Category Archives: Adventures elsewhere

Busy working!

Me, 3pm, most days
Me, 3pm, most days

It’s the consultants dilemma: either you have time to dream up cool new products and communicate them in some fashion to the world, OR you are tied up with your clients, which is brilliantly absorbing and educational, but have limited capacity or even inclination to document all the new, fun things you have been learning.

After spending 10 hours a day at a desk fretting about URL structures and iffy email providers (a rabbit hole of complaints coming soon), the last thing that appeals is sitting down at a computer and summarising it all in pithy soundbites. No.

My recent project, working for the mega-watt WaterAid, is just one of these projects. Very, very busy, but also extremely interesting. Working for a greater good is also motivating, which helps when I feel the tiniest bit over-whelmed.

So far, it’s all digital migrations (um, once and soon to be twice, all within 12 months, gulp!) and no small amount of old-fashioned digital marketing.

More useful, actionable stuff soon…

New Product: The lovechild of Shop Style and Instagram.

Kindly citizens of the internet, I have a vision.
In this vision, those fashion-y ladies who tag their #OOTDs (Outfits of the Day) can go beyond just tagging the brand, but instead tag the specific item they are wearing. It would demystify a lot of the blogger wardrobes that always seem so elusive, but also, from a business point of view, the opportunities to then boost sales and cross-promote a related look or item is enormous.

Imagine, you see something like this, but you can itemise everything. 

You too can dress like this, here's how...
You too can dress like this, here’s how…

The User Story would go something like this:

1) Spot cool-as-cool photo of some flighty ingenue epitomising the look you have decided to go for this season.
2) You research said ingenue’s online persona. If that’s how she plays it.
3) Finding her online persona, you can find the post and then…
4) Look at the specific tags of the outfit.

eg Alice and Olivia – Courtnee Dress (via a drop down menu perhaps? Arranged by most popular, most liked or most searched or something else, and this itself could also be a micro-advertising opportunity for brands)
5) The tags lead back to the item if it’s still available. Perhaps even to your size too, although this would be hard to do as every brand handles size filters differently.

The brands would then pay Instagram (or Pinterest, where it would also work) for the traffic, or the sale, depending on their specific business goals.

However there’s also an opportunity to sell ad units to brands selling ostensibly similar items.

There’s even a broader social network opportunity too, as you could then follow and track people’s outfits. There could be some cool data too, everyone loves Celine for example, but how many people really wear it? Likewise, just tracking cost per wear etc could be quite fun, or summarising the user’s style in a year-end summary, rather like Spotify’s “your year in music” roll-out.

Hours of fun for the fashion set.

Clearly, there are a few things to think about:
– I’d need access to historic product feeds as well as current ones.
– I’d also need a long, long list of brands, past and present.
– it would help if there was an accurate sort of ‘smart’ way of uploading your wardrobe without having to scroll through a long list of product items, if we really wanted to go to town I suppose the app could tie-in with any digital receipts, scanning the the item barcode, thus storing and pulling the product data directly. Or perhaps visual product recognition software is good enough to at least identify the item of clothing from a photo of you in it, thus narrowing it down enough so it’s quick to tag your specific item. Amazon have something of this sort in it’s app, so the technology exists, but I’m unsure how good it is.
– for vintage items, the user would have to enter it in but this still gives an opportunity to produce ad units for any brands selling similar products.

 

Anyway, just an idea.

PROJECT: Auction Results in the Search Results – How would I go about this?

Whilst I am over-whelmed by the sheer level of technical knowledge required for my dream project, a level far beyond what I am (currently) capable of, I’ve decided to step back, relax and just think it all through. By breaking it into tiny projects I might, slowly, slowly make progress and can iterate on the idea as needed.

Where to start?

1) Define the product: build something that shows auction results in the search results, a specific google product that does this, like the recipe boxes, map results etc. Product should have images as this is critical for an art dealer.

2) Research a list of auction houses, start nationally.

3) Build a search engine crawler, that will visit the websites of these auction houses, scrape the results and present them in the as-yet-non-existent search product, or, in the short-term a website.

4) Display the data in a uniform, engaging way. There is Artnet already, but there info is behind a login and I don’t think the UI is particularly effective, easy or engaging. I haven’t even tried to look things up on a mobile…

Does this all sound wonderfully simple? Well, it won’t be, because I’ll have to:

a) work out how to build a search engine crawler. Looks like i’ll be learning Python after all..

b) work out how to collect and present what will be a mess of data. At this point, I have no idea how I will be able to plough through it all algorithmically to then make sure the fields populate as they are meant to. Nothing worse than an automated product that doesn’t work.

I believe the data lake I will be presented with will be my biggest challenge. How to order all of that? How to make sure all art works are properly collected under the right artist?

