A busy period of time, I spent the latter half of June 2019 participating in NUA ambassador roles at various events in the UK, being a judge at the Norfolk Scratch Off competition (it’s a coding competition for Norfolk primary and high schools) and doing more work for my dissertation.

How’s WordPress 5?

I’ve been writing on this blog a lot since upgrading to WordPress 5 and I’ve also been getting to grips with the new block editor. I like it a lot! I like how you can move blocks of text and content around and easily add content in. I honestly thought that it looked more complicated than the old layout which I’ve used for years, but after using it for just a few days I’ve decided I really like the block editor!

See my thoughts in the video below.

Dissertation progress

On June 17th I began to research my dissertation again, this time from the perspective of how fashion e-commerce websites look and feel. I also considered about whether I’d be able to collaborate with a Fashion student who might be able to help me come up with a brand for the prototype and maybe also provide some of their work as products that I could sell.

I know the key is to create a prototype that the blind can use and not necessarily create a strong fashion brand, but my research showed that the appearance and functionality of the site varied greatly depending on the brand and what its purpose and target audience was, so I feel that there does need to be some identity.

In addition to this, I’ve also been testing various fashion e-commerce websites on mobile devices with screen readers to find usability flaws with them so that I know what my prototype needs to address.

Further details are available in this post.

Storehouse updates

It wouldn’t be a blog post with mentioning the S-word at least once! I didn’t write about Storehouse over the summer of 2018 at all and ended up writing all about it in several very long blog posts about it in early 2019. So this summer I’m writing about it more regularly again.

As of June 2019, submissions are still coming in and now my focus has shifted to contacting potential sponsors asking them if they’d like to pay to have an advert in the magazine and also contacting potential party venues to see if I can quotes for a launch party. I’m also keeping in touch with my HODs to ensure that jobs such as sorting out the front cover design, getting printing costs, promoting Storehouse and various other bits and pieces are being done.

As of July 1st, Cinema City, Thorns DIY, Working Title Clothing and Frank’s Bar are sponsors of Storehouse Issue 19. Cinema City is a new sponsor and the others have been previously featured in Storehouse.

When it comes to coding and anything UX related – it’s been at least a week since I’ve done any! Hahaha! I like being the head and doing something different. I like calling (most of) the shots and directing people. I don’t dictate to them, I let them tell me what they want to do and their ideas and 9 times out of 10 I tell them it’s a good idea and let them get on with it. That’s how I manage. Occasionally I have to put my foot down and direct people more (usually due to deadlines or budget constraints), but so far it’s been a smooth ride.

It’s also nice that I still get to do some coding and very basic UX design every now and then.

Sponsorships and advertising have been my main priorities for Storehouse recently.

Redeveloping the Bidwell Joinery website

This is something that I didn’t really expect to do but has come onto my radar recently. Bidwell Joinery are a small carpentry business in Norwich who have been a website client of mine since 2013. They are my longest-standing clients, yet I haven’t really mentioned them on this blog!

In short, I started developing a website for them in November 2013 which launched in January 2014. Just like the BrownTech website, it was built using Adobe Dreamweaver CS5.5 and Adobe’s Spry JavaScript framework using the skills I had learned by reading and following the exercises in Adobe Dreamweaver CS5.5: A Classroom In A Book. People laugh and snigger when I tell them that that’s how I learned to create websites aged 16, but honestly that book and this particular website (the original Bidwell Joinery one) got me into creating websites and it’s something that I love doing now. The BrownTech site is essentially a modified version of the original Bidwell Joinery website. ‘Recycling’ my websites and frameworks is therefore nothing new at all!

The original Bidwell Joinery site from January 2014 was my first commercial website and also the first website that I coded. It was built on Adobe’s Spry JavaScript framework and as such features Spry slideshows and a Spry menu bar.
You can see how the BrownTech site is a modified version of the original Bidwell Joinery site. The BrownTech site uses a block colour background and no gradients on its menus (it also doesn’t utilise a Spry slideshow, rather a custom jQuery one), otherwise it is the same.

