Jan 30, 2014

DPM:UK Conference

Some of MadeByPi’s project managers were unwisely released upon the world for a day to attend the first Digital Project Manager Conference in Manchester (@DMPUK14).

It was a fantastic day of inspiring talks with a wealth of speakers from different disciplines and a rare opportunity to get together with other like-minded PMs to discuss ideas and processes with a beer (or as I attempted, two-teabag lemon and green tea. Don't try it, it's disgusting) in hand.

Agile was certainly the theme of the day with a number of the speakers featuring or detailing benefits of the methodology. Rob Borley of Dootrix advocated including the client in the project team, while Mark Coster of ThoughtWorks evangelised about following Agile so closely that you can become truly agile (small a).

As with most MadeByPi blog posts, lunch needs a mention. It was a firm favourite in the day’s proceedings as the number of #DPMUK14 tweets about the food will testify to. On the menu was a steak & ale pie or fish & chips. And it was really nice, thanks.

Kicking off the day was my personal favourite speaker, Brett Harned of Happy Cog, who was passionate that Project Managers are not robots. We might be good at numbers and Excel, but we have hearts too! His ‘Adventures in Project Management’ recalled twenty-five key tips and processes that were totally tangible and practical to take away and adopt in a real project.

Brett Harned: be a jerk (when you have to be)

Brett Harned: be a jerk (when you have to be)

Lots of food for thought to take away, digest, adopt and experiment with. We came away with a strong impression that while the digital landscape continues to change there is more room than ever for us as PMs to adapt processes for what works best for us and our teams…now let’s get back to work!

Oct 7, 2013


For the fourth year running, our ridiculously dedicated development team headed down to Manchester on a lovely Saturday to sit and listen to all the offerings from the smart people at PHPNW. Not to be confused with the various creative conferences that we attend, this involved spending our personal free time to better our work skills, not just a three day bunk off during the working week to talk about pictures and gradients.

Now, I know what most people are thinking, Manchester isn't great, and a conference in Manchester is even worse. This is true, but one of the perks of the conference being in Manchester was that we got to catch the train down and I love trains. If it wasn't for having to stand up for half the journey on the way back, it would have probably been my favourite part of the day.

Well being honest, it probably still was.

After arriving and getting our name badges and bags sorted out, we were offered a fine selection of event t-shirts, which Gary had no hesitation in swooping up (Although failed to wear to work today, do you want to show some dedication please?) and because of our rather timely arrival, it was straight into the keynote.

After the keynote, and my overall favourite talk of the day on why we should be using vagrant by Jeremy Quinton, we were greeted with the morning refreshments.

Now I don't consider myself to be a biscuit connoisseur or anything, but I must say the selection was very pleasing, both aesthetically and on the palate. There was every shape of shortbread known to man, squares, circles, rectangles, pizza sliced ones. I was left somewhat surprised when I found out that shortbread wasn't one of the key sponsors, they had pretty much the entire biscuit trays monopolised.

The drinks were of good quality, free coffee and tea was the name of the game, disappointingly no water bottles like last year for those that dont need caffeine to wake up in the morning but from what I understand, the coffee was "better than the stuff I drink at work", so at least some of us were pleased.

On the topic of food and drink, the lunch was a marked improvement from last year, with a wide selection of offerings including our personal favourite, the Beef Bourguignon with roast potatoes and salad. We did, rather unfortunately, make one crucial mistake during the lunch break though. In our eagerness to get to the bar, we missed the chocolate cake dessert, which affected me more than I'd care to admit, but I managed to hold it together for the talks after lunch.

After the afternoon talks (including a brave live debugging session by Derick Rethans) came the rather exciting prize giving ceremony. As a bit of a veteran and experienced receiver of not one, but zero prizes over the last four years, I was unphased by the excitement. Nathan however was left on tenter hooks not once, but twice when his name (Nathan) was read out with a rather large pause before the surname. Unfortunately he missed out on both occasions, much to his dismay.

Fear not though, as one underlooked aspect of the day was the amount of free stuff that gets offered out in the main hall. One of my personal highlights of the day was the acquisition of a little panda stress ball (pictured below). It has already seen some wear and tear but I'm confident it will become a permanent fixture on my desk as long it doesn't fall apart.


Gary also managed to get some serious swag, including a toy duck (we arent sure what it actually does, it might just be a toy duck) and the quintessential conference gift, a USB stick. Mind blowing.

If that wasnt enough excitement for one day, we also found out this morning that we feature on the conference about page (shot taken last year):


How about that?

Oct 2, 2013

iOS 7 – For or War?

