
Paul: Now, you wanted to talk about Brexit!
Marcus: Yeah, fun subject.
Paul: Yay, yay!
Marcus: Yeah, something nice and lightweight to start us off. It was the biggest talking point, I think, possibly of our lives and I think it continues still to be. Maybe not quite as much as it was before the vote but it still continues to be and I just thought it might be an interesting thing to discuss today from a point of view, is it affecting our businesses? I expect it probably isn’t yet, it isn’t particularly for Headscape. I just thought from a business……….. pretty much everyone here runs their own business apart from Sam who works for M&S, so has the decision to leave the EU even though it hasn’t happened yet changed our businesses. I thought I’d start off by saying I suspect we all voted the same way. I’d stay in, please shout if not.
Marcus: My reasons for staying in were not particularly financial. I always thought……… I didn’t think necessarily as a country we would go down the pan financially if we left. Didn’t know really. But my reasons were more, kind of, I wanted to be a world citizen and that leaving Europe was a step in the wrong direction from that point of view. So it was never really a financial thing for me. But I’ve got some intelligent friends who remain convinced that the right decision was made, that the EU was rotten to the core, that it was full of unelected bureaucrats, that it was very wasteful et cetera et cetera. As I said before, it doesn’t seem to have changed much for us from a business point of view, I guess from an opportunities point of view is where I’m coming from it’s not like suddenly everything has dried up and we’re kind of searching for work. So, I would be interested to hear from other people, particularly Dan and Rachel whether they feel that things have changed a lot since the vote to leave happened because it doesn’t really seem to have changed much for us. I still think we shouldn’t have done for the reasons that I have mentioned before. But financially it doesn’t seem to have changed much. I was wondering what your thoughts are.
Rachel:Yeah, it immediately made a difference to us because we essentially set up…… when we sell licenses of Perch we basically set up the exchange rate against GBP because we are based in the UK, that’s our main currency. Just under half of the purchases at the moment are GBP. So, what we don’t want do with Perch is to have a constantly fluctuating exchange rate. If you come along and by Perch in dollars we set that rate. So you look at the GBP rate and you do a conversion and we set that rate. So, we swallowed the exchange gain or loss basically. We don’t ask the web designer, who might be quoting for a project, to do that. So, the day that Brexit happened
Rachel:we were looking at this and we kept refreshing xe.com, as it happens I actually spoke to some people who work at xe.com when I was at Event Apart last week and they said that the site crashed on Brexit day because so many people were looking up exchange rates. So, you know I was looking at this and we realised that, you know, that this was going to hang around this the weakening pound and it actually made Perch way too expensive in US dollars or in euros compared to what you were charging in GBP and we didn’t want people to have too pay in GBP to get the best deal sort of thing because then they get hit by charges at their bank sometimes. So we actually reduced the cost for American and European purchasers which was great for them. But it was this kind of obvious thing where we could see the impact, this immediate impact that we were knocking this huge amount of money off the price for people in those currencies. So that was one thing and I think in terms of the impact it is possibly a little early to tell. We tend to see when the industry is doing poorly or doing well by the number of Perch licences that are bought.
Rachel: Because all of our customers are web designers and typically smaller agencies and freelancers and things like that. And I say small, you know we’ve got some reasonably big agencies using Perch they are doing sites for clients and that’s… You know we don’t sell this to end users, businesses who want to create their own websites, we sell it to web designers. So, typically if things are a bit quiet for us we can kind of track it back and we’re talking to people, talking to customers and they’re saying, Yeah, we’ve had a quiet two months. And so we actually start to see those things playing out. It should be interesting to see what happens over the next few months and, you know, what our split of customers will end up like. Will we end with more European and American customers just because actually the UK is dropping off slightly.
Paul: It’s it’s interesting, you think, it’s actually quite well for me at the moment bizarrely Because I have a fair number of clients who pay in US dollars
Rachel: Hmm, Yeah
Marcus: That’s so, yeah
Paul: So as a result I am doing fairly well, thank you very much, out of it but you don’t want a scenario where the pounds is as weak as it is at the moment.
Rachel:No, it’s horrendously expensive. I go travelling to the States a lot for conferences and it is just… I was just doing my expenses when I got back and it, you know, it makes a huge difference looking at those receipts for eating out or whatever that you have to do when you’re travelling.
Paul: Cause its a 30 year low isn’t it at the moment.
Rachel:Yeah, it’s incredibly expensive now to be in the states.
Paul: So what we really want from a British point of view is Trump to get into power to cause… Which would cause the US dollar to crash (laughter) and that would level things back out again see? For everybody’s lives to be equally ruined globally.
Rachel:Yeah, that seems to be the way things are going so hey.