When I completed my GCSEs in 2014 I replaced my Adobe CS5.5 with Adobe CC and with that came Adobe Muse. I’ve mentioned Muse a few times on this blog before – it was a program that allowed you to create websites in a similar way to how you create InDesign or Photoshop documents. I learned how to use Muse in the same way I learned how to use Dreamweaver – by reading and completing the exercises in the Adobe Muse CS6: A Classroom In A Book book. I decided to rebuild the Bidwell Joinery site in Adobe Muse as a way to learn how to use Muse, an updated and rebuilt version of their site launched on August 31st 2014 and remains online to this day. Interestingly, the site I built in Muse looked very similar to the original coded one.

Their current site was created by me in Adobe Muse and has been online since August 2014. It’s the only site I made in Muse that was a commercial project. It also looks similar to the original site.

It’s interesting and funny to think that I’m in a similar situation right now. I want to learn how to improve my skills with Axure RP and also learn some new frameworks and/or improve my own and to do that I’m rebuilding all these smaller websites that I have that haven’t had an update for a while.

Bidwell Joinery contacted me recently about replacing some of the images on the site, but because Adobe Muse is now deprecated (it’s not even possible to install it through the Adobe Creative Cloud app now) the only solution is to build them a new site. Adobe recommends ex-Muse users either use Adobe XD to design websites or uses Adobe Portfolio or Adobe Spark to build new sites depending on their needs. I’m keener to code something that I can maintain and isn’t bound to product lifecycles.

The chances are that because the client is presumably keen to get a new site created soon, this site won’t be based on React or anything like that and instead built on a framework similar to my own Dragonbase framework. Their work is very visual, so I’m thinking that big hero images, slideshows and some nice animations could help to showcase their work better.

The last time the site had a major update was in August 2014 when I recreated it using Adobe Muse and the last minor update was on April 30th 2017, so it is also due an upgrade.

CAS Norfolk Scratch Off Competition Finals – June 20th 2019

The CAS (Computing At Schools) group are a group of Norfolk and Suffolk IT teachers who work together to help promote teaching computer science at schools and offer support to one another. I was first introduced to the CAS group in April 2018 when I was asked to attend one of their meeting at the UEA to discuss promoting the BSc courses at NUA to KS3 and 4 students in Norfolk high schools. Read about that here. Since that meeting I have been involved with several other CAS group events, such as talking about NUA’s BSc courses and the importance of teaching computer science at an event at Norfolk City Football Club in April 2018, shortly after I had finished my first year of university.

The UEA host the Scratch Off finals each year.

One of CAS group’s events is the annual Scratch Off competition, held at the UEA. Scratch is an entry-level (though quite capable) programming language that is commonly taught in Norfolk schools to students aged between 5 and 15/16. The competition gets students from primary schools and high schools in Norfolk and Suffolk to complete a challenge in Scratch that they work on at school in their ICT or computer science lessons as well as an ‘unseen challenge’ which they have a few hours to complete on the morning of the finals. This year the main challenge was to create an arcade game in Scratch and the unseen challenge was to create a working digital and analogue stopwatch that the user could customise. The challenges in 2018 were quite similar – often the main challenge is to create s game and the unseen one is to make something a little complex.

This year I was judging several groups of primary school students, last year I was judging secondary school students. It was a fantastic day seeing the work that students are producing – the students were really passionate about their work and keen to show the judges and their peers what they had done. The presentations by students at the end of the primary school session were fantastic and often quite funny. The games were also very unique – everything from reinventions of arcade classics such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders to Star Wars-themed shooters and even 3-in-1 games, a bit like you got on the good old Namco Game Machine!

Presentations and awards were held in the UEA’s lecture theatres, pictured here is the secondary school award ceremony.

I also stayed for a bit longer to watch the secondary school presentations and awards. This was a great chance to catch up with a lot of the computer science teachers that taught me at Wymondham High when I was a GCSE and A level student there. All of the teachers who I saw at the event that taught me have since left Wymondham High and now work at other Norfolk high schools. It was good to see their new schools (Framingham Earl and Northgate High School) doing well in the 2019 Scratch Off, but equally nice to see that Wymondham High did well this year too. Wymondham High, after all, is the core reason why I am where I am today – for good and bad reasons.

