Directors UK website: post-launch reflections

Back in August 2015, Directors UK launched their new website (I wrote about this briefly here). Now we are 3 months on I thought it’d be a good chance to take stock and have a think about what went well, what didn’t go well, what went weirdly and what – if anything – I’ve learned from the whole experience.

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy

Not that I’m referring to Directors UK’s lovely users as “the enemy” but it is an almost universal truth that you wont’, can’t, and probably shouldn’t really expect to have thought of absolutely everything and to have tested for all eventualities. Something would have been missed, something will have been slightly misconceived. This is inevitable.

I would argue that it’s far better to launch a project like this expecting to have to (in the words of Monty Python) adopt, adapt and improve in a rapid and responsive way rather than trying to convince yourself that nothing will have to change. Managing your project in something like an Agile way is probably a good idea, I’m no fan of slavishly adhering to a set framework just for the sake of it but I think there are some useful principles in that particular methodology that are almost always worth following, it’s almost always going to be easier to fix or respond to something if you’re working with small, rapidly deployed, incremental changes than monolithic things.

You may (almost certainly will) find that some of the stakeholders in the project baulk at this sort of approach, even considering the possibility that things might not be absolutely perfect on launch is terrifying for some people. But you should make every attempt to convince them that this is worth doing, they’ll thank you for it in the long run.

Test, test and test again

Having said that (above) you would be mad not to test as much as you possibly can. Take the amount of time you think you need for testing, and add 50%. Get internal testing groups sorted, identify indicative user groups who will test things for you and even throw it open to totally random strangers. As long as you understand the context in which your testing is happening and how to qualify any feedback you receive within that context then you can’t go wrong.

Linking to my first point, testing will show you things that you can’t even envisage. No matter how immaculately thought-through your project, testing will show you something you didn’t expect – whether that is that a particular feature isn’t quite working as expected or a particular feature is working far better than you ever dreamed it would.

Testing is important, budget for it, allow appropriate time for it, and also ensure you have time to properly analyse and act upon the things that it tells you.

Your website won’t populate itself

I’ve done enough web relaunches to know that content migration is one of the most soul destroying tasks in the entire process. Even moreso when you have an extremely content-heavy site (as DUK’s was) which had been managed in a slightly…idiosyncratic way (the staff here had developed lots of ‘hacks’ and workarounds to get the site to look and work how they needed it to). There was very little in the way of consistency, and the new site was structured in a slightly different way. Luckily we’d allowed enough time for this part of the process, but it always takes ages.

Equally, if you can, you should always try to go live with some new content, a website relaunch will typically see a spike in traffic (shiny, new things inevitably attract attention). I’ve written in the past about how important content is, a website relaunch makes this even more true. Your site will be under scrutiny, if you have a blog but haven’t published anything for the past year then…well, I’d ask why you have a blog at all, but nonetheless, people are going to be looking at it – make sure there’s something there! Linked to this you should have a content strategy (you should have one of these anyway…) regarding how you’re going to feed the hungry beast that your new website will (almost inevitably) be. It’s also likely your new site will have different content demands to what you’re used to, in the case of Directors UK this involved us commissioning a lot of new photography of members at work (thanks to the very talented Giles Smith for that) to support the more image-led design that we were going with.

Review everything

A website is probably (although not always) the largest part of your digital portfolio, completely refreshing this will give you the chance to reevaluate every element of your digital presence – grab this chance with both hands and make the most of it. There will inevitably be some slightly underloved parts of your digital activity, a website relaunch gives you the context within which you can ask yourself whether or not this is still a needed tool, and if so why you aren’t using it and how you can fix that.

Trust the people you’ve employed for the job

You will have likely employed an agency (or agencies) for your project, you employed them for a reason, they are experienced, talented professionals. I know a project of this size is always stressful but the best work is achieved when the people you’ve employed for the job are trusted and empowered to do that job. Of course you need to oversee and manage the project ensuring it meets your needs and budget and that everything is going according to plan. But make sure that this is a collaboration, a partnership in which everyone feels able to do their best work. Communication, as ever, is key – being able to communicate what you want and need and give proper feedback is essential, as is trusting your agency (/agencies) to listen to and act upon this. Equally important is your ability to trust them enough to take on board any recommendations or opinions they may share with you. I’ve seen a lot of projects fall apart due to intransigence (on both sides) and an unwillingness to do what’s best simply out of pride, confusion or stubbornness.

Be able to see the wood for the trees

This project has (or will) probably taken up an inordinate amount of your time, money and energy. You will have thought and worried about little else. However make sure that you can still appreciate what you’ve achieved, too many people reach the end of projects absolutely hating the thing they’re working on. It’s probably really good, you’ve spent loads of time on it, be proud of what you’ve accomplished!

2016: new job

Exciting news, as of January 2016 I shall be starting a new job with the lovely, talented folk at Substrakt as Strategic Director. Sadly this means I will be leaving the equally lovely people at Directors UK after almost 2 years as Digital Manager.