Paul: When this originally happened, Rachel, you were quite vocal as a number of people were. Thankfully we don’t have Andy Clarke on the show who’s still very local about this particular subject but you half talked about the idea of potentially moving to Ireland or Germany or somewhere like that? Have you had any more thoughts about that?
Rachel:We are intending to move the business to Ireland, yeah. We’ve had some advice on it, it’s relatively straightforward and to move a digital business really it doesn’t matter where our headquarters are so to speak. To get to Dublin takes me less time than it takes to get to London because we’re right near Bristol airport and hopping on easyJet or whatever and be in Dublin in very little time. So there are various rules around that you’ve got to have director whose living in Ireland but that essentially can be your accountant can take on that sort of role in the business. The company laws they are very similar and of course its European law which she will be used to dealing with. We’re going to have to deal with that anyway even out of the EU we’re still going to have to comply with things like the data protection staff. Was still going to have to deal with that if we want to sell into Europe. So, as far as I’m concerned I would rather have the company based a legal system that I understand and is based on things that I understand and also not be tied to a currency which I can’t see improving any time soon.
Paul: Dan, what about your point of view. Have you noticed any effect on your workload do you think?
Dan:I think it has caused uncertainty so I can’t say that we’ve noticed literally overnight people have stopped requiring. I mean it’s been slow since a couple of weeks before Brexit and since it’s been slower. It only really seems like, literally this month so October, that things have started… Potential clients have started to resurface a little bit. I don’t know whether that’s an exact reflection on Brexit and if it’s directly related it’s so hard to say because nobody comes along and says to you “oh, were going to pause this project because of Brexit” or “we are not looking right now because of Brexit”. It’s just not been the right time for a lot of people. As for whether that is a reflection on Brexit or us or just, you know, a point in time I don’t know. I think the one thing it has definitely done is cause uncertainty and all the time the pound is fluctuating and we’re not sure when Brexit is going to happen and what the exact reaction is going to be for small businesses, larger businesses et cetera. It brings unnecessary uncertainty, is what I say, for people and that’s going to be a shame for businesses all over the place, you know, people not buying houses or cars or things like that. I’m sure in other industries there have been… In certain places more than others a slowing down in certain industries because of and uncertainty. I don’t have any less or any more money because of it but my reasons were very much the same as Marcus’ for leaving and I just think it’s a shame that it’s just bought that divide and uncertainty to the country.
Marcus: Yeah. One of the things that really annoys me we will never really know whether we are better off or worse off. It’s kind of… You can’t measure, you won’t be able to measure how we’re doing against something that doesn’t exist any more.
Dan:Yeah exactly, which is always going to… Yeah it’s always going to be tricky. If we ended up staying and then things went bad that would have been… We would have ended up having the same discussions again about whether we had left it would have been better or if things got better because we stayed they could have said it could have been even better if we’d left and vice versa. Will likely say, well it’s bad because we’ve left and other people say we don’t know. It’s so hard to say, like you say.
Sam:So we need a vote on an A/B test, is what you’re saying. (Laughter)
Paul: Yeah. A/B testing, that’s what we need to be able to do multi-variant on reality. Also, a control Z for real life would be useful as well. That’s the other thing I think life is really missing.
Sam: Or a mute button for certain politicians.
Paul: yeah, that would be good as well. I’m liking all of these ideas. Talking of new ideas let’s move on to our next discussion point. It’s going to be fast and furious, Brexit, we’ve done it now that’s all sorted. We’ve said our piece on that. Were going to now move on. Sam, have you got something cheerful and upbeat to talk to us about or are you going to be equally as miserable as Marcus.
Sam:I don’t know about cheerful and upbeat, I’ll just lay it out there and you can decide. So, I thought with one of the most prestigious digital project manager conferences about to kick off in San Antonio in Texas. This is a community that is just growing and growing over the last few years. I thought it was interesting to see a tweet from Andy Budd which was a quote from Jeff Gothelfs talk mind the product London event. So I’ll read the tweet for you it says “project management, scrum masters and business analysts are these roles you continue to need with the continuous learning”. Obviously I wasn’t at the event and I haven’t seen Jeff’s talk but I think it does raise a very interesting topic. So I thought I would just clarify what I read from this and put it up for discussion really. I think what he was probably getting at was that if you have a cross functional team that becomes incredibly high performing and thus by default fantastic at continuous learning, is there a way you can see them coming less dependent on project managers, scrum masters and business analysts and people like that to the point where they no longer need them at all. I’ve obviously got my own thoughts on this but I’d be absolutely fascinated to hear what everyone else thinks before I offer those up.
Marcus: Yeah, well that was a bit out of the blue. I think product managers are probably the most, I was going to say the most valuable of the team but of course they’re not. But they are… We couldn’t function without project manager in our team and we’ve got very highly skilled people who are really good at their jobs and get on with it without necessarily being told “this is what you need to do every minute of the day”. But we would still struggle massively so from a personal point of view I think they’re very necessary. Dan wants to say something.
