Inside the industry and inside the agency
Rarely do we go beyond the White Cliffs of Dover to visit conferences/training events, but on this occasion we did! Multi-Mania is a free Belgian conference done almost entirely in English; in a league that isn't far off the mega-sized technology conferences which California plays host to.
The Adobe-sponsored two-day event comes just a week after the annual Adobe MAX conference; which means we're one of the first major gatherings of people in Europe to see feature previews in the upcoming versions of Adobe applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and Edge Tools. This year sees a major shift-change in the Adobe product offering: it’s now completely out with annual Creative Suite releases and in with the subscription-based Creative Cloud. New update releases will be much more frequent at the rate of once or twice a season.
Following Adobe’s hour-long keynote the rest of the sessions commenced. Sessions took place over four rooms as well as the 2000-capacity main hall. Multi-Mania has such a diverse range of talks from across the entire spectrum of multimedia topics and industries. Here I’ve highlighted my favourite web-related sessions of Multi-Mania 2013:
Lea Verou works at W3C in Developer Relations and had come to talk about the Humble Border-Radius. She presented numerous inventive ways to use the CSS property in webpages without the need to use images and hence a solution which is a lot more scalable, quicker to download along with the possibility to animate easily.
Media Monks gave an entertaining presentation titled “Digital Production and Constructive Trolling” which consisted of some hair-raising, bass-heavy videos and show reels of their work. They’re a production agency with offices in Amsterdam, London and New York along with a considerable sized workforce who develop a wide range of marketing-based campaigns including games, audio/visual productions, interactive web apps and 3D animation.
Most of us are aware of Smashing Magazine (SM) for its articles and publications on web design and development. This year Vitaly Friedman from SM came to give a presentation on Responsive Web Design (RWD) including insights of how existing websites like theirs, The Guardian and MSN 2012 Paralympics have approached RWD. Content Choreography came up as one of the key areas needed to be addressed in RWD such as ordering or displaying content differently for different viewports. Also Vitaly highlighted a number of ways to address more efficient alternatives to sprite-based images including SVG Stacks and combining icon font glyphs to create complex mega-icons.
Responsive images are another common head-scratcher in RWD which are yet to see a standard, W3C approved approach to addressing. Vitaly considered the use of object tags in place of image tags as an approach we can use now and which is supported for browsers both old and new. Finally he spoke about RWD for forms: showing us an example for inspiration, TypeForm.com, and how SM is approaching form design in their upcoming, “confidential” SM Shop redesign.
I highly recommend you take a look at his slides for further detail, view at: SpeakerDeck.
Finally in my highlighted sessions is a familiar speaker, Rachel Andrew, I mentioned in our previous post: The Digital Pond meetup. In her session titled, “The future of content management”, Rachel discussed the expectations of a Content Management System (CMS) from an end user’s perspective plus what level of user experience a CMS should offer.
Sometimes the expectation or challenge on a CMS end-user is to understand the document semantics of content they’re entering into the system and even occasionally understand HTML syntax! This is far from ideal and can lead to them breaking their own site for which they may have paid a considerable fee in the first place to you the CMS vendor, agency or developer to protect against. Key points raised from this discussion were that:
• End-users need to understand that a CMS is not a website design tool (many users will know this but some may not!)
• The user interface of a CMS should not mimic a developer environment such as Dreamweaver, e.g. having HTML/CSS formatting options adjacent to text fields
• Focus should be on creating great quality content through the CMS by using structured content wherever possible linked to corresponding simple text entry fields
I left Multi-Mania with fresh insight and inspiration about how we can better approach the challenges we face as a digital agency now and in the future. The international flavour of this Belgian conference also offers a different perspective on design and development practises, which I think can be missed in exclusively attending the conferences and events we have here in the UK.
It isn’t what you would call compatible, but you wouldn’t expect it to be. In Firefox 20 it’s choppy but it does run and is useable as a demo, Safari and Chrome’s V8 crash before it finishes setting up the environment (the Chrome team are looking into this though), and Internet Explorer doesn’t natively support WebGL. There is a third party WebGL plugin for IE10 but the app refused to acknowledge it was there, which isn’t promising.
It is a wonderful leap in the right direction though, if gaming in browser becomes popular again, the browser war will kick into full swing again, as there will be a real impact to the user when it comes to speed. This could be a serious blow to Internet Explorer as the leaked builds of IE11 don’t look very promising for WebGL either.
