This week on the Boagworld Show we talk getting better copy from clients, to code or not to code and following the brief.
Paul: Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show. The podcast about all aspects of digital design, development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag and joining me on this week’s show is Andy Clarke, Sam Barnes, Marcus Lillington and Ryan Taylor. Hello all.
Marcus: Hello Paul.
Andy: Top of the morning to you.
Paul: You see I tried to do an enthusiastic intro and then it’s like mumble, mumble.
Andy: Is just so early in the morning. I’ve only just finished my breakfast cereal.
Paul: Well Andy it’s your fault that we are doing this this early in the morning so don’t give me that. You and your “Ooo, I’m going to be in Australia, we’ll need to do it for my time zone.” And are you in Australia, no.
Andy: Not yet, no. We are still here although…
Marcus: Any news?
Andy: No, we just have to wait until the immigration people say “come on in.” Touch wood. It’s really strange though, last week every day I got a new present from a mystery buyer through the post. So…
Sam: You talk about this positively, it sounds quite creepy.
Andy: No, it’s really strange. It came to the business address and obviously addressed to me. The first day was a pair of Australian hats. Green hats with the corks hanging round them.
Andy: And the next day was a book, a translation like English to Australian translation guidebook.
Paul: And you got no idea who this is from?
Andy: No idea at all.
Paul: I never ever get gifts. You seem to get them all the time.
Andy: Well it is strange, I did get some Marmite sent to me with malarkey written on it a few weeks ago. But people do tend to send me some nice things every now and again. They don’t send me stuff of eBay that I ask for…
Paul: Well that’s because the stuff you ask for on eBay costs like three grand or something.
Andy: Wvell, ultimately I did find out who it was that sent me this stuff. At the end of the week I had kind of figured it out and he coughed to it. And it’s a good job that I managed to catch him before he actually sent the inflatable kangaroo that he had in his shopping cart.
Paul: Well I would have thought that was a perfect gift.
Andy: Well, you know I was actually quite excited about receiving it!
Paul: Yeah, you shouldn’t have stopped him.
Andy: No , I know! But, moving swiftly on.
Paul: I… Just… don’t even want to know. This whole doing it in the morning sucks because I was up until like 3 AM or something playing “Civ”. I can’t stop playing “Civilisation” for some reason. It’s becoming a problem. Between that and the drone I’m not doing any work any more.
Marcus: That was the plan though wasn’t it Paul?
Paul: Well, yes and no. I mean,… Yeah, yeah, I guess so.
Marcus: This is your dream, playing games and going outside. That’s a step up for you really isn’t it?
Paul: Oh, ha ha ha! You’re so funny.
Sam: Going outside is overrated.
Marcus: Playing games at your age! Till 3 AM, goodness!
Paul: Well, yeah. Why not, really? I mean…
Sam: Same as a guitar right?
Paul: And also civilisation, I mean it’s educational right?
Marcus: Is it?
Paul: Well, no.
Ryan: All games are educational.
Paul: Are they?
Ryan: Pretty sure that Jack’s maths skills are as good as they are because we’ve been playing games.
Paul: It is true, I have to say most of my son’s education has come through World of Warcraft. In fact at the moment he is doing business studies GCSE and in that you do a big thing about economics and you know, stock markets and fluctuating prices and all that kind of stuff. And he knows it all, and he knows it all from the auction house in World of Warcraft.
Marcus: That’s cool then isn’t it.
Paul: It is!
Marcus: Paul, you’re doing the right things.
Ryan: It’s amazing what the pickup.
Marcus: You’re doing the right thing staying up until 3 AM playing games.
Paul: There you go, that’s that sorted. That’s good.
Marcus: What is Civ anyway? What do you do?
Paul: Civilisation… Kind of like risk on steroids.
Marcus: All right, you have to kind of take a over other people’s territory and that sort of thing?
Paul: Yes, but you can do it through… You can win in lots of different ways. So you can win through the risk method of just general militarisation. What I like to call the Donald Trump approach to winning. Which is just bullying everybody else into submission. Or you can win through being the 1st to win the space race. So you can do it that way.
Ryan: Scientific victory
Paul: Yes, scientific victory. Or you can win through civilisation victory in other words you become the dominant civilisation and everybody is influenced by you basically. So there are different ways of winning. You start off with a little nomadic tribe and go all the way through so you develop all your sciences and all that kind of stuff all the way through to the space race. It’s actually really good. You can play as different nations so I tend to play as the Romans. As they get legions early on.
Sam: Do you think you play differently now that Trump is the president and he makes decisions and are you finding yourself over, “Oh I won’t do that”
Paul: Well interestingly I posted to Instagram a screenshot of my game where essentially I have just decimated the environment so actually I think I’m going in the other direction. I am essentially becoming Donald Trump in the game. Which is quite disturbing but you know, there you go. Am I the only one that plays games then? Am I the only one that has not grown-up
Ryan: No, I play games a lot.
Sam: I play as well, yeah.
Paul: Oh right, so you two are staying quiet.
Ryan: I was replaying “telltale: The walking dead” last night.
Paul: Now, that’s really interesting because I’m actually a big fan of story-based games. So things like Tomb Raider, Uncharted, The last of us. That kind of thing. But I’ve never played a telltale game are they good?
Ryan: I really enjoy them because the stories so good but it’s a stretch to call them a game. They’re almost like… Remember the old novels used to read and you’d get to page one hundred…
Paul: Choose your own adventure?
Ryan: Yeah, choose your own adventure, they’re like that. So the choices you make do influence the story and if you don’t save a certain character then they’ll be dead in the next episode and things like that. Once you’ve played through it a couple of times you can see where the kind of pivot points are and you can experience all the different routes through. But when you’re on your first play through it feels like a story that is very tailored to the choices that you make. I really enjoy them I use them as a kind of a palate cleanser between games. So when I’ve played something like “Witcher three” and moving onto another game I’ll play like a tell-tale game and just kind of settled me down, it’s nice and easy, it’s nice story, well not nice story, walking dead! So it’sv people eating each other’s faces off but it’s very well told. Very high standards, kind of one of those companies that everything they put out the stories are excellent. They’re very good.