Dan:I’m kind of echoing you, I guess, a bit Marcus in that we started not that long ago is an agency and the first four people were all creative. So front-end, back-end, design et cetera
or in the creative area. It wasn’t until we hired this person that we actually got our first project manager and it was immediately obvious we were doing a lot of things wrong. Whether it was just the way we managed our time and being aware of that, like, “oh by the way do you realise you’ve run over this, maybe you should be time tracking it better” or whatever. The way we handled potential clients coming in for the way we did with current clients, not communicating properly, all of those things were highlighted and more when we got our first project manager. Although we have scaled back the company to for now we have still kept one of our project managers who we will always have fingers crossed. We will always have a project manager as part of No Divide because I just don’t see how, especially as we grow, how we can really expect to do all that ourselves. Now, our roles have had to change a little bit as the creative, especially as myself and Ryan being creative and technical directors, we’ve had to take on some of the admin but it’s not the main thing that we do. Having a project manager allows us to focus more on what is that motivates ask ourselves and the stuff that we are actually really good at.
Marcus: When Paul abandoned us (laughter)
Paul: can we not word it like that
Sam:I think you mean couldn’t hack it anymore.
Marcus: Ah, yes that’s the one. He couldn’t… It was too hot for him in the kitchen. We had six months without a project manager which was just a nightmare. I had to do project management and I’m not very good at it.
Paul: That makes it sound like I used to be a project manager, which is so not true by any sense of the word.
Marcus: Yeah but we just… We decided back then that we didn’t want to get any bigger we are very happy at the size that we are now we were nearly twice the size 5 years ago and we didn’t like that for many reasons we were a big company. But we had to get a project manager in. Even though there was an expense involved in employing somebody else it was just a no-brainer for us. Just going back to the specific point. I think, okay, if you’ve got this fantastic team that some super efficient and knows each other inside out, what happens if somebody leaves and you get a new member of the team. What if a really junior person joins or something like that, having somebody who is managing the people and managing the project I think, I’ve already said it, I think they are worth there weight in gold.
Paul: Do you think, mind, this is may be a reflection on the type of scenario we’re talking about, which Jeff was talking about, he’s thinking about an in-house team working on a product on an ongoing basis. I mean one of the big reasons why Headscape or No Divide a project manager so much is because of that client interaction and customer service that goes with looking after a client, and the fact that that client is an integral part of the team but are outside of the team and don’t know the processes et cetera. So, does that make a difference? Sam, you work in-house, you tell me…
Sam:Well I’ve worked small agency, medium and now large in-house so exactly what I think about it depends on the context. This kind of quote reminded me of many many years ago when we had the start to design in the browser mantra going around. While the benefits of that were really clearly communicated and it obviously sounded highly efficient compared to the other version, when you were actually at the agency and had a designer and a front end developer at the time that they couldn’t do each other’s jobs a lot of the time. It felt like a viewpoint from a very specific standpoint and that standpoint being kind of what Marcus said when you’ve got really, really highly skilled people, multitalented great but it’s not too common. So, in terms of agency and in-house, that does make a difference. I think that if your in-house it’s a little bit easier to take that on than if you’re working with external clients. I think and answer that will encapsulate all scenarios, I think, is that I don’t think we are being close to being able to dump these roles yet. I think it’s a kind of admirable aim. So instead of dumping the roles I thought we should the aiming to dump the need for one person to do those roles within that team. So, you know, we should be including those roles in the phrase cross functional perhaps. Getting people working on production areas people like project managers will often start with manual testing. Anyone can do manual testing with a little bit of training and a bit of support. It just got me thinking about can we get some production folk into the more businessey side of stuff. Part of a scrum team, not massively but tiny bit of exposure here and there so actually reversing it really and having everyone understanding others world a little bit more. I think that would only results in good things.
Paul: Oh yeah, I mean that’s absolutely true. The kind of having a better understanding of how different people in your team work, I think we can be terrible at that. Rachel, I’m quite interested in Perch because just you and Drew. You’ve obviously got a roadmap for development, you’re dealing with bug reports and all kinds of things so there’s quite and overhead of project manager stuff. Is it something you do, is it something Drew does? Is it formalised? How do you deal with project management?