Myself, Mike Lorimer (left) and John Harrod (centre) at the 2019 Norfolk Scratch Off. Mike and John now teach at Framingham Earl, but used to teach me at Wymondham High between 2014 and 2016. John left Wymondham High to come of Head of IT Teaching at Framingham Earl in 2016 and Mike left Wymondham High in 2018.
Andrew Howard and I at the 2018 Norfolk Scratch Off. Andrew couldn’t attend this year. He was one of my IT and computer science teachers at Wymondham High between 2013 and 2016. He left Wymondham High in 2017 to become Head of IT Teaching at Northgate High in Ipswich.

In the end Wymondham High came 2nd in the secondary school awards, beating Framingham Early by one place. The winners were Diss High School.

What was also great to see was that the event was sponsored by Earthware, whom I interned with in the summer of 2018. Rachel Shelley (marketing) attended the event as a judge. It was good to catch up with her and hear about Earthware has been up to since my internship finished at the end of August 2018.

Rachel Shelley, Marketing Executive at Earthware, speaking to primary school students at the 2019 Norfolk Scratch Off.

Birmingham UCAS Fair – June 24th and 25th 2019

I attended this event last year and enjoyed it so much that I went again! I spent two days at a UCAS fair held at the NEC just outside of Birmingham with Year 2 Games Art & Design student, Kyra Vergho.

2020 NUA prospectuses on display at the Birmingham UCAS Fair 2019.

We spoke to students from the West Midlands attending the fair about courses at NUA and what kind of degree NUA can offer them. In total, approximately 10,000 students were registered to attend the event over the course of the two days, of these we spoke to around 200. It may seem like a very small number (it’s only about 2% of all students that went), but being a specialist university that only offers arts and computer science courses we typically get fewer students engage with us at large-scale events like this. Not all students would be looking at universities either – some would have been looking at apprenticeships or just hanging out in the NEC’s food courts and grabbing the free pens and bags from the stands!

NUA badges are new for 2019 and went down very well at the show!

Joking aside, it’s been a year since I did a large event like this (the last one I did was this event, but in 2018) and about 9 months since I last manned a stand for NUA at a similar school (I promoted NUA at a careers event at a high school in Framlingham, Suffolk in October 2018) and it was great fun to talk about the university and its courses again. It made a nice change a good break from coding, dealing with Storehouse and thinking about redesigning websites. It was also good to get to know Kyra and make a new friend.

And I went back to the legendary ‘Sky Bar’ that one of the hotels on the NEC’s complex has and had several drinks admiring the Birmingham city lights twinkling in the distance and aeroplanes taking off from the airport opposite.

Birmingham twinkling in the distance from the top of the Genting Hotel where the Sky Bar is located.

NUA Open Day – June 28th 2019

Another NUA event I did in late June was this open day. This one at the end of June is the largest one that NUA does and is one I always participate in. Around 600 students in Year 12 or their first year of college attended the open day and this one was an interesting one for the UX course because it is now a part of Graphic Design in Year 1 and then ‘becomes’ UX in Years 2 and 3.

The idea is that the industry is now interested in people who can design, build and test and is beginning to label these people as ‘product designers’, hence for the shared first year with graphics where students will now learn the visual design principles in their first year and then move onto the building and testing in the second year. This makes sense to me and is what I suggested NUA do to increase course interest and numbers a while ago and it seems to have worked. For the first time in a while, we had people come to NUA to specifically learn about the UX course and hopefully some people who attended the graphics talk to learn about graphics are now also thinking about UX – especially if they’re more technically-minded.

Broads App public testing at the Norfolk Show – June 27th 2019

Since the end of Year 2 of university on May 10th, the app for the Broads that I created in collaboration with graphic communication students has been updated and was tested by Corrina and I at the Norfolk Show with the Broads Authority on June 27th.

The new app prototype was tested with the Broads Authority at the Norfolk Show on June 27th 2019.