For example,

Making sure the following are all grouped under one man:

Henry Moore

Henry Moore (1898 – 1986)

Henry Moore (British, 1898 – 1986)

circle of Henry Moore

attributed to Henry Moore

Moore, Henry

The ‘circle of’ and ‘attributed to’ are iffy, but I believe it is still important to offer these results initially, whilst giving people the opportunity to filter them out.

At present, spelling mistakes or formatting errors mean results get lost. I also know that you can ‘hack’ the results by asking the auction houses not to submit their results to the existing product.

Work needed.

Unbelievably simple way to prioritise projects…

 

Everyone talks about this, this urgency to take the wheat and let the chaf be still. To butcher Chaucer. Consultants are defined by their ability to do this, but it’s very hard to make someone understand how to do this sort of thinking for themselves.

I certainly struggled with it, finding it difficult to prioritise projects as a result. Not to mention producing results that would keep the client fitter, happier and more productive. After all, it’s all well and good getting more traffic to the site but if none of that traffic signs up, tunes in or buys something, it’s just not going to impress The Boss. I don’t mean Bruce Springsteen. I doubt he’d be impressed with anything in the realm of Digital Marketing. Not that he has anything against it, forcibly, I’d imagine, but, you know, it’s just not his thing.

Anyway.

That magic, clarity-inducing solution to project overload? The simple binary test as to whether something is worth doing. Or not?

Vitamin or Aspirin?

That’s it.

Just ask yourself if i’s a vitamin or an aspirin for this particular problem.

To put it another way, is it a ‘nice to have’ or will it solve something? Will it help your client make more money?

I’m not the first person to use this analogy, just chiming in as  I hope it brings clarity to anyone struggling with how to schedule projects. I cannot explain why this wording worked for me, but lo, I share the knowledge.

Pass it on, or let me know if this helps you with project planning.

February 2015 action plan, now with more JavaScript.

What with the safe arrival of the finch and all that entails, I’ve been remiss in documenting just what I hope to achieve this year. So now, one month in to motherhood, whilst still professionally and intellectually ambitious, here is my plan.

Technical Projects

  1. Pursue the wily beast JavaScript and her purportedly easier cousins, Angular, Bootstrap and JQuery, via the Girl Develop It, Women Who Code and General Assembly Meetups. Document this progress in projects showcasing understanding of the concept. Voila a coding portfolio.
  2. Amazon Web Services – get it up and running so my Recycling Hack product works. This sounds simple, but isn’t.
  3. Get to grips with Terminal and use it to update my Github account. Like real techie people do.

It’s still in formation, but some likely projects include a responsive Resume page including a slideshow and finally nailing the Blue Project, which is pure whimsy but fun, for I love a bit of colour devotion.

Creative Projects

  1. The political pregnancy debate
  2. Finish Crap Jobs
  3. Tangled Up in Blue Project
  4. Finish The Finch
  5. Art History illumination

This might be woefully underwhelming but JavasScript alone has given me comical levels of neurosis so any progress with that would be a considerable achievement. JavaScript is an ongoing project, for this year and beyond, however the other projects are more contained and specific, which means I can enjoy the feeling of evolution whilst still waging the war of my ignorance, nobly, fearlessly fighting the 6 headed hydra of JavaScript.

My First Web Dev Project: Chelsea Rubbish & Recycling Hack

First hard-coded project is alive and out there!

Built using HTML, CSS, AJAX and JavaScript

There’s no denying it, this is a big deal. My first project, conceived and built from scratch. I mentioned it in an earlier post and after no small amount of panic, despair and sweat. It is now live! It lives! It lives!

The site can be found here: Chelsea Rubbish & Recycling Hack.

DISCLAIMER: I’m still struggling with Amazon Web Services ( I need to install node.js and run code from their cloud, this is surprisingly difficult).

Built with UX in mind

I’m influenced by Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, the basic gist of which might be clear from the title: do not make users work when using your product. Instead it is much better for everyone if it’s painfully clear what needs to happen. Based on this idea, I decided that my product would not require any user input. This would be an upgrade (IMHO) from the existing products available through the city of New York. The existing product requires the user to enter three fields of information.

See below:

Source

NYC's existing rubbish & recycling product
NYC’s existing rubbish & recycling product

Given that every field requires user input, they are essentially obstacles for the user, standing between their current position and the information they want. The existing site is also not responsive, making it a rather clumsy experience for any users on a mobile.

The Code

Using the city’s 311 API I can check the schedule is either on track or not. Combining this data with the pre-set schedule, a healthy series of JavaScript if/else statements set up the four states. Each state (normal collection, collection exception, no collection day, recycling collection) has a corresponding image, which loads upon page load. The images are in an array and function like a slideshow. Simples.

Recycling Day - this image auto loads when it's time to take the recycling out
Recycling Day – this image auto loads when it’s time to take the recycling out

Design!

Hmmmm, I rather imagined that I would be better at design than turned out to be the case! However I persevered and I’m more or less happy with with I ended up with. I created this header in PhotoShop, which was fun. Other than that, I went with grey and bright orangey-red for the colour scheme.