Rachel:Well I think there is definitely a difference between doing work for client and having a product that are in a sense working on all of the time. I would love to have some sort of project management here that would take that role from me really. In an ideal world if we were in a position to afford that I think it would be a useful role. partly because when there are just two of you, in any type of small team, then that thing where you spend quite a bit of time going “what are you doing?” and that can come across a bit like “are you doing anything?” (laughter) do you know what I mean? If you’re trying to that kind of checking in, especially with the amount of travel that I do. I think it is easy to sort of end up quite silo-ed, especially when there’s a just a few of you and you’re doing your role and just getting on with it and there is that temptation to say “these are my bits, these are the bits I do” and we are very much like that here. There are things that Drew does and there are things that I do and sometimes it feels a bit like they don’t meet in the middle because we are so busy getting on with them. So I think that role that sort of project management role can be very good at bringing together that stuff. And making sure that things happen at the time that they are supposed to happen because if you’ve got a small team of people who work very independently of each other there’s kind of that point where that work has to come together. We launch a new feature for Perch then it probably needs some demo videos, it needs documentation, it needs the marketing piece, you know, all the stuff that you’re going to put on the website. We need to coordinate when we are going to announce things and then there’s also the actual code that needs to be written to build that feature and we can end up doing those things out of sync. So there are definitely days where it would be great to have somebody who had that in the head. You know, when is it happening so that would be a useful thing. I could certainly see a time particularly if we have another developer here it then starts to become more useful because people end up waiting for each other if you don’t have someone with that role. Someone has to take on that role whether they are officially the project manager or not someone has to do that.
Paul: Yeah, yeah. Okay, that’s great Sam thank you very much. Well, we need to move on. I have to get used to the timing of this we are trying to cover quite a lot on the show aren’t we and I need to move faster. Dan, no pressure on you now! We’ve got to sort out creativity versus efficiency in the next few minutes. Go.
Dan:Oh, okay, ummm…
Paul: You said you wanted to talk about this idea of whether our drive towards efficiency is undermining creativity. Is that right?
Dan:Yeah, to a certain extent. It’s basically been something I’ve been talking about over the last couple of months. I wrote a talk and I’ve given it a couple of times and it seems to spark a bit of interest amongst people. It was certainly an interesting topic for me which is obviously why I chose it. So it is essentially this idea, or this thought, that we are… Every time there’s a new tool or framework or a new something shiny to try out that it seems to be the focus is less on “this allows you to make something that is going to produce a better visual or more of a creative solution” but more “this is going to allow you to make something quicker”. So whether that is a framework, just to bring up one say Bootstrap or Foundation or or any of these kind of things. Obviously there’s thousands that you could mention but they are there in order to aid us to build our ideas quickly. Which I’m not saying I’m against. I work with companies who we try to advocate for working to an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) and getting things out quickly and iterating upon them. So it’s not so much that I have the issue with it’s more the fact that we are sidelining the aesthetic’s and creative direction of websites and apps a little bit more so this leads us to all websites looking the same kind of thing that happens more and more. You see it all the time people talking about it saying everything looks the same and I do wonder if that’s because building tools that allow us to be quicker and more efficient and have to deal with all the complexities of the web, whether that’s the complexities of design or cross browsers or teams working in multiple locations. Whatever they are, it definitely seems to be this kind of underlying idea of being incredibly efficient and getting things out quickly. I guess it’s more of a concern, and it seems to be one that other people have, where essentially designers aren’t maybe doing the things that they get excited about or motivated by as much. Especially as we’ve been moving towards more designing in a browser we are getting into the browser quicker and again it’s about getting something out quicker and being more efficient. Obviously everything I say there is a counter argument. Every time we take a forward step with designing in the browser there is something that is great and it makes sense because where the end product is going to be. But at the same time are we then simply just jumping to that because it seems like the quickest way to get it out, rather than thinking about what the problem is what the goals are, or the visual design or what the brand actually stands for.
Paul: Rachel, with perch you’ve built a product which is designed to make things quicker, simpler and easier for people. So, I imagine you’ve got a perspective on this.
Rachel:I’ve got all the perspectives from various angles. I’ll start with the Perch thing and have got an answer on this subject really. With Perch we specifically don’t dictate how things look. That’s always been anything with Perch it doesn’t come with any themes. We don’t say you have to output this markup even, you can use Perch to just output JSON if you wanted to you wouldn’t have to output HTML. We very specifically try not to dictate the way things look. There are a good chunk of our customer base who would love it if we did, would love it if it kind of just came packaged and they could just tweak the colours of it. But we push back against that all the time because what we don’t want is people downloading this and tweaking the colours and you can just tell that it’s a perch site. People want that, people would want a lot of those decisions made and I think a lot of the time is why people are using a lot of the tools and frameworks and so on. I say this as a non-designer it’s very very nice to have some sort of front-end framework makes good decisions for me. I install something and I start laying things out, and I make a form and the form looks nice and it’s useful and I think that’s great because I’m not having to make those decisions. Which is useful and it lets me get something built quickly. We use something called Foundation for all of our documentation recently because I could sit and write documentation rather than trying to make it look good. But you get to this point where, yeah, you get everything that starts to look the same. You get sites that look like Bootstrap that aren’t even Bootstrap. Because people… It’s like all well everything has to have a big panel at the top with the text in, and that’s a real shame. As someone who cares about the future of web standards and work with the CSS working group. You’re trying to get people excited about new layout methods that are going to open up all sorts of possibilities for creativity and all they’re asking me is can I replicate bootstrap grid with this. And that is such a shame, people aren’t looking at this new stuff and saying wow it’s going to enable all this really cool interesting stuff and things that get us away from the boxiness of the web and so on. Then not, they just thinking how do we do a 12 column flexible grid that’s it. So that’s sort of a shame it stops people pushing the boundaries of the technology.
