Thursday, 30 December 2010

Change on the way for Digital Project Management?

As the last posting of the year, it is traditional to step back, review the past and try to project into the future. So here we are. Is digital project management at a crossroads? Should it be? Where does it serve us and where does it fail us? Pretty strategic questions, in keeping with that backward/forward look, don't you think?

We could feel a bit complacent because we've championed Agile software development methods where traditional waterfall methods of software development were found lacking. Agile engages changes, moves iteratively in small development cycles, incorporates more feedback from the client and users and so on. Yes, it did have a few glitches like how to cost the process so that a company didn't just address the old problems without getting paid for the work. But the important thing was that the software development process changed fundamentally.

Now there is chatter about employing such software development processes wider in business processes. Imagine that. The implications are huge. The keys in the process are the faster response to perceived need and small, incremental steps. Others in business want these too. It isn't just a large percentage of IT projects that fail; many business projects fail to achieve their objectives. So business analysts have been assessing the situation and have become attracted to the concepts of agile. Various new names have emerged to define the business processes but we'll be able to recognise the origin. Neil Perkin, New Media Age 2nd December in, 'Digital could give firms the agility to change', equates the need for agile processes with a coupling for companies to accept failure in a cycle of revision where the failure is fed back quickly and remedied. This is rather like the fast release of agile code, the checking on its feasibility of use and the revision of the code accordingly. Change has to be embraced in companies in a culture of innovation and 'well structured experiments'. He quotes McKinsey (2005) about putting 75-80% of a budget into proven media but the rest into these experiments. (You need to register for the full article)

Other advocates of applying such processes to other business problems can be found at:
Maybe all this will have impact on the way we scope projects for new clients. Perhaps we'll have to educate them in which processes they might want to employ to dictate the way they want their project managed. They may need to consider what strategies their company wants to use in general business and which they want in project management as a result? Complex stuff - but what dreams used to be made of!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Sign-off: are you getting this right?

It is vital you agree who is to sign-off which stage of your project. Identifying the sign-off people is a MUST before the project begins or you will quickly be put in that equivalent of the never ending spiral of planes waiting for landing!

Actually, not getting a single point of sign-off causes so many risks that it may be the most important part to agree prior to start-up. The consequences of not having a sign-off include many people having their own opinions and wishes of what to change, delays to the project that quickly escalate at each sign-off point, the opportunity for the client to demand changes to the agreement/contract, and the higher probability of conflict between you and the client.

That doesn't paint a smooth project path. Does it?

Yes, the clients may well rile against having one sign-off at each stage. You need to counter their wish for debate and consensus, or, build this into the timescale. By explaining the consequences to them of having several sign-off people, or several rounds of agreement for each stage, you can educate them on the cost savings of a single sign-off; the time-scale savings, and the positives of getting the project out faster, gaining feedback from the true users and a second phase revamp-project based on true use rather than gut feeling. Now, I'm not against gut feeling when it is backed by experience in the market with digital media – that's informed opinion. And it is true that many clients have different perspectives on what suits their market and branding, but just like you managing your internal teams' expectations and specialisms, the client faces the same from their individuals. In the end, someone has to call the tune. So the faster you identify the person with the clout and budget responsibility the better for your project.

One way to incorporate some leeway for the client is to corral the timescale for a sign-off period. So you give the project to them and allow X days turn-around for a sign-off. Then it is up to them to reach consensus. But beware, this sounds a trite way out and has to be managed carefully. They may well get back to you with a list of change requests that they have co-ordinated between them. If you have your change-management agreement with them so that you re-evaluate the time and cost to achieve these changes, then you won't suffer unduly. They soon learn that the more changes they make the longer the project time-scale and the knock-on costs - then they learn the need to make compromises.

There are various template sign-off agreements that are available online so if you need a form to help you sign-off, Google "project sign-off form or template" and take your pick.

The UK government has various legal agreement forms for web design-support-maintenance-hosting on their Simply Docs site. It needs registration and a small payment but might be useful.

Richard Boardman's advice to lock everyone in a room until you have sign-off goes a bit far, but I have heard of worse! See: 18 ways to speed up a CRM Project 26.11.10 - in particular the speedup milestone signoffs section .

And lastly, an interesting dilemma that might get you thinking – and acting. See: Should you make clients sign-off on their bad decisions? Chip Camden, 26.11.10

Happy sign-offs and Happy Christmas

Monday, 13 December 2010

No such thing as bad publicity

The Irish playwright Brendan Behan is credited with uttering the immortal phrase there is no such thing as bad publicity, although he goes on to add except your own obituary.

This all comes to mind in the story last week of an American online peddler of eye-wear who had supposedly gained his high Google ranking as a result of the online criticism his actions attracted. A story in the New York Times on November 26th told the story of a lady in New York and her customer experience after buying some glasses from said outlet.

Can this be true? Well, apparently it was, but is no more. Two things have happened.

Firstly, Google have reacted to the situation by refining their algorithms further. They have posted about this on their company blog and it makes interesting reading. Have you ever heard of sentiment analysis? It's a new one on me but I can imagine what it is. You demote disparaging items about X while promoting positive ones. However, that doesn't work very well since genuinely controversial subjects will fall foul of such a rule, as might what Google refers to as elected officials. So they've done something else, and they're not saying what it is, except that
we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience.
Secondly, the retailer has now been arrested, as this story in the Register tells. The charges include mail and wire fraud, which the Americans take very seriously. Follow the story through to the PDF of the criminal complaint.

Not quite an obituary, but close.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Stakeholder analysis

Remember that the stakeholders in a project are any people or group of people who can influence the project. This, as we've found, can widen the common idea of stakeholders as many in our industry align stakeholders solely with the clients. The important analysis prior to the start of the project is to identify the stakeholders and agree with them how you are to communicate with them about the project and how often. We've advocated using a stakeholder analysis matrix, a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) matrix, and a communication chart. (See our book, Managing Interactive Media, Chapter 4)

So is there anything new in the field? Well, the field has expanded and there is more written about stakeholder analysis now as well as software tools specifically for stakeholder analysis. If you're under pressure from your company about stakeholders adversely influencing a project's outcome during a project's life-cycle, you might consider a tool because it offers objectivity and gravitas to your discussions with new stakeholders. We're not recommending the tools below, just drawing your attention to them as examples of what's available.
If you haven't yet experienced the fall-out from stakeholders and are not so convinced about their impact on projects you might like to read Lynda Bourne's short article, Avoiding the Successful Failure! Salient warning for those that over-zealously apply the time, cost, quality mantra in project management.

The number of training courses on stakeholder management has increased too, as well as the skill being mentioned in more job descriptions. It wasn't surprising to see more understanding and buy-in to stakeholder management in a recent project management survey of (September 2010) where stakeholder analysis was considered a key factor for project success. This was a small poll and it was for all types of projects, not just digital development such as we are interested in, but surprising all the same.

Many influences change over the course of even a short project so don't get caught out by thinking that you've done your upfront analysis so that's that! Keep re-examining the analysis and changing the results as you go through to keep right on top of your stakeholders and their influence.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Log analysis, SEO and where are we now?

I began by trying to find some independent reviews on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) software tools and drew a blank. Anyone have any pointers? Instead, I have found some reviews of the state of SEO today. This has burgeoned quickly in 5 years to become an industry in its own right with awards for companies that can prove results in improving web sites in specific ways for their clients. It has also migrated into the newer channels of Twitter and Social Media with SMO (Social Media Optimisation) as an acronym. Many web development companies partner with an SEO organisation and work with them in developing a site that behaves as the client wants.

As search and the way results are filtered, ranked and displayed have become more sophisticated (although some would dispute that), the optimisation techniques have had to change, driven by the increasingly powerful search engines such as Google. The changes leave bodies in its wake as SEO companies run to stay still. It's a tricky business working with moving goalposts! When search engines announce a shift in strategy it has serious implications for SEO companies that have based their offerings on other factors driving the search ... and so on. The medium develops, matures, takes some false steps, stabilises for a while and then moves on again. This isn't so new in our line of business. But because SEO is by its very nature measurable, an SEO company often takes the ongoing responsibility for reviewing and reporting the results to the client after the site has gone live. When the search strategy shifts, the SEO company needs to revamp – naturally.

