What a busy month July 2019 has been for me! I’ve had a lot of interesting things going on this month, some of them related to each other.

Storehouse in July 2019

Let’s get Storehouse out of the way first.

Storehouse Issue 19 Submissions

Submissions for Storehouse Issue 19 closed on July 8th 2019 with an incredible 63 pieces of work submitted to us. This is the second highest number of submissions ever and getting this many submissions for a summer issue is unheard of. By comparison, Issues 15 and 17 (the summer 2017 and summer 2018 issues respectively) both received under 40 submissions. Perhaps the success of Issue 18, which really helped to put Storehouse back into the student eye after the disappointing Issue 17, has motivated people to submit for the new issue.

Storehouse Issue 19 looks like it could be another very successful edition of Storehouse.

Storehouse Issue 19 Online Submission Tool Evaluation

The majority of submissions were received through the submission tool. Very few negative comments were left about the submission tool and from an administration point of view the submission tool helped a lot by:

  • Providing us with all of the relevant contact information for students so that we could easily contact them if we needed more information without having to ask NUA for their contact details.
  • Providing us with a ‘backup’ of our submissions. Submissions sent through the Online Submission Tool are stored on our web server and are then uploaded onto my OneDrive account where the Content Team edit the submissions directly in OneDrive. Occasionally things go wrong and although OneDrive has a backup system, we’ve found it helpful to have the original submissions on our web server too.
  • Once again, I’ve had not lots of emails containing submissions to read meaning that likelihood of me missing a submission is much reduced and I didn’t have to download submissions from WeTransfer links that expire.
  • Most importantly, we have had to ask far fewer students for things like descriptions, images and contact information, saving a lot of time!

However, as mentioned in previous posts it could be improved by forcing the user to type the description for their submission directly into the form (some submissions still didn’t contain a description, so I had to email a few students about that) and it would be good to be able to upload multiple files at once and more than 32MB.

Issue 19’s submission tool proved to be a success and with modifications Issue 20’s will be even better.

Storehouse Issue 19 Records

Storehouse Issue 19 is set to be a record-breaking edition of Storehouse in several ways. Some of which I can’t publish yet because there are secrets that we don’t want to be revealed until the magazine is released on September 24th 2019, but I can say that:

  • Storehouse Issue 19 will be longer than both Issue 17 and 18 (not quite the longest edition ever though – that goes to Issue 16 – which makes Issue 19 the second longest edition).
  • This issue will feature more student work/submissions than any other edition.
  • Issue 19 will feature submissions from the wider range of courses than any other edition!
  • Issue 19 features more submissions from Master’s Degree students at NUA than any other edition, showing that we are also a part of the wider student community at NUA.
  • There are going to be other new features that Storehouse Issue 19 introduces which will be revealed in September when the magazine launches!
  • We hope that the Storehouse Issue 19 launch party is the biggest Storehouse party to date! We have the ability to invite up to 150 guests – almost twice as many as we could invite to the Issue 18 launch party.

For Issue 19, Illustration will have the most submissions with 20% of all student submissions being from students on that course. Other popular courses are Graphic Design, Photography and Fine Art, all of which have more than 5 submissions. However, as you can see from the chart below, Storehouse 19 will feature submissions from a huge range of courses – only three undergraduate courses did not submit to Issue 19.

Submission share for Stoehouse Issue 19. Illustration has more submissions than any other course.

We sincerely hope that Storehouse Issue 19 is a great edition for the Fresher’s to come to! We have made Storehouse a big part of Fresher’s Week 2019 by including our launch event and party in the Fresher’s schedule and once again we will be at societies fair to talk about Storehouse and recruit new members.

Storehouse Issue 19 Production

As of July 28th 2019, the vast majority of submissions from students have been checked and are ready to be made. Sponsors have sent the assets to produce the adverts for the magazines and various other things have been booked and/or arranged. The magazine will be produced by the Editorial Team (with the possibility of some help from other team members) during August 2019, ready to be sent to print by September 2019.