Paul: Sam, what are your feelings on this. You know, from a project management point of view you want everything to be is efficient and quick as possible?
Sam:I was thinking that when I heard the topic, you’re talking to someone with P M in his blood here so it’s a bit of a meaty one for me. This is like, what lot of PM’s out there and business people face on a daily basis with teams.
Paul: Sorry to interrupt you Sam but this sounds like designers having a whinge doesn’t it?
Sam:Not really there’s a way to find out, you can filter it out. One approach I would use… Very very briefly I came from developing front end full-time, commercially and then I moved into project management and I still remember today the first time as a project manager that I was given a timeline by a developer and I actually uttered the words “can’t you just code it dirty”. And I remember that to this day because I realised I’d just become what I thought I hated. And the fact of the matter is that I just had more information. So what I realised then and what I’ve done ever since and it seems to work and again and it filters out the people who are just kind of moaning, is as a project manager or anyone leading teams really, when those compromises need to be made for commercial reasons I will actually sit down with those people sit down with the team and explain all of the variables. All of the reasons I have come to that decision, the fact that I know what good looks like and yet I’m making this decision there are reasons for that. I think a lot of people who are in positions of authority over production teams, I’ve heard this said myself and it kind of annoys me, annoys me a lot, they will say things like “production teams wouldn’t understand or they don’t care about that side of the project”. Which just isn’t true. It isn’t true, it’s insulting. So if you sit down with these very smart people and actually take the time to explain why you have come to the decisions that you are and tell them the variables what you’re really looking for there is a face that at the beginning resembles contempt, changing to something that looks a bit more like understanding. They can see “actually with all these things in play I can kind of see why you’re doing it”. So on one hand if someone won’t sit with you and listen and try to understand this stuff then I think it does border on a little bit of whingeing. And likewise when it comes to the team I think you have to bear in mind what the team, or individuals for that matter, have been working on. When you’ve got a team or individual that have had to compromise recently on a project and has had to do that kind of work then as a team or even a project manager you need to make a mental note of that. And if it looks like they’re going to get that again and again you need to address that rather than just focus on deliver, deliver. You need to think about people’s happiness at work as well.
Paul: Dan, mind, you’ve got to deal with all of those issues that Sam just outlined because you run your own agency. So on one hand, yeah, you have to keep your creatives happy and keep them engaged with the work that is being produced, but on the other hand you do have to deliver within budget and on time. Clients can’t always justify spending a lot of time and money on a pretty design where a bootstrap design would achieve the same return on investment from them. Isn’t that the difference between design and art, for example. Do you see what I mean?
Dan:It’s a really tricky one. In terms for the benefits of us for a team and for those of the client my arguments would always be that, obviously yes, internally you want people to be happy about what they are producing and allowing them to be a bit more creative or look at things differently is going to help with that. But it is also going to help the client. Ultimately standing out from the competition or actually taking more time to solve the problem with maybe something that requires more consideration and more thought is going to end up with a better product. Yes, a bootstrap theme will work absolutely fine it will solve a problem but will it solve your specific problem. More importantly are you telling your customers what you want them to feel and what you want them to do when you get there. The reason that certain brands do so well is because you can look at them and immediately get a feel of what it is that they stand for, what it is they want you to feel and that is the part that seems to be forgotten. Yeah, we can get website out very quickly but what is it that actually we want to create here. Is a part of this with creating a brand and we are building an experience, people are going to come to your site and use your app and they are going to experience something. Through really good design… Is not just about making it, you know, prettier, I’m not necessarily just saying that but it’s also about thinking more creatively about the problem. For example, should something be a button. Now, just because it’s a link to somewhere doesn’t mean it needs to be a button. It kind of depends on what the action is. Does something need to be a calendar when actually that might work better in a list view. It’s kind of like asking these questions, and just because you’ve got components that you’ve built out and will just but a button in there because it’s a link or it’s a date picker so will use the calendar. Well, does that make sense in the context of what you’re actually building here. I think those are the questions that we may be don’t spend much of the time considering. I think that when it comes to teams, whether internal or remote, and bringing your clients in and all those kind of things, think it is about bringing in that diverse opinion. Bringing in people like the CEO who’s been there 15 years, why did he start this what does it stand for. Also bringing in project managers, designers, developers, content people getting all those various ideas and thinking more, to use a buzzword, out of the box about how we’re going to solve this problem. All of these things, yes, they are harder to sell to a client because they take more time but ultimately, if you can get them in and actually discover and work out the problem with you, you will end up with a better result. Also, they going to be a lot happier because they feel that they have got something that they are actually paying for. There are a lot of people who do do things cheap but I like to think that most agencies or freelancers… We are not cheap service, we are professionals so if people have come to us to hire us for that thing I like to think that we can fairly easily seldom on exactly why we are going to do all this stuff and why were going to spend more time doing it. That’s up to us to do its part of our job as designers, developers, project managers et cetera.