It used to be easy enough and well within the control of the web developers when meta-tags and keywords dominated. Then the importance of links grew fuelling companies specialising in cross-linking between their clients. Now social media has expanded and has driven the perceived need of how to influence/reach more people, analyse data, refine search matches and so on.

If you're interested in the historical overview, The SEO Theory and Analysis Blog, by Michael Martinez, has a good outline of the development of SEO half way down the blog 17th November beginning How search engine optimisation has evolved

Tim Nash has a more techie and amusing take on an historical approach outlined at So you want to be an SEO.

The more serious stuff is found in The SEO Best Practice Guide, econsultancy April 2009, but you have to pay £250 for the full monty.

Finally, you might like an opposing point of view from the SEO Whistleblower, Steve Chapman, ZDNet, where he explains why any company promising to make you Number 1 in Google rankings has it wrong.

Whatever, interesting times in the SEO/SMO arena, eh?

Friday, 19 November 2010

HCI (Human Computer Interaction) in jeopardy?

This week I've spent hours on the phone complaining about poor interface design on diverse web sites that I've tried to use (for personal use) in all honesty – and failed. I failed in my complaints too! In the end I've realised I'm talking to the wrong people. If you go through to the Helplines noted on the web sites you get through to Customer Services and all the people want to do is ignore what you say, sell their products, and get on with the next call.

What I was trying to achieve was a change in the interfaces to help the User Experience, lower the companies' complaints and increase their service/product conversions. No one listened, no one recognised that mine was constructive criticism, no one offered to put me through to their web designers. I've given up.

The first issue arose because a company only allowed you to choose one category of definition for a training course when our training courses don't fit because they are cross-discipline (iMedia Project Management and related courses, I'm talking about here). I genuinely couldn't stretch the categories/sub-categories to suit - with the best will in the world . You either had to be Business and Management, IT and Telecommunications, or Design and Media.

This narrowness would have implications of how people searched to access information about the courses and we cross all - taking into account the people who have attended in the past. Added to that issue, although the company did allow online courses, they insisted on you putting in a number of hours, days, weeks that it would take someone to complete a course. That's an oxymoron for online as people can access and complete as they want. I'd have been happy for a range of hours but no, it had to be a definite number! And so on...

The second issue involved me trying to buy a product online but the number of personal questions I had to complete for the shop to form an account was off-putting, and then their Terms and Conditions made it so hard to opt out of the details being sent to all and sundry, that I aborted the transaction. Yes, you guessed it. The company contacted me by email anyway asking if I'd had trouble with completing the request! That just confirmed my poor opinion of their online ethics.

Finally: the most frustrating. I'd received documentation (from a supposedly Top 100 company) indicating that a service I'd had offline for years was now online if I wanted. Yes, good, I thought. But when I tried to register online, the info in the document bore no relation to the online screens. Really, I mean as basic as the words Password and Account Number were not called those names on the screen when in fact that was what they wanted in the end to start the process. When I muddled through by trial and error expecting to be accused of trying to subvert the system at any moment (hacking?), I was finally told on screen that the second stage would take 5-10 days to be posted to me. No mention of a two stage registration process in the documentation and I haven't got that amount of time left to register now because I hadn't thought it was time sensitive before my service period runs out!

Sorry about all the whinging but too much in too short a time for me to throw off! And, I did try and rectify the situations as best I could by speaking to the organisation. Where are the interface designers? Where are the trials with genuine users? Or, are the professionals not being allowed or paid to do their jobs? After all, online is just business now, isn't it, nothing special!?

In the spirit of and on behalf of the HCI professionals, I'll end on a positive note. Take a look at Joshua Jonson's article: "The difference between good design and great design", Sept 2010.

I found this through a great site for HCI – or UX (User Experience) if you prefer, called InspireUX. InspireUX have a strapline explaining their mission as:
User Experience quotes and articles to inspire and connect the UX community
They have amalgamated loads of relevant material. Hope you can use some to influence your clients.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The untold truths behind Project Management!

It's rare that you get someone telling it like it is – but this week we found a veteran project manager, Ken Young, exchanging war stories for you. It's good therapy!

His account, Project Managers: Fall guys or Heroes?, on The Register, 8th November, contains some gems of experience. Do you relate to these definitions of Project management?
' with accountancy, its beauty is usually apparent only to the dark masters of the art.'
'PM is part science (think fiendishly difficult maths meets string theory), part psychology (combine the persuasiveness of a salesman with the bloody-mindedness of the doorman), and part making the impossible happen ("we need it yesterday")'.
It's evident that Ken deals with traditional Projects rather than iMedia because his account doesn't match our situation exactly. We're less chart-bound and more hands on, I'd say, but even discounting the odd statement now and then, it has the ring of truth.

But if you look at the comments attached to this article, there's a sad tale. Loads of workers hate Project Managers, it seems. They don't buy into the skills, the human shield aspect, the fall guy to stave off management, etc. Now that cries out to me to be addressed. What's going on? We're winning the battle with management recognising our skills but not with the workers, it seems. They don't realise that they can only get on with going their job without the stakeholders, clients and management all interfering because the PM takes the strain over many of the aspects. We'd thought that in iMedia there was a potential problem of the 'doers' not respecting the PM unless he/she had come through the ranks and had demonstrated good hands-on skills in one of the key areas, but it appears this lack of respect is wider.

We'll be following the set of articles – hope you do too. The next has happened: How not to do Project Management, 10th November, The Register.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Accessibility in the mobile arena

It took years for the interactive industry to recognise and implement web sites that conformed to accessibility guidelines for disadvantaged people due to physical or learning impairments - many would argue that this still hasn't happened and lots of web sites are still impenetrable for disadvantaged users. However, at least guidelines exist and research been done so that when and if clients demand accessible sites, your designers can demonstrate compatibility and you can build the requirements into the Time, Cost, Quality spec.

What about mobile? In many ways the development of mobile offerings has been experimental, entrepreneurial - in the spirit of interactive communication development, you might say. And after finding out how, when, and what to offer in the mini interactive environments on the mobile devices, and then how successful they have been, everyone wants a part of the action. There's no stronger motivation than feeling left out!

So it'll be no surprise that the guidelines for mobile are coming! Watch this space. But don't worry. You need to deal with these as you have web accessibility guidelines. The ones that become legal requirements you must heed and educate your clients that you have to operate in this way. The voluntary guidelines will depend on your client, their ethics, and their market requirements. All you need to do is ask the right questions at the right time in the project start-up and work out the implications for time, cost and quality. Perhaps time to revise your scoping questionnaire?

What's happening then? In mid October the UK government convened a forum of experts to address the issues of interactive accessibility and making services more inclusive. This will have implications for web and mobile.

The well known web accessibility initiative, , is already addressing mobile accessibility issues.

The RNIB, renowned for championing web accessibility for its sector, offers useful resources for its members about the use of mobile on its site. They are useful for us to note too.

Finally, yes, the phone operators themselves have some initiatives for disadvantaged customers – such as Vodafone, who will concentrate on two strategies. The first will look at assistive products and services, and the second Inclusive design.
Our strategic objective by March 2011 is to offer an option that makes access to telecommunications possible for hearing impaired, visually impaired and elderly customers in each of our markets

Sunday, 31 October 2010

You never know who's listening

I suppose it comes into the category of a story that will run and run: it has legs, as they say, even though the problem was caused on wheels. What am I on about?

It looks as if Google Street View could be in breach of some laws in the UK, after having had similar problems in other countries and been blocked from the odd village for 'snooping'. It even shows our neighbour, frozen forever in the act of reading a book in the conservatory in front of his house while we all wait for our bins to be collected. I was in but Elaine was out, according to the cars in front of the house. Do I care?

