Archive for the 'Design' Category

LL928 – Exploring the Galaxy at Christmas

So I’m home at my mum’s house for the first time in ages. And what’s Christmas for if not deciding at 11.30 at night after a few beers that you really should listen to your inner geek child and get your old Lego out, download the instructions off the internet using only your mobile as an (expensive) connection and see if you’ve still got… ‘the knack’.

Me: Mum where’s my Lego?
Mum: Upstairs in your sister’s old room.
Me: runs upstairs Where abouts?
Mum: In the wardrobe.
Me: Errr, No, that’s quite clearly her ‘Earth’ Lego, where’s mine?
Mum: I don’t know, I think you gave it away?
Me: Never! It must be up the loft.
Mum: (sigh) Be careful!

So there I was, ladders out the garage, banging around up the loft nearly putting my foot through the ceiling, and right in the corner.. there it was. found it! Ahhh, nothing on Earth sounds quite like the sound of Lego being tipped out of a box…

I had a couple of Lego sets, mainly space including the Star Fleet Voyager, and one of the Base ones, as well as some of the first castle Lego, but my pride and joy was LL928, aka the Galaxy Explorer . Widely regarded as the finest Space Lego set ever, a classic piece of Lego design; when sets still allowed for customisation and play. I think I got it for Christmas in either ’81 or ’82, and 24 years is along time, would I still have all the pieces, or had the ‘Great Hoover’ taken them forever? So, with pixellated plans downloaded (from here) I set off.

LL 928 Galaxy Explorer - 14
I get most of the super structure built before hitting a problem. I’ve lost or broken the hinge to the ramp at the back. I can find one bit, but not the smooth bit. Ah well, a bit of modification is needed. It was nice to see all the old stained pieces again, some broken or stained, some with teeth marks in, or play dough squashed into them.

LL 928 Galaxy Explorer - 10
By this time I’m missing some of the black and yellow wing markings as well as the top window piece an a grey rocket thruster thingy. I decide to go for the ‘battle damaged’ look, with heavy modification.

1am ish – Finished! Blimey that took longer than I thought! I’m sure I used to be able to build this in about 20 minutes?
LL 928 Galaxy Explorer - 7

Not too bad as it goes. I was missing a grey wing, which I replaced with a white one from the Star Fleet Voyaget set, and some other bits had to be grey not the original blue, but all told I think I used to look after my toys as a child rather well. Anyway, I went to bed content and happy.

More pics on Flickr for you real brickheads. It’s on eBay for £120 boxed in mint condition!. And here’s the T-Shirt.

i>Player and How to make a TV programme #1


Had a session entitled ‘Play’ yesterday headed by Tony Ageh and centred on the future of the i>Player. it was interesting in that a lot of the group thought tagging was going to be one of the best things about the project, but as Matt Locke pointed out, Flickr and don’t really care if you tag stuff.. we do. The other thing about the i>Player is that people believe it’s a bleeding edge technical project, it’s not really. It’s a series of products and services from other companies cleverly put together to achieve an objective. What it is I think is a (and I hate this phrase) ‘hearts and minds’ exercise convincing people, particularly BBC Execs and programme makers, that this is a good thing.

I’ve had some meetings with telly people recently (see below) and blimey the 30 or 60 minute programme format and 8pm slot is hard coded into their DNA. A lot of them just do not get the internet, and those that do just see it as another ‘channel’ to broadcast on or somewhere to host character biogs. They believe in broadcasting in the classical sense, they work in a highly top down ‘this is my vision’ way, they are extremely professional and driven. Qualities that were needed to get things made right? And they probably still are, but not all the time. I wonder who’s going to be the first cross genre multi-skilled Producer to make something 42:78 long that only goes out on the player, while TV gets say a 30min version. Think directors cuts or multiple endings. The leap from black & white to colour TV was obvious, programme makers and the public could literally see the benefit. I want to see the i>Player actually affect how programmes are made and structured, and that perhaps takes a new approach to content…

Which leads us on to this from the big boss at the end of one of his recent mailshots..
We need to preserve the level playing-field between BBC and independent producers, and to find ways to stimulate cross-media thinking across both production and commissioning to make sure that we keep pace with what our audiences expect of us. New Media and Technology will clearly also be vital to helping us do that.