Paul: In an ideal world these kinds of frameworks tools, they should allow you to spend more time on that kind of creative staff rather than less. Because a lot of the underlying nitty-gritty boring work is done for you. For example, nobody builds a content management system any more, you just buy in a content management system that is right for your needs. Then that allows you to focus more on what matters rather than spending all that time creating the content management system. The same could be true for the framework as well. It all just depends on how that extra time is then spent. Is it spent on doing those kind of creative things that improve the brand and the identity and the way you communicate with the clients? Or are you then just using that as a cost saving to be able to reduce your costs? And that I guess is the fundamental issue then.
Dan:Yeah, very quickly then because I know we want to finish this section. Yes, that is the problem. Ultimately people are looking at how can we churn out the same thing quickly to make more profit and ultimately all move on with our lives. And I think if that is the attitude then we’re always going to stand on these tools as a way to make more profit. That’s not why people created them, the reason we created, for example, Astrum which is our pattern library generator is because
we needed it internally. Now, you could easily use that and it would cut out a big part of the project that your may be working on but that’s not why we created it. I’m sure the people who created bootstrap and foundation and all these other frameworks and tools have not done it to simply allow you to make more profits quickly generating out the same designs. Again, it’s like with great power comes great responsibility. We have to manage our responsibility with these tools and be sure, like you say, why are we using them and how can we ensure we are spending our time correctly.
Paul: Talking of tools that brings us nicely onto Rachel segments which I think will do as the last one this week and will save mine for another time. Because you tweeted a really interesting thing, Rachel, that got my attention. And a lot of people’s attention interestingly. You were talking about technology shaming. Which is a very interesting idea. Do you want to explain what you were getting at?
Rachel: okay, I put out all this stuff on Twitter that is perfectly sensible and no one read tweets it and then you make an offhand comment… And my one was “oh look, someone else mocking PHP developers, I’d respond but I’ve got this successful business with the product written in PHP to run”(laughter) I’d seen a couple of things, it wasn’t actually anyone specific, there were a couple of things floating around over the last week. It was the standard thing where you’d mention PHP and everyone’s like “oh yeah PHP, yeah, yeah” and I was sort of thinking that actually how many projects and great products that we use every day are written in PHP. How many people are PHP developers? Or that’s a big chunk of what they do. It’s this thing where you mention what you do and half the Internet turns round and has a laugh at you. It is thoroughly miserable, the thing is technology isn’t the thing that makes the project, you know the technology choice. As the owner of a product that is written in PHP, which Perch is, we launched perch seven years ago and PHP was essentially the only thing we could build it in that would have support because it self hosted people need to be able to install it on their servers and what’s on all the servers, PHP. It’s still the case now seven years on it’s not even like something else has come along and maybe we ought to rewrite this thing because this other thing is now on all the servers, it’s not the case. PHP is still on a lot of the servers of the sort of people who use Perch. Just like its on the servers of all the people who use WordPress.
Paul: Why do you think people get so opinionated about things like languages or frameworks or any of this stuff. It’s like everybody seems to have an opinion on it.
Rachel: Well, I think partly it’s this whole new shiny object syndrome thing..People are constantly looking for a new thing to talk about online because obviously that gets eyeballs on you if you’re talking about something cool and interesting. That’s fine, I love new staff as much as the next person but I think the problem with this is that if you start saying to people “oh I write PHP” and they say “oh dear, you should be using Python, you should be using Ruby” or whatever it is, you should be using Node. You’re making them feel bad about the thing that they know how to do and potentially what that does to people is that they then end up running around learning the next thing, the next thing, the next thing and using it and never getting any deep knowledge of any technology because they’re so busy flitting to the thing that the the cool people are saying is the next thing to use. It’s fine if you’re me and you’ve been doing this for ever and someone says “Ugh, PHP” and you go “fine, whatever.” and carry on writing PHP because that’s what we do. But if you are new to this or your less experienced or you just not very confident in the choices of the things that you’re using it can cause people to get more wound up in this sort of panic that they need to know everything. If people are pointing the finger at your choices. You can say that on the front end as well, people saying “oh, you’re still using Grunt” Everybody’s moved on too now. It doesn’t matter, the client doesn’t mind. In the case of server side languages the web browser doesn’t mind what you use to build your website. What gets HTML and CSS to the browser, it doesn’t matter what that is. So, your kind of looking at the wrong thing. You should be solving problems well it doesn’t matter what the technology is that we’re using to do that.