Recycling Site - Header
Recycling Site – Header

Next Steps

Ideally, I would have preferred to have this product work for anyone in NYC, but that would involve user input. When I’m super-clever with location APIs perhaps I could use this data to build something like that, but of course, it’s just as likely that someone could look whilst commuting, meaning it would return data for that location, instead of where they live. Unless of course, there was some sort of cookie functionality… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I still dream of Google Now integration, to take all of the effort out of it for the user, meaning they would just see a card reminding them to put out (or not) their rubbish. One day, one day.

Next Project

I still dream of combining my love of art and technology to build something. Showing auction results in the search results for example, but that’s a bit beyond my scope, I don’t have access to Google’s Search results! Also, clearly, that’s a fairly ambitious coding project, I’d need to join forces, which, by the way, would be awesome. Anyone? Tony Stark? Do you have a minute?

First Descent Doula branding and web build

Blue might just be the warmest colour for branding purposes after all.

Oh heady day, we are making excellent progress with the First Descent Doula site.

The issue with this sort of niche is that Doulas are not medically trained, it’s a more supportive role, but a role backed up with lots of incredibly positive statistics proving their worth.

In terms of branding, we wanted the site to look approachable but authoritative, useful and packed with information, but with a calm vibe. I believe our chosen page design and palette embodies these aspirations.


The logo, designed for First Descent Doula, is sunny and pretty, Kate liked the look of it but I felt it was important to tone down the site colours. The blue/green of the logo is gorgeous but a bit too saturated for wide usage. Building on this logo, I reduced the saturation of some complimentary blues, and used black and white images.

It might be a result of the times, but cutting any colour with grey usually lends it a more considered tone.

First Descent Doula homepage
First Descent Doula homepage

 

This theme of grey text and muted blue from the homepage is used throughout the site. To keep it somewhat upbeat we experimented with links in a brighter turquoise, to attract the eye and make links obvious.

First Descent Doula Resources Page
First Descent Doula Resources Page

 

We have had opted for a soft launch, right now, friends and family are reviewing the site, because fresh eyes always do a better job.

It will be interesting to monitor the SEO value of the site too, as I have made every effort to set up all the page content in the most SEO-friendly way, whilst also encouraging Kate’s content schedule, both on the blog and on social media.

The goal of the site is to provide information and promote First Descent Doula services, I believe this site does this, it will be interesting to see if the public agree.

First front-end development product

Coding in the wild… a test

For my first project, I plan to design a site that will do the following:

NYC Recycling Schedules and Exceptions

  1. user enters address
  2. site reports back the recycling schedule for that address on the day in question
  3. options include:
    • regular scheduled delivery, in which case icons will appear showing the items to be put out for recycling.
    • no delivery scheduled
    • delivery exception, which might then trigger email to signed up users

To access this information, I have New York’s 311 API. I will also need to work out email address sending, which also means an email signup form. Ideally the email can be automatically generated, perhaps listing the reason for the exception. This also means that when the user signs up to use the site, I will need to save their email address and street address. Without being creepy. Ultimately it would be cool to open it up to GoogleNow, so reminders and exceptions could appear in the GoogleNow cards without a user having to check email. Pipe dreams. For now it will be powered by HTML5, CSS and JavaScript.

This idea came to me as our building was handed yet another sanitation fine, seemingly at random by the Department of Sanitation. Each fine is $ 100, and it’s starting to add up. I’m pretty good on the regularly-scheduled pick-ups but the exceptions, due to holiday schedules or inclement weather cause problems because then the rubbish is just left to pile up. This in itself usually doesn’t result in a fine, but it does mean the rubbish gets ripped open, causing it to spill on the street, and that does result in a fine. No more! No more! It’s quite cool that this is going to happen, I can tick something off my project list, as referenced in this earlier post.

And so today in personal growth: front-end web development

Front-End Web Development and I are going on a date tomorrow night and I’m cautiously optimistic that it’s going to lead to several more and be the start of something enduring.
In a bid to just be a bit more technically on it, I’m enrolled in General Assembly’s Front-End Development course and will be learning the following: HTML5, CSS and Javascript. It’s the Javascript in particular that floats my boat because it can be used in both front and back end. Maybe now I can build those pipe dream projects that sometimes keep me awake at night? Projects that include, but are not limited to:

Continue reading And so today in personal growth: front-end web development

Busy behind the scenes

My last post was in May, however I have been working like a whirling dervish elsewhere on the internets, all with a view to improving my working knowledge and understanding.

The Honest Account Project

One mini project is featured here my flirtation with the Timeline opensourced javascript. This first attempt is really coding-by-numbers, almost remedial in efforts, but it was done in a quest to start somewhere so I could then start experimenting with the other, more customisable code variants out there. All in a bid to get more with it.

Continue reading Busy behind the scenes