I have had a completely great time at DUK, and I think we’ve managed to achieve a lot since the beginning of 2014. They had restructured prior to my arrival to increase the importance of, and focus on, digital and since I started we have radically reworked the way that the organisation uses social media and digital comms in general, particularly around the diverse events programme and the increasingly ambitious and wide-reaching campaigning work. We also found time to launch an entirely redesigned and redeveloped website and have a number of other projects being readied to go live in 2016. We have also managed to lead a comprehensive shift in the way that the organisation views, understands and utilises digital. So I will leave feeling immensely proud of what we’ve achieved and also confident that I’ve left the place in a better position than I found it.

It feels like a very exciting time to be joining Substrakt, with the expansion of their London studio and some very prestigious clients recently won I feel like I’m making the move to a brilliant agency stuffed with excellent people doing inspiring work, hopefully I can bring something useful to the party!

Live-streaming: a quick how-I-did-it guide

Last week (30th September) I organised the first in what I hope will be a series of live-streams in my current role as Digital Manager at Directors UK. The event was a Q&A with George Miller following a screening of his latest film Mad Max: Fury Road (big, loud, stupid, fun) at BAFTA.

george miller screenshot

Now that Youtube’s live-streaming platform is (seemingly) properly established it is really, really straightforward (and free) to stream events like this. It was essentially a 1-camera, 2-speaker event (with a few audience questions at the end) which means that the technical demands were…minimal and as such feels like it could fairly easily be explained for anyone who is interested in this sort of thing.

I’m still of the opinion that live-streaming isn’t always necessarily the right choice when covering an event but for last night it seemed appropriate; it was a sold-out, members-only event for which there was huge demand, it was not going to be repeated and it allowed members who were unable to make the screening (the membership is spread across the country and globe) to enjoy the Q&A with a hugely experienced and respected director.

Technically the setup was as follows:

  • The visuals were provided by a Sony EX-1 camera locked off on a wide shot
  • Both speakers were mic-ed up with wireless lapel mics that were going into the BAFTA front-of-house PA. There were also a couple of hand-held wireless mics that we used for audience questions, these were also going into the PA.
    • We then took an audio feed from the desk and ran that into the camera.
  • The combined audio/video feed was then run via the SDI (BNC) output of the camera into our Black Magic Ultrastudio 4k which was hooked into the company’s Macbook via thunderbolt.
  • We were running the basic version of Wirecast which took the AV feed from the Ultrastudio and streamed it to our Youtube channel

Oh and we were using a dedicated, wired, highspeed internet connection at BAFTA.

This isn’t always the way I’d set things up but as it was the first time we’d done anything like this I wanted to have the backup of everything being recorded on the camera in case the laptop blew up or whatever.

In the future we’ll probably experiment with making the setup more sophisticated. We were just running the raw feed from the 1 camera, no titles or anything this time around but this has shown that achieving a relatively watchable feed from an event like this isn’t overly expensive or difficult (in fact we were probably hugely over-specced for this particular job). We owned all of the equipment apart from the camera and the mics (camera was hired, mics were a combination of hire and BAFTA’s). The Ultrastudio is probably the biggest piece of overkill for this particular job, Black Magic (and many other manufacturers) do lots of cheaper, simpler pieces of kit that’ll enable you to do the same thing.

Anyway, hope this was of some use, I wrote it mainly because there was a total dearth of first-person accounts from people who have done this sort of thing. If you’ve got any questions…ask!

I think this sort of setup (or something slightly simpler) could be entirely appropriate for lots (most?) Q&A/discussion-y type events and, as I have said above, is cheap (ish) and easy to do.

Further, final thoughts: I wrote a bit of a doubting piece about live-streaming last Spring (you can read it here), however I think what I didn’t do particularly well in that piece was differentiate between live-streaming performance and live-streaming far “simpler” events (such as the one I’ve described above). Also (fortunately for the coherence of my argument) I think that this particular event does tick a lot of the boxes I’d raised when questioning the need for live-streaming (around “must-see”-ness) – we were also tweeting from the event, and some of the issues around cost and expertise that I raised in 2014 are now either no longer relevant or easy for others to look after in the line of what they were doing anyway for this event (lighting, sound etc).

There are definitely things we can look at exploring around how we bring the online audience more “into the room” so it isn’t just a broadcast (how might we incorporate any discussions that may develop on social media etc as a result of the live-stream).

New websites

Today Directors UK launched their new site. This project has taken up a good portion of my working life over the past 10 months.

It seems to be the first thing that most digital managers attempt to convince everyone is needed when they start at a new organisation but at Directors UK a new site was well overdue and I didn’t have to do too much convincing in order to get the wheels in motion.