Paul: Sam, from a project management point of view this must be a frustration for you when developers go “oh, we should be using this now”
Sam: Yeah, very much so. Don’t get me wrong this is not just isolated to technology either. You’ve only got to mention Waterfall and Agile and you’ve got exactly the same kind of thing. To be honest what it is is it feels like militants to me and I think all militants is unhealthy as a general rule.
Paul: Are you very militant about that position.
Sam: Very militant. Do not question me (laughter). The fact of the matter is that I totally agree with Rachel and I said this about so many things. I think you’ve heard me say it a few times Paul, if it works for you, your team, your clients, your business it really doesn’t matter how you are achieving that success. It makes no difference. But just to put in a sort of different angle on the argument, it was only when I saw Rachel’s prep, that it got me thinking, it does have to be said that many of the people in pod casts like this or onstage speaking they are of an older and more experienced standpoint. I say this because it’s really important to remember what it’s like to be younger so. I remember what I was like when I was back in my 20s I was way more militant. I was doing front end mostly and I was, I was militant. I was militant about how it should be done, my heart was still in the same place but only my experiences since then especially my exposure to the business side has really changed my viewpoint now. One of the things about managing the team you talk about the shaming, I think it’s to do with maturity really your relevant of a maturity. There is one instance at a company I worked at where we were running two K bases, well a few actually, but the predominant ones were cold fusion and Ruby. Early in my time at that company there was this war between these two groups… On the same team. The Ruby people shaming the cold fusion people and you know what they defended themselves and retaliated it was just silly. About three years on from that we kind of switched… Not with this in mind but we just ended up with a team that I think most people would agree, that were more mature in general. And I received a DM on Slack one day from someone that was there back in the day, back in the war days as it were, a cold fusion guy. You’re never going to guess what happened he said. We are in the sprint and the Ruby guy has just run out of work and has just asked if there is any cold fusion he could help me with. He was amazed at the change in the attitude. All that changed is the maturity, back to the point quickly is that we have two remember what we were like when we were younger. It kind of makes me think… I completely agree with what everyone has said here but I wonder if we need to start, as well as raising awareness about the shaming may be we need to sort of get better at appreciating what it is like to be less experienced and get better at communicating why we are saying it doesn’t matter. We don’t really speak up about that too much, I think we’re too busy saying it doesn’t matter. Maybe we need to go into more detail about why and hopefully save some people the pain of learning. It took me a good 10 years to learn that really.
Marcus: I can’t remember what it’s like being in my 20s. (Laughter)
Rachel: Yeah, it’s getting that way. A lot of good comes from being in and industry where someone who, like me, has been doing this for something like 20 years. I was speaking at a conference where one of the other speakers was actually the same school year as my daughter. I’ve got a 19-year-old you know so, there was another speaker at the conference who was essentially I could be his mum. Which did make me feel very old but how cool is that. How how cool is that, how cool is that that someone who is brand-new to this who’s got completely different insight who comes from a different generation can be contributing on the same level as someone very experienced. I think that is something very special about our industry. I think it’s right that… We need to find ways for the the experience for those of us whose been through these things several times can bring. Where it doesn’t look like we’re trying to squash that enthusiasm because it isn’t that.
Paul: there is a difference isn’t there between being enthusiastic about a new platform and shaming somebody who isn’t using that platform. That for me is what it comes down to.
Rachel: Yes, then again I think Sam is completely right. There is an element of maturity here that you realise how you’re coming across. Because when you talk to people face-to-face “I didn’t mean it like that at all” sort of thing, you know? Because they didn’t really, but they aren’t aware that pointing a finger at someone and saying “why are you using this crusty old thing” is showing their own bias in the fact that perhaps they haven’t been exposed to well written PHP for example. That is often what it is. I think you get better at that as you get older, you get better at having those conversations.
Paul: The other thing that comes with age, no not age, experience is that you pass through a lot of these stages and I can look back over the years that I’ve been doing this and I can see cold fusion come and go, flash come and go. I’ve seen all of these different things come and go and you know, the truth is that if you are a good developer you will adapt and you will evolve. So yes, the language doesn’t matter as much because it will change it is inevitable it’s going to change. I think what people get hung up on and debate is when you should change. And we’ve all got to jump at exactly the same moment and in exactly the same direction and that’s never going to happen it’s going to be more organic than that. And that’s fine.