Aside from the really embarrassing "photo shoot" that we did to accompany this blog post, Gemma and I have been busy battling out on the pros and cons of Apple's latest operating system offering for the past week or so.


Gemma Barnes, UX Designer at MadeByPi argues her case in favour of iOS 7:

Having had iOS 7 installed on my phone for just over a week, my first impressions of it are very good. In fact, in my opinion, it makes iOS 6 look dated and overly complicated already. As with all major software updates I gather there have been a few teething problems, and I was slightly reluctant to install the new OS so soon after launch (Apple don’t have a great track record of getting it right first time), but having done so now I don’t regret it.

The interface is striking. The spectrum of bold colours used throughout seems to have had a Marmite effect on users, but personally I like the bright, fun and optimistic approach. Similarly the typography used has caused a bit of a stir, with some people arguing that it’s lost some of its legibility, however I think the light sans serif typeface looks modern and clean (you can also make it bold in the settings if you require it).

The majority of the app logos have undergone a significant redesign to fit in with the new look and feel, and most are an improvement. I will concede that some look a little odd or unfinished and it will take time for third party apps to catch up, but I think the general direction is right. Each element looks sharper, simpler and less cluttered, which is maybe a step towards a UI that is more intuitive for touch devices. And as we become more experienced we have less reliance on the old skeuomorphism style of interaction.

The things that have impressed me most about iOS 7 though are the improvements in usability, and the introduction of (perhaps long overdue) controls. Most features have seen little improvements here and there, such as multitasking, where you can now see a preview of the screen as you switch between apps, the ability to scroll between more open windows in Safari, removing the limit in grouped app categories on the homescreen, even the signal bar has been enhanced.

But one of my favourite updates is the control centre, which is a lovely time saving feature that allows you to access frequently used settings from a consistent entry point via a transparent bar that sits nicely over any screen (OK, maybe except some games).

I’m not saying iOS 7 is perfect; there have been a couple of things that have baffled me, but for the sake of winning this argument I don’t think its the time or place to mentioned them here! Embrace the change.


Imogen Lassen, Account Manager at MadeByPi argues the case against iOS 7:

The hotly anticipated iOS 7 has now been with us for a week and while many users are coming round to the updated design and UX, I still have not come round to the update. And no, it’s not because I don’t like change.

IOS 7, along with the release of the iPhone 5 C, has for many marked an end to the elitist Apple era, welcoming in its place a rounded, colourful future that pits itself much more closely to the competition. The simplified, flat design feels distinctly ‘android’, moving away from Apple’s characteristic slick design. Colourful icons, which on first glance might be mistaken for the latest Fun-2-Learn computer from Fisher-Price, brighten the interface considerably. Everything looks distinctly rounded, friendly and simple.

I won’t go into the finer detail of attacking each app icon individually (that kind of review is hilarious though) but it does feel like the sharpness, and the edge of its design – much of what appealed to designers and hipsters for so long – has been lost.

But I don’t hate it completely. My favourite new feature is the waterproof qualities that iOS7 bestows on your iPhone. Oh actually, that was just a brilliant prank played out on Twitter, that actually resulted in users dunking their phones in water, only to find that, Doh! the software update did not include a magical liquid shield after all.

On reflection, it is probably more fair to say that it’s not that I don’t like iOS 7, it is just that I liked iOS 6 a lot more. That and the fact that I don’t like change, of course.


Aug 12, 2013

Hello to Adam!

Following in the steps of many a happy placement student before him, Adam Talbot has recently joined the team on a year’s placement away from Uni.

Adam has already made a great impression on the team as Mr Chatty and even accepted a hug from an Account Manager *gasp*.

Adam will be very busy as the latest addition to the dev team, working as a PHP developer across a number of clients.

Andy Burgin, Head of Systems at MadeByPi (and someone who would never accept a hug from an Account Manager) said “this is a great opportunity for both Adam and MadeByPi.  We already work with a number of local universities and this is another opportunity to strengthen our links between the industry and academia.

Want to join our team? Find out more about current opportunities here.

Feb 14, 2013

Designing User Experiences for Children

A number of our team attended a NUX event on Monday night; the talk, presented by Leanne Dougan Lead UX Designer at the BBC focussed on the challenges faced and insights found during the redesign of the CBeebies site.

As the most popular product in the BBC portfolio, Dougan communicated the huge pressure felt as her team approached the CBeebies site redesign.

The lessons that Dougan recalled were insightful and would make an excellent manual for how to design for children.  As we are working on a CBBC project at present, many of Dougan’s experiences tallied with our own – especially the feedback she presented from user testing sessions.

In line with our own findings, she suggested that even those children, who are able to read, simply won’t.  One example of AV testing showed a five year old boy identify ‘Read and Listen’ from the navigation as “microwave and earmuffs” based on his interpretation of the image accompanying the text.

