Category Archives: Tech

My best weekend read: Web Designs for Different Generations

My favourite blog post from this weekend’s reading list, by far, is Web design across different generations by Danny Bluestone, published on Econsultancy.

The article focuses on website design and how important it is to know who your user is and what they need from you.

Know your user, and don't make them think #greatwebsitedesign
Know your user, and don’t make them think #greatwebsitedesign

In my experience it can be tough enough to identify and then agree internally who your main user is, never mind keeping them front of mind during a long, arduous development process.

That’s why the five categories of website users proposed by Bluestone, based primarily on age, is useful.

The categories are:

  1. The Silent Generation (born in 1929-1945) lived just after World War II
  2. Baby Boomers (1946-1964) during the economic recovery
  3. The sceptical Generation X (1965-1979)
  4. The more technologically savvy Generation Y (1980-1999)
  5. The immersed Digital Natives (from 2000)

Like all simple customer categorisations there will be boundaries that blur and characteristics that don’t fit but having a place to start – and come back to – during those internal discussions is very useful.

Bluestone highlights the different  needs and expectations each type of user has of a website, and how they are likely to use it, for example:

“This generation [Silent Generation] is likely to blame themselves and give up when a website fails to perform, rather than searching for another option. They have a hesitant, careful approach to websites, double-checking forms before submission, so it takes substantially more time to complete tasks. “

As well as the usability elements raised in this article* I was struck by how different the branding – visuals, tone of voice, language used – might need to be for the different  categories.

*another great read about website design is Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think.


My Top 5 moments of CultureTECH

Enthusiastic crowds at CultureTECH. Photo courtesy of Sarah Brydon
Enthusiastic crowds at CultureTECH. Photo courtesy of Sarah Brydon

It’s been a fabulous four days for the city of Derry as the very first CultureTECH festival has been in town.

If you’d checked in to the #culturetech twitter stream or the live TV feed of the Big Ideas and Keynote sessions on Friday then you probably thought this was a great festival.  You’d be wrong – this was a fantastic festival.   The online buzz was a real reflection of the event itself.

A huge amount of work has gone in to getting the idea of CultureTECH off the ground, getting people to come and then getting all the different strands executed so a very big well done must go to Mark Nagurski (@iddictive) and the efficient and highly competent support team he had around him.

There were a lot of great moments, but here are my top 5:

  1. The buzz was friendly from the word go – I was greeted with a bear hugs upon registration and so were others.  Old friends were meeting up again and introductions were being made.  There were others, like me, who were making face to face acquaintances with people they’d only previously met online.
  2. There were a lot of great speakers.  I particularly enjoyed CognitoComic’s Daniel Burwen, Tourism Ireland’s Ciaran Doherty, iON’s Niall McKeown and Nichola Bates from Grown Sales Online.  Some were informative, others were challenging.
  3. Navigating through the throngs of people around town was a  big thing on the last day.  The lady in front of me in the queue at M&S  was tutting about the crowds.  I explained that there was a festival on but I’m not sure I swayed her.  She’ll know more next year.
  4. The launch party on Friday evening was great fun.  Last year’s Seedcomp finalists have had quite a year and made big strides forward with their online festival meet up business so it was fitting that they celebrated, 1 year on.  One to watch.
  5. I’ve been on the other side of registrations desks a few times and know how hectic it gets, and how everyone always arrives at the same time.  Nevertheless, the supreme efficiency and professionalism of the team stood out.  I wasn’t alone in thinking this – I joined in the conversation in the ladies loo during one of the breaks and they all agreed how well organised the event has been.

Other highlights include hearing Ben Hammersley announce the twinning of London Tech City with Digital Derry; as one Tweeter said it’s great to see London and Derry joined together on a postive note.

Plus I loved getting my own kids involved on the family day – it was hard to drag them away from the gaming areas dotted through town.  The digital funfair, with its virtual coconut shy, was a real hit.  It was only after promises of coming earlier next year, as well as extra Playstation time at home, were made that we were allowed to leave.

