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The importance of being creative

April 20th, 2010

I have read a slew of great blog posts recently about being creative and finding inspiration. One article mentioned an artist who is trying to be creative everyday for one year.

This inspired me

Trying to be creative everyday sounds difficult until you really think about it. Am I not being creative when I build a website, write an email, doodle in my notebook or arrange the plants on my windowsill?

For the last few days I have attempted to be creative each day on something that is not related in any way to the projects that I am working on. Being creative for creative sake.


This is an extreme challenge and a difficult one to keep on top of every day. I’ve already missed a few days :( Maybe I’ll try to make something every other day? Once a week perhaps?

Creative professionals should try to be creative as often as possible. When working on a project the main bust of creativity comes at the start of a project with different routes, ideas and ways to solve the problem at hand. Once a project is underway the creative demand on the team drops.

The more you use your muscles the bigger, better and stronger they get. Creativity is no different, like a muscle it requires constant flexing and work to improve.

Lets sculpt those guns

We should all try to create something today. It doesn’t have to be a work of art. It doesn’t have to be in-depth. It just has to be something.

Stop Police!

Stop Police!

Me and the missus

me and the missus

Green Tea?

Green Tea?

I’ll be posting others as they are created here Flickr – Be Creative

Holidays are coming… Holidays are coming…

December 1st, 2009

Yes, the advert is now on TV. The one with the big Coca Cola trucks in the woods on a mystical journey to my town spreading christmas joy and wonder at every wheel spin whilst pumping out music which is clearly over the fair usage decibel levels for an evening but nothing else matters as I’m only getting a bottle of coke for christmas…

I love this advert. I must bow down to Coca Cola and the amazing marketing message they convey. I don’t think this advert was even aired when I was a child, so the sense of nostalgia and merriment I feel is completely false. This is nothing short of a miracle on Coca Cola’s part? Or perhaps subliminal images? Mass Christmas Hypnosis?

Anyway… tiss the season to be jolly it’s always the real thing!

Deck the halls with festive headers

As it’s tradition to erect trees inside the house at this time of year we are embracing the slightly newer tradition of adding a Christmas themed header to the site. It gets dark at 16:00 GMT so be sure to check back during the day to see it in all of it’s daytime glory.

Next year we WILL have a new website design

With all that has been happening in the twilight months of 2009 BigRedCircle has been very busy to say the least. Hopefully by proclaiming this on our blog it will make us knuckle down and actually get it done. We have been suffering from “That’s the next thing on our list” syndrome. It will be done.

We are still working hard and wishing every last one of you a very merry christmas and a fantastic new year.

Merry Christmas!

David McGeorge

Future of Web Apps London 2009 #FOWA

October 7th, 2009


Every year I go to at least one conference (if you don’t I would highly recommend it) often The Future of Web Apps or The Future of Web Design, other conferences are available for the web design industry.

Each year and I come back and  write up my experiences. This is both informative and therapeutic. At BigRedCircle we try and focus on useful content and usability in everything we do and outings to The Future Of Web Aps should be no different.  

So this time the experiences of one man and a conference have been summed up in the infographic below. (Click to Enlarge)


The Rules - how it was rated

Each speaker was given a score out of 20, given at the end of each talk which was split into the following categories: Inspirability, Engagability, Teachability and Wowability. What do you mean ‘they’re not real words’?!?

5 – Inspirability (How inspiring was the speaker)
5 – Engagability (How engaged was the audience with them)
5 – Teachability (Did they teach me anything new)
5 – Wowability (How much did it make me go WOW!)

I also added a bonus ‘self promotion’ score but as this is a web conference and the speakers are generally talking about themselves or their products I decided not add this to the overall score.

Panels or talks with more than two speakers were not added to the results.

Topics covered by the speakers

A Percentage rating was also given for the content of each speaker

% – Web apps (how much of the talk is actually about web apps)
% – Marketing (how much of the talk was about marketing)
% – Development (how much of the talk was about web development)
% – Business (how much of the talk was about business)

Although this information was taken the infographic only displays the % of webapp content. This made the graph a little easier to understand.

This is by no means a scientifically accurate representation, the scores were given by one person and are massively biased so enjoy. If you attended let me know if you agree.