The testing setup

The prototype was run on two iPhone 7s in Google Chrome that members of the public could use. The prototype itself was run on a device called a ‘TrailBox’ which is a small Wi-Fi direct router that can run an Apache web server which means that when you connect the phone to the Wi-Fi network that the TrailBox router makes you can access the content on the Apache server by navigating to the router’s URL in a browser. The router was powered by a portable USB battery pack meaning that no mains electricity or mobile broadband was required to run the prototype at the Norfolk Show.

The video below shows the app that was tested and how the setup worked.

Changes between the original prototype (April 2019) and the June 2019 prototype

The main changes are:

  • There is a lot more information about the app and the context of the app on the initial landing page.
  • The buttons to go to the experiences are on the same page as the contextual information/initial landing page.
  • The buttons for the experiences now feature a small arrow on them which hopefully shows that the buttons are tappable.
  • The heritage grid isn’t swipe-enabled, but now only works with buttons (there’s no scrolling animation either).
  • The 360 degree experience has been improved – it’s now possible to close the information boxes by tapping on the 360 degree image.
  • New points of interest have been added to the 360 degree image.
  • The Nature Finder has had a small UI overhaul with new images and fewer ‘slants’ on the images.
  • The map is no longer functional but features a lot more information such as suggestions for walks.
  • Fonts have been slightly changed and some images are now black and white as opposed to desaturated with the yellow, red and blue/teal overlays.

Testing method

Corrina and I walked around the Norfolk Show asking lots of stall holders to test the app for us. Each test lasted between 3 and 20 minutes depending on how much the participant engaged. Notable stall holders we got to test our app were from:

  • UEA
  • City College Norwich
  • Norfolk County Council’s technology department
  • RAF Falcons parachute display team
  • Scouts and Guides
  • Eaton Vale Activity Centre
  • Anglian Water
  • Forest Group
  • Norfolk Police

The TrailBox setup meant that we could walk around the show and always be able to run the app. The TrailBox router and battery pack fit in Corrina’s jacket pocket which was really handy.

32 tests were completed with a large range of participants, aged between around 15 to 70. This is the largest and most diverse user testing session that I have carried out to date. The larger and more diverse demographic of the testers made the results from this round of testing more valid and varied than the previous round in which only three women from the WI tested our work.

Corrina completes usability testing with a representative from City College Norwich.

Information was collected in the form of quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data was collected by assessing on a scale of 1-5 how well each user was able to navigate the app, how they found the layout and how they found the information in the app. Qualitative data was collected by asking the user how they felt about using the app and noting down comments, similar to how I’ve done testing for my own project work in Year 1 of university and for The User Story in January 2019.

Notes were taken on paper, you can see a scan of the notes Corrina and I made below (don’t worry, they’re also typed up!)

Test results

Reception was generally positive.

The good

  • Overall the design/layout was liked
  • Users were able to read the text- Generally users felt that there was enough text/information but not too much
  • The use of seasons was well-liked in the finder
  • A lot of users said it was ‘easy to use’ (or something indicating that)
  • The history information went down well with a lot of users
  • A lot of users liked the idea of this being a web app that they didn’t need to download and install
  • Users felt that they’d be able to use the app whilst walking
  • Users felt that the map would be a helpful feature that could help them plan a day in Oulton Broad
  • The interactivity was praised, but some users felt that the design of the app lent itself for use with an older audience 

The bad

  • A lot of users wanted the 360 degree image to be ‘eye level’ upon opening
  • Users were still a little confused by the grid at first – a lot of them tried to tap the individual squares on the diagram showing where you are to move to another ‘cell’ (didn’t see the buttons)
  • Some users didn’t like the B&W hero image on the landing page
  • A lot of users took some time to find the buttons to move into the experiences, scrolling past them a lot
  • Some users found the 360 degree context boxes difficult to read and would have liked more context about what this experience was about
  • Users were unsure how to navigate back to the home/landing page – a lot of them expected to be able to tap on the logo at the top of the page to navigate back to home
  • Users wanted to be able to go back multiple screens in the nature finder
  • The hamburger menu was generally understood, but some users weren’t aware of it and others didn’t like its design which they felt did not fit the rest of the app
  • The hamburger menu cannot be closed when the user taps on another area of the screen
  • Some users felt that the instructions for the experiences were similar, so they did not need to repeated on each page
  • Some users felt that images needed more context, e.g. a caption
  • Users weren’t aware that on the main buttons only the small arrow inside the circle is clickable 
  • Some users who were using the browser forwards and back buttons to navigate ended up going to the incorrect page