Not about the photos, but if I thought that Google had recorded a snippet of my Wi-Fi traffic then I might be. That seems to be the nub of it: incidental and, apparently, inadvertent recording of data. Data that might contain part of a confidential email exchange or even a password sent unencrypted to an FTP server. The interception was, as I understand it, done to match a WiFi router's MAC code to the physical location. This would enable, say, a mobile phone to check its location by looking to see what transmitters of any kind were in range. Those of you with iPhones will have seen that blue dot dance that occurs as the Google Maps application refines your location, from a combination of cell tower information and WiFi until it can, finally, use GPS to give you the real location. The story goes that some extra code from another project got into the Google car system and instead of just recording the WiFi's location it also recorded some of the traffic.

There is a lesson for us all here, which is the danger of amalgamating code snippets without fully understanding what they do. The 'snooping' code was presumably attached to something less contentious but both were incorporated in the street view system. On the one hand it's good coding practice to efficiently reuse your legacy code ... to not reinvent a software wheel ... but it is vital to look in detail at what that code does. In turn that comes down to documentation and code comments. It also comes down to making sure that any code put in a routine for testing purposes is removed or disabled in the release version.

There is also a great temptation to cut corners with code for internal use; but you never know when things will get out into the wild. In radio they tell you never to swear in front of a microphone because you never know when it might be live. Treat code the same way.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Rights, cyber crime and us!

In some ways it isn't surprising that cyber crime has risen up the government's and country's agenda in the revamp of expenditure in the recent security strategy review in the UK. For those working in this area we've known and understood the possibilities. And just as we've had to endure spam waves, identity thefts, and piracy, the possibility of electronic attack on nuclear power stations, electricity supplies and electronic espionage is not, unfortunately, the stuff that dreams are made of.

Just as some are hell bent on exploiting the fringes of this amazing communication revolution, others are still working to regulate aspects of it to tidy up loopholes such as the rights issues. There are still the administrative necessities of clearing literary rights in text on web pages, rights in the computer code behind the running of the pages, electronic database rights if so warranted, artistic rights in the sound and visuals, and so on.

You'd have thought that by now many of the traditional rights issues would have been addressed for the electronic age but there are still clashes of expectations and actuality in the use of the Internet creating a large gap when general market demand is held up by legalities they don't understand.

Take for example a request we had recently (not the first from ex-pats, I add) where there was a genuine disappointment about not being able to access the BBC iPlayer from abroad. The ex-pats would have paid for access and downloads of the programme they wanted if they could, but they were not given a choice as access is denied outside the UK.

Of course for those of us in the industry it was easy to explain why that is the case, but the reaction from the general public was akin to taking sweets off kids. Now, these were adults who could make sense of the legalities once we explained - the need for electronic rights clearances from all the actors/producers etc. with or without residual payments, deals done country-wide for releasing programmes only via the established land TV network at their time and scheduling convenience, and the restriction on BBC releases to other countries because of the implications of only UK taxpayers paying for the programmes in the first place. Those are some of the issues affecting release of BBC material, but although the ex-pats understood the words, they were genuinely gutted by the denial of their consumer demands.

In the end, I suppose what I'm getting at is the span of legal and illegal activities that the electronic revolution has given us to consider in this new world. It's an ethical question as to where we stand in this mêlée – where do you stand?

P.S. Yes, we do know how to work round some of these issues so don't send us your answers as many are still not legal , but you may not have fully appreciated it!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Business benefits of websites

Yes, it is very competitive at the moment in iMedia. There are loads of web companies trying to win fewer clients. Companies are demanding more business-focused results before committing their shrinking budgets. So, you have to work smarter. You have to explain the potential benefits of your work and be able to show you can achieve what you promise. You need to talk their talk too which means adapting your generic benefits into sector-sensitive benefits that make undeniable sense to the client you are talking to.

We provide a two page table of generic business benefits on Page 100-101 of our book, Managing Interactive Media, under the headings of People, Processes, Technology, Design, Business, Marketing and Infrastructure, and suggest that you refine them to suit your clients/market sectors in the Top Tips on page 111. Have you tried doing this? Now more than ever, you should consider this to differentiate your offerings from others. Here's the table.

If you want to get your new client thinking before they start giving you a brief, perhaps you'd be interested in an article, 8 things to think about, from UTC Web Design that make a lot of sense to the rest of us and are aimed at a client – but it's good to have someone else say them!

In the same vein, Adrian does a good job of listing the advantages and disadvantages of websites also in a way that talks directly to a client. This may help you too. Advantages and Disadvantages of Websites for Business, 6th Oct 2010.

You can get an idea of what we mean by looking at some benefits tailored specifically to clients that want a redesign of their website. This is a common project type, but now you'll need to sell it to them more than you used to. They will have to justify their spend more and so they'll need the benefits explained very clearly to enable them to pass them upwards in the organisation. This perspective on re-design comes from Pixelsworld, a content writer from India, but again, it makes perfect sense for us all. Get refining your benefits table for your own benefit.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Interface design trends

We suppose you are Gadget Show fanatics like us – sorry to those reading this outside the UK. This TV show highlights new and emerging trends in gadgets, tests gadgets across technologies and devises challenges for its presenters using technology. Well we were really interested in a feature on emerging computer interfaces in the game world that will have a ripple effect across computer fields too. It's the use of brain waves to drive computer action. Have you seen this? If not take a look at the TV clip at The Gadget Show, Five TV, and move to about 1 minute in to avoid the advert and intro blurb to get to the heart of the interaction with the Canadian company, 'Interaxon'.

This brain-power trend was also featured in CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2009 and is available via YouTube at

It seems that finally the reliance on typing, writing and mouse clicking is being challenged in computer interaction. The speech recognition software continues to improve while the touch/slide interface of the iPhone/iPad has been embraced wholeheartedly. It is difficult to keep up with the trends but as it's part of our profession we need to try. The advances in this field of computer interface design may well shape the careers of the future; so get your head around the possibilities and keep your eyes peeled.

One of the most succinct representations of the emerging trends has been captured by Gartner in July 2009 with their prediction graph for interface design. They plot over 30 trends including emotion detection, augmented reality, haptics, public virtual worlds, home health monitoring and digital pens among others. See this chart from New Scientist.

So if you're inspired by these, why not consider a training break in New York, 15-17 November for the Future of Web Design conference. Looking good.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Collating feedback on your iMedia team – how're you doing?

We have suggested that you evaluate your team members' performance as well as the overall project development process and share this with other project managers in the company a few times a year. The aim is to both improve the contribution from the team individuals as well as refine company processes so that projects run more smoothly. So, are any of you doing this? Has it made the difference it is meant to? The sense is obvious, but carrying out the task may well prove elusive. Hope not.

By way of encouragement to embed this practice into your company, we like the gist of Kiron Bondale's comments in Post Project Resource Evaluation: a forgotten contributor to success, Project Smart 3rd May 2010 where he pushes for each project manager/team leader to evaluate the team individuals at the end of a project using an objective 1-5 scale of performance with five questions defined by the company about expected project contribution. These are then fed into the employee's appraisal with his/her manager so that they can be referred to in the annual appraisal. (Do you have those yet? Strange if you don't.) Although Kiron suggests this when there is a split between the type of work a person does - some functional work according to a specialism and some project specific work - where the project manager is not accepted or seen as the actual manager of the person, this practice may well be useful for us in iMedia. What do you think?

It is as well to remember however that it is up to you to motivate your team and that ongoing timely feedback over the course of the project is essential and your responsibility. Feedback needs to be positive as well as negative too, so remember to praise where praise is due. Michelle Labrosse in 10 Ways to Inspire your Team, also from Project Smart, will remind you of the value of positive reinforcement, among other good points.

Finally if your team is performing as well as they can under difficulties generated by the clients themselves - and that's common in our line of work as we know - perhaps another point of view might help get them to coordinate their input to you. Joe, the web site manager at Water Aid, does a great job of explaining why his charity needed an internal project manager to help the success of their digital projects. Yes, they were doing it themselves but the same principle applies for your clients to feed clear instructions to you if they aren't doing their digital projects themselves. Streamlining communication always helps success. Nice article: Three Ways to Organise Staff for Digital Media Success, 3rd September 2010.