Can you build an iPhone app in 4 days?

June 12th, 2009

So here is a task we have massively underestimated! Like Boris from GoldenEye I too thought “I was invincible!”.

Boris“What? We can do anything, coding is easy I’ve been doing it for over 10 years now… A new programming language sure, add it to the list… I have made apps for windows before this will be a breeze.”David McGeorge, BigRedCircle 2009

In retrospect Boris did die at the hands of Bond in a liquid nitrogen incident. For me, Bond was out of the picture but unfortunately we came to a similar end (almost).

Why couldn’t it be done?

OK, please point and laugh at me for being so naive. I really did expect to get on board with this quick project and bash out a fairly simple iPhone application.

Interface BuilderHalf expecting it to be a little more difficult than building a dashboard widget or a little flash application. Most of my preconceptions about the iPhone SDK were gone within the first few hours of working with it. An iPhone app has all the complexities and flexibility of a regular desktop app just with a smaller screen. Web developers take note!

As a company we could create a web app in 4 days if the idea was simple enough. This is because we already know the main things that are needed.

  • We have lots of experience coding in php
  • We are experts in JavaScript
  • We can write CSS with our eyes closed
  • Coda is the application we use to make websites. We know all the shortcut keys and menu items.

All of the above are needed before you can create a web app. With an iPhone app the requirements that you have to know are:

  • How to programme in Objective-C (Apple’s programming language which is different to most)
  • Xcode (Used to write and debug your code)
  • Interface Builder (to create the interface and link it to the code written in Xcode)
  • iPhone Simulator (to test your application)
  • Not to mention the multiple performance tools needed to see how your app performs

Because we are all web developers none of these skills were instantly at our fingertips and all required learning.

Research the platform not the app

XcodeAfter doing a little more research about developing for the iPhone I found a few quotes, this one really struck home “Our team of 12 created this app in less than a month!” wow less than a month… Our team of 1.5 had 4 days.

If you are a web designer it’s a long way from Dreamweaver, trust me!

After looking at the competition I think the idea of a cinema show-times app is a good one, that’s why we will still pursue it. The competition, be it more complex and feature rich than what we proposed is simply not good enough from a user experience point of view. So unless someone else comes out with a Super Simple Cinema Times app we are still in iPhone production mode.

Was it worth it?

Totally… We love to learn new things and I will be constantly working on this app until it’s finished (but not in the usual work time).

As much as I feel bad for not reaching these, now looking back, slightly ridiculous targets, we gave it a good shot. It’s back to the class room, download a few more tutorials and hit the code again.

Jolicloud review, a netbook in the sky

June 8th, 2009


Jolicloud is a new OS optimised for netbooks and working in the cloud.

What’s a netbook?

Have you seen those little laptops which are too small to do any real work on? Well they are great and actually boost productivity. I have been a big fan of netbooks for a long time. They are often most useful when used with applications that are online and in the cloud. I will apologise now for the overuse of internet buzzwords in the following paragraphs.

And what’s cloud computing?

Cloud computing is a style of computing that is scalable and uses resources provided as a service on the internet. An application that uses cloud computing often requires an internet connection and is accessed though a browser. Google Docs is a good example of an app that uses cloud computing.

So Jolicloud is…

A happy mass of water vapour high in the sky? No, it’s a great new operating system that has been designed especially for netbooks. No stripped down version of XP for them. Jolicloud has been described as “A social Operating system” and “An OS in the cloud” but I think of it as an OS that is “properly” optimised for netbooks.

The Review

get-started-iconJolicloud is in its alpha stage at the moment so there are one or two quirks. This is to be expected so I wont dwell on it too much. What I didn’t expect is that it would look as polished as it does. Small touches which I didn’t expect such as nice graphics on the volume control and brightness indicators. User interface/experience is always about the little things.

I installed it on a Samsung NC10 which has the default Windows XP that came with the netbook. In a matter of seconds, done! No issues at all. I am indeed quite Joli!

Jolicloud offers a way to test the OS without actually installing it on your machine. After the installation a click to “Get Started” and you are promptly thrown into the Jolicloud registration process. This is all very seamless.