Storehouse Issue 19 Style

Issue 18 was unique in that it was printed on thinner, silk paper rather than the matte paper that Issues 15, 16 and 17 had been printed on. The editorial style of Issue 18 was also much ‘punchier’ and ‘bolder’ than Issue 17 and previous which had been more reserved and featured a lot more white space.

The editorial team for Issue 19 has suggested a return of matte paper and to find a comfortable mix between the Issue 17 and 18 editorial styles.

The editorial design of Issues 15, 16 and 17 (left) compared to the updated layout of Issue 18 (right). Issue 18 features bolder text and much more colour and imagery.

Storehouse Issue 19 Website

The website will be updated and reconstructed over the course of August 2019 too.

Firstly, it has been decided that the present ‘legacy site’ will be retired and all articles from Issues 16 and 17 will be recreated to fit the style of the Issue 18 website style, which is also being used for Issue 19 with some changes. The ‘legacy site’ is essentially the website that existed between March 2018 and March 2019 – when the new site was launched in March 2019 the old site was archived and kept online as the ‘legacy site’. The removal of the old site makes Storehouse more unified.

Early diagrams of the proposed revamped navigation for Storehouse Online. The user selects an issue and then can see the articles from that issue, arranged by course.

The big difference between the Issue 18 and 19 site will be the navigation. Clicking on the menu button on a page will take you to a page where you can select which issue you want to browse articles from. Clicking that will then take you a list of articles in that issue to browse.

The Storehouse Issue 16 and 17 site (pictured bottom left) will be deprecated soon.

The Article Creator software will be updated to reflect these changes and will also be rewritten to mean that it is compatible with Storehouse Issue 20 and beyond. The user is now able to type in the issue number and it will generate the code and menus appropriate to that issue. This so what when I leave university next year my successor can us the software to continue creating Storehouse article pages without the need to code.

Storehouse beyond Issue 20

Issue 20? Issue 19 hasn’t even been released – let alone Issue 20!

I know, but as the head it is my responsibility to ensure that when the current heads of department in Storehouse leave next year that the society continues to run under new leadership. When I leave NUA in May 2020 and graduate in July 2020 I will have been part of Storehouse for nearly 3 years and will have been in a head of department or leadership role for over 2 years.

Having witnessed and been involved with the handovers between the Issue 16 and 17 team in May 2018 and the Issue 18 and 19 team in May 2019, I have decided that this process needs to be more effective. Too often students take on roles that they’re not sure about and the previous team does not give them enough insight or experience as to how to run a team.

For that reason, I am currently in the process of planning a ‘Mentorship Scheme’ which will run alongside Issue 20 production in late 2019 and early 2020 so that students who want to take on head roles can gain some experience in leading a team beforehand. This should hopefully leave to a smoother handover process and our successors will be informed and ready to create Issues 21 and 22.

In order for Storehouse to continue to be a successful publication and society, it needs effective leadership.

Dissertation, accessible websites, a new framework and client websites

Since writing the previous post about my dissertation, where I tested out current fashion sites on a mobile device using Microsoft Narrator, I have been working to create a prototype that aims to be as screen reader-friendly as possible.

Doing this has combined several tasks together, namely:

  • I’ve created a high-fidelity prototype that I can use to construct my dissertation piece.
  • I’ve written a brand new framework in order to do this.
  • I’ve created a new website for a client (Bidwell Joinery) who contacted me in June 2019 asking me to update the site that I made for them years ago.

Dragonbase II

Dragonbase is the name of my HTML, CSS and JavaScript framework. It was created over the course of 2018 by taking the best bits of the original Storehouse website and my Nellie’s Nursery website prototype (my Year 1 final piece) and putting these together to make one framework. Notable websites I made that use Dragonbase are the NB Aurora website, my portfolio website and various university projects in 2018. On the whole, the original version of Dragonbase was successful and enabled me to create nice-looking websites quite quickly because all of my projects shared a common framework.

I found in April and May when I was reconstructing my portfolio site (read here and here) that Dragonbase has become so complex and so many bits have been added onto it that it’s now getting hard to maintain and work on, so recently I started from scratch and created Dragonbase II which is a complete top-to-bottom rewrite of the original framework.