Get evaluating your teams!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Finding new business

Are you keeping an eye on how your company gets its new business? Well, if not you, is someone doing this? All you need is an analysis of the projects you landed over the last year according to some categories like; won pitch/tender, recommendation, through the door (meaning they just came to you), reputation, niche market leader, repeat business, and so on. Some may fall across certain categories but that doesn't matter. You just need to understand how the business is coming in so that you can plan where to place your efforts to increase your chances of winning new business.

Actually, a chart across a few years would be best because you can better see any shifts in how you landed business. You may find that your company's perceived talent has shifted. Is the business happy with that? For example, you may have been landing business because you were the top creative company at one time but now much of your work is repeat business. There's nothing wrong with that if that's what the company wants and business is very healthy. The risk increases though that some clients will decide to revamp their media image and feel that they need to break with tradition and try a different company. You may need to look at why clients have moved on over a number of years to complete your analysis.

So, on a brighter note, can you do anything about unwelcomed shifts in business? Yes you can, that's the value of analysis.

Although the quote below isn't aimed at our line of business, iMedia, it has relevance and if you read the article, try to apply the general rather than the specifics to yourselves.
In summary, our top tip to help you grow your business and save money is; understand why people do business with you and who your customers are. With that knowledge you will increase the opportunities to attract potential new customers to your business.
From How knowing your customer can help you find new business, NXO, Forum for Private Business, 16th September 2010.

Understanding the shifts in consumers may drive your own clients to decide to change their products/image. Will you be in tune with them about their changing business needs and be able to suggest media solutions? Perhaps it would be good for you to keep abreast of consumer trends especially if your clients are from the retail and consumer base. may provoke some stirring in your brain cells – and that’s good even if you reject the suggestions (See ).

Finally, your clients may start using social media against you! Have any of your prospective clients started asking for the Twitter names of the team planned to work for them at a pitch? That's what happened to Nigel Sarbutts recently and he explains in MetaPR - the implications for recruitment and new business, September 14th , at Brand Alert. Certainly food for thought - what information will you trust?

Saturday, 18 September 2010

It's all 3D now!

In the last post I explained that, as you might expect, 3D was the big topic at IBC. Even the featured movies were 3D with a special 8 minutes more version of Avatar and the chance to see Toy Story 3 (or is that Toy Story 3D?) ... good movie by the way.

The jury is still out as to whether 3D in the home will take off; and they may be away for some time. But I don't doubt that 3D is a key thing for Hollywood, and it's noticeable that the 3D look of movies is getting more subtle. We were shown a trailer for Tron Legacy, which was 3D but didn't wave it in your face. I'm very happy with that: it's like the early days of stereo records, when table tennis games were a common demonstrator. It wasn't called ping pong stereo for nothing.

So how is 3D doing on the desktop? If you have the right graphics card it can be already here for some games, and for CAD systems. Since the 3D movies are assembled and edited on computers 3D has made it there too. I wonder what would happen when 3D is so ubiquitous that we are expected to use 3D techniques and metaphors for real on the desktop. Of course we have been using 3D elements in a 2D desktop world for years. It started with the idea that one window was in front of another, moved through drop shadows and eventually reached immersive environments like Second Life.

Should we be thinking now about this? What are the three-dimensional equivalents of and extensions of our two-dimensional desktop and interface? Are there any brand new things we could do to help users with more space at our disposal?

Have you any thoughts ... or is this just another temporary fad or even a preliminary phase on the way to something better? Holographic desktop anyone?

Talking of temporary fads, or at least those things known as internet memes ... here's a little light relief to either encourage you to put your baby photos on line ... or perhaps not!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Connected TV brings it all together

We are currently in Amsterdam, attending the big IBC exhibition and conference. This grew out of a broadcast technology event and has got larger year by year, so that it outgrew central London, then outgrew Brighton and is now literally pushing at the boundaries of the gigantic RAI Centre here.

This year's top topic is undoubtedly 3D, with lots of 3D camera rigs on display (every manufacturer seemingly wanting to show that they too can do it), lots of displays ranging from ones with glasses to ones without and even one that can draw pictures in thin air. This last one is a sad victim of the demo effect, in that having shipped their big box of tricks over from Japan, the engineers found it would not function. Their video, however, gives a tempting indication of what they can do. (I sympathise, as a thermal camera arranged for my infrared session on Monday has been delayed in transit and I hope it will arrive in time.)

Besides 3D another big buzz is for connected TV. The connection refers to the internet. In some respects the display of web pages on your TV is not new, and it hasn't really taken off so far. Our nearest experience of this is using the BBC iPlayer through our Wii console and watching IPTV on occasions when abroad. But whereas 'traditional' IPTV is basically cable TV using internet protocols, connected TV comes much closer to my decade-old vision of what networks could do for us by opening up our home entertainment instead of walling it in.

At the heart of connected TV is the concept of using a 'living room' device/display to access content from a range of sources but do it seamlessly. The electronic program guide of today would expand its scope to include things you downloaded earlier, things available streamed on the internet and anything else it could get metadata for. Obviously as the range of material grows, browsing interfaces become less useful than searches and eventually you might need intelligent agents searching out things for you online. One world in one box.

A secondary issue is how best to use the display since your connected world could be offering you extra information while you watch a movie or programme ...if you want it to. The television solution is to pile all this information into the single screen space, where there is a risk of one thing obscuring another. That not only detracts from the viewing experience but it could result in sponsor messages and other paid for content being hidden. The computer solution to such issues is to allow the user to configure their own screen and to use separate windows to display separate things.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to making this happen with connected TV is the resolution of the screen. At least with high definition TV many people now have a 1920 by 1080 pixel TV, but they would want to display some 1920 by 1080 content on it rather than shrink this into a window. Does this mean that the TV industry should be looking to over-sized (in resolution) screens? Not something that has come up in any discussions I have heard so far, but possibly food for thought.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Open != Absolutely free

The organisation who handle licensing for MPEG, MPEG-LA, have announced that they will not charge royalties on using MPEG4 encoders ever. This is an extension of their earlier stance which had a time limit.

I think this is very good news, but my somewhat vocal encouragement of MPEG-LA in this direction (through BIMA) did surprise some people. One very senior person in the MPEG fraternity thought I believed that the owners of MPEG shouldn't receive recompense for their efforts. But this misinterprets my perspective, which I see in the larger context of the value chain for creative tools of any kind.

The announcement from MPEG-LA means that you will never have to pay royalties to encode your movies using MPEG4 and put them on the internet. Anyone making an encoder or decoder will still have to do so, and presumably so will broadcasters using MPEG4 for digital TV, as does HDTV in the UK. This seems fair. I likened it to to Kodak selling me film and Nikon selling me a camera but not having any financial interest in the photographs I took. I think it goes without saying that any standard will only succeed if people use it, and being open is a big step towards that.

One current argument over the meaning of open is that between supporters of Flash and those of HTML5, which usually stems from Apple not allowing Flash on the iPhone.

The BBC's Erik Huggers recently discussed this on a blog and illustrated the BBC's support for open standards by referring to DVB, Digital Video Broadcasting, which is the specification behind digital TV. This does seem to have caused some confusion as open standards are not necessarily the same as the use of the word open when talking about software like Apache or PHP (see comment 9 on that BBC blog page). It's getting back to money again, because you probably have to pay a licence fee to use open standards like DVB, whereas you don't pay to use open source software such as Apache or PHP. The key word in the definition of open standards is actually nondiscriminatory, meaning that everyone pays (or doesn't pay) a fee on the same basis. It might not be the same fee because that might depend on the size of the organisation (for example), but anyone can join the party. It's also worth adding that in many cases (including DVB) the money from licences is used only to support the development of the standard.

So we have a triumvirate of proprietary/open standards/open source from which to choose, often for the same kind of thing and sometimes for exactly the same software. How are your companies addressing this question? Is HTML5 the new sliced bread?

Friday, 27 August 2010

Project controls - contingency and tolerances

The practice of adding contingency funds onto a project costing has often made clients sceptical. You only have to recognise that the term slush fund is used negatively and that they make the correlation between contingency and slush fund more often than not. If this attitude is present then it undermines the level of trust between you - not good for projects.