Cbeebies bugs in action

While some findings show that as adults we rely on learnt behaviour, such as that children won’t scroll and that they just would not think to go back in the browser, other insights highlight the prevalence of intuition – even in very young children.

This video with a very cute baby is a great example of intuitive behaviour, even if the clear favour of digital over print is a little scary.

MadeByPi have a strong history of designing products for children, having worked with Disney and BBC children’s products for many years over a number of products.

Read more about our work designing interactive experiences for kids here and more about our work with the BBC here 

Jan 7, 2013

Reasons to be Creative

By Nathan Parks

A little longer after the event than I had planned to write this post but it was the Reasons to be Creative festival in September and I wanted to share a few of the things that inspired us whilst we were there in Brighton!

Being my first attendance of the 'Flash on the Beach' conference I can only comment on what I know are the reasons they decided to rebrand and shift the focus and themes of the talks this year. There's no denying that HTML5, CSS3 along with other factors (Apple notwithstanding!) have helped cause a decline in the use of Flash on the web and whilst the conference has been diversifying over the last few years it often retained a bias towards Flash. Now, along with the refresh the conference has become an exceptional show of creative talent, across many disciplines talking about what inspires them, how they work and what they have done, making it accessible to anybody working within the creative industry, coders, designers and everything in between.

A general theme that ran throughout the talks that I made a point of seeing was experimentation and gaining inspiration from unlikely places. Below are some of the standout talks and some of the things they showed us.


Day One

Kevin Warwick, Professor of Cybernetics at Reading University

The conference kicked off with a mind-blowing talk from Kevin Warwick, hailed as the world's first cyborg. He spoke about sensory substitution and how he'd been experimenting with neural interfaces and implants that allowed him to control a wheelchair and an artificial hand using this interface. Similar implants also allowed him to communicate (albeit very basically) with his wife over great distances via the internet and interfaces that plugged directly into his and his wife's nervous system. More info at http://www.kevinwarwick.com

'6 weeks and you can have a new sense!'

He also showed a demonstration of one of his ongoing projects where a 'cultured neural network' (brain neurons taken from a rat embryo and grown) were 'plugged into' a robot which was trained to move and avoid obstacles which can be viewed here - http://bit.ly/QTSvEC

The talks from hereon in were a little more conventional, the next standout talk was by Memo Akten, a visual artist who has worked on some phenomenal

projects. Memo's philosophy centred around self-initiated projects and winning client work off the back of those then effectively using the paid work as R&D time to deliver what the client wants but all the while using it to learn something new. Memo showed a couple of projects including experiments with harmonics and motion:


He then showed us a project that started out as a self initiated collaboration studying the body movements of athletes and visualising some of the unseen physics between the body, the movements and the surroundings. The visualisations were posted as an installation in the National Media Museum.


Memo's work then heavily influenced work by Audiomotion studios for the Cadbury's Olympics sponsorship video stings:

The first day closed with a fantastic talk from Brosmind, two brothers from Spain who told a great story of how they played together as children drawing and creating characters and shooting videos through to going their separate ways at university before partnering back up after university to form Brosmind, an award winning studio based in Barcelona specialising in illustration. Producing Cannes Lion award winning work for the likes of Nike, Virgin, Honda and Land Rover the brother's have developed a unique style of working together being able to illustrate in identical styles allowing them to work on a single installation/commission at the same time and producing a consistent piece of artwork.

http://www.brosmind.com/?p=797 (Virgin Active)

Massive piece for Wallpaper that covered an entire corridor


Virgin Active


Similar to Memo Akten, the brothers spend as much time as they can on self initiated projects like Brosmind Army


Brosmind RV which was a vehicle they made themselves of picture frames which they then illustrated directly onto the glass.


Day Two

Amongst day two's speakers were Sara Blake, a hugely talented illustrator  fromNew Yorkwho spoke about 'The art of fucking up'. Sara is employed full time at IBM as a web designer but when she's not there she admitted to working a further 40 hours per week on her own freelance client work and self-initiated projects working for the likes of Nike and Ford. A big focus of Sara's was the feeling of vulnerability and the importance of making mistakes whilst you work, recognising that you've made a mistake and adapting quickly to the situation taking as much learning from the process as possible and moving on, a process she admitted is easier said than done which I think most creatives will agree with. Her focus then shifted from talking about making mistakes to collaboration and how great things can come from unlikely collaborations. Whilst talking about collaboration she showed the Run Your Jewels website that allows artists to post a piece of artwork and a community of artists can then take that artwork, remix it and re-post it back up for voting providing a fun (and quite passive) way to collaborate with many people at a time.