Firefox Nightly can be downloaded here, Unreal Engine 3 HMTL5 can be demoed here. Youtube video here.
Wickedweb's first international office
We arrived at Stansted late on Sunday 21st April, relaxed from the weekend and enthusiastic about our trip. Making our way into the departure lounge, a few of us had a bite to eat and a drink to calm our nerves before the flight ahead (not me, I’m well hard and like flying). Before long we proceeded to our gate, boarded the plane and took our seats. I got the window seat which was fine by me as I like to look out as we fly, and I have the bladder of an ox so I knew I wouldn’t need to use the facilities. We didn’t have to wait long before the plane was in the air heading to our destination of Vilnius; we ordered a few more drinks and discussed plans for the trip. As we made our final approach Stuart joked that in Lithuania everybody claps when the plane lands, I wasn’t sure I believed him but sure enough we touched down and a wave of applause went around the plane, we couldn’t help but join in. It was unclear if people were just glad to be home or if they were relieved to have survived the flight.
Upon arrival we collected our bags and made our way to immigration where we were all hugely relieved to find no queues. We all agreed that it’s a shame you no longer get your passport stamped in Europe, so one by one we approached the desk and asked the immigration officer if she wouldn’t mind giving us a stamp, I think I even detected a small smile which is rare in these situations. We exited the airport and were greeted by two of our Lithuanian colleagues, Nikita and Mantas. We piled into the cars and made our way to the hotel. We checked in and made plans to meet back down in the lobby 20 minutes later.
We left the hotel and made the short walk to the Radison Blu where we proceeded to the top floor. At the top is the sky-bar which gives stunning 360degree views of Vilnius, the more vertigo prone members of the group (not mentioning any names, but again, not me as I’m double ‘ard) sat facing away from the windows. We ordered some drinks and some much needed sustenance; we stayed for more than a few drinks and then made our way back to the hotel as we had an early start in the morning to get the Lithuanian office ready for business.
The next morning, we met bright and early for breakfast. The sun was shining and, as it was a beautiful day in Vilnius, we opted to make the 20 minute walk to the office. Along the way we soaked up some of the sights and stopped for a few photos. The city is a contrast of older buildings overlooked by the modern glass fronted buildings that are popping up all over the city. We arrived at the office which was bathed in sunshine, predictably we all reached for our smart phones, or if you’re Simon your 1000gigapixel camera, and took a few snaps of the outside. At the entrance we were again greeted by Nikita and Mantas, who were busy unloading all of the new office equipment from a van which had made the long drive from our Sevenoaks office.
We headed straight into the office and had a quick tour of the kitchen, meeting room and work area. The office looked great, everything had been freshly painted and it was all very clean, so clean in fact that later that day I walked face first into the floor-to-ceiling windows that shield the kitchen from the rest of the office.
We started unboxing all the PCs and proceeded to put together various monitor stands. Before we knew it, it was back to business; we had three days of interviews for front-end/back-end developers and testers ahead, and sure enough the interviewees started to steadily flow into the office. We managed to break for lunch and we thought it would be a good idea to try some of the local cuisine. Nikita got on the phone and ordered in some zeppelins and cold borscht soup. The food was nice but the zeppelins were incredibly filling.
The next few working days were much the same as the first: IT setup and interviews. After work we went for dinner at Trakai which has picturesque views of a castle surrounded by a massive lake which, despite the sunny weather, was still partially frozen. After dinner we took a stroll around the castle, it was dark at this point and the castle had become illuminated by spot lights. We then took a drive to one of the tallest hills in Vilnius which offered great views of the entire city; we could see the area where the new office is located twinkling in the distance.
The final day was again filled with interviews, however, there was some added excitement as Simon orchestrated the hanging of the three flat screen televisions. The office was now complete; we cracked open some champagne and posed for a few photos in the new office, before Stuart cut the white ribbon across the entrance to officially mark the opening of our first international office.
Last month was non-stop with plenty of interesting talks and conferences to attend but this has undoubtedly been one my favourite so far this year. State of the Browser (SOTB) is an annual one-day conference focusing on the web browser from both design and development perspectives.
