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How To Make Stuff

Partially to share my thoughts and partially to force myself to organise them, I thought I’d share my take on how to make stuff based on the experiences I’ve had so far in driving digital work.

Now this is not a new concept, but I find the 4 D’s of web design are a great basis for looking at the process involved in any digital based project and can be applied to anything from a website to a mobile app.

Discovery: Requirements & Flat Plan

Collaboration. I find the best first step is to get everyone involved in the project in some way, shape or form into a room with a whiteboard and a marker. Begin by ensuring everyone is on the same page around the core of the idea then start discussing and drawing. Start by wireframing out the core components of the idea with boxes and arrows linking them all together to show the process flow. From my experience just going through the process of doing this will help the idea to become clearer as to how it all fits together. As a thought process, consider, what directs peoples awareness towards the idea, how do they experience it, what do they do to engage with it, how do they share it and what closes the loop and keeps them coming back either to stores or the experience itself.

Design: Wireframes & Design

After the general concept has been discussed and the requirements of the project has been agreed upon, the next step is to work on wireframes and design concepts. Wireframes have evolved over time and are becoming more and more visual, even interactive. There are a number of different pieces of software out there now which help to create and visualize wireframes, making them far quicker and easier to put together. Not only that but they can be done in a number of different ways from prototypes in keynote to grey box layouts. There is a fine line between visual and functional and how functional you need to make them.

Once the wireframes are put together, it’s time to look at the design. I find it best to visually design just the key elements with a few concept options at first to get the direction approved. Once this step is complete, it is then quick to go through and design each element of the approved wireframe with the approved design.

Development: Content, Front & Back End

The first step here is asset collection, it’s crucial for the team developing the product to have all the assets they require as soon as possible to keep the process going. In terms of back end, look to leverage previous projects for functionality to speed up development time and reduce costs.

Coming back to the concept of collaboration again, digital projects really require cross disciplinary teams. I’ve found this to be a real team process and not only just in terms of the digital team with front and back end development. You’ll often need creative direction and content input from across the agency also from, TVP, Photo Studio and Mac Ops. It’s all about finding the most efficient place to put the specific task.

In terms of signing off the development, look towards an iteratitve process. It’s simply not possible to present a first development stage that is perfect, so present a first build, second build, taking feedback and improving as you move towards the deadline.

Delivery: Testing, Launch & Post Launch

Before the project goes live, if the time allows, I definitely recommend user testing. It’s always surprising to see what the users will comment on and how they experience the journey. It can often be vastly different to what you imagine and some of the functionality that may seem logical through development may be shown to not be quite so.

Unlike traditional channels, once a digital project is live, it isn’ t the last you’ll see of it. Often there will be teething issues to resolve and you’ll need to keep an eye on tracking & feedback against KPIs. As a side note, look to bake in tracking and analysis features and consider hosting environment and how best to keep it running fast.

As a thought point to end on, perhaps good enough is actually good enough in the digital world. This process is not an exact science and it takes trial and error to really learn and push the boundaries. Being fast and agile like a tech start up really helps to drive this sort of work and unlike other mediums it really lends itself to being iterative.



The Value Of Proximity

Technology is allowing people to become more and more connected via social and mobile networks. These connections span from people in their locality right through to people on the other side of the world. This growing number of connections can create alot of noise and we do start to see marginal disutility within the social network as the connections become less valuable to the person. Traditionally, we were only able to foster connections with those in close physical proximity but what role does proximity now play as the world becomes increasingly open.

As a lens of looking at this issue, I came across the principles of Gestalt psychology. This theory is based around the concept that the brain is holistic, parallel, and analogue, with self-organizing tendencies which affect how we perceive things around us. Proximity is one of the grouping principles that this theory is based on and it occurred to me that it may relate to how we subconsciously self-organise our networks. The principle states that, all other things being equal, we perceive stimuli that are close together as part of the same object, and stimuli that are far apart as two separate objects. This simplifies things in our mind and reduces the number of small stimuli we need to process. Whilst this theory does most typcially apply to visual perception, focusing on the idea of our brain having a tendency towards self-organizing, it may not be too much of a stretch to consider physical proximity to be a grouping factor we use in organising networks to reduce noise.

Therefore as a way of coping with the growing amount of connection noise we experience, we may start to see people subconsiously group those people that are in close physical proximity together. They then may devote more attention to this group, allowing them to cope with the excess of less valuable connections within the network. We would of course be more likely to interact with these people on a regular basis and the effect may be exacerbated by the fact that content is becoming more and more tailored to what we are more likely to engage with (take Facebooks top stories timeline for instance). This would mean that proximity plays a role in the value of a connection as the closer you are to the other person, the more likely this connection will be on your radar. I know I spend alot more time interacting with my friends that I see on a regular basis than any others. So what does this mean for the reality of how much more utility we gain as the world becomes more connected, do we get as much value from the long distance connections as we do the local ones?

It’s not a new concept that proximity fosters valuable relationships among people, especially when considered in the work environment. A recent research paper gave some credence to just how much of an impact it can actually have (see reference link below). An analysis of a decade of Harvard biomedical research collaborations, found that the closer the proximity of the offices of key research partners, the more influential their joint papers were likely to be. It mattered whether collaborators were walking down the same corridors through the office, or eating at the same cafes. It seemed to be that the presence of physical collaboration through closer proximity produced better work from the team, despite on the surface being able to communicate just as efficiently over long distance via technology. The continued importance of location may seem unnecessary with the advent of Skype, smart phones, and other technologies that make it effortless and inexpensive to collaborate with people around the world, but location still seems to matter. Being able to communicate across distances means we can do alot of different things more efficiently but face to face contact and proximity is still important as the noise from our connections increase and it simply can’t replace personal interaction.

Whilst technology is allowing us to become more connected and break down geographic barriers, I believe that proximity may still play a role in how we organise our networks (even if only subconsciously) and can be an indicator of the value that a connection provides.



Lee K, Brownstein JS, Mills RG, Kohane IS (2010) Does Collocation Inform the Impact of Collaboration? PLoS ONE 5(12): e14279. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014279


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