Day two closed with a fascinating presentation from Lernert & Sander, two dutch artists who began by collaborating on art projects and eventually formed a partnership providing 'communicative works, that takes little note of the existing border between contemporary art and commercial projects'. Their works, often humorous have featured across various media and clients including Selfridges where everyday lifestyle objects on high heels formed window displays to very funny music videos for various dutch bands.





Day Three

Finally, Joel Baumann's talk was the standout presentation of day three. Co-founder of the famous Tomato Interactive new-media collective and now Professor for New Media at the art school Kassel in Germany, Joel talked briefly about his experiences at Tomato Interactive and with Antirom, another new-media collective. He spoke about how important it is to stay agile in a hugely fast-paced industry citing that 'the more speed we pick up, the faster we move - the less freedom we have' which inevitably restricts your momentum forcing you down a path you may not always wish to take. A common thread that often appeared throughout the talks was that of collaboration and Joel spoke about his more recent projects with a group of his students going under the collective name Nnfenren. One project in particular was NOOG, an online collectors album that allowed people to collect totally virtual collectables in the form of 3D fractals - NOOG's. A seemingly nonsensical project, it takes an amusing view on our inherent nature of collecting and completing and our short-lived fascination with augmented reality but more importantly it seems to explore the art of doing something purely for the sake of doing it and to see what the results are.



The three-day event was a refreshing change to the everyday routine you can inevitably find yourself in and provided a change in perspective and a massive insight into how other people work and create great things! Without a doubt I’d recommend this conference to anyone working in the creative industry regardless of discipline as there is always something relevant to see or hear as well as being amongst and meeting like-minded people who are always up for a chat!

Nov 26, 2012

Sports marketing and Celeb Spotting: Our Day at BBC Connected Studio

This Wednesday was the third in a number of recent events attended by MadeByPi as we headed over to MediaCityUK in Salford for the BBC Sport Connected Studios workshop.

With it being Manchester it was of course raining but the complex looked impressive nonetheless and I was excited about learning what the other digital talent had to offer.

The BBC has led a number of Connected Events this year, which offer digital agencies and individual developers the opportunity to develop innovative new features and concepts.  The scheme has £1million to invest in innovative and experimental new ideas which can be integrated with their existing digital services.

The day kicked off with an exciting introduction to the Studio, which emphasised their position at the cutting edge of digital services and their passion to continue to nurture ground breaking ideas.

We were then left to crack on with our concept in what can only be described as a truly creative open plan space, with hubs and thinking booths galore.  I attended a few more presentations that explored avenues for experimentation as well as possible limitations.

funky thinking chairs at MediaCityUK

Lunch was also great; tasty pizza and we spotted Mrs Doyle from ‘Father Ted’ eating a sandwich and one of the Newsreaders grabbing a napkin.

Post lunch we settled down to finalise our concept and presentation before sitting down to make our 2 minute pitch.  As @bbc_connected summed up quite nicely, ‘toil over your idea all day and then pitch it in 2 minutes to the top dogs and the masses…you poor souls’.

Pitch completed and a couple of Peroni’s later we left Quay House feeling positive and impressed with the wealth of digital inspiration that we’d encountered during the day.  We then spotted Gail Platt from Corrie at the station, which seemed to sort of seal the day.



Nov 22, 2012

Facebook Global Pages: Alienating the Fans?

Facebook have announced the arrival of new Global Pages, which aim to eradicate the confusion over local pages.  Instead geo-targeting will direct users straight to the version of the page most relevant to them.  So what does this mean for users (increasingly customers) on Facebook and how we communicate with the big brands?

Global pages propose to offer one global brand identity and a manageable method of maintaining tone of voice and communication across the brand.

However, with Global Pages now offering content to fans all over the world via a single page, the challenge will be to maintain a personal relationship with fans, without alienating them via one long advert.

A couple of the brands that have taken up these new pages seem to have made attempts at localising the content, but it all feels a little formal, distant and essentially, global.  Nestle’s Kit Kat have country specific profile pictures, which include a British and Irish flag to let me know that, yes, I am in Britain.  Similarly Dove’s cover image promotes the brand with women from different countries thanking you – though what for is not clear.

Initial statistics suggest that users consistently interact more with those pages that are truly local as the content is far more relevant and engaging.  So too my own interaction with the Global Pages has left me feeling adrift of the corporations and wanting some genuine interaction.

Aside from the fact that brands must spend a sufficient amount on Facebook advertising to warrant a named Account Manager at Facebook to even qualify for Global Pages, we predict that it will be a while before the Global pages really achieve that world domination/ local interaction balance.