Roll on CultureTECH 2013.

Here are some photos of the festival courtesy of Brian Deeney (@donegalcottages):

Digital marketing conference opens inaugural CultureTECH festival

Friendly bunch on CultureTECH reception
Registration for CultureTECH was a breeze with these two

Derry’s Playhouse Theatre played host to the opening day of a four day festival celebrating digital creativity today (Wednesday 29 August).  With visitors arriving from America, England, Scotland and even Belfast expectations for the first ever CultureTECH Festival were running high and the many attendees were not disappointed.

I was lucky enough to be on the guest list and delighted to be whisked through registration by the friendly and efficient duo above.   Shoo and Lynn, who I used to work with at Learning Pool, greeted me with geek glasses and bear hugs apiece.

Derry, like the rest of Northern Ireland, come to that, is a small place where most people know each other so I wasn’t the only one being welcomed in this way.  And that friendliness was very evident throughout the day as people said hello to each other and previously digital only relationships were cemented in person.

The light, airy space of the award winning theatre helped to get the creative juices flowing as eight speakers lined up to talk to the assembled crowd about digital marketing.

Presenters from corporate giants Tourism Ireland and BT Ireland rubbed shoulders with local marketing gurus to share best practice, case studies and top tips as well as answer tough questions from a savvy audience.

First up on stage were workshops delivered by Donegal companies Inis Communications and Finn Media.  Trish Hegarty’s online PR session introduced delegates to practical tools for creating quality news content while Denis Finnegan talked about what simple and free things companies can do to get their company websites to produce high quality sales leads.

Making money from your investment in digital activities was the subject of Ambition Digital’s Jill Robb’s session on the basics of ecommerce and how to get the most out of the accompanying tools.  Meanwhile, with an impressive 880,000 fans and as the world’s third most popular tourist board page, Tourism Ireland’s Ciaran Doherty was well qualified to deliver an in depth masterclass on Facebook marketing.

Next up the seemingly complex world of online advertising was brought to life by Naomh McElhatton from Digital Advertising NI.  Delegates explored the terminology and how they can get a clear return on investment for their online spend.

Niall McKeown from iON delivered a rousing presentation illustrating the difference between a faux digital strategy that is ‘mere keyboard banging that achieves nothing’ in favour of a high performance digital strategy.  It’s not about the tools, he says, but about understanding the problem, creating guiding policies and then delivering coherent action.

BT Ireland’s Dr Larry Taylor told delegates how he influences stakeholders and peers about the power of social media at the technology giant and why LinkedIn will be the next big thing in social media next year.

Finally, to close up the digital marketing day, Newry native Nichola Bates grabbed the attention of the audience and delivered a no nonsense challenge with her take on digital marketing for new start up companies.  The big issue in Northern Ireland, says Bates, is not necessarily the lack of knowledge or an inability to sell ourselves but that companies have definite room for improvement in areas like customer service.  “You are probably not as good as you think you are so get out there, start making mistakes, learn from them and move on. Just do it,” she says.

CultureTECH puts Derry on the digital map with the help of support from Invest NI, BT Ireland, Seagate, Digital Derry, Ilex, University of Ulster, Arts & Business NI, Dept of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Derry City Council and Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

The festival runs from Wednesday 29 August to Saturday 1 September at venues throughout the city.  Visit the CultureTECH festival site for details.

Derry plans a digital creativity celebration with CultureTECH festival

The first ever CultureTECH festival takes place in Derry this week
The first ever CultureTECH festival takes place in Derry this week.

This week Derry plays host to a four day festival of technology, media and music called CultureTECH.

A veritable banquet of digital culture featuring acts, keynotes, bands, artists, developers and speakers will be on offer at venues and spaces all over the city from Wednesday 29 August to Saturday 1 September.

Think TED or SXSW with a hefty dollop of Norn Iron wit and hospitality.