Paul: Ahh. I might have to give one ago then because sometimes you haven’t got the energy… Playing something like, I don’t know, even playing something like The last of us or Uncharted, it takes coordination and you need to be awake.
Ryan: Yeah, that’s exactly what you don’t need with these games. You just sit back and take them in. It’s like reading a novel. Start with season one of the walking dead and if you don’t like that then you won’t like the rest of them. If you do like that you got about 10 of the other seasons, series that you can try with Telltale.
Paul: There are others as well they do Game of Thrones don’t they?
Ryan: Game of thrones, that’s pretty good they do the Wolf among us which is based on the comic book series called “Fables”. Which is really good. That got me into the comic book series. I ended up reading 200 comics off the back of just playing that game. “oh that’s brilliant!” you know.
Paul: Oh, yeah.
Marcus: I do play the odd game.
Paul: What do you play Marcus?
Marcus: About every couple of years something comes along that I really like, they are usual the puzzle type games. Limbo was probably the best game. And Machinarium I don’t know how you spell it, or pronounce it rather, but games where you have to go find things and work out how to rescue the whatever… We have to rescue the Princess. But a wonderful looking game, amazingly good looking graphics I thought and soundtrack.
Paul: I hate puzzle solving games. They make me feel thick.
Andy: That’s why I only play Street fighter.
Paul: Yes, exactly.
Andy: I still haven’t moved beyond playing Street fighter two. You can get them now for the iPhone. I mean they haven’t been updated for years but you can actually play Street fighter on your iPhone
Paul: Oh, that awesome.
Andy: Which is great. “Hoducan!” And all of those kind of expressions.
Marcus: You’d like the look of Limbo though. You should just download it just to look at it because it is gorgeous.
Andy: One thing I did play fairly recently and really, really loved was Monument Valley on the iPhone.
Marcus: Oh yes that’s wonderful
Paul: Yes that’s beautiful
Marcus: You see, yes that’s another example of one. I keep thinking that an update will come along for it. “Oh, they’ve done some more. Oh, they haven’t”.
Paul: Yes, I did like that, Monument Valley. What about you Sam what do you play?
Sam: Compared to you I’m so basic. Call of duty and FIFA. I do like the story games but the truth is I kind of get a bit to… not too involved, but I will sit there for nights and nights on end, like you’re doing a guess at the moment, and guess what, nothing else gets done. So I kind of had to find ways of getting my fix I guess you could say but something that I can sort of dip into and dip out.
Paul: Call of duty is great, I enjoy that. I don’t understand the appeal of FIFA but then, football, I don’t get that.
Ryan: I bought The last of us for Dan for Christmas and he’s still not played it yet.
Paul: (shocked intake of breath)
Ryan: He says he hasn’t got time. I said “You live with your girlfriend, I’ve got three kids and I put 500 hours into the Witcher3! It’s not that you haven’t got time it’s just it’s not a priority!”
Paul: Yes, which is probably healthy to be honest. The fact that you’ve got three kids and you put 500 hours into Witcher three. It is a bit of a worry.
Ryan: Over an 18 month period. Not all in one sitting. Do you know what I mean it was over an 18 month period. It was a couple of hours one night.
Paul: Aha, I don’t think… A couple of hours a night, that’s quite a lot when you got three kids.
Ryan: It’s my escape, I don’t go to the pub, I don’t drink I don’t, you know. It’s my escapism.
Paul: So there we go, That’s interesting. Ryan, I think Telltale that’s the way to go. I could go for that. I might be downloading… No, I don’t need another game at the moment.
Ryan: The nice thing with that is that each episode is only about a couple of hours long so you know…
Paul: oh, is it? Oh.
Ryan: The whole series is about 10 hours so it’s not like, you are not losing your life to it. It’s just like a novel, like reading a book.
Paul: The problem I’ve got today is that I’m a bit torn really because I want to place Civ because I’m in a really tricky position at the moment because…
Marcus: There you go, do some work.
Paul: ..because outside it is really foggy and misty and everything’s gone monochrome so I want to take the drone out. So what do I do? Work doesn’t get a look in! Anyway, talking of work, the answer, you see, is you don’t make money by actually doing anything. You get sponsors on the podcast.
Andy: Oh, who were the sponsors this week Paul?
Paul: The same people as every week! Andy.
Ryan: It sounded so much like Pinky and the Brain then.
Paul: Did we? Oh.
Ryan: Just that you remember on the credits with Pinky and the Brain where they used to go “What are we going to do tonight? We’re going to take over the world.” It just sounded like that. “What’s it tonight Paul, same people as every night.” Do you remember that at the beginning…
Andy: No, I have no idea of what you are talking about. (Laughter)
Ryan: You’ll have to link to it.
Paul: Andy, you don’t come out very well off of that analogy. Because you are Pinky who is this kind of stupid moronic idiot. Where I presume I’m the Brain, based on Ryan’s description which, you know, immediately sounds…
Ryan: Which aren’t very coherent.
Andy: I’m not going to challenge those assumptions. (Laughter)
Paul: We will let it pass. Yes, no. It’s Awwwards again. So the last couple of weeks we have been talking about the fact that I am speaking at an Awwwards event and hosting it actually. And if you remember I was terrified about doing all the names and stuff but actually that has come and gone, well at least it has in terms of when this podcast comes out. Although I’ve still got it to do in reality. So I thought I would tell you a bit more about Awwwards generally. So as you’ve gathered they do events, they do conferences that kind of stuff. But you might have guessed by their name that they do awards as well that recognise talent and effort in the web design community. So they kind of highlight the best web designers, developers and agencies in the world. They’ve also got a magazine that they put out and they put out various books where they feature some of the amazing works of the attendees. It’s an incredible place to get kind of inspiration, be inspired about what’s going on. Very, very creative stuff I mean you can tell from the lineup of the conference speakers that I talked about last week where you’ve got people like Brendan Dawes and Mike Kus and various other people that they are very creative and they have a very broad type of designs that they show. Which I think is really good if you’re looking for good sources of inspiration that you don’t look too narrowly. Finally, they’ve also got a professional directory where you can find agencies, they’ve got a job board if you are looking to move organisations. They are a huge organisation actually. They do a lot of really cool stuff. So if you are interested in any of that and you want to check them out or you want to get some inspiration for your next project then go along to boag.world/awwwards. And awards is spelt with 3W’s as in www a, w,w,w,a,r,d,s.