I reckon that could have said ‘New Media PEOPLE will clearly be vital…’ Sounds like a challenge, so I’ve taken it up. Yup, you heard it here first, (unless you work near me) I’ve been working on a pitch for the past 6 months and am in the process of talking to commissioners about getting it made. Can’t say what it is exactly yet. But if it gets the go ahead it’s gonna be ace….

World Cup Mode Design Work and Feedback

Some of the design thinking behind the World Cup Mode

world cup mode OFF
We dropped the SPP as a container for the switch for a number of reasons. 1. If you want it off, you want it all off. 2. The semantic way readers scan the page meant the on/off mode had to go under the promo, other wise it would have read the promo, then the whole browse column then the SPP etc.
Match mode was going to have GEO-IP served broadband console links, but we couldn’t adapt Sport’s GEO-IP look up. Also people seem to have found the broadband content pretty well. A few more examples are on Flickr. One thing that caused is a bit of an issue was just how to we actually promote it on the homepage.
This is what I jokingly put together first, using a seldom seen ‘top’ promo

I liked the phrase ‘cupificate’ in a E4 tellybox kind of a way, anyway, then me and a writer went through a 100 versions of this
The trouble with this is, you’re not actually offering a choice, you’re offering ‘switch it on’ or… nothing. In the end we went with a traditional EE promo, and did a ‘credit squeeze’ and put a big fat showy jpeg in.

Feedback wise it’s been a great success too. Here’s a top line of some of the feedback we’ve received from the first weekend of ‘world cup mode’. Again thanks to Doug our (ex) feedback guru.

We received 234 emails of which 50% came on Friday with Saturday and Sunday getting roughly 25% each

People that said “Thank you” “Great Idea” “I am going to use this” etc about WCM
Total comments 141
People who like football/WCM ON 18 (12%)
People who dislike football/all sport/WCM OFF 68 (49%)
People who just said thanks 55 (39%)

3 people said this was a bad idea (one mentioned a hatred of football)
1 person asked why we assumed everybody liked football missing the point of why we are offering an ON/OFF switch

2 people supported the breaking news policy

10 people said they just dislike football
11 people left non-football comments

What else should we cover
22 people said we should also do this for Wimbledon
About 10 asked for cricket
14 asked us to provide a switch for TV, mostly on Saturday when out of 48 hours of BBC1/BBC2 TV coverage only 4 hours was football related

Other coverage
8 people wanted Spring Watch updates
15 people wanted Doctor Who
about 10 people said we should promote the latest BBC TV and Drama
7 Want more live music coverage
~5 (I lost count) culture/arts/books etc
~5 want alternative TV schedules during the games

Finally 1 person asked for 24/7 Archers


So the predominant feeling is ‘well done, I’ll have it off please’. Which is a positive negative, but a good thing. This information has been invaluable as it’s allowed us to throw out the schedule and put together editorial promotions based on what users have asked for. Today’s promo is a result of that. Ideally I’d like to have Mrs Jones of Cheadle asked for X in today’s promo.

Another success has been not having to do any world cup promotions like we’ve done in the past. This project has really allowed our small team to concentrate on what we do best, putting together distinct editorial messages from the best has to offer, and leave the juggernaut that is dealing with the World Cup to the sports gang, there’s over 20 of them working 24 hours a day here and in Germany, there’s four of us working 9-5. Hooray for working smarter!

Where next? Well, this would be great for Wimbledon or the cricket, but we can only have one mode in the space at one time, due to the horrendiously complex de-duping of the headlines against each mode. But it would be for non sport things too, Glastonbury springs to mind. Who knows….? Though if England get to the final, well then we’ll have to do something really special.

See the face you love light up.. With LG’s Choco phone.


So the other day I received a mail of Guy at Hill and Knowlton, a PR agency, asking would I like to be an early adopter for LG’s new Chocolate phone, a.k.a KG800. I’d get one to play with, and further more, an invite to the launch bash as which Goldfrapp were playing. Well never one to turn away a canapes, I graciously accepted.

More on that later, but first the phone. First off, the box is gorgeous, not quite as good as opening an iPod, but a load better than every other pulp cardboard egg box effort. Dunno about you but I’m a big box keeper, mainly for insurance and selling on purposes. So LG have got it right with the chocolate feel, think Black Magic stylee box but far nicer. As to whether the branded one’s are the same, I’m not sure. Orange love to add their own logos and stuff on boxes.

Phone wise the touch button thing is novel. It takes a second or two to get used to, as resting a finger on the button counts as pushing it, so sometimes you over shoot. However, why read my words when you can have Coleen McLoughlin, the official face of the handset. “the black and red theme really makes this phone stand out and the touch sensitive buttons make it beautiful. All in all, the LG Chocolate phone is perfect”.