Over 1,000 delegates have registered so far to hear more than 90 industry speakers, nearly 50 music acts, film screenings, games events, digital street art and a digital funfair.

I’m going along to review the Digital Marketing For The Rest of Us day on Wednesday. The speakers are drawn from big corporate organisations and small online agencies so it promises to be an interesting session.

Would be musicians and gamers get access to experienced advisors on Thursday who talk about, amongst other things, how to create the most awesome music video ever on a shoestring.

Friday looks like a great day at The Millennium Forum where the ten Big Ideas in the morning are followed with an afternoon of TED-worthy keynote speakers including Ben Hammersley (WIRED UK), Kath Mainland (Edinburgh Festival), Sir Nicholas Kenyon (Barbican) and Daniel Burwen (Cognito Comics).

If Wednesday is the marketing day, Thursday the gaming and media day, Friday the big speakers day then Saturday is the fun day.  That’s when the CultureTECH picnic is held with a digital funfair (featuring a virtual coconut shy) and a free outdoor gig with Duke Special headling.

Good luck to everyone involved in the organisation of this inaugural digital fest.  Reviews to follow.

Full programme (pdf) here.

Do’s and Don’ts of launching a website

website under construction

We recently relaunched the main Learning Pool website for the fourth time in as many years.  It’s not that we like doing this each year, more that we have big ambitions and ideas and constantly want to improve our ‘shop window’. 

I don’t know if that track record is the norm for start up businesses but, now we’re 5 years old, we’ve learnt a few lessons and I thought it might be interesting to share some here with you.

These lists were compiled with the input of various (slightly giddy) people on the day of our go live, last week. 

Some Do’s to consider…

1.  Choose a sensible date and time to push live.  We tend to favour Thursday’s because Friday is our least busy day, traffic wise.  We also always push releases live after the end of our customer’s working day, which is generally after 17:30pm.

2.  Make sure communication channels are good between marketing, design and tech.  We used Skype instant messaging a lot which proved to be very handy and fun (some of the team got overfond of the emoticons, mind you).  Nearer the launch day I moved in to the Tech team office and shared their office space (probably to the misfortune of Declan and Conor).  There’s nothing like being in the thick of the action when the heat is on and decisions need to be made fast.

3.  Work with good people.  Sometimes this is easier said than done, admittedly, but the joy of working with people who know what they’re doing is something to behold.  Now is not the time to be easing in new team members or giving green team members more responsibility.  Experience and knowledge really counts.

4.  Do remember to bring all your data from your old site to your new site.  Take your time and make sure you check and check again that everything has been brought over.  This need to not leave stuff behind is why it’s harder to refresh a website than it is to create a new site from scratch.  Keep copies as a back up just in case and pay attention to the detail.

5. Do stop developing and designing when you say you will to ensure the build and migration phases can happen unimpeded. 

6. Do test, test, test throughout.

7. And I’ve been told to say that you must remember the Chinese takeaway number for the late night working, as well as ensuring the flagons of tea are kept topped up.  Hungry and thirsty tech people are a dangerous breed.

Some Don’ts to avoid…

1. Assuming that, as the marketing person, you are the customer, be a good one.  Don’t change your mind half way through.  Or if you do, make sure it’s for a very good reason.  My Tech team colleagues call this scope creep.  It is insidious and can be disastrous.

2. Don’t use the website redesign project as an opportunity to learn new things from scratch.  The deadlines pressure will mean you need to be accurate first time.  Whilst you will, undoubtedly, learn a lot you should know the software you are using as well as possible beforehand.  We use WordPress for our website and we’re all familiar with it, however with our new site we’ve upgraded to WordPress3 and added in some more plug ins which has meant some new learning.   This would have been tricky if we didn’t already know some WordPress.

3. Don’t lose your cool when things don’t go to plan, as they won’t.  Your colleagues won’t thank you for it and, once the dust settles, you’ll just look like a dramatic fool.  That said, if they’re nice people they’ll forgive you, just the once.

