Somewhere to write about projects, thoughts, odds and ends, code snippets, and anything else that might be of interest...
Camtec Photo in Montréal have a specialist online newsletter that can have any number of distinct sections/chapters with embedded galleries as well as inline content. I built an editor that allows that online edition to be converted into an email newsletter - bilingual English and French - that is responsive so it can adapt to display well in the extensive variety of mobile and tablet email clients available, as well as desktop clients. The tool can of course also be used to create other types of email newsletter but the automated import of online editions is a key time saver for the staff. Test newsletters can be sent in both languages to the logged in user before choosing to send to the entire mailing list. Recipients of course have tools for managing their subscription preferences - including choice of language. Sending to the full list is managed by polling the list in chunks so that up to date progress reports can be returned to the browser and errors caught and handled appropriately.
They really liked it :-)
Time for an update on the custom bicycle configurator application that I introduced in my last post. It's just about complete and live with a just a couple of jobs left to do - the social media sharing tools essentially such that users can share their builds around the facebook-and-twitter-verse. All of the other functionality is complete - aside from building bikes users can save their builds, print them, ask questions about them - component choices, sizing etc etc.. and apply for finance online via the V12 Retail Finance api. The chaps at Cycle Logic are still populating the categories so the MTB flavour is not yet available at the time of writing but the road flavour is just about populated with the exception of a few fork choices to go with the rather lovely Seven Cycles custom frames.
It's coded as a module for my e-commerce platform so integrates directly with the product catalogue and is fully user configurable such that it can be set up with any number of categories, and could quite easily be used for pretty much any situation where a product can be configured - not just bicycles.. kayaks, boats, prefab buildings, wetsuits... lots of different sporting goods applications spring to mind. It can also be set-up to run as a standalone application in a sub-directory or subdomain alongside an existing site.
A few screenshots follow but really it's just better to go and have a play. It's here:
Here's a quick, early preview of a web application I'm building for Cycle Logic - an online custom bike builder/configurator and finance app. The desktop interface (still under development) is shown, the mobile interface will follow. Fully configurable by admins it doesn't restrict the user to choices available only from Cycle Logic, users can choose to incorporate components purchased elsewhere, in the event they found a particularly good deal, or already had parts for example, and that can be included in the build. Users will be able to apply for finance via the V12 Retail Finance api, send their config to the store with questions, and share it around the web with their mates and so on via social media. It's something I think that is going to apply equally well to a number of industries - anything in which you want users to be able to custom configure 'something'.. be it a sea kayak, surf package, even a car...
Anyway, it should launch in the next month or so. I'll post an update when it's ready so you can go and play. (updated: here)
I'm lucky enough to work with a diverse and extremely talented bunch of folk - not just around Cornwall but in the UK and farther afield as well. Designers, photographers and illustrators all have their individual styles and strengths so it not only means that I'm able to make recommendations and referrals based on each individual project, I also get access to all that talent and the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects for clients and businesses that I might not normally be exposed to. It also keeps my own work fresh and interesting. So, given all that talent I thought it would be nice from time to time if I introduced you.
Recently completed - Design Room Cornwall were responsible for producing the design, photography and illustration for the 168 page Great Cornish Fish Book in conjunction with Cornwall Food & Drink.
For the first in this occasional series of posts then I thought I would introduce you to Design Room Cornwall. A clever pair of girls, Sally and Emma with brilliantly complementary skills. In their own words: "We don't pretend to be the best at everything. We are pretty great (and modest) and like to do most things ourselves in the studio. We are however very fortunate to know a super talented bunch with whom we work on larger projects and on the stuff that they do best, making sure you get the best skills to make your project a success."
Branding for Mrs Middleton's oil, used by Michelin-starred chefs around the country.
The ideas that come out of their studio never cease to amaze me. They have a diverse client portfolio encompassing everything from branding, design for print and web, photography, books, interior design and more. They are a very special talent, approachable and well worth bearing in mind should you be looking for design services.
Logo design, labels, photography and promo materials for the premium Cornish Ketchup Company.
Design, branding and photography for web and print for http://www.eatbackstage.co.uk
Go check 'em out... they do great coffee too: http://www.designroomcornwall.com
I thought I would take a moment to talk about a few of the things I'm working on at the moment, each deserves a post of it's own as they all have interesting aspects to them, but by way of a quick run down prior to more detail... here's a summary:
Advanced Chemical Intermediates
I'm really enjoying working on this one, coming from an engineering/scientific background the subject matter is interesting in its own right but in addition to that the project had a set of very specific requirements that have required some original thinking with regards to the best way to deliver.. a high level of satisfaction with this one.
Advanced Chemical Intermediates, ACINTs, to use their own words "specialise in the synthesis of new chemical entities, functionalised intermediates and building blocks". Their primary customer is the drug discovery industry - offering a range of chemistry services including custom synthesis, contract research, and consultancy services. They were referred to me having failed to find an agency able to commit to delivery on their requirements.