Prince2 project management practices ditched the contingency fund concept in its revision in 2009 replacing it with risk fund. They see the fund as linked to unforeseen project risks.

Max Wideman (in Comparing Prince2 and PMBOK)gave a good explanation of the difference between contingency, tolerance and change control in 2003 that can stand today, although remember contingency would be changed to risk fund.
In the context of control, PRINCE2 establishes a good distinction between "tolerance", "contingency" and "change control". Tolerance is the permissible deviation from plan allowed to the project manager without having to bring the deviation to the attention of the project board.

Contingency, in PRINCE2 terms, is a plan including the time and money set aside to carry out the plan, which will only be invoked if a linked risk actually occurs.

Change control is a procedure designed to ensure that the processing of all project issues is controlled, including submission, analysis and decision making.
Remember, we liked the tolerance concept as clients were predisposed to think of this positively. Effectively if you agree with your stakeholders that you have room to manoeuvre within say 10% of time and budget, then you won't have to keep pestering them with small things that impact every project. However, Prince reworked their tolerance concept in the 2009 revamp of project management practices to apply to time and cost, as before, but these are now extended to scope, quality, risk and benefits tolerances.

Elizabeth Harrin's pages are well worth a look as she explains tolerance in detail and defines all of the extensions from the latest version of Prince2 methodology.
Often the difference in perception between positive and negative comes down to the words used – food for thought!

Friday, 20 August 2010

Usability – updated best practice

Here as indicated last week - till I got distracted by that wonderful project management comic strip – is an update on Usability.

Once your clients understand how important usability is to their customers and that it can increase return business at the very least, they have to balance the cost of designing for usability and some pertinent usability testing against their business goals. Just give them some facts and the projected costs. What percentage of your general costs for a project is allocated to Usability?

If you deal in designing and building retail web sites across channels in the UK and US, you may like to tap into a white paper from the IMRG from July 2010 Respect the Shopper: Harmonising the Multi-channel Experience, which looked at shopper behaviour in London and New York across digital channels. It's listed at the bottom of the Usability page.

Then there is a 2009 list from the Tripwire team but it is comprehensive and gives links to loads of Usability sites under categories – even free usability tools!

Usability does call for expertise so you may want to contract it out to specialists. However, it is just as well to keep a level of understanding about what it involves so you can manage the process better.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Snapshot of a web design career? Where's the project management of clients?

I actually began to research the latest on usability of web sites - and maybe that'll come up soon, but I came across such a gem of a potted project process that you should see it! Andy and I are just in one of those uncontrollable laughing/giggling fits (ROFL as they say online) after reading it. And, Andy's going to send it on to one of his favourite clients who fields internal minor changes before involving Andy in the web design.

But before you enjoy the comic strip, the serious side for this is Project Management. When you use it with client control and change control, all the minor and major changes have a cost attached and at least soften the pain!

Very happy reading - we seriously considered the poster too!
Design Hell comic strip

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Localisation, translations and more

The globalisation of the net has actually increased the need for clear, informed translations as each local market and country tries to market globally. Don't assume that just because your company works only in English (and UK English at that), that you won't need to widen your perspectives for some clients in the near future. Web site localisation means translating the site into other languages to appeal better to people speaking those languages – including US English.

We only address the issues in our book in passing as localisation is too big a subject to address by itself. We can only raise awareness and suggest you ask the questions to find out the breadth and depth of what is needed. We investigate the clients' need under the scoping questionnaire at the beginning of a project, and then later guide you in the care needed in trying to cross cultures with communication especially with marketing and branding of products – some words, colours and humour do not transcend some languages and cultures well.

What services can a specialist translation company offer? Is it worth subcontracting a need for localisation? Yes, it is. This is a specialist area needing experienced people to do a quality job. The type of information in the site can increase the specialist need. For example, legal terms, medical or pharmaceutical terms, colloquial style, engineering/manufacturing bias and so on all demand more than a general native or near native speaker of the target language.

Sometimes the result of a mistranslation can be hilariously confusing. When Concorde was being developed, a promotional video was produced and one version was in Arabic. The story goes that during the voiceover session the speaker looked through the script and asked "What are water goats?" This turned out to be hydraulic rams (in the landing gear), although water goats does have a nice feel to it.

A good way to get more aware of the traps in this translation area is to look at a few online translation sites, how they price the different services they offer, how they delineate between the need for the use of highly paid people and the use of facilitators for a quick understanding. It isn't just what information you want to get across, it can also be how well it needs to be put across! In our project management process, we would see this as offering different costings for different levels of quality and allowing the client to decide how much they need an option for which cost. Of course, just as with all the other decisions about your project, you'd need to recognise the client expects translated sites and then probe to see what they want these sites to achieve.

Translating services have increased in complexity, price structure, and sophistication in the last few years. We know, yet another area to keep an eye on in such a complex project management maze as interactive media projects! Worth fifteen minutes, surely.

Browse the following to get a feel for what's on offer and how much it might cost (just for information; we have no experience of or connection with these companies):
There are even specialist software tools for Localisation - of course! SDL offer a few tools for the specialists, and a review of translation software tools 2010 is here:

Check that you are raising the issue of Localisation of digital information at the initial stages with your clients.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Client complaints – do you have a strategy?

Well we'd all love to say we never get any complaints but...

So, the way they are handled can make all the difference to the perception of your company. In general business practice they are even going as far as to say that complaints should be handled like gifts - they give you the opportunity to make things better.

Are we as an industry doing that? We were pretty shocked to find Brian's catalogue of complaints against web design companies. Some of his tips of what not to do go against some of the tips we suggest you do in project management. But you can see why he reached his decisions with the situations he came up against. It seems that the old adage of Give a dog a bad name is right in this case and unfortunately, it will stick to the profession.

The no hourly rates tip becomes a big issue for us if the client just runs away with changes all the time even when the site is technically finished. Not paying upfront for a job is another thing we have found is an issue when a developer carries out loads of work prior to getting paid and the client just walks away from the job and goes elsewhere. We don’t say get paid for everything upfront, but we do recommend splitting the work into paid phases that you all agree on (assuming it's a long-enough task).

The not believing him part is sad. There needs to be trust between client and developer that is built up mutually. Once a client thinks they have had a bad experience with a developer, it can make any other web design relationship problematic. This can cut both ways, with the risk of a poor experience degenerating into a client from hell for the developer.

And if you're sitting there feeling virtuous because you don't get complaints, perhaps the reasons given by people for not complaining might niggle - 52.2% of 26 thousand respondents didn't think it would make a difference! See The Institute of Customer Service survey .

So what should we do? It is good business practice to have a complaints procedure that is transparent for your clients. Do you have one? Does it say how the complaint will be dealt with, how long the response will take and who will deal with it? These are key factors in a complaint handling strategy. What's more the company can learn from complaints and improve processes so that complaints get few and far between. There's a transparent procedure at wnw design company stated on their site.

Just think complaint resolution as well as conflict resolution - although I admit we address conflict resolution more than we have complaint resolution. Maybe time for a change!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Learning from CoJo

CoJo is the snappy handle for the BBC's on line College of Journalism, part of the wider BBC Academy. Presumably this material is developed for the BBC's in-house staff training but it is also openly available (or some of it is) via the BBC web site. Another aspect of public service broadcasting.

One part of this I have been exploring recently is the law section, particularly things to do with copyright, contempt and defamation (things that apply online as much as on air). These are part of the Law section.

I took the tests on defamation, contempt and copyright. I didn't do too badly (some issues over the wording of questions but sometimes me not knowing as much as I thought I did) but it made me think about a subject I think (!) I know a little about ... so very worth while. This is one to bookmark and come back to.

Don't forget that any web site is a publication whether it's a carefully thought out web page or a comment on a blog or forum. So you too (and your clients) can be a publisher, with all the legal responsibility that brings.

The BBC site also led me to an interesting blog by teacher and blogger Paul Bradshaw. Start with his law for bloggers and journalists and explore.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Cross-cultural implications for iMedia design

I love cross-cultural issues and I have rarely seen them alluded to when interactive media is taught. Aspects of design are so subtle but can have such an impact - we need to remember that the positive impact in one country and culture may not be so positive in another culture.