Round Table Discussion
Paul: Okay, so it’s recommendations, tips and advice time. I actually thought I would kick off if that’s alright guys?
Marcus: Go for it Paul.
Paul: I didn’t get a go last week did I. Which was very sad. So I’m going to have a go this week. So really I want to talk about copy and getting copy from clients. Or more specifically getting good copy from clients. Let’s be honest this is often kind of the bain of most projects. You do some great user interface work, you built an amazing content management system and everything is looking great and then your clients or stakeholders if you’re internal just kind of vomit shit copy all over it.
Marcus: What a lovely analogy.
Paul: Well, it does feel like that doesn’t it sometimes. So how do we maybe improve the copy that they are producing and yes, how do we improve the copy that they produce?! I’ve got basically three little tips I want to share with you that are kind of all interlinked with one another. The first is, I think part of the problem is that clients don’t really have… they don’t really know how to write great copy for the web because they’ve not done it before many of them so they need some help and some guidance. But it is quite difficult with limited budgets and times it’s not always really your job to advise them so what I tend to do is I whittle it down to suggesting that every page that they write they ask three questions. I encourage them to address these before they start writing on the comment, the content. So I, One, who is the page aimed at? So they answer that first. Then answer what questions of the user that the pages aimed at are you answering. That is question number two. And then thirdly I say to them, decide what you want the user to do next before you start writing. So if they just do those kind of three things before they start writing; answer who it’s aimed at, what questions those people have and what you want them to do next, then the whole thing goes a lot smoother. And the content is more focused. Now, to help them do that and to provide a little bit of structure you might want to check out a product called gather content. Has everybody heard of this?
Andy: Hmm, yes.
Ryan: I haven’t.
Paul: Oh good. One person hasn’t, thank you Ryan for being the thicky! So..
Ryan: It’s all right I’ll be rude to you in my segment in a minute.
Paul: I’m sure you’re going to blow me away. So gather content is essentially, gathercontent.com. It’s basically a tool that clients can put their content into that means it is easy for you to get it out and do… Put it in databases and things like that. But the other good thing about gathercontent is that you can add in extra fields. So you can add a field before they start putting in their copy of “who is this page aimed at?, What questions are you answering and what you want the user to do next.” It’s kind of to make sure that it becomes a part of their workflow. So that’s something you might want to check out. I mean you could do the same thing in a word document obviously but having some kind of template that they fill in when they are creating content will help them focus them on the three questions. Of course all of that isn’t necessarily going to result in really well written web copy. Now, again you could send them on training courses, you could spend hours kind of coaching them. That’s not always practical so that brings me onto the third little thing that I wanted to recommend which is something called Hemingwayapp. Again, have you heard of this one?
Marcus: Sam: Andy: Ryan: Yes.
Paul: You see, I talk about this stuff too much. So Hemingway app is essentially a little tool that is designed to help people write good web copy. It’s Hemingwayapp.com and you can just pop your copy into it and it will make suggestions about how to improve it, shorten sentences, remove adjectives. Just kind of tighten up your copy. Now, it’s not infallible and it’s not perfect but it is a good starting point if you want to write better web copy and I always pass everything I write for the web through this tool.
Marcus: It winds me up Paul.
Paul: Yeah, I know it would do. But that’s because you’re used to writing proposals which is a different thing.
Marcus: Yes, I’ve got a habit of mid-sentence going off onto another thought on top of that sentence and then coming back to the other one and it just, that’s it, very hard to read. And it’s like is it really very hard to read? And that kind of conversation tends to go on when I am reviewing stuff that I have written.
Paul: You see, the thing is you’ve got to remember this tool in my opinion it’s not suited in every circumstance. It’s suited for writing web copy. And the reason that that would be marked as “very hard to read” isn’t necessarily because it is hard to read but because it is hard to scan.
Marcus: Hmmm, yeah, you can’t take it in quickly.
Paul: Yes, if you’ve got long sentences then it’s very hard to kind of processes those sentences especially if they are chopping and changing thought partway through. You got to remember what it is good for and what it’s not. So, like I said it’s not perfect but it is another useful tool. So there are my tips for encouraging clients to write better web copy. And if nothing else Hemingway will give you the reading level of your copy. And so often with like academics for example, we do a lot of work with universities, their reading level is like 14, 15, 16 Which is way too high for people on the web. Sorry Sam, I interrupted you.
Sam: Thats all right, just going to say has anyone tried… I use the Chrome extension grammarly which has been heavily advertised but actually I find when I’m doing little bits like, the real-time thing is quite nice actually because it’s picked me up on a few decent tips actually. So that might be something for when people are entering CMS’s rather than having to put things into another app sort of thing.
Paul: Hmm, yes, grammarly is really good actually. I really like it. I didn’t use it… You see I don’t use Chrome as my main browser which is kind of why I didn’t use it but, also they do have a desktop app I think but it is chargeable and I’m very tight! So… Ryan?
Ryan: I was just going to say I think it would be bad of us not to say as well that there is real value in hiring an actual content person. A copywriter or copy strategist.
Paul: Yes, sorry. I mean absolutely 100%. This is the cheap and cheerful approach, you know. You are entirely right, wherever possible you want someone that actually knows what they are doing.
Ryan: They are worth their weight in gold.
Paul: And I never understand that, right, how clients are quite happy to spend a fortune on design or even on a content management system, both of which are basically packages for the content and yet they won’t tend to spend money on the contents.