4. Don’t take daft photos of yourself using your webcam at midnight (that’s you – Mark and Rachael).  Someone else will put them on Yammer the next day and everyone will laugh at you.  What goes on tour stays on tour.  Ish.


5. Don’t underestimate the difficulties.  It will always take longer, be more complex, give you more surprises and frustrations and generally behave differently to how you expected it to. 

6. Don’t forget to share a beta version of your site with some trusted and truthful customers during the UAT phase.  And say thanks to them too.

So well done to the team for another year (!).  Take a bow Rachael Harkin, Dennis Heaney, Declan McDonagh, Dan Danowski, Paul Crumlish, Mark Lynch, Rob Moore, Paul McElvaney, Amanda McLoone, Emma Whiteside, Breda Doherty, Leanne Doohan, Lisa McGonigle, Eoin Donaghy and those #teamlovely peeps who UAT’d for us.

The City of Culture opportunity for NI creative industries

UK City of Culture 2013In Part 2 of my interview with creativebrief’s Tom Holmes we talk about the opportunity afforded to Northern Ireland creative industries as a result of the 2013 City of Culture.

JH: As a native of Northern Ireland what do you think of the 2013 City of Culture title awarded to Derry-Londonderry?

TH: It’s a huge opportunity for the city and Northern Ireland.

With the recession and more pressure on budgets I think that Northern Ireland’s ‘commercial creative services’ sector could be punching above its weight through its ‘value’ offering whilst looking to attract marketing investment from the rest of the UK and internationally.

However, the quality of agencies and services in Northern Ireland has to be considered.

Agencies mustn’t be seen as representing a provincial backwater, but more a dynamic, marketing literate, business community.

JH: How can Northern Ireland creative agencies compete?

TH: 2013 City of Culture represents a wonderful opportunity for Northern Ireland’s marketing communications industry to market itself both internally and externally.

Sir John Hegarty, the worldwide creative director of Bartle Bogle and Hegarty, has pointed out it is now 30% cheaper for overseas companies to ‘create’ in the UK.  With the decline in our currency we now offer unprecedented value.

Given that government has long seen creativity as a potential export, rather than a spiritual asset, I think Sir John has a point.

Factor in the cost of sourcing creative services from Belfast or Derry and compare to London prices, why aren’t Northern Ireland agencies putting their heads above the parapet?

With the focus on Northern Ireland and opportunity that Derry-Londonderry City of Culture 2013 offers, I’m looking forward to agencies, across all marketing communications disciplines, gearing up their own marketing and begin to have the confidence to compete nationally and internationally, as well as locally.

JH:  How strong is the marketing industry at the moment?

TH: Growth in the creative and media industries has been fuelled not just by the continuing emergence of the digital channel and the proliferation of online and mobile communications.

Throughout the industry, as demands upon innovative creative and media drive exciting and challenging programmes, there is little prospect of the innovation engine that powers this global growth slowing any time soon.

Our industry, in its broadest terms, is set to continue its growth and indeed its share of economic activity throughout the world.

It strikes me that Northern Ireland’s blossoming digital industry should be fighting its corner on the world stage and what better opportunity that to showcase it to the world than through Derry-Londonderry City of Culture in 2013?

In fact, to put all this in perspective, the global ‘creative cluster ‘(defined variously as arts, culture, design and media), has now become a major player in developed economies.

JH: How valuable is the creative sector here?

TH: In the European Union this sector’s turnover is over €654bn (according to 2003 estimates) and this accounting for 2.6% of EU GDP…and a massive 6m jobs.

Closer to home the figures are even more dramatic – here in UK, the sector (according to UK govt stats) was worth over £60bn in 2008, employing a staggering 2m people directly or indirectly in the industry, and contributing to over 7.3% of GDP.

Clearly, we know the UK has a leading global role in the creative and media industries, but you may be surprised to learn that in Ireland the figures are even more impressive – a massive 7.6% of GDP or €11.8bn is accounted for and this sector employing 8.7% of the workforce, incidentally worth an estimated €300bn to the Irish exchequer!