SOTB is hosted at Ravensbourne College which is a stunning new building located on the Greenwich Peninsula, immediately next door to The O2 and Emirates Air Line terminal. The event brings together official representatives/evangelists of all the main web browsers out there including Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer and Opera (nobody from Safari turned up).
WebKit Monoculture isn't breaking the web: you are
We kicked-off with a session from Alp Toker on the WebKit Monoculture headlined by the latest stat that the WebKit layout engine now claims 47.6% of the browser market share. Alp spoke initially on the fear that this popular engine is quickly becoming the next potential nightmare for developers after IE6. The difference however is defined by a simple fact:
"The WebKit open source project is a massive generator of web browser diversity"
In conclusion to this argument for WebKit, rather than against it, was that the engine has exceeded our expectations through usage on countless platforms and utilisation of many extraordinary features. Less a monoculture, more a WebKit multiculture!
Internet Explorer - Touch the web
Martin Beeby from Microsoft talks to developers about HTML5, Windows 8 and the web. This event was no exception as Martin took us through a whole suite of touch-based coding techniques and considerations for touch-based devices. One of his key points was that:
“Touch Does Not Equal Mobile”
Touch devices now come in all sorts of forms in addition to mobile phones and tablets. We have internet TVs with touch interfaces and notebooks combining a touch screen, keyboard and touch pad/mouse/stylus. Knowing how to accommodate all of these inputs within code isn’t just the concern of C++ programmers, now with HTML5 web components and sockets, it’s also in the realms of feasibility for web developers to produce HTML5-based applications for virtually any web-enabled platform.
State of the Mobile Web
Paul Kinlan from Chrome briefly talked about understanding the state of the mobile web and the fact that where it is going is critically important for us as web developers as well as the businesses and clients we work for. Native application developers may have found their bounty initially in touch-based mobile but it’s still very much a platform of potential work for the web developer. All the stats prove that the browser is and will be the most used application on mobile including smartphones, tablets and previous generation mobile devices.
Following lunch there was a choice of breakout sessions for delegates to choose from.
Taking a break from development-speak; I attended a session by user interface engineer, Ben MacGowan, on “The trends and next steps of RWD”. The rapid emergence of responsive-design websites is, in his opinion, also bringing about a repetition in web history from the 2000s as we see countless websites which all look the same and all do the same thing the moment you resize the window. What’s needed sooner rather than later is greater innovation from designers in their train of thought on how they approach responsive web design (RWD). Also RWD should build on the layouts and consideration from native applications; however as Ben put it coherently:
“Learn from native apps don't mimic native apps”
In the second break-out session I chose to attend Jake Archibold’s session on “Rendering without lumpy bits” which highlighted many common browser performance issues caused by heavy graphic processing demands. Most web developers will be familiar with tools such as FireBug to not only inspect and test code, but also to analyse the performance of elements such as animated objects. Jake suggested some small but hugely useful pieces of code which can help to improve webpage performance in a range of browsers, including mobile browsers, which are often slower than on desktop due to hardware constraints and limited battery power.
To conclude our day: the representatives/evangelists from each of the main web browsers formed a Q&A panel on the main stage, taking questions from delegates both present and viewing worldwide via the livestream. Christian Heilmann of Firefox and Martin Beeby of Microsoft made some good points in answer to a collection of questions regarding the openness of the web platform. They each emphasised the importance of the web developer’s role to produce openly accessible applications available to the many and not the few; as is not the priority for native-build, platform-specific smartphone/tablet applications.
Christian also emphasised the need to start using CSS transitions more as the correct way to manipulate DOM elements rather than using jQuery’s Animate function which is generally considered wrong and bad for performance particularly on mobile devices.
We’re pleased to announce that the Medway Council website, designed and built by Wickedweb, has been awarded four stars in the annual SOCITM UK council website audit. The highest possible rating bestowed by the Society of Information Technology Management, the website is just one of five English unitary council websites to achieve the highest rating.
Each year, SOCITM carries out an independent audit of all UK council websites. We’re proud that, following the launch of the new Medway Council website, their annual rating has increased from three to four stars and, for the first time, the website has featured in SOCITM’s top 20 council websites nationwide.
Read a full review of the award, and how the council websites were rated, on the Medway Council website.
To find out how Wickedweb can help with your project contact us today on:
Tel: +44(0)20 7183 4999
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