Rachel: It’s going to be different depending on the project, you know. If you’re handing over… We used to do PHP for the clients when we did client work and a lot of the time PHP was the sensible choice because it was easy to hand over to them. It would run without too much care and feeding on their servers without having to have a very expensive stack, they could find new developers for it which was really very important to people. They wanted something that they , in the future could find another developer, that they wouldn’t be too expensive that they would know the technology. Now, if you’re doing an in-house thing and you’re building your own product and it’s going to be hosted on your own servers you’ve got a completely different situation there and you might have a bunch of developers who are really, really keen to work in node, well great, why not. If that works for what you’re trying to build. So, a lot of the time it’s not even about what you like it’s about what works best for the things that you’re building and the client that you’re serving.
Paul: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, we need to wrap up at this point. We not going to talk about my exciting project which would’ve been by far the best topic that was covered but you’ll never know, so there you go. Will talk about it next week instead, it’s fine. We just going to talk about our second sponsor. I should just say before that that I think when I talked about mighty earlier I may have forgotten to mention their URL. Which is fairly fundamental so it’s mightydeals.com and that coupon code again was Boagworld15 for 15% off all their deals. I do want to talk about our other sponsor who is sponsoring the whole season which is really great of them. They are called videoblocks. It’s basically an affordable subscription-based stock media site for video material which gives you unlimited access to premium stock footage which… I’m doing more and more video these days I know a lot of people are as well and I recently wrote a blog post about how we need to be including more video in the stuff that we are doing. So, a site like this is absolutely invaluable for adding footage into that kind of thing. You can get unlimited daily downloads from a library of hundred 15,000 video clips, after-effect templates, motion backgrounds and so much more. It’s all just there that you can use it, your average subscriber ends up paying about less than a dollar a download over the course of a year because they make so much use of all this material. Once it’s there you help yourself to it and use it loads and I’ve been using it loads. I’ve found it really really useful for the videos I have been creating. Video blocks are offering Boagworld listeners a years subscription for US$99 that’s a $50 discount over the usual price tag which is brilliant. This is less than $10 a month to access all of that amazing video footage. To get that year’s subscription for only US$99 then go to videoblocks.com/Boagworld. So that videoblocks.com/Boagworld to get that discount offer. Cool, so that’s basically it for our sponsors and it for our discussion. I hope you’ve enjoyed the new format I think it’s really interesting and probably we are trying to cover too many things in it show and might have to adapt that in future which is fine. But we ought to end by finding out where we can find more information about each person. To be going to go around really fast and say where they can go and find out more about you. Rachel, where can people go to find out more about you.
Rachel: rachelandrew.co.uk is my blog and things and I’m @rachelandrew on Twitter and grabaperch.com is the product.
Paul: Cool, Sam what about you?
Sam: I’m at thesambarnes.com and also on twitter with the same, @sambarnes.
Paul: And Dan?
Dan: No Divide is nodividestudio.com and you can find me on Twitter as @de.
Paul: Thats a very good twitter id you’ve got there. You got in early didn’t you?
Dan: Either that or I just spoke to somebody very nicely on the twitter support line.
Paul: Oh, did you indeed? It’s all who you know isn’t it? Marcus, are you on the internet anymore?!or have you just got so old that you’ve given up?
Marcus: I’ve gone back to notebooks, paper and pencils that kind of thing. I very occasionally blog on the Heasdscape site and very occasionally on the boagworld site too. So that’s headscape.co.uk and I occasionally make an utterance on twitter at @marcus67.
Paul: So, there you go. presume that if you are listening to this podcast that you know who I am and where to find me. Unfortunately we have to waste valuable podcast time now doing Marcus’ joke…
Marcus: It’s a very short joke and it is one that Paul posted on the Slack Channel. So blame him.
Paul: Oh, is it?!! Damn!
Marcus: Dogs cannot operate an MRI machine but Cats can. (Laughter, sort of!)
Paul: See, That got a laugh. knew Sam would approve of it because Sam likes all things cat related.
Sam: I do, I do. That was good, I’ll give you that one. Well done Paul.
Paul: Thanks you very much. So we would be really interested to have you r feedback on this round table format. Whether you like it, whether you find it useful whether you’d like us to cover different things. If you’ve got a topic that you’d like us to talk about you could either tweet the person closest related to it, that you’ve heard. Or you can use the hashtag #4BW with any suggestions you’ve got. But for now thank you so much for listening and that you to my guests for joining me on this weeks show. We’ll be back again next week. Goodbye.