JH:  How many jobs does that translate into?

TH: When you also take into account that in Northern Ireland there are some 2,500 creative firms employing over 34,000 people, the island of Ireland can be seen as significant player in the European creative industry and the important bit – with loads of potential within and without its borders.

The creative industries not only contribute towards the economy directly, they also have a powerful, indirect impact on the rest of the economy – by adding style, aesthetics and freshness to differentiate our products and services.

The creative industries also improve our quality of life and make our cities more vibrant by stimulating awareness and demand for the arts, design and media products and services.

As a native of Northern Ireland I was delighted that the 2013 City of Culture title was awarded as no other city deserves to be more invigorated by creative industries than Derry-Londonderry!

Read Part 1 of my Q&A with Tom Holmes on the Past, Present and Future of creativebrief and it’s role in the marketing industry.

How to work for the CEO of a startup

Rainbow with pot of gold graphicMuch is said about the skills and qualities required to be a CEO of a successful start up business but not much about what’s needed to work for one. 

So here are my thoughts on what it takes to work for the CEO of a startup.

Work hard

There’s no getting away from it – you have to work very hard if you want to get the respect of a startup CEO.  Chances are they regularly work an 18 hour day and weekends are a dim memory which means they won’t look too kindly on someone who is not as committed to the success of their business as they are.

Checking emails on the go, keeping the engagement going in forums and social media and generally keeping the plates spinning means that ‘off’ time is rare.  This means that you need to really love your job.

Deal with ambiguity

Successful start up CEO’s are dealing with a million and one things in their heads at any one time.  By their nature they are creative people and adept at calculating risks.  Otherwise they wouldn’t be successful. 

They are on fast forward a lot as they try to maximise that emerging market opportunity – once the window’s closed the opportunity is gone and the potential sales lost.  

So you don’t always get a crystal clear brief; it probably won’t be in writing and it may well change overnight.  Active listening, asking sensible questions and thinking wider than the brief are prerequisites.

Spending time with your CEO travelling is a good way to chew the fat and get the background knowledge you need.  Car, train or plane journeys where you are confined together offer great opportunities to get inside their heads.  Always keep a notebook and pen handy (airline sick bags will do).

Don’t procrastinate

Get familiar and comfortable with the 80/20 rule  but know when 100% quality is required.  A start up CEO will be used to making lots of business decisions every day and will probably not tolerate someone who can’t make a decision, stick to it and implement against it.  

Execution in a start up is essential – there’s no time to sit around dunking biscuits and mulling over things for days on end. 

Take responsibility

A start up business is a bit of a goldfish bowl – it can be a (painfully) transparent place to work.   The company structure tends to be very flat which means you are very visible to your colleagues, peers and the CEO.  If something you’ve done is a big success – great – you get all the glory though, of course, the opposite is true.

Start up CEO’s don’t like people who aren’t prepared to take responsibility for making things happen or for mistakes that have occured (which they will).  Whilst the start up is their baby and they stand to gain and lose the most from it, they will appreciate someone else taking bits of the strain where appropriate.

Have faith

If you’re committed and passionate about the success of the start up (and if you weren’t you shouldn’t be there) then the end of the rainbow where everyone benefits looks pretty, shiny and attractive. 

A good successful start up CEO will know what to communicate to the team without shielding them from the reality or scaring them with something they can’t influence.

You need to trust that your CEO has the team’s best interests at heart and will make good on their promises of rewards.  If you don’t you won’t be able to sustain your commitment and energy and you’ll soon become a prisoner.

Mary McKenna, one of the founding directors of Learning Pool, wrote this recent post giving 10 reasons to work in someone else’s start up.  It also includes her list of 5 behaviours that really p** the start up CEO off.  Uncompromising and worth a read.

Paul McElvaney, Learning Pool’s other founding director, wrote this post which talks more about the prisoner, passenger, player and protestor roles within teams.