I came across cross-cultural aspects when teaching foreign students English - a lifetime ago. Then, once you've lived in a different culture, you get savvy about the small but significant differences in interpretation of colour, layout, gesture, association, tone, body language, and so on. Not so small are the differences in the use of humour between cultures. Humour is one of the last aspects of a language that a person masters in a second language. Irony, understatement, and satire may well underpin a lot of rather British humour, but many other cultures don’t relate to the information in the same way.

What does this all mean for web design? Well, a web site is global so can and does get traffic from many countries. Adriana Margineanu in Cross-culture accessibility: Web design that crosses cultures suggests you look at your web analytics and note if the site is getting a significant number of visitors from particular countries, then you need to look at the site with those countries in mind and perhaps offer versions that will tap into their cultural aspects better. In that way the site will have maximum impact.

Some salient examples of real cross-cultural disasters in PR terms are given by Kwintessential. Knowing these may help you win time and money to test out translations and visuals for web sites that your client demands has cross-cultural versions. It's too late once your site has a negative impact on your client’s brand. Are you covered for any retribution?

On a lighter note, if you reckon that my reference to the cultural differences of humour really can't have that many implications for other English-speaking countries like the US, Australia and most of Canada etc. do look at this page about Australian humour from the Australian Government. At least it explains quite a lot about their use of humour in various media (unfortunately not web sites) and makes you laugh! Have fun.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Website costs under review - do your sums quickly

With the Government reviewing its spending and the drastic cuts it has to make, it isn't unusual to find website costs featuring in the review. But, the sheer audacity of some of the costs is astounding - nay practically unbelievable! The Business Link site has had repeated £35 million running costs for the last few years, for example. See the full exposé at Rory Cellan-Jones' blog on the BBC News web site. (The comments make for interesting reading as well.)

There's a valuable explanation there about why large companies tend to get the government contracts - will this change? Have you had problems getting onto those notorious preferred supplier lists?

But while making us all feel virtuous in relation to how much we charge our clients, all firms will follow the government's lead and review their website costs. Be ready to justify your costs far more and have some efficiency cost cutting scenarios to hand for all your major clients. Account Managers will have a hard time, along with Project Managers, as clients tighten up their questioning along with their spend. Whatever the market conditions, the mantra of time, cost and quality will still work for you.

Do your own reviewing of costs before you get asked. Approach your clients with efficiency saving offers to retain their trust in these stringent times.

Happy reviewing!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Benefits of web sites for businesses

In our scoping questionnaire we suggest that you ask your clients what benefits they want from their web site in order to help you define the functionality needed and to be able to prove that you have achieved what was wanted once you have created a site.
You can of course take a more pro-active stance and list the benefits your clients might achieve and then ask which of them they want. It is always easier if someone else has defined items and you select appropriate ones, don't you think?

With this in mind then, here’s a list of possible benefits. You should present price tag increases for the more options your clients chose.

An Online presence allows:
  • Improved communications
  • Access to information 24/7
  • Improved efficiency
  • Opportunities for new business
  • More close contact with customers
  • More close contact with suppliers
  • Online recruitment for your company
  • After sales service
  • Enlarged market reach
  • Marketing new products/offers to suit the customers
Selling online allows:
  • A Global marketplace
  • Direct selling - no middlemen
  • 24 Hour business - If your web site can process payment information you can be open 24 hours a day!
  • Increased customer information therefore reduced information distribution costs
Accessibility issues can add more benefits too.

Now it isn't just about the web site. Blogs, Social Media site presence and mobile resources can add more of those intangible benefits like street cred, urgency, emerging trends, personality cults, opinion waves, hype and so on. For more on accessibility benefits see Granite5 7th June 2010 or econsultancy 9th March 2010. For more on the benefits of blogging see Webbiquity 21st June 2010.

Maybe it is time to review your list of benefits of your online offerings for your clients to make your scoping easier?

Friday, 25 June 2010

Identify your competitors and evaluate your marketing strategy

The ideas of competitors and markets used to squarely belong with marketing strategies for off-line companies. The online world has shifted the focus because it allows fast, automatic, analysis of your competitors. Many tools are offered under Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) allowing inside information on what your competitors are using as keywords to hook people in to their site, what search engines they are listed on, what links enhance their optimisation, what ranking they command in the engines and many more pieces of intelligence. Are you checking your competitors regularly? Worse, are they checking on you?

There's a free tool that analyses some basics that you can use for your own site or for a competitor at Search Engine

Search Quest gives a breakdown of what analytics they offer for small, medium and large companies. Of course, the charges go up accordingly, but it helps to see the range of analysis that is offered for a price. What price is competitor intelligence worth to you?

It's as well to remember a few caveats about trying to emulate your close competitors. They have perhaps forged ahead in their branding for several reasons. Is it worth you always trying to catch them up or should you use the intelligence to out think them? Just reproducing the same strategies but later than competitors will not give you an advantage.

So are you a blue ocean company or a red ocean company? The article from Mind Tools about blue ocean strategies is worth reading to help focus your strategy on winning by establishing difference, not by copying your competitors. Food for thought. Happy strategising.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Social Media Crunching

You can't blame people for getting a bit paranoid about what people are saying about them on Facebook and worse, Twitter. But it is now a serious business if your brand is being dissed on them and you haven't got a strategy to deal with this. Are you advising your clients to think this through? Are you trying to deal with it by using tools to monitor what's going down on the social grapevine?

Well, luckily a few companies are ahead of the game and Fresh Networks with their sister company FreshMinds Research have done an analysis of seven social media monitoring tools in a free report you can download from their site at

This also gives some insight into the basics of social media monitoring, where to find social conversations, and the drawbacks of monitoring social comments. I imagine from my linguistic days that it can be a nightmare to analyse chatter let alone texting but I'm interested in this side of things because language analysis has progressed leaps and bounds. I just wonder if the analysis gets hold of the wrong end of the stick more often than not! (Imagine trying to analyse that last sentence!). Get more about this by looking at The Problem with Automated Sentiment Analysis 28th May by Matt Rhodes.

Whatever, social media networks are giving the trad media boys some puzzlement over what good they can be to them. New Media Age (3rd June issue) featured the dilemma for broadcasters after the BBC have integrated the iPlayer with Facebook and Twitter enabling users to share and recommend shows to each other. Of course, the rest of the TV players want in on the game.

Talking of games – yes, we'll be avoiding the World Cup so there won't be a blog next week. We're off snorkelling in warm waters, ash permitting.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Managing client expectations – a common project problem

From the number of job descriptions where this phrase features, this is a skill in big demand. What's more, these jobs are in the higher pay brackets too. Most difficulties stem from lack of understanding on both sides, lack of clarity about what will be produced, and in the end a lack of trust. It needs someone to apply some analysis and jump in and sort out any emerging problems.

In iMedia projects the risk from miscommunication increases. Why is that? Well, we’re talking about what for most people is an intangible process (computing processes), we are working internally across specialisms that have their own language of description, and working with clients who have their own specialisms, descriptive languages and markets. Then, of course, we deal in look and feel – very subjective issues.

Very often it is the things that are not said that prove to be the gremlins. These are implicit expectations the client has about the project. The only way to get clients to verbalise these is to ask specific questions. The client may not have realised that they even needed to consider X,Y and Z, but if you raise the issues and insist you have to have some answers before proceeding, this educates the client into giving information that is vital. (The project 'Scoping' questionnaire we have discussed previously can help with this).

For example, it is very important for you to know if a site has to be designed for the client to update. The client might presume that is what they'll get as all their contacts operate in that way. But, unless you ask the key question about the assumption (implicit expectation), you’ll be up **** creek! And we've all been there!

Just to be clear, managing client expectations is part of the wider role of stakeholder management, that we also discuss in these pages. Stakeholders can be anyone who can influence the project and so this can include clients, your direct contacts there as well as indirect contacts in their company. It can include your internal team and management too. All their expectations have to be managed in appropriate communication – dealt with elsewhere but I felt it needed to be put in context here.