Sam: What I found… the reason for that is that essentially they don’t think that they can do that other stuff but they do believe they are so into their own, well, their own business that they are the best ones to write their copy.
Andy: Yes, you see we have this argument with clients, well, discussion. We actively disscussing with clients quite a lot in that they can know their product or their business better than anybody else but that doesn’t make them qualified to write advertising copy which is, you know, generally what we put on the web. So you need to actually get to hire somebody to do that or what I’ve tried to do over the past few years is to basically get them to tell me rather than to produce the content. So if you sit somebody down in front of a blank word document what they’ll do is they will go “stuff and nonsense is the leading website design company established in 1997” and they’ll write this kind of drivel. Whereas if you do Paul’s approach and you say to somebody “So, why should somebody, you know, come to your studio rather than somebody else. What is it…” They’ll tell you in a natural language and that’s the kind of stuff that you can write down and then kind of massage into copy.
Paul: Yeah, Mmm. I always have this rule of thumb with copy that if you can’t say it with a straight face out loud to somebody in a conversation then something’s gone horribly wrong. Because it so often it’s like… Imagining in a pub you’re sitting down with someone and they say to you “what is it that you do?” And you say “well actually I work for a leading web design company that creates synergy and the user experience space” you know, you sound like a Dick.. (Laughter) and yet we write that all the time for our website, you know.
Marcus: Speak for yourself. (Close laughter)
Paul: Well, you know what I mean. You know what I’m getting at.
Marcus: Well, I sit down and say “Welcome to Marcus Lillington!”
Paul: That’s how you talk in the pub isn’t it. It’s amazing when I sit down with, at the pub I go “Hi I’m Boagworld and I have a podcast for those that run websites…” Yeah… Yes, so content is a hugely important area and it doesn’t get enough mentions. So my tips and my advice are really the quick and dirty, if that’s all you can do approach. And absolutely Ryan, hire a professional. As with all things. Sam, you wanted to talk about coding.
Sam: Kind of yes. I thought I would talk about something that I’m asked quite a lot. I’ve probably been asked ever since I got into this industry to be honest. And that is really should people like project managers and account managers, designers basically non-production people if they are about, should they know how to code. Right, now we’ve seen this talked about I think for, as I say, years and years and years that everybody has different answers. So I thought I would just give mine. And why I think what I do. Really, my answer is always in an ideal world yes. But in reality I think that actually no, they don’t need to know how to code at all. But it does help so much if these people just get some really basic foundation knowledge in their brains. So what I’ve always found is that it’s actually more important for these people to be seen to be trying to understand this stuff more so than actually getting it and doing it. All right? So no one has to become a competent developer but just by getting that basic foundation knowledge they can increase their effectiveness in their job no matter what they do, plus get the respect of their team. Which in my experience actually goes an awful long way. So, you know, it’s like if you take a project manager before knowing some technical basics to after I can pretty much guarantee that both them and the team will deliver a better result and probably enjoy themselves a little bit more as well. The same for anyone selling work, same for anyone involved in any aspect that kind of impacts on a production team. Often you will find that these people won’t do that. They won’t try and they’ll either think they don’t have to or they will actually think they can’t. And that’s also sometimes met with people on our side who will actually perhaps not be the best teachers. Won’t have the patients won’t want to do this stuff. I mean I’ve seen it where I’ve got non-production people to actually approach the technical people to want to learn and they kind of been patronised without realising. We kind of forget what we know, I think is my main point. So I guess I would just put a few tips out there on how you can get started because I do think it is really important it is such a big scary topic I think. And again I think that when you’ve been doing this for years you really forget what you know. I don’t know how much experience you guys have with taking on juniors or whatever but sometimes when you’re dealing with someone that knows very little you suddenly realise how much you’ve picked up over the years. How much you take for granted just becomes second nature really. So I just thought I would suggest a couple of things to get going. So obviously the first one is to actually find people within your organisation or online who seem to be willing to teach you the basics. To understand where you sit, what level you’re at and that they’ve got that patient to talk to you. But I appreciate that is quite difficult. So a couple of articles I found that were kind of pretty amazing actually. So the first one, I’llv put these on the show notes, theres one called “What is code” by Paul Ford. And it’s the longest article I think I have ever seen. It is written from the perspective of someone who literally knows nothing about technology or code. I think he sets up a premise that you are an executive in an office and suddenly these computer guys have to do stuff. So you’re wearing your suit, you’re earning lots of money and suddenly a guy in casual clothes and laptop comes in and starts telling you how to run your business. What’s all that about? And it kind of tries to take the mindset of that kind of person to the point where they can understand who this person is in front of them and why they might want to give them some time essentially. But the trouble with that one is it’s a bit, kind of, it’s got a good mix of cultural background but it’s also got quite a lot of computer science type stuff in there. Which I found quite hard going at times. So there’s a second article I will put in the show notes is a bit more for the layman. That’s by a PM called Adam Edgerton and that’s called "Full stack basics for the non-developer" and that’s kind of a bit more humorous, bit more lighter. He talks more about it from the small agency type perspective which I think is where most people would find easier to start with. And then finally maybe just try some practical free courses such as Code Academy or udacity have some pretty decent ones. But the trouble… I have to admit I don’t know what you all think about this. When I’ve looked at these… We all learnt I think pretty much the same way because these… I think Dreamweaver was the best we had other than that we were pretty much learning it raw. Would you advise people use these courses, obviously give them a go but I kind of think they take away the… They kind of skip over a few steps in terms of the… What taught me the basics was working out how to get an local environment set up. Working out this stuff myself, I think it kind of sunk in more.
Paul: It depends what you mean by the basics Sam.
Sam: I guess what I find is when I when people, you know, have the courage to say like “can you explain this stuff to me?” You start… I would often start at a level that was actually way further than I needed to. I would start talking about even HTML and CSS and I would realise that these people sometimes don’t even understand how requests are made. Or how you see a webpage and then it’s really kind of skating over quite a lot of very, very basic information that actually underpins a lot of what we understand a second nature now.