This was by no means the first (or hopefully last) new website project that I’ve lead but Directors UK, being a membership organisation, presented a set of requirements that I hadn’t had to deal with directly before. Luckily we enlisted the lovely, very talented (and very bearded) folk at Substrakt as our web agency for the project, a good agency can make or break a complex project like this where you are dealing with numerous existing IT systems, an extremely diverse array of stakeholders and a typical primary user who is very visually literate. Demanding would be an accurate description.

At its best a project like this can help an organisation really interrogate and analyse its purpose and whether things are working as well as they should. It offers space to take a step back and reflect on things, which is always a valuable exercise (incidentally if you want to just undergo this part of the process then I’d thoroughly recommend Chris Unitt who helped us out by running a couple of workshops in which we took a fresh look at our user groups, stakeholders and, as a result, the actual requirements we should have of the website).

Directors UK has, as an organisation, grown considerably in both size and complexity since the old site was developed in 2011. The new site (hopefully!) supports the organisations current needs and ambitions and will also provide a suitably robust platform for them over the next few years.

I always forget just how much blood, sweat and tears are required for a successful relaunch and I’m really proud of the work that we have done on this. Special thanks are due to all the boys at Substrakt (in particular; Max, Mark, Andy and Jim) and my colleague Marc at Directors UK, it quite literally wouldn’t have happened without them.

I’ll do a bit more of a considered reflection on all this once things have bedded in.

Onwards!

Cycling 100 miles

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So that we didn’t feel totally unprepared for the all-of-Wales ride we’re doing in a couple of weeks, the bloke I’m doing that ride with and I decided to get at least 100 miles in the legs with a trip down to Hastings and along the south coast. The weather couldn’t have been better (comedy tanlines all-round) and noone had too horrible-a-time (nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a fistful of jelly babies or a snickers).

The route was absolutely great, bodged together from a few club routes I’d seen and general avoid-all-the-big-roads sensibilities, totally recommended if you’re heading down that way. You’ll want to work out a different way through Hastings as we ended up carrying our bikes up what the map insisted was a cycle path but what was, in reality, about 200 steps…

Cycling across Wales – the plan

Ever since I did John O’Groats to Land’s End I’ve been on the lookout for other long-distance UK rides to do. My favourite part of “JOGLE” was the first section through the Scottish highlands, the scenery was absolutely incredible but what I really enjoyed was the almost total isolation, you could cycle all day and see about 10 other people, it was glorious. Unfortunately the fact is the UK is a relatively small place and that isolation has proven a bit hard to find.

HOWEVER I then stumbled across a blog that mentioned the Lôn Las Cymru (or to give it its slightly more boring official name National Cycle Route 8). This is a 250(ish) mile route from Holyhead to Chepstow (or Cardiff) that basically smashes across the middle of Wales, which is a very empty, mountainous place by all accounts. So, using that existing route as a basis, I plotted a slightly more rural, slightly longer version (which clocks in at about 280 miles) and in a couple of weeks a friend and I will be getting on a train to Holyhead so that we can spend 3 days cycling to Bristol in what will, at least in parts, hopefully be something approaching glorious isolation.

Photos/too many stats/etc to follow. Route(s) below

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

And then, this http://www.northcoast500.com/home.aspx

Hanging out at Derek Jarman’s and the nuclear power station

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Yesterday I fulfilled a long-held ambition to go and check out the weirdness that is Dungeness – 2 lighthouses, Derek Jarman’s house, a nuclear power station and one of the strangest landscapes I’ve ever seen in this country.

I reckon by bike is pretty much the perfect way to do this, especially if you’re blessed with good weather like we were. The route is below

Twitter, not all bad

Sometimes Twitter showcases the very worst of humanity, however sometimes it also gives you an insight into how lovely most people are. That happened twice for me this week, the first was the discovery of @BrianPiltonthe Twitter account of a 75-year old grandfather living in Exeter. My cynical side hopes this isn’t a parody account, my nice side is glad to read about Brian’s life because he sounds like a lovely man and I love that he is apparently really getting something positive from being on Twitter, the internet at its best can eradicate physical constraints and open you up to a whole world of new people, ideas and whatnot and it seems that’s what Twitter is doing for Brian, as this tweet says:

The second time Twitter was good this week was after this fairly upsetting screengrab of some people being twats was shared, a load of (better) people decided to try and find the bloke in the photo and tell him that he is great, people are great, dancing is great and they want to invite him to a big dance party.

AND THEY DID: @Dancingmanfound

So, there you go; Twitter, not all bad

Writing thus doing

If I write these things down then there is a slightly increased chance they’ll actually happen, they’re less resolutions than vague aspirations for the year ahead:

  • Read a book a week
  • Get better (actually competent) at German
  • Take more photos
  • Do at least 1 marathon
  • Do at least 1 decent (3+ day) bike ride
  • Go up some mountains
  • Go bouldering outdoors

There, fascinating as ever I’m sure you’ll all agree.