So not an easy issue at all but a skill that is highly valued although not one that is analysed well in cyberspace! All I can offer you in the way of recent thinking is:
  • Managing Client Expectations (April 2009) on Continuous Thinking (author unknown)

  • Managing Client Expectations (December 18th 2009) by Raj Modi, - a slightly sideways look as he discusses consultancy and client expectations but has validity

  • Finally, if you really can’t manage the client any more as they are beyond managing this might hold some answers! How to fire a client (August 2005) by Andrew Neitlich in Sitepoint

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Visual perspectives and their impact on iMedia projects

This week we were introduced to a new visual perspective from a client who is a jeweller. In the past we have worked with clients to produce iMedia projects across such diverse areas as digital TV switchover and fashion. But here, the need for close-up, clear images of the jewellery actually showed up blemishes of the hand-worked metals. We didn't notice these as we were concentrating on photographing detailed, well-lit images. The client was easy-going and just said that she’d never realised the blemishes were there despite working under lights and using strong lenses to produce the pieces. Actually, she also decided that they were good because they demonstrated the pieces were hand-crafted, so although we said we could Photoshop them out (ah, yes, what did we ever do without it?), she decided against this to remain true to the image.

It got me thinking however about how often in the past a lot of controversy in projects has been caused by clashes in visual perspective where the differences between how the client views things and how we view the same things were not so evident and appeared subjective. I wondered what the latest theory was on visual literacy and embarked on some research.

Did you realise we've been part of a massive revolution where visual overtakes textual intelligence as technologies such as the Internet, video games, CDs, DVDs and social networks become the communicative media of choice? There remains a gulf between how visual literacy is measured/rated in people and how their intelligence in text environments is measured. Our educational measures lag behind and don't even fit the emerging capabilities and skills used in electronic media. Well, I’m not surprised!

All this leads to how we understand and value other perspectives. Do we stick to what we know and feel happy with, and therefore insist we are right, or do we hold back, wonder if there is another valid perspective, and compromise? Maybe there is more to the saying the client is always right than we realise!

For those who want to drill deeper into this massive field of visual literacy, here are a few current online refs. Enjoy the ride.

Theories of Visual Perception: Problems and Perspectives by Professor Alan Johnson of University College London - bit outdated but academic historical text-based overview of visual literacy theories to the end of last century.

A Perspective on 3D Visual Illusions in Scientific American - makes you think about visual images in a new way, with pertinent illustrations.

Digital Technologies and performative pedagogies: Repositioning the visual by Kathryn Grushka and Debra Donnelly of Newcastle University in Australia - pretty heavily academic but has meaning for us iMedia lot.

Is technology producing a decline in critical thinking and analysis? from PhysOrg - a bit of the alternative point of view about what visuals do and don’t do for us.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Your UK iMedia salary in these uncertain times

Do you think your skills are undervalued? Have you morphed your role in your company through experience without anyone noticing? What do you think you are worth?

Now and again it's a valuable exercise to try and understand how your salary fits with the average for your role. It may be reassuring but it can be a shock that may prompt you to think about moving, or educating the right people in your company by getting them to take a look. Mind you, a surprising number of you (three-quarters) would forego a salary rise for a supportive and interesting work environment apparently. Would this include you? See the paragraph under 4 in 10 media players unaffected by recession at

There is the age-old problem of what you call yourself since we've griped for years about the lack of role definitions in iMedia, and this means that it is hard to compare like with like. Do you actually have a job title that makes sense?

Still, it's good to get an overview and one of the best matches we've found is at

They also allow you to look at related charts according to experience, employer type and location which are useful since these do affect figures, of course. Don't worry if you're a contractor as they offer a chart for you too.

Times are probably going to get harder before they stabilise again so you may need to factor that in to your thinking as well. Let’s hope the great majority of you are pleasantly surprised.

Have fun.

Monday, 17 May 2010

RACI Chart and iMedia Project Management

Firstly, a quick apology for being 'off-air' for the past week. We inadvertently fell foul of Google's robotic anti-spam mechanism on Blogger and were 'disabled' as a result. Getting this reviewed by a human being turned out to be a process of which Kafka would be proud but reviewed it was and here we are again.

It's been a while since we looked at the specifics of filling out a RACI Chart (Responsible, Accountable, Consult and Inform) although I had to revise the concept for an enquiry about our Stakeholder Management training course last week. We suggest that this tool can really help project managers at the beginning of a project once you've a strong idea of what the project is about and who's involved i.e. you've done your stakeholder analysis both internal and external.

Often the project manager's role is a dumping ground for the responsibilities and accountabilities of other management. So if you've ever suffered in that dreaded lonely field where the fingers point at you and you are thinking. '... but that had nothing to do with me!', then maybe a RACI Chart can help. Essentially, it defines roles and responsibilities in a clear unambiguous way. Ah! Yes, the catch is getting all of you to agree on the role definitions!! So if you get the definitions of the roles very clear in your mind, you will lead others to realise precisely what their role is for a particular stage in the project.

Paul Ritchie does a nice job in finding definitions of Accountability and Responsibility in the Crossderry blog 26th April - his simplified definitions certainly impress me!
  • Responsible = Those who do the work in question
  • Accountable = The one who signs off on the work that Responsible provides
And, if you want to understand more about drafting a RACI Matrix, Ginny Edwards in, Constructing a RACI Matrix will give you plenty of tips. I know she seems to cover variations on the RACI Matrix but not nearly as well as Wapedia – be sure to scroll to uncover the alternatives.

These alternatives may help you if your way of working and assignment of roles in your organisation differs from the usual suspects (RACI). It's nice to have someone else's confirmation that organisations differ and your organisation may be so locked into its ways that they won't shift and would rather stick with one or two names for comfort. Yeah! Been there, done that!

Friday, 30 April 2010

The expanding concept of an interactive project

In our book, we begin by defining the types of iMedia project that you can come across. This drilled down to projects within projects, and invited you to do an analysis of your organisations' projects over the past year by type and revenue.
The interactive landscape has changed allowing a proliferation of types of project. They can all be subject to the general principles of project management, but it is good to stand back now and then to read the changing landscape. How do we do this?

Well, there are several indicators. Job roles expand to define the diverse skills that are needed for the growing number of projects. There's a snapshot at which is a site that aims to find you a freelancer based on skills that you need. It's a shame that web design and all related web-type roles fall under other, but on the other hand, the sheer number and categories should stimulate some serious thinking.

It's good to get hold of some statistics about the industry to look at some forecasts. This has always proved problematic because the UK doesn't really support good stats about it - iMedia isn't seen as a cohesive industry yet. However, there is a prediction from the US about interactive graphic designers and the projected increase in numbers of them needed by 2018 – an increase of 13% from 2008! See

At least this article by Meagan Van Beest (now there’s a name) categorises iMedia designers as Flash Designers, Game Designers, Information Systems Designers, Interactive TV Designers or Web Designers.

Finally, to wake you up with lateral thinking, those off-the-wall projects happening now may well shape whole sections of the interactive market in the not too distant future. There's a great toe-dipping experience at Goldsmith's College London explained at Creative Choices UK about the use of smart interactive technologies affecting theatre, medicine, and textile sectors.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Customer Relationship Management going social?

It could be argued that CRM (Customer Relationship Management) lifted the lid on the potential of all this social networking. Well, if we just imagine how influenced teens are by their peer group, it's not rocket science to extend this idea of strong influence to friends and family. So CRM, which bonded people by brand association and/or buying habits, is not that far from companies trying to influence people bonded by friendship or family ties to buy similar things.

This seems to be a successful advertising formula improving recall by 30% if friends' names are linked to buying a brand. See the article from

You’d imagine that the links between CRM and Social Networking are a bit obvious if I make the link as a non-marketeer! But it is not, it seems. Although Facebook and Twitter have passed the fad stage, traditional CRMers have not bought in to them - as cited in another MyCustomer article.

Watch this space because the social networking sites are still growing more rapidly than any other communication media. But again if we try to learn from the past, the social sites grew for other reasons and may react badly to adverse influence. It has to be handled carefully. Where's the solid research?