Paul: This is that where I kind of get stuck over this kind of conversation. Is that when we say that non-developers need to know the basics are we talking about they need to be able to write basic HTML and CSS or are we saying that they need to understand the basics of what role HTML plays, what role CSS plays, how you know, a server works those kinds of things. More theoretical, or practical are we are talking?
Sam: I think both ideally but I think the theoretical is the most achievable. You can get more of a broad spectrum and it can help you in more of your work I think as someone not doing it on a day-to-day basis plus, when people are talking in meetings is not just jargon. You know, you don’t need to understand… I remember reading an article about project management that says are your project manager or a project coordinator? And one of the differences is that they made is that the coordinator will do everything a project manager does but they won’t really make decisions. They will let other people make decisions for them even if their name is on it. Whereas a project manager will be able to understand enough to be able to make a call, I guess you could say, if need be. It’s a slight difference but it it is quite a big one at the same time.
Paul: Ryan, you were going to say something?
Ryan: Yeah, I was just going to say we do hear a lot, this has been talked about a lot, should designers code and should other people project managers and other various members of any given team code? I think there’s a lot of value in developers understanding design as well.
Paul: Oh yeah.
Ryan: Me and Dan we very distinctly separate out our concerns and he focuses just on design and doesn’t do any coding and I focus on development and don’t do any design. But he understands enough of my capabilities and what we can do for a development standpoint that that influences what he designs and what he tries to… What’s he puts into the creative aspect because he knows what can be achieved from a technical standpoint. And I can implement that stuff because I have an understanding of the design concepts of colour theory and you know, typographical scale and vertical rhythm and those kinds of things. It’s amazing how many developers you meet who just can look at a design and go “oh yes I’m going to implement this” and when you look at it you’ll say “what you’ve implemented doesn’t like like what was designed” they just miss stuff and it’s like can’t you see that the font work is different for these sections? and that draws attention to that area and that one is a different shade of colour? You know what I mean, they just miss things that they just don’t see and there’s value in having a basic understanding of what everybody on the team does. You don’t have to be able to do it all but there’s certainly value in understanding what the role of project manager is, what the role of a designer is, what the role of the developer is and then specialise in your one area.
Paul: Absolutely, it’s that basic T-shape isn’t it. And especially if you’re a project manager I think you do need a very broad understanding of a lot of different areas. It’s actually quite a challenging position. Sam, sorry you were saying something and we ended up having a crosstalk problems…
Sam: No, no. I mean this is more on Ryan’s point. The one thing I found about designers knowing how to code, it always seems like a dilemma to me because on the one hand I can see the logic in that and as a project manager, it was a great thing, but I did start to find that the more we encouraged that the more boilerplate designs became. I wondered if you thought it was… Is it the expertise and the experience of the designer to understand how something is put together but kind of suppress it so they creativity isn’t suppressed?
Ryan: I think that’s a very good point and that’s where we are getting a lot of these kind of, you know, design trends and stuff like that where things all look the same. I think speaking from mine and Dan’s experience I think in some ways he plays into it and he is blissfully ignorant of the development stuff and pretends not to pay attention to what I’m telling him and stuff because it leads him to be more creative and then I figure out how to turn out what he is designing into a system and build in the consistency. And sometimes I think that’s where it lends itself well that I have an understanding of design theory as well because I can tweak what he has designed, sometimes I do it without even telling him! but I can tweak what he has designed to be more consistent, like headings and sections and spacings and stuff like that and then I’ll just give him an overview of “I’ve tweaked this, and this so this is consistent, and this is part of this system that I’ve built in for this project”. But yes there’s definitely, if you look at some designers who are far more kind of, Mike Kus’s designs for example like, he’s very illustrative and the way he designs websites are very tricky to put into a system of work. I’ve worked with Mike but it’s because… that’s what makes his designs so unique. I think this goes back as well to what Andy was saying last week about style guides and stuff like that. We are losing some of the creativity in the web because of all these systems and frameworks and processes and grid systems and everything else that we are putting in. Everything is becoming really uniform which is great from a developer’s point of view but we are losing some of that creativity and that aesthetic appeal that we could be putting in because we are making everything uniform.
Sam: Maybe that’s the kind of point to leave it on in is that yes, we have got people that can’t design and code or vice versa they should certainly try to understand it but just keep that in mind all the time. That it’s something to complement your primary skill I guess.
Paul: Absolutely. Ryan as you were sharing stuff there do you want to keep going and share your choice for the week?
Ryan: So my choice of the week is a service called Algolia. I think this is quite a developer-ey service. This is basically a service that provides search results. So you can integrate and there are lots… It’s very flexible in how you can integrate into your system but basically instead of using WordPress search or building your own search you can push your content up to Algolia, it indexes it and then returns whenever you search on your website it returns your result lightning fast, really fast. If you actually go to thier website you’ve got a little example that is accessing the IMDb API. Where you actually type things in the results just flash up really quickly and that’s actually happening through their service live. So they take all the content they index its, they cash it and it then happens within milliseconds and it’s got some really nice… it’s really flexible as well so you know, on the website you can see that they’ve got movies and the actors and the genres and everything else, they’re all indexed and referenced, you set all this up through the service and then basically with what ever CMS you are using or system that you have built, if you build something from scratch like in Laravel or Ruby on rails or you’ve got something like Craft which we talked about last week or WordPress they have various plug-ins so that when you save a blog post that gets pushed up and indexed with Algolia and when someone uses your search field the results are sent from Algolia lightening fast. Faster sometimes than your local search could actually do it because they are indexing and caching all the content. It’s really… We’ve used it on quite a few sites and it’s absolutely fantastic and it plugs in with every… It basically returns like JSON that you can then just format however you want.
Paul: So is this actually cashing information from the database rather than the… It’s not spidering like Google site search would do for example?
Ryan: What it does is it sinks so it isn’t accessing your database. So say you were in WordPress and you wrote a blog post and you click save. It would push that content up to Algolia and then Algolia then cashes it and sinks it and organises it into all the bits of associated data. And then that’s it, it’s just sat there so that when you request it all you are doing in effect is requesting a static file. So it comes back really fast.