Coleen have some blurb on it, as do Gizmondo. An interesting counter point to the general girly chocolate angle is Cnet’s review, They describe it thus “he hidden touchpad that glows like an Imperial lightsaber, smooth slide mechanism and minimalist overall look, make this one of our favourite phones this year” So is it the phone the Dark Lord of the Sith would use, or is it for Coleen and Chocoholics…? Well I think LG have struck it just right on the fence. It’s no pink Razr, but I’d say slightly more feminine; no warmer, than perhaps a black Razr, but it’s sure aiming for the same fashion style market. Mind you I think Green & Blacks have done a great deal to move chocolate away from sweet brown lard in heart shaped boxes to something cool and sexy for both genders.. And now I’m talking about the sexuality of mobile phones and chocolates… enough!

Talking of sexuality, back to Goldfrapp. Launch parties eh? Doncha just luv ’em. For a second I got misty eyed for the dot com days when everything had a launch party. Bags of cash must have been thrown at this one, as Alison et all and hiring Sketch (check out the lavs!) don’t come cheap I’ll wager. It deffo got my vote for crimes against canapes however. Exhibit 1: Scallops on little plastic spoons, but served resting on little piles of sand! Food and sand don’t mix unless you’re on holiday on a beach and it’s windy, and some of the more drunker and greedier guests had sent a few flying. Exhibit 2. Tuna carpaccio and… marsh-mellow! Well inventive yes, but not sure it came off that well, Still, after short LG speech The ‘Frapp took to the stage. They kicked off with a 5 or 6 song set that was mostly lifted off Supernature, though Strict Machine was there.. is it about a vibrator or Lab mice? Who knows? Mind you I think Alison and the horsey dancing girls could read the phone book and It’d be sexy.

So in short the (boys)KG800 / (girls)Chocolate phone is a style/fashion phone, and a very pretty/stylish/sexy one if you after that sort of thing. Will I give up my K750i for it? Nah, it’s got a better camera, which is a big thing for me.

More pics on my Flickr

The BBC homepage as you’ve never seen it before

jpg versions

(HTML versions, ep2, ep3, ep4, ep5)

Last Sunday saw the final Planet Earth Special homepage go live and last week was spent chewing over the data, some of which I can reveal now. (Some of this is lifted from a report produced by the BBC feedback guy, Doug, so kudos to him)

As you can see from the designs I wanted a massive HD style treatment, landmark series, three years in the making, incredible images, sort of feel. So I commandeered some of the banner space and ate into that rather than leave the banner there and push content down, plus it wouldn’t really work colourwise,

Here is some of the design work that led to the final design..

Polar Bear

As you can see, the prototype was before I had any assets, or even an idea of the running order of the show. It’s also using the Dalek template and a generic Earth image, and it’s light text on a dark background. The reason for this is a: the underlying picture is dark, so light text has to come into play, and b: when I’ve used white text on normal homepage treatments, they seem to do really well. In this example not all the text is coloured properly, but it gives you an idea.

As different assets came in the idea evolved. The transparency is how we’ve been laying the text box over images since the 2002 redesign, so it wasn’t that much of a leap to apply it to the entire page. The other good thing about this is that it allows portrait format images to be used. I particularly like the Angel Falls one, where the water cascades under the browse box, when the boxes went solid this image just dies. With anything like this there’s always a bun fight over who gets the best editorial images and which ones are the killer ones. At one point, the polar bear sequence was considered the money shot, indeed the Radio Times went with this image. Then the whole leopard thing came up, only 40 left in the wild.. and I just felt I had to go with that. The hippo was another option for the fresh water ep, but there’s lots of shots like that, and I thought the underwater cayman was more compelling.

Sadly the transparent effect would have required a complete recode of the page as we’d have done it with 24 bit semitransparent PNGs, so all the boxes had to be solid. Some of the PNG thinking made it into the final design though in the form of the BBC tiles laid over the image. This was more than just an artistic choice. The tiles had the H1 tag, so the page would work semantically… This is normally done by the logo, but I’d removed that.. So it was a case of finding a design solution to an HTMLy problem that wasn’t even on my radar. And I think we found a pretty elegant one, thanks in part to our coders who are really nice guys n gals.