Talking of research, Forrester looks at the trends of CRM 2010. They see this year as one where the hype about social media and CRM leads to some pilot projects. Take a look at a summary of other CRM trends at Forrester.

Perhaps you can do your own bit here. Would you be happy to see ads with your friends and family names and faces linked to them? Would it influence you positively?

Friday, 16 April 2010

Speeding your way to SEO

Google has announced that it is now including site speed in the metrics it uses to calculate page ranking. There is a story on the BBC web site which links to the page on the Google webmaster blog.

Basically what Google are saying is that users like web pages that load quickly. I personally prefer pages that start to load quickly as well; ones that show some signs of life.

The comments on the Google blog post are interesting. One blog-commenter points out that Google analytics can itself slow a page down as the JavaScript it uses loads from an external site. In fact many pages build in material from numerous sources, especially now that so much content is dynamically generated using Ajax and the like. We have come a long way from simple HTML where only one web server (plus the DNS to find the domain name) was involved in a transaction.

A web site is already very asynchronous, meaning that the various parts of it will be loaded simultaneously rather than queuing and waiting for each other to finish loading, even if all the component parts are coming off a single server. But there is more that could be done, especially in back-end coding. Think about the way your code works ... can any parts of it be forked off independently? Does your environment allow you to do this? What are the risks if some of those forks don't finish for some reason?

And if you are involved in SEO, what new factors should you take into account?

Friday, 9 April 2010

UK Digital Economy Bill April 2010

This bill has caused uproar in many circles as it was pushed through with seemingly little debate last night in what's known as the wash up period as Parliament moves to dissolution in the build-up to the election.

Andy raised a few issues about this bill in another posting recently and perhaps it is interesting that the clause that directly concerned many photographers was deleted. But with many aspects to cover across diverse developers and users of digital communication/business, there were many hats to be thrown into the ring of debate. Too late now! This was voted on and passed late last night with a seeming deal between Labour and Conservatives.

To see what issues might affect you take a look at a summary of the clauses at The Quick Guide to all 45 measures and a shorter summary at

The strength of reaction can be tangibly measured in Ben Camm-Jones' comments on Web User where he casts shame on all MPs for the bill and shame on the very few MPs who even bothered to vote despite voiced concerns by over 20,000 people to their respective MPs.

Gary Marshall too makes his feelings very clear at Tech Radar where he states that digital democracy clearly doesn't work!

Will the bill affect you or your business?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Moral Imperative

Last week, wearing a Royal Photographic Society hat, I went along to a seminar on moral rights. This was organised by the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property Policy (SABIP) and aimed to discuss the international perspective on the subject.

Now as I'm sure you remember, moral rights are an adjunct to the economic right of copyright. Rather than your right to control and earn money from your creations, moral rights protect your artistic integrity. They are relatively new to UK law but long-standing in countries like France.

The seminar was interesting and often too technical to go into in detail here but I wanted to flag a couple of things.

The first thing is the subject of attribution. I argued that all other rights stem from this; if you are not known as the author/creator then how are you going to exploit your work or protect its (and your) integrity (another important moral right). UK law does convey a right of attribution but it has to be asserted ... you have to say you assert your right to be identified as the creator of your work. You can, by 'agreement' waive your right of attribution in contract (it doesn't apply to things you do in the course of employment) and there is a big exception for reporting news and current affairs. This latter point is seen by some as something the newspaper and web publishers take advantage of regularly.

In some countries you can't waive your moral rights ... they are yours and you are not allowed to give them up. I hope that the questions and discussions at the seminar made the point that authors need attribution ... you are only as good as your last credit, as they say in TV. Some publishers argue that their business model relies on no individual contributor being credited but, as someone else pointed out, countries like France still have newspapers and web sites. The days of stories being simply credited to 'our reporter' are long gone surely? (Mind you, I once knew a man who edited a girls magazine for a while in the 1960s and the editor was always called Pete Lennon, no matter who he really was ... that was the image.)

My second point is something that only occurred to me after the event, when I looked through the attendance list. There was no one representing software authors and programmers. (Someone was there from Microsoft but I don't count them.) There was no one from BIMA or the BCS or even the games industry.

There is an exception in UK moral rights for computer programs. The argument was that 'computer programs are always written by teams'. Well that is patently untrue and I suspect you only believe that if you have an old-fashioned view of programs and programmers. Personally I think programmers are as creative as the rest of us and deserve their moral rights ... a point I shall be raising with SABIP.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Freelance culture - what it can mean for your project

How many of us employ freelancers on our projects? In iMedia it seems to be quite the norm to supplement the team with extra skills from the freelance pool. We should admit that we can’t work without them. But with their non-conformist, free-spirit culture do they fit in with a team ethos?

iMedia development needs a mix of skills, creativity, technical know-how, hard-graft, attention to detail, time sensitivity, business nous, market awareness and project management. It’s a project development activity that cries out for a team of people. Quite often the client wants something that makes a difference whether in look or feel, and a team that has gelled through working together can operate more efficiently but may lack the spark of difference. This is what a new member may bring. Will the existing team squash or embrace the newbie freelancer? Will you? Will your management?

The interface between employees and freelancers has not been the focus of much attention when it should be. It poses risks and benefits that need managing sensitively.

The good news is that iMedia freelancers along with general creative freelancers have a pool of resources to help them. They have become more professional, tap into one another and listen to advice from more experienced freelancers. It is not the isolated black art it used to be and we can’t relate to it like that any more. Perhaps it’s time to reappraise it. Take a look at the analysis from an experienced freelancer, Jacques van Heerden, who explodes 5 myths in 5 freelance myths busted from the start. Do any of these myths reflect your attitude/ your company’s culture?

To understand freelancers better, why not take a look at how they need to relate to contracts that you may offer them. Often companies just have standard tweaked contracts for freelancers and it can cause a lot of trouble when they query them. But they do so with very good reason and we need to employ them so we should do it right, shouldn’t we? Hopefully you have recourse to legal advice and after reading 10 things to be wary of when signing a consultancy contract, by James May, from the interesting FreelanceUK site, you’ll be able to read your own company freelance contracts with a bit more appreciation.

The 10 points here relate to the IR35 tax regulations where if freelancers are not seen as sufficiently independent in the revenue’s eyes, they will be treated as employees when it comes to tax and national insurance. This could be detrimental to the contractor but it can also have knock-on effects for the company who hires the freelancer, and these can be applied retrospectively. Remember this only relates to IR35 and the ‘employment’ position but of course there are other issues that need to be addressed in a freelance contract, such as intellectual property and liability.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Web usability trends

Usability issues change as the users become more experienced. We all know this and can trace differences in approach to the issues over time on the various iMedia devices. Engaging with your users in meaningful ways now drives design far more than it used to. Understanding your market either happens because you have a track record in developing for the niche, or you build in time/money in your project's development to define the users' behaviour.

So, it came as no surprise for us to find an interesting research project on specific reactions to interactive devices for defined childrens' age ranges (0-6 and 6-12) on behalf of the BBC. They want to employ a psychologist who has experience with eye tracking interpretation to help assess reactions particularly from pre-school aged children. This group of children present great difficulty for researchers as they find it hard if not impossible to put their feelings into words. (The job deadline has just passed if you were interested.) See

Human Computer Interaction is an exciting field. It has come of age with the plethora of interactive devices coupled with the growth in use of the devices, and the understanding that making interaction usable and accessible can mean added value. This happens through increased sales, or, buying into a brand because of a connection with what it offers, or, faster comprehension of the content on offer - whatever makes the difference between competitors.

You may like to dip a toe into this HCI world if you’re not already party to it. There's a conference coming up in April in the USA with presentations on such aspects as: Making meaning in large displays, Understanding Cool, Avatars and virtual environments, Seniors using technology, Pixels and perception, Designing User Interfaces for Multi-touch and Surface-Gesture Devices, HCI in China, etc.

See the full advance program at

Exciting developments, don't you agree? How would you define your company's expertise in such matters? Do you collaborate with specialist companies?