The main benefits are:

  • There’s so much less code! Thanks to using responsive measurements such as VH and VW, there’s under 20 lines of media queries to make the framework responsive!
  • It’s written on newer CSS technology such as Flexbox and uses CSS to do things like scroll snap and smooth scrolling rather than JavaScript.
  • There is less reliance on jQuery for JavaScript scripts – a jQuery-free version of Dragonbase II can be produced quite easily.
  • Through the use of external libraries such as AOS and OwlCarouel, additional functionality is available.
  • Images tend to be SVG images since these:
    • Have smaller file sizes than image files.
    • Can be edited by modifying the SVG image’s code as opposed to recreating the file.
    • Can be edited using CSS and JavaScript.
    • Scale to any size or screen since they are vectors – not bitmaps.
  • Dragonbase II sites have been written with accessibility much more in mind – both from a copy-writing and coding perspective. Dragonbase II sites use ARIA HTML elements which I researched and tested in April 2019.
Dragonbase II builds on the success of the original version and also includes lots of optimisations.

Bidwell Joinery’s new website and my dissertation

As mentioned in my post about late June 2019’s updates, Bidwell Joinery contacted me and asked me to update the Adobe Muse-created website that I made for them in 2014 and last updated in 2017. They are a small business and do not require a large site, so I thought that their site could be a great one to build Dragonbase II for and also use as a ‘precursor’ prototype for my dissertation prototype, which will of course be a fashion e-commerce website optimised for mobile use and use by the blind. It was also a great opportunity to see if I could make an attractive-looking screen reader-friendly website.

Phil Bidwell (pictured) has been a client of mine since 2013 and has recently asked me to update his website.

The site that will hopefully launch for them in August 2019 (some 5 years after their current site was released) is a single page website, broken down into several sections which the user can navigate to using a menu bar that is always fixed at the top of the page. There are carousels and images arranged in grids through the use of Flexbox which show the work that Bidwell Joinery can do.

Testing the Bidwell Joinery prototype site with Microsoft Narrator

Much like I have tested various fashion e-commerce sites on my old Nokia Lumia 930 using Microsoft Narrator to assess a) how well these sites run on older devices and b) how well they work with screen readers, I tested the Bidwell Joinery site with it.

Theoretically, the result should have been almost perfect because this site was built from the ground up to be accessible and used with a screen reader. See how it fared below!

To make this site accessible, I had:

  • Placed the header and footer in their respective <header> and <footer> tags – some screen readers take advantage of this and tell the user which bit of the page they’re looking at (watch the video above – Narrator does this).
  • Ensured that all links have alt text for the links that describe the page they’ll go to if the user were to click on them.
  • Ensured that images have descriptive alt text – including those in carousels.
  • Used sections to separate blocks of content to make navigating by landmarks faster.
  • Used correct heading levels for titles – never using a heading level for body copy.
  • Used semantic HTML such as <strong> for bold text instead of <b> which is sometimes used and <em> for italic text instead of <i> which is nearly always used.

That’s about all I had done. And on the whole I’m really pleased with how it worked! With just these HTML elements, I was able to make a site that on the whole worked a lot better with a screen reader than a lot of the fashion e-commerce sites that I tested last month!

However, to improve it I’m going to do the following:

  • Place carousels within their own sections so that theoretically if the user is navigating the site using landmarks and containers they can skip the carousels altogether. At the moment the screen reader will go through every image in the carousel before it goes onto the next item on the page.
  • See if there is some way to add alt text to sections – it would be great if the screen reader could read the name of the section out so that the user could decide if they wanted to have that section of information read to them or not.

It may take a while to get carousels and slideshows working well with screen readers. The amount of buttons they have and the nature of how they work means that making them compatible with screen readers is difficult. A better option is to try not to use them and instead consider ways of displaying images, such as being more selective over images used and displaying them in grids that are always visible. Animations can be added to add some nice interaction effects that can end up making these better than carousels.