Jolicloud Dashboard

The main feature of Jolicloud is the Jolicloud interface (this is not the entire operating system, more like an application within the OS). Inside it has all of the aspects of a social network and an app directory. All of the apps here are very much netbook orientated. VLC, Twitter, GMail, Google Docs, Facebook, etc. Mostly apps running in the cloud.

App Directory

App Directory - Listview

I had a little issue at first not being able to install any of the web style apps. This was fixed with a quick visit to the updates tab. All in the name of alpha!

The social aspect of the OS comes in the form of a follow-me-and-I’ll-follow-you style of interaction. Giving you a dashboard full of “This person is following that person” and “This person has installed Skype”. It’s a great way to discover new people and apps.

From a user experience point of view, managing your apps and social stream is very straight forward and intuitive. Once you have installed your apps and made your friend connections you then leave the nice Jolicloud interface. This is where the nice slick design seems to trail off.

Launch Apps

At this stage, for me, you lose the nice intuitive interface when you are launching your apps. It seems a little disjointed especially if your have never used Ubuntu before.

I would like to see a boot straight into the Jolicloud interface and within this have app launching capabilities. After seeing some of the early screenshots I was expecting this interface to be the entire OS. A small gripe I know but the experience seems to change so much once you are out of the Jolicloud interface.

So is it any good, really?

Yes, it really is. The issues I have are very small, maybe even a little bit picky. Like the fact that the ‘Home’ icon and the ‘Jolicloud’ icons are the same colour and that the menu bar is very cluttered with icons of different shapes and colours. These can and will be fixed in later versions (I hope). I’m trying to be a little more objective and look at the great stuff Jolicloud is actually providing.

Overall it’s a success and I’m looking forward to seeing what will come of this project in the future. It’s free but it’s looks expensive. It’s slick and it’s fast. It WILL be my netbook OS of choice when its released. Come on, you didn’t expected me to stay with windows XP, did you?

Usability in the Amazon

April 21st, 2009

Amazon's Usability is one of the biggest and probably the best known of all online e-commerce shops. It was launched way back in 1995. It sustained the first internet boom and survived its following bust. It played a big hand in promoting the benefits of online shopping and is still most peoples first online shopping experience. I know it was mine (Gleaming the Cube on VHS… what. Its awesome!)

I believe that, not all but the majority of Amazon’s success has been down to its user experience and usability. It was one of the first internet shops to take usability seriously, and to my knowledge, the first to do full usability testing on a website.

Lets see what they did right.

For a closer look check out the slideshow above. Click ‘Full Screen’ for a massive view.

1999 (party like its…)

1999This is the earliest screenshot I have and by this time things have moved along well for Amazon. No longer did they only sell books, now a whole manor of departments are listed. The first thing that stands out is that the logo is not in the standard top left corner. The left navigation is a waterfall of links and text. A little difficult to read I think.

2000 (Lets all meet up in the year…)

2000 Now everything has gone haywire and they have departments coming out of their ears. This is a good example of how top horizontal navigation does not grow well with a website. I suppose its still usable in this form but it looks terrible.

2001 a space odyssey

2001a The top navigation had to be tamed. A victim of their own expansion. Too many departments forced them to only show a few departments with a “see more stores” link. The left navigation has also been brought a little more inline. It doesn’t hurt the eyes anymore.

2001b The colour change could have been a seasonal change but the more important usability change is that the left navigation is no longer in alphabetical order. When you have a lot of departments alphabetising the navigation is often a good way to help the user. On the other hand, if 80% of your visitors use only a handful of departments you are helping them enormously by ordering departments by popularity.

2002 (No song or film has 2002 in the title)

2002 Why change a winning formula? More of the same apart from a slight tweak to the left navigation. It is now far more usable with just a touch of organisation and section heading. Users don’t read anything online (in most cases). If you can make content easy to skim users will love you for it.


2006a A drastic redesign is required now that Amazon has 32 stores to fit in. Why the logo was put inside a tab, I will never know. Don’t mess with the convention of a logo as the home link situated at the top of the page.

With the department overload, a new ‘favourite department’ functionality has been shoehorned in. This will do nothing for usability and I would be surprised if any user would take the time to customise the navigation of an online shop. Would you?