ACINTs use a specialised offline database tool for managing their product catalogue. One of their requirements was that they continue to use that database rather than move everything into the cloud. It's an old tool and there is no direct means of accessing it remotely so one of the key requirements was a flexible, multi-step import/export process between that tool and the cloud-based database driving the website.
Other things... with more than 3500 products in the database there also had to be a way to offer a very structured search for users so I built a tool that allows the users to make choices based on Functional Groups and/or Ring Systems as a way of making a very efficient, targeted search. It's working really well.
I suppose really the key with this was to build something very much better in term of tools, usability and search engine effectiveness than their competitors.. It's not live yet but will be very soon and based on feedback so far we seem to have achieved, and surpassed that goal. Result!
"RoomMate, a real issue, a revolutionary solution". I mentioned this one briefly in an earlier post but it's now up and running and working really well. There is also good overview on the project crowdfunding page here if you'd like to know more about the background of it.
The 'uniqueness' of this project centers around the configuring of devices by the user during the order process. The admin tools offer a drag and drop interface for designing the available configurations of a devices - i.e a device configuration is divided into any number of steps and then within each of those steps the user can choose from a number of selections that describe the installation location of the device. When a customer orders and configures a device online the application builds the MP3 files appropriate to the chosen configuration and delivers those to the manufacturers portal ready for direct download into the devices. This was also a project I was asked to pick up after a previous developer was unable to deliver a solution that didn't involve lots of manual work building the device configurations each time an order was received.
It's a great product with a terrific team behind it that has the potential to impact millions of lives so it has been particularly satisfying to build something that facilitates that.
Looking to the future there will be versions of the device that are designed to be updateable with new configurations in the field - for example a hotel might have a number of devices that can be placed in rooms on request and each room might be different - so a customer portal that allows a device to be reconfigured and updated from any PC with a USB port.
Pure Nuff Stuff
I recently launched a new ecommerce site for Penzance-based natural skincare specialists Pure Nuff Stuff. They're a business that currently sell within the UK and overseas that are looking to grow their export sales. It's a very bespoke site with the full set of tools available on my ecommerce platform with a full set of tools for their European wholesalers, order fulfilment agents and so on. Wholesalers love the ability to register/validate their VAT numbers and the fact that it seamlessly shows prices in some 140 currencies all with real time exchange rates - it's allowed them to revise their own pricing to match the market. The ordinary customers appear to love it too with ease of access to the products and ease of ordering being top of the agenda. It is a personal bugbear that I do see some very cool looking ecommerce sites but when it comes to actually trying to find what you want or actually buy something then it's too often a complete ballache. For that reason I tend to favour very simple layouts for selling online that put the products in the forefront and allow the site owner to feature new products, seasonal products etc etc without having to engage a developer or designer to do the work.
I'm not publicising the site too much in my portfolio yet because the new product photography isn't ready yet so we're using pictures off the old site. They're not great.. but when the new stuff, courtesy of Exile Design, is done, and in combo with some great graphic design from Heather Allen, it will look fab. They've been, and are, terrific fun to work with which is great, and makes it even more satisfying to be able to make such a big difference to their business "can't TELL you how happy I am with how it works. And everyone here is just gob-smacked at how much time this saves us every day, honestly, we're such happy bunnies".
Ok that'll do for now.. there are a number of other bits and pieces ongoing - online bike configurator and finance application tool for CycleLogic , enhancements and new modules for ProCare Sports Medicine, Camtec Photo in Montréal, WorldBlu's business learning/gamification platform continues to evolve and a bunch of other stuff. Oh, I even got asked to develop some funkiness in conjunction with the most excellent Exile Design for a Surfers Against Sewage campaign. Not dull :-)
I thought this might be quite a good one to write about by way of illustrating a point about the value in hiring a competent developer rather than settling for 'just another wordpress/drupal/joomla/whatever' based site.
A few years ago I built a specialist jobs database and back-office application combined with a public site for Cornwall-based recruitment agency Trial Balance Consulting. It was a success and served them well as the business went from strength to strength. It was built using our standard modular approach so when, a couple of months ago, we started talking about a refresh of the site I was able to offer a completely new front end with no changes necessary to the core application. That was particularly important - the changes could be introduced with no disruption at all the business, especially important in key areas such as the timecard submittal service and continuation of jobs and candidate management. While we were at it however we did take the opportunity to introduce some new features, such as a jobs by email subscription service - simply a case of integrating a new module into the application.
Trial Balance know their client demographic extremely well - generally young, tech-savvy with a significant proportion accessing the site via mobile devices. As an aside it is always worth researching your target marget well, there are tools available and it is something we can help with. So, with that in mind the new look is as lean as possible, optimised for mobile devices and continues the ethos of making jobs as accessible as possible with the minimum number of clicks. Attention spans on the internet are short so if the key content of your site is not obvious and accessible within a click or two then you will lose engagement.
Being able to simply introduce the new front end with minimal effort and no disruption meant the changes were low in cost and completed within a very short timescale. Feedback has been great and engagement with the new features enthusiastic.