Paul: It is incredibly fast!
Paul: This is something that so desperately needs solving on websites because most websites search absolutely sucks doesn’t it.
Ryan: One of the things this does, and you can see the example on the actual home page of that website. If you put mis-typings in, because this is the IMDb database, if you put in interstellar but use spell it wrong it still intelligently finds that it’s supposed to be interstellar. It does little features like that behind-the-scenes so it actually is really good. And they, so they’ve kind of solved the problem of search.
Paul: Have they… What about things like… Obviously there’s an algorithm that is working out what to return based on the search queries. Is there any way of tweaking that? So for example if you wanted to favour certain pages over others et cetera…
Ryan: Yes, absolutely. You can prioritise various criteria so you wouldn’t just have a body of content being pushed up, usually you’d have categories and tags and authors and things like that. You can say that, right, I want to prioritise this by author. And then those results would then come first. But yeah you’ve got a lot of control. You can also create what they call sub- indices where you can actually re-order the content in a different way so that when you, if you build a search bar you can say “right, I wanted to find this content but I want to prioritise it by this field,” you’ve got your main index then you’ve got like your secondary index that is ordered by that field and you can have as many secondary indexes. So that then, again, it’s still returning it back just as fast it’s just accessing a different dataset that’s been organised in a different way. When you first getting into it it’s quite easy to implement actually, the instructions are quite… For a developer anyway…! It’s quite easy to implement, it’s quite intuitive. There’s a little plug-in that you put into your system and it basically every time you hit save it pushes it oup and re-indexes and then whenever you do your search, it’s got an endpoint where you just you send your search query to it and it returns a result. So conceptually it is quite simple but you can do an awful lot with it when you actually get into it the scope of what you can do… because it’s a very powerful platform. Sometimes I feel like we’re just promoting services but this is one…
Paul: No, no, that’s fair enough. No, you’re not being paid to do that you’re just sharing stuff that you use. I love it, that’s what it should be. Looking at it, it looks like… Obviously it’s ideally suited for something like an e-commerce site where you’ve got lots of categories and products and stuff like that. What about a content heavy site? You know, a blog or something like that is the right solution for that or are you better off with a more traditional web crawler?
Ryan: This is used by medium.
Paul: Okay, so very much so then.
Ryan: Anything that has search you can use this. So we always think about… Well IMDb isn’t an e-commerce site.
Paul: No, that’s true.
Ryan: It’s just got lots of cross referencing data. So anything… You know, it would work very well for an e-commerce site but we use it on a project that we’ve got that isn’t e-commerce, it’s more of a social network you know, so Product Hunt uses this, Periscope, Vivo, Medium, Twitch, you know so it’s… Yes, anything.
Paul: Yeah, cool. Very good indeed. Okay, Marcus are you happy to go next?
Marcus: I’m very happy to, excuse me (cough). I was playing with Algolia. I wasn’t listening, I was going “Ooo, that’s good, that’s quick, Ooo look, you can do that!” Yes, I quickly wanted to talk about writing proposals. And the fact that, especially if you done it for a very long time and it’s your main aspect of your job which it kind of is for me, you end up with an awful lot of boilerplate. You’ve written some really good stuff for different proposals over the years and you think “Oh, I can use that one, I can use that one,” and you end up with this kind of… Yeah, this perfect proposal, in your mind, that you’ve put a lot of effort into and you end up wanting to just give everybody that proposal because you think it’s really good. But actually it might not be, it probably isn’t what they want to read. Some of it might be and if that’s the case then you need to take that content and rearrange it based on what they are asking for. For some people. their brief might simply be “We want to build a new website, tell us about yourself and how you would approach it” and then you can just go “Yep, I’ve got this proposal that I have written previously that I can just wheel out”. But quite often, (cough) excuse me, clients will have quite a detailed RFP. I had a quick little dig around on some of the RFPs that I have received over the years and found this one that I thought was a really good example of the kind of thing that when you get a good brief this is what might people might say. “In your proposal to us we would like you to let us know who you are, why you feel that you are the right fit for us and what special skills and talents your team bring to the project” So that’s point number one. So basically all I’m saying here is you’ve probably got all of that content written in other proposals. Just make sure you deal with it first. What I quite often do is is we’ll, you know, maybe with a black background on white or something like that to highlight that point to say this is what you said you wanted, so let us know who you are why you feel you have the right fit et cetera et cetera. At the top of that section. And then just deal with each point one by one. So what that does it enables. Sorry before I go on to what it does, then the next point is “describe how you would approach and manage this project,” the next point is “outline the key phases and outputs,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Deal with each one of those, make them the headings of your response. And if you do that what it does is it gives the clients the ability to really measure whether you are the right fit for them. Obviously they’ll want to meet you and all that kind of thing but based on… They might have 10, 12, 15, whatever documents. If you respond to their brief using what they ask for then you are more likely to get through to the next spot. So that’s my thought for the week really.
Paul: And the reason I like that so much Marcus, I mean you’ve talked about that with me for years and that’s how you approach things. And the reason I like it so much is it really appeals to the kind of user centric part of me because essentially what you’re talking about doing is responding with people’s own mental model. So it’s like creating an information architecture built around the user’s mental model rather than the way you see the world. And yes, it’s spot on it’s the obvious thing to do really isn’t it? But it is amazing how many people don’t do it.
Marcus: It is, because your… Especially… I use pages for my proposals which I love pages because I can be quite… You can do lots with images and you cam bleed them off the page and all that kind of thing but what it doesn’t do, what it deals with very badly from an image point of view is that if you add content in, let’s say I’m doing exactly as I’ve just described and I’m moving stuff around from my kind of boilerplate, kind of like “I need this bit first”, if you do that in Pages it messes up all the images, they all go completely awry. So you tend to end up not wanting to do it that much. But what I’m saying here is make sure you do, that’s all really.