This shows that there are still some fairly large usability issues that need to be addressed, but a lot of the usability problems discovered in this testing were caused by introducing slightly new interface elements and content which was added as a result of the previous testing. It shows that with each iteration we are moving more and more in the correct direction but there is still some work to do.

In order to correct these usability flaws, the following could be done.

  • Take a new image with the 360 degree camera at eye level this time
  • Implement swiping on the grid – a lot of users said this would be how they’d like to navigate this feature when asked
  • The grid system may not be the ideal solution – some users expected to use a timeline. A/B test needed? 
  • Replace the B&W hero image with one with a colour overlay
  • Put the buttons to the experiences at the top of the pages and a small amount about what each experience is about underneath these buttons (maybe a call to action, e.g. a button, labelled ‘What can I do?’ underneath the main buttons could scroll them to an anchor point/div on the page explaining this?)
  • Consider making the context boxes for the 360 degree image larger
  • Make the brand mark at the top of the page a clickable link to the landing page
  • Implement the ability to choose where to go back to in the nature finder (drop down menu with a list of visited screens could work? User could select from one of the screens in the list?)
  • Replace the hamburger icon with the text ‘menu’ and improve the design so it fits the design language of the rest of the app and ensure it can be closed when an object outside of it is tapped
  • Consider using collapsible panels to contain things such as instructions
  • Consider adding captions to images
  • Make sure all elements on/in buttons are clickable
  • Ensure that the page stack is recalled correctly, e.g. use the GoBack method in JavaScript to navigate to the page at the top of the page stack (i.e. the previously visited page)

The testers also suggested some additional features that they’d like to see. Adding new features isn’t on the immediate agenda with this project, but are definitely worth considering later down the line.

  • ‘Gamify’ the nature finder – set challenges, collect points when certain things found etc- Add a live location to the map that shows you where you are
  • Add basic route planning capabilities with public transport- Add nearby facilities to the 360 degree experience or create a similar experience for finding nearby facilities
  • Ensure that the app would work on tourist boats as well as on the Angles Way

Next steps and conclusions

The app will hopefully be modified again following this feedback in time for the next round of testing on July 11th at Fairhaven Water Gardens in Norfolk.

Corrina and I felt that the day was successful and we gained a lot of insight into how usable the app was and also on how to conduct more user testing. This is the second time this summer that I’ve done user research and user testing at a large show and the second time that it has been a success, so in future I’d always recommend completing testing at these kind of big events. Stall holders are willing to talk to people and there are always plenty of people to ask – plus it means that you also get some nice days out! Both times I’ve been lucky with the weather with it being hot at the Crick Boat Show in May (where I did ethnographic user research for an app I’m planning on making in Year 3) and the weather was also warm at the Norfolk Show for this testing.

Big events such as the Norfolk Show provide unique opportunities to get people from all walks of life to test your apps or provide insight, for example the police were here and willing to test the app.

Corrina did an excellent job at user testing and commented on how this project and particularly this exercise has made her think more about creating functional designs as opposed to ones that just look aesthetically pleasing.

More roller-coasters!

Again, it’s not all about work, work, work… it’s also about roller-coasters! I finally got to visit Alton Towers on June 29th and ride some of the world’s finest roller-coasters. ‘Nemesis’ in particular has been on my ‘bucket list’ for over 10 years and it did not disappoint.

When you’re a university student it’s very easy to spend your whole summer holiday doing work, internships, finding jobs, doing university projects and so on – but this is (hopefully) the final summer holiday I’ll ever have in my life, so it has to be spent having fun, too!

But, being a student I can’t yet afford to ride roller-coasters all the time. 🙁

‘Nemesis’ is regarded as one of the finest roller-coasters in the world and is also a personal favourite of mine.