2006b Hurray the search is back. I have no idea why they would remove such an important usability and navigation aid from the framework of the website. Its not a win win situation because they also added an Amazon A9 search box. This searches the web but looks just like a regular internal site search. Even with the title ‘web search’ I still paused and had to think. (We all know that’s bad idea don’t we Steve Krug).


2007a The year of the product. No massive changes to usability but a style change to the way products are displayed. Less text gives it a cleaner look whilst the carrousel product spinner gets a lot more items on the page but doesn’t clutter (much). Amazon now has a list of 43 product categories to view. Just imagine if they had continued with their original tab layout.

2007b Not long after their previous radical change, along came another monumental realignment. The issues with hiding departments behind a “See all 43 Product Categories” tab must be apparent now. The traditional top navigation has been replaced by something that is very similar to the current version of the website. And finally… the logo is back in the most usable and conventional position.


2009 The current day Amazon. The top navigation is slowly creeping back but now its only used for account related information. A very successful usability technique is to keep similar functioning pages in the same area. This is a good example. The left navigation has now been compacted to its main headings. New web technologies and the widespread adoption of rollover drop down menus have made it possible for this approach. This left navigation is no longer a daunting expanse of links. Its now a little cleaner and more usable.

What’s next?

Looking at the massive differences from the 1999 screenshots to 2009 version, you can see that things change a lot. I wonder if amazon ever thought they would sell so many products in as many departments? Nobody can predict what their e-commerse shop will turn into and how many products will be sold. All you can be sure of is that every addition you make could require some change in usability. Usability is not something that’s undertaken once and its done. It needs to change and adapt with your shop. A usability evolution over time.

12 Days of Big Red Circles

December 13th, 2008

I love this time of year because without even looking you can find Big Red Circles everywhere. With this in mind I thought I would share with you my most festive array of Big Red Circles. Consider this a my present to you all (you’re welcome).

I bring to you a non-offensive, non-denominational holiday object of joy. Unfortunately no music or lyrics by minimalist composer Philip Glass.



John Lewis giant red circle

An amusingly shaped plant pot

A home made card from a friend

The office rug

Mannequins and Big Red Circles

Habitat turns a Big Red Circle into a seat

A French Big Red Circle (Paris)

My cousin found a Big Red Circle on the climbing frame

Big Round Red Circular Bin

Red circles in the streets

A light bulb under a plastic bin

3 red faced christmas elves at a weird christmas disco?

…and a partridge in a pear tree

Christmas time, mistletoe and javascript snow

December 7th, 2008

Up the ladder to the cold and dark loft. Blew the dust off the crusty old box which contained the Christmas tree and examined the decorations box for spiders.

And now!!!

The BigRedCircle website is ready for Santa. Although no mince pie or whiskey was left.

If you didn’t already know the header on the website changes at nigh time. As its winter and the nights are getting longer it now changes at 4 o’clock UK time. So you can see the snowy goodness in all of its nigh-time glory that little bit earlier. Thanks to Schillmania for the excellent random snow generator script.

Its December and its totally reasonable to wish everyone a Very Merry Christmas!

We have seen the future… of web apps

October 15th, 2008

The BigRedCircle has been out expanding the size of its circle, filling it with information about the future. Attending The Future of Web Apps Conference in London hosted by those lovely people over at Carsonified.

When the internet is exploding with blogs, tweets and photos of the conference I was left thinking what could I possibly add to the plethora of FOWA web apps based knowledge.

So, racking my brain for that unique angle that nobody else will think of. I had a moment of clarity. For your blogging pleasure I will give you my top 3 speakers of the conference. This will be a totally biased David McGeorge certified opinion ©. (No cashback or refunds available)

As Pat Sharp once said “Lets hit the charts!”

Down 2 places to number #3 is Kevin Rose with his talk on the future of news

An interesting insight into the way that Digg works and some pretty in-depth explanations of Digg’s new recommendation engine. This guy actually knows what he is talking about, he isn’t just the geek chic Diggnation star that we all know.

Staying put at number #2 is Blaine Cook & Joe Stump with Languages Don’t Scale

Blaine is the ex chief architect at twitter and Joe is the lead architect at Digg. This was an uber geekfeast marathon, each sentence more geekey than the last. Not sure what this says about me but I loved it. These two knew their subject and gave great presentations.