Turning this prototype into my dissertation piece

This prototype provides a good base for my dissertation piece. It’s not going to be as easy as removing the carpentry bits and replacing them with fashion images and text – other bits will have to be added. I still need to finalise what exactly I want the prototype to be and how I want it to work, but the dissertation prototype is going to need to have multiple pages and accessible web forms too to simulate purchasing an item.

I should express that the prototype may not be very ‘technical’ – there is a good chance that there will be one set user journey to follow. One of the reasons for this is to make it easier and quicker for me to make and the other is that by sending all of the users down the same user journey/test route I can evaluate just how successful each test was. It also makes the tests easier to write.

Branding for my dissertation

A little while ago I debated the benefits and disadvantages of working with a fashion student to create an identity for my site and so that I could use some of their work as example products.

Input from a fashion student at university could be helpful. Pictured: BA Fashion Design work on display in the Gunton’s Atrium at NUA, ready for the 2018 BA Degree Show (pictured June 13th 2018).

I’ve heard from my tutor and it is possible to do this – I may get in touch with a fashion student very soon and ask if anybody is interested in working with me. However, much like the prototype likely won’t be a JavaScript masterpiece where you can add items to baskets and access accounts and that kind of thing, it must be remembered that the brand and identity will always play second fiddle to the compatibility with screen reader software.

From the fashion student, I would likely ask for:

  • The opportunity to photograph their work for my website.
  • Information about their work so that product descriptions seem believable.

And maybe ask for suggestions about branding, logos and colours.

In return, I’d probably have to pay them for their time and insight or offer to convert my dissertation piece into an online portfolio for them to showcase their work on.

It’s something I’m thinking about, but is it not yet at the top of my agenda.

Next steps for the dissertation

The next steps are to:

  • Consider exactly what I find out and design usability tests to try and prove a point or demonstrate how something can be achieved.
  • Begin to create the prototype.
  • Maybe begin to start writing the opening to the dissertation piece itself by talking about the problem with blind users using the web in general.
  • Consider the idea of adding a brand to the prototype.

Work experience and internships in summer 2019

This summer has been about getting involved in all sorts of things – everything from Storehouse to creating websites for clients to testing accessibility of websites and now several other things too.

BreckWorld internship with NUA

I still haven’t heard much about progression with this. I applied over two months ago now and it supposed to begin on June 24th, but there are still financial considerations impacting on this internship going ahead at all. For the time being I am therefore exploring other work experience opportunities for summer 2019.

Things have not moved as quickly as the Ideas Factory would have liked for the internship opportunity with BreckWorld.

Neontribe: Untangled summer coding competition and potential accessibility review

I attended a networking event in Norwich called ‘UX Therapy’ on July 3rd 2019 where I caught up with Neontribe CEO Harry Harold who was very interested to hear about my dissertation project (as have a lot of professionals at recent networking events, actually) who recommended that I contact him about mentoring at the Untangled summer coding competition which Neontribe hold each year and also to see if Neontribe could use my accessibility interest to evaluate their new site.

Untangled

This is Neontribe’s summer coding competition, held over the summer for teenagers in order to inspire them into coding and technology – a little like the reasons I ran the Digital Leader team at Wymondham High for and also like to volunteer at the Step Into Tech club where I can.

This year Neontribe will be teaching creative coding using the P5 JavaScript library to the students to introduce them to web animations.

I found it was easier to learn how to use P5 in Ubuntu than Windows, mainly because it’s easier to install the dependencies on Linux-based OSes with BASH terminals.

I’ve spent some time lately preparing myself by reading and completing the exercises that Neontribe have sent to me to do. I found it easiest to do in Ubuntu because it has a BASH terminal that makes installing some of the dependencies needed to run P5.js easier – much like how I found running the scripts to produce sitemap visualisations much easier on Ubuntu than Windows.

Being interested in education and having worked with students a lot of times, I am really looking forward to this! It’s also great to get more voluntary experience on my CV. I also mentioned to Harry that I had attended the sessions that Rupert and Ed from Neontribe had run about React JS and GraphQL at the end of May and had enjoyed them. Talking to Ed since, he said he’s enjoyed reading all about my Broads Authority project that I completed as part of BSc2b.