Paul: And it is true, that is another really good point how much a tool can really influence how you actually produce stuff and just generally, it almost goes back to our conversation about designs as well, you know, being influenced by the underlying technology, it applies in every area.
Paul: Maybe you we should use something like Proposify!
Paul: Yeah, it’s funny you mention that. But before we get on to Proposify I want I want to hear Andy’s book. Because he’s always got us a book haven’t you Andy?
Andy: This season is all about books. But I want to bring it right back to where we started at the beginning of the show which was talking about Trump a little bit.
Paul: Did we?
Andy: Umm, we mentioned Civilisation
Paul: Oh civilisation, that was it.
Andy: Yeah, yeah, yeah, pay attention Paul!
Andy: And I was interested in the general standard of Trump graphic design across the campaign. So being kind of collating a whole load of kind of Trump stuff. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it in the future but it reminded me of Obamas, the contrast between Trumps graphic design capabilities and, not his own obviously, but his teams, and the stuff that went on with the Obama campaign. So I was reminded about a book by Scott Thomas who was on the original Obama campaign.
Paul: Oh, yes.
Marcus: I’ve heard him speak.
Andy: He’s a brilliant, brilliant speaker and a really nice guy and he produced this book called “Designing Obama,” it was back in 2009 and the only way that you can get this book was on kick starter. You could buy the PDF or you could buy the hard copy book. And the hardcopy book was really heavy and really expensive to ship here and I’ve spent the last seven years regretting not buying the hardcover book. So I’ll put a link in the show notes to the original kickstarter video and to the fact that this book is now out there on slide share. You can get the PDF if you just Google “Designing Obama PDF” you’ll find it. So I was with my collection of style guide and graphic design manual books and things that I’ve been buying over the file last few months I just ached for the fact that I didn’t have this designing Obama book. Because I knew that lots of the kind of process that went into designing the iconography et cetera was in this book. So I sent Scott a tweet and said please can I buy, do you have one of these hard copy of these books. In your loft or propping up a coffee table or something? And the lovely man wrote back to me and said “yes you can buy one.” So I’ve actually now after seven years have got a copy of designing Obama. And it is beautiful.
Paul: Even the PDF that looks beautiful and inspiring.
Andy: It’s fabulous. Anyway, that’s not the book that I want to talk about.
Paul: Oh! You are just sneaking to 2 in here, you gonna run out of books if you do this!
Andy: No well, you can’t buy that book, and I’m not going to plug a book… Well I suppose you could plug a book that you can’t buy.
Paul: Well you can, you can get the slideshare version. That’s what I’m looking at.
Andy: Yes, well, I want to talk about the book that I wanted to talk about as well!
Paul: All right, fine. Do what you want?
Andy: It is still sort of related to inspiration and things like that. Because you know all the way through this series I’ve been talking about inspiring style guides and particularly when it comes to layout and the fact that we are going to have CSS grid to use very soon et cetera. So I went through my, kind of, library of design and dev-y books recently. Because we’ve been packing up the office, you know, ready to go to Australia, and I sort of went through and found a whole load of my graphic design kind of grid layout books and to beyond honest just flicking through them I was really kind of underwhelmed. There’s a few books that I had on the shelf that I can remember buying and flicking through once. There’s a book called “The designer and the grid” by Lucien Roberts and Julia Thrift. Which I’ve seen a lot of people link to. The main one that came out a few years ago was this book by Khoi Vinh called “Ordering disorder”, I don’t know whether you saw that? Khoi used to be… I think he was creative director at New York Times. I can remember actually being given this book and not really reading it so I went back and actually spent some time flicking through this book and again to be honest, I hope he is not listening to the show, I was a bit disappointed because it was all the usual kind of, you know, here’s 12 columns and this is how you line things up approach. So I was thinking there’s got to be a good book about layout and things like that that I can kind of recommend. And do you know what there isn’t? This is a long story getting to the fact that I’m not going to promote a layout book. You but there isn’t really a great book about good layout for the web. So maybe there’s…
Paul: Are you lining yourself up to write another book? Is that what you’re doing?
Andy: Bloody hell, no. Sue said should kill me if I write another book. (Laughter) She said she would hunt down and kill any publisher that would publish another book of mine. So…
Andy: The book that I am going to talk about today which I really, really do recommend is called “Editorial design.” —— technical and print. And it’s by a lady called, two ladies called Cath Caldwell and Yolanda Zappaterra. And I absolutely love this book. And it was a really good source of… And resource and source of inspiration for my art direction talk that I gave last year. It’s actually the book that kind of first reminded me again of about Neville Brody’s stuff. And it is a fabulous book. Not everything is going to be applicable to what we do on the web because there are sections for example, about editorial formats and paper sizes and all of that kind of stuff but what is really interesting about this book is it goes through everything from kind of creative concepts onwards. So it talks about briefs and how different designers have kind of accomplished the same briefs. It goes through lots and lots of components that we will have on webpages that could be thought of as kind of similar to what happens in magazines. So when the section that talks about the magazine covers we could as easily apply those lessons to what we see in those great big fullwidth banners that everybody puts on top of their Squarespace and other sites. So there’s all of that kind of stuff. And also lots of kind of inspiration when it comes to learning about the anatomy of a page. So it couches most of it in magazine terms but we can think about contents pages in a magazine and think of those as inspiration for navigation on the web. And then there’s lots of type inspiration and there’s a few kind of showcase interviews with certain people. It mentions and quotes my good friend Mark Porter quite a lot. And it’s just a fabulous book. It’s slightly kind of off what we would normally expect to think of as a web layout book but there are so many things in here that if you’ve got a little bit of imagination and you think “Ah, that could inspire me to lay out this thing in a slightly different way” then it’s brilliant for that. I would totally recommend this book it’s called Editorial design by Cath Caldwell and Yolanda Zappaterra. I’ll put a link in the show notes.
Paul: Cool, wonderful stuff, thank you very much.