So, the final page was all set to go. At the bottom of the page we placed a one-off link labelled “About today’s homepage design” which linked through  to a bespoke feedback form requesting feedback. This page featured a 1 to 5 on “How does this special design compare with the normal homepage?” and two text boxes labelled “Is there anything you would change about the special homepage?” and “Any other comments about the two designs?”. You can still see it here

Some of the following results are from the final 4 weeks. On the first week we simply had a comments box which did not gather the level of detail required, there was also a technical problem with the first week’s treatment going live.

 In total over the final 4 weeks we received 547 responses from the public.We also received 59 specific responses regarding the layout structure of the page, this was split with 43 commenting that they didn’t like the “large white space” and felt we should “scale to fit their monitor” at the right hand side of the page and 16 commenting that “they had to scroll down the page”.
It should be noted that this extra scrolling was actually a perceived difference and that there was very little difference in vertical positioning of news and sport compared with the normal homepage, particularly when a semi permanent panel is used as it was around the time of the first (and I think 2nd one). Also the ‘large white space is there everyday! As is always right justified, the darker colours just highlighted this fact.

On the first two of the special homepage we received a number of comments regarding the dark lines between boxes. A number of people perceived these as being black rather than part of the background image. This is because the 2nd image (mountains) and the third image ( the cayman) had darker lower areas, and it’s those that I extended down the page. There was no real way around this.. As we had to have light boxes on top, with dark text on top of that..  Perhaps the bars wouldn’t have been so strong had my original design been the one we used as the image underneath would still have been visable through the transparent content boxes. This effect was much less noticable for the orange desert one.
For the one on 26th March (and all the ones following) I asked the CSD to reduced the cell spacing to 3 pixels, this is reflected in the level of feedback. With hindsight I’d have done this for the first two as well. But it’s a good example of why this feeding back is so important, we tweaked the design after each session based on very specific live date coming in, plus it’s a lesson in listening to your audience.

Other stuff
2 people that felt we should have used moving images and 1 person who said they were pleased we didn’t use moving images
9 people explicitly mentioned we should keep the design for everyday use
8 people explicitly said we should only do this for special occasions
2 people said we should move away from a table layout (Amen!)
1 person mentioned we should make the boxes slightly transparent (This may have been an insider?)
1 person checked our w3 validation.

Out of 547 votes 62.5% of people said they either “Preferred the special homepage but would change some things” or “Preferred the special page” this compares to 29.5% who “Prefer the normal homepage” or “Prefer the normal homepage but would change some things” with 8% sitting on the fence.

Where next? Well we should deffo look in to a scaling CSS driven design for future use given the prevalence of high resolution displays. We’ve done this on the new TV page. And we should and will continue to ask our users to get involved and give us their thoughts… more on that soon!

The coolest currency in town…

Big post on my recent trip to Budapest to follow, but in the meantime…

Hungary isn’t in the Euro, so it was back to the Europe of yesteryear and funny money national currency plus a bit of exchange rate research on t’tinternet. But did you know Antarctica has it’s own currency? Look how cool that $100 bill is! That’s practically a GCSE maths paper – Image Gallery – Banknotes of Antarctica.

Needless to say the girl at the Bureau D’ Change at Gatwick hadn’t heard of it. And, um, there’s no where to spend it.

(UPDATE: to the comment below. Sadly they’re not legal tender.

Getty Images buy iStockphoto…

Like Google buying Blogger and Yahoo buying Flickr, Getty Images have just bought iStockphoto for $50 million, that’s a lot of money…

I like iStockphoto, I’ve used it on a couple of freelance jobs. At a dollar a pic, it’s very cheap, but does that make it the Aldi of images? Well, sort of… Some of the images lack uniqueness or sophistication, but that can be said about most royalty free stuff. They pick out the really good exclusive stuff for the homepage, but search for something like food and you get some pretty standard results… But hey, it’s costing 70p a go right? Who cares, it’s cheaper than clip art.

So, wonder what they’ll do with it? Keep it as a sideline, or try and integrate it into the rest of the business? I would have thought it would knacker their current RF set up though. Who’s going to pay $50 an image when you can get one for $1?

The press release says The acquisition demonstrates that Getty Images recognizes, supports and embraces the power of the culture of participation that is sweeping the Web and is continuing to implement its stated strategy of serving image buyers at all price points on all platforms and in all markets.

Like Bix Snyder said in Robocop… “I’d buy that for a dollar!”.

We’ll see.

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
January 2020
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