Possible accessibility review on their website

Neontribe’s new site was designed by Holly Stringer, who has worked for the company for around a year. I helped Holly with her final year project by assisting her to create usability tests and run them on a site she had designed for a lady who wanted to build a site to make finding hospital information easier.

Harry said it would be good for me to go and see him and the team to discuss web accessibility. I’m not sure exactly what he has in mind, but I am going to see him on Thursday August 1st to discuss Untangled and this prospect further.

Neontribe are located close to the Octagon Church in Norwich, pictured.

Foster’s Solicitors

I’ve been in contact with them recently about doing some interaction design work for them. I’m hoping to get a meeting with them soon to give some consultancy and see what they have in mind. This could be a very different and exciting opportunity.

Foster’s Solicitors have been on my radar.

It’s not all about work!

Indeed not, July 2019 was filled with lots of fun too. I went on holiday to the Isle of Wight at the beginning of July and spent some time in the lovely heat chilling in an outdoor pool and not worrying about anything (bliss!) I went to the Royal International Air Tattoo, my favourite airshow, for the 12th time and I even went to Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome to drive a Lamborghini Gallardo, an Aston Martin V8 Vantage and a Ferrari California around the sprint circuit! Let’s just say that I don’t think I’ll get to drive this quickly ever again in my life!

The Isle of Wight was a lovely retreat. It was the first time I had visited in 6 years and I am pleased to report that a lot of damage caused by coastal erosion when I last visited appears to have been repaired.
Swiss F/A-18 Hornet giving a great display at RIAT 2019, my favourite airshow.
Me looking very happy as I take a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 around a corner at speed (and in the rain!)

Photography with the Nikon 300mm f/4 and Nikon TC-14E III 1.4x teleconverter

July 2019 has been one of the best months of all time for my photography. On the Isle of Wight I photographed a range of subjects including stunning landscapes and butterflies and later I hired Nikon’s new 300mm f/4 prime lens and TC-14E III 1.4x telenconverter for RIAT 2019, but also ended up using it at several other locations.

Over the course of the past year I’ve hired several high-end ‘superzoom’ lenses to photography various aviation events, but this setup by far was my favourite. The Nikon 300mm f/4 is small, exceptionally sharp and also autofocuses very quickly. Nikon’s new third generation 1.4x teleconverter extends the focal length of this 300mm lens to 440mm and unlike older teleconverters, does not degrade the image quality or focusing speed in the process. I found it ideal for photographing aircraft, animals and even for capturing the ‘fine details’ in abbeys and cathedrals for long periods of time because it’s so light that it doesn’t give you arm ache.

The Nikon 300mm f/4 and TC-14E III on my D500 was one of the best camera setups I’ve ever used.

It really is an amazing setup, albeit it an extremely expensive one – this lens and teleconverter would cost you around £2,000 to purchase new – twice the price of the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 which I hired for RIAT 2018.

It’s been two years since I purchased my Nikon D500 and it was nice to mark this by returning to the Isle of Wight which is where I originally decided that I’d like to pursue photography more back in 2011. I don’t often talk about photography much on this blog, but July 2019 has been such a great month for it that I thought I’d mention it and share a few of my favourite photos from the month.

A US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle lands at RAF Lakenheath (July 17th 2019).
F-15E Strike Eagle at RAF Lakenheath (July 17th 2019).
Tiger profile at Banham Zoo (July 17th 2019).
Snow Leopard portrait (July 17th 2019).
Cheetah at Banham Zoo (July 17th 2019).
Even with a teleconverter, the 300mm f/4 focuses so fast that when paired with the Nikon D500’s impressive autofocus system it is able to capture fast-moving subjects, such as this Great Grey Owl, with no difficulties at all.
AlphaJets of the French display team, Patroulle de France, at RIAT 2019.
Ukrainian Air Foce Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker takeoff at RIAT 2019.
British Army Air Corp Apache at RIAT 2019.
Jesus’ Crucifixion detail at Wymondham Abbey (July 23rd 2019).
Detail at Wymondham Abbey (July 23rd 2019).