Paul: All right, let’s just wrap this baby up and talk very briefly about our second sponsor which is Proposify that Marcus has already alluded to. And actually the one thing that we are talking about this week is about how you can use Proposify to help do exactly what Marcus was talking about and to be able to customise and tailor proposals to individual clients but at the same time still having a kind of reusable content library of sections, case studies, bios, images et cetera. So all nice and organised in one place and get round exactly that problem that Marcus was having with Pages where you can easily slot content in as required. For a start you can create templates, you can choose to have a predesigned template or you can create your own and save it in a content library so that you can easily find it next time you’ve got a new deal coming in. You can also then create individual little parts of content that you can save by tagging them so they are easy to find later. So you can tag a section, a case study, fee table, biography or whatever else. So that you can quickly find them and drop them into the proposal within whatever structure you wanted. So you can, again, respond to the structure that the client has sent you through in the brief. There is also a great versioning facility so you can have several versions of the same piece of content so that you don’t need to worry about losing any changes that you create. You can have several drafts of the work that you are working on and edit them et cetera. Then there’s things like fees that you can easily reuse from proposal to proposal, you can store them in the content library and just plug them in, whether that’s fixed fees, monthly, hourly, whatever, however you work. And you can install snippets as well. Which are short bits of text in your content library that you can then just drop in, so smaller little bits and pieces. And then of course there’s the assets, product shots, infographics, team photographs and all that kind of thing. All held in one place. All of this not only gives you the flexibility to create proposals that are specifically designed around your briefs that you receive but also makes it really quick and easy to put these proposals together which at the end of the day a lot of us are having to do these things a lot faster than we would want so a tool like this will really help you. To find out more about it at Proposify.biz/boagworld.
Okay, just before we wrap up, well before we do Marcus’s joke, just to remind people that we’ve got that slack channel up and running that I seem to be spending more and more time in. I’m coming to despise Twitter with a passion at the moment so increasingly I am just using Twitter for pushing out announcements and useful links and that kind of stuff but if you actually want to chat, you want to talk about things, you want to discuss about what we talk about on the show or get help or support or anything like that then go to Boagworld.com/slacking. And also you can recommend jokes for Marcus on the slacking channel which he desperately needs no doubt because they can’t get any worse! Talking of which Marcus…
Marcus: Well I’m actually not going to do a joke this week. I’m just going to relay the conversation about Trumps inauguration that was going on in the bad jokes channel. Which was the fact that he is, it’s proved that he is already creating jobs for the unemployed because of the bands that were playing no one had ever heard of. (Laughter) But the best one of all, this is just, The Who should have said “yes we will play Donald” even though they obviously they never would but they should have done and then they should have done “Who are you?” And “Won’t get fooled again.” How good would that have been.
Paul: Who said that?
Marcus: Aslan Catalan.
Paul: Ahh, good old Aslan.
Marcus: Yes, just to think of that, I thought yes that’s genius. But yes…
Paul: Yes, that’s very good. So there we go, yes, we are having some really good conversations in the slack channel. I so much more enjoyed it’s just every time… Going back to, actually to Ryan’s comments. You know Ryan’s choice of the search tool. I made the mistake.… All I did on Twitter was posted Chris’s article, Marcus, that Chris wrote recently about Google site search and how easy it is to implement. Right? Well I got a barrage of attacks over that because I am recommending a tool that destroys your privacy. You know, because… I should have more respect for my users than to implement Google site search that harvests thier data et cetera, et cetera. So I’ve just given up. I just given up on Twitter.
Andy: Yeah, I saw that. And I just thought… But it’s just kind of the nature of the beast isn’t it. People will always just have to put their two pennys in.
Paul: Yeah, and I know that and that’s fine. That’s why I prefer… You say it’s the nature of the beast. I think it is a problem that is exasperated on Twitter that there is no way of creating a kind of standard the community, a shared set of beliefs or values and that’s what you can do on Slack. You can say “this kind of behaviour is acceptable, this kind of behaviour isn’t. We talk about this but we don’t talk about that.” And you can enforce some kind of rule there. If that makes sense, and some kind of community standards because it is an invite only thing and not everyone can see everything that you create. You don’t have these kind of problems on Facebook as much because Facebook only your friends can see you. You can’t follow anyone. So it’s that lack of control of who you are talking to that I think makes Twitter quite challenging sometimes in my opinion.
Paul: So, yeah, I’ve kind of lost interest a bit in Twitter.
Sam: I’m almost agreeing with you Paul but the echo chamber thing keeps me a little scared about just Slack.
Paul: Yeah, and I understand that. The echo chamber is a good thing, not a good thing! Is actually a valid point but there are lots of different ways of addressing that so for example, you know in what news articles you read and what stuff like that you pay attention to, I don’t need that kind of feedback necessarily from a random person who I don’t personally know or I don’t know how valid their opinion is. If I want a range of views I will go to valid sources like media or wherever else. That would be my feeling.
Paul: But yeah, I do accept what you mean, absolutely. Anyway, that was a bit of a depressing ending for the show I didn’t mean it to go down that road.
Andy: We need another joke.
Marcus: Go on then
Paul: Do we okay then.
Marcus: Go on then Andy do that one.
Andy: Did you hear that Donald Trump has renamed the president’s aeroplane? (Laughter)
Andy: Hair force one! (Laughter) If you mess with America now they’ll be hell to pay (laughter) did you hear about his new slogan for America? Shall we shall over comb! (Sniggers)
Paul: Okay, you can stop now. That’s enough.
Marcus: Lightened the mood beautifully!
Paul: Yes, thank you very much. And on that happy note, I think, let’s leave it there and talk to you again next week goodbye.
Links mentioned in the show
- World of Warcraft
- Telltale: The walking dead
- Witcher three
- Monument Valley
- Brendan Dawes
- Mike Kus
- What is code by Paul Ford
- Full stack basics for the non-developer by Adam Edgerton
- Code Academy
- Designing Obama – original kickstarter video
- Designing Obama PDF
- Editorial design by Cath Caldwell and Yolanda Zappaterra
- Boagworld slack channel