Holding on to that top spot is Francisco Tomalsky with his talk about Building Desktop Caliber Web Apps with Objective-J and Cappuccino. #1

You know when you hear someone who is genuinely enthused by what they do it makes everything seem so much better. If I didn’t know better I would say Fransisco jumps out of bed every day with a massive smile on his face because he is off to work at 280 North. My favourite talk of the conference.

I would also like to give honourable mention to Ben Hun from i can haz cheeze burger for his excellent talk on How to take your community to the next level.

And… one final big massive thanks to the guy on the AbilityNet stand who withstood my uncomfortable and overly extended barrage of accessibility questions. Unfortunatly I never got his card.

FOWA London 2008 – survived it and was inspired by it.

Google Chrome from a web design eye

September 5th, 2008

You have read comic of never-ending proportions, you have listened to the monster of hype that surrounds it, but one thing that is never really mentioned…

Is it any good for web designers… really?

Chrome is a new web browser from that little startup a few years ago called Google (stupid name it will never last, its not even a word!). First and foremost I will rant about the fact that their is no version for the mac. I have been testing it mostly through VMware Fusion so not a massive downer but I would prefer it to be native.

Two days ago I quit Safari and Firefox then made Chrome my browser of choice. All main development and browsing was done though this browser. Before I delve into the depths of why it helps or hinders the web design process I think I need to run through some of its features.

Features that are useful for web design

I spend far too much time with my hands on the keyboard to worry about the mouse. Shortcuts keys are productivity gold. In a very OS friendly way Google Chrome keeps to the conventions and goes with what you would expect. Unlike other big name companies, yes Adobe Photoshop on the Mac I am talking to you.

Ctrl+L – Gives focus to the address bar.
Ctrl+T – New tab, my most used shortcut.
Ctrl+U – View the page source.
Ctrl+F – Find.
Ctrl+Click a link – Opens the link in a new tab.
Alt+Click a link – Allows you to download the contents of the link.

The view source has code highlighting and line numbering. The links inside the source are clickable, again a great time saver.

Google Chrome has no status bar running along the bottom of the browser to take up precious web design real estate. When you rollover a link it pops up a small bar in this area. Its only visible when its needed. A few more pixels available for that unnecessarily large footer.

Dragging links from the page to make a new tab is all very cool but you can also do this with images. Great for testing and just that little bit fast than having to open the inspector every time.

Well that was a good list of features… I seem to be missing the main one. Oh yeah, because the browser is based on the Webkit rendering engine you get the super inspector. Simply right click on any element and get a barrage of helpful info from it like css/html. Its no Firebug but for a built in feature its a great addition.

A feature not so well publicised is the advanced memory page. Type ‘about:memory’ into the location bar and you get a better breakdown of the memory consumption plus it also shows you the memory of other browser too. A nice comparison but not massively useful for a web designer.

Incognito tab or porn mode

Yeah! I can now surf anonymously without any digital trail being left behind for any unsuspecting third party to see what kind of a deviant double life I lead. Apart from the added perk of my partner not discovering my hula hoop fetish the incognito tab is actually a fantastic tool for testing.

At BigRedCircle we build a lot of web apps as well and web sites. One thing that is needed often is to test these apps from the perspective of a new user. With the incognito tab open I can log into a web app using completely different user details and nothing is stored so my session in the regular tab is safe. This is a massive time saver and annoyance saver. No need to delete all of my browser cookies just for a quick test.

Not another browser to test in!

Great, another browser to take into consideration! The bain of a web designers existence. Chrome uses the Webkit rendering engine so if you have built a site and it works in Safari 3 then it will almost certainly look the same in Chrome. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it in Chrome but I don’t ever see a need to have some crazy css hack to target this browser.

Is Chrome my weapon of choice in this armoire of web weapons?

No! But it is good. The best kind of browser is a fast one and Chrome sure is fast. As far as the browsers go it ticks a lot of the boxes but will it replace Firefox as my own personal development browser of choice? If the Web Developer Tool Bar and Firebug were available for Chrome it would. Again Firefox has become better than the sum of its parts and takes the lead but only by a whisker.

Although Google keep telling us that this is just the first Beta, maybe “we ain’t seen nothing yet”.

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