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Bespoke web development for Bristol charity Alive!

Bespoke web development for Bristol charity Alive!

2015 has already seen the Focus team working with a number of new clients, one of those being Bristol charity Alive!

Alive! are a great charity dedicated to improving the quality of life for older people in care. They get people dancing, singing, painting, reminiscing and using new technology - such as their 'Memory Apps' project which engages older people with iPads. 

Alive! are growing quickly and like any expanding organisation, things need to change 'in the office' to help support that growth. So the charity have turned to the tech team at Focus to design and build a bespoke customer relationship management system, which will provide a single, centralised resource of data and information for the charity to use. On top of this, we'll be automating some business processes to save administration time and putting in place functionality to ensure smooth and consistent communication between the charity and their customers.

This bespoke approach is very much our thing at Focus - having implemented a web based project management portal for one of the world's largest ink manufacturers, as well as a bespoke digital mailing application for one of the UKs leading utility groups - we've seen the difference our tech has made to the day-to-day running of businesses and organisations across all sectors.

We'll be making sure the transition to the new system is seamless and will also be running a series of workshops and training sessions with the Alive! team, as well as the publishing our ever-popular screencast-based online help, which always receives really positive feedback from our customers.

We're looking forward to cracking on and ensuring Alive! can spend their time on enriching the lives of more older people in care.

Simon Newing

Created on Friday March 13 2015 02:30 PM

Tags: charity

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Helping Bristol's parents and carers shape the future for SEND

Helping Bristol's parents and carers shape the future for SEND

Jordana, Jenny and I recently attended Bristol Parent Carers (BPC) annual conference, and this year’s theme was ‘Shape the Future’.

BPC is an independent, local organisation of parents and carers of children with disabilities and special needs. The group works in partnership with Bristol City Council and the NHS to shape service provision for children and young people with disabilities and special needs.

I’ve been attending these conferences for the last few years, and I have to say this year seemed better than ever. A brilliant turn out of parents and carers; plus key professionals from Bristol City Council and NHS Bristol, all eager to talk to parents and carers of disabled children and get to grips with their challenges.

We girls wore several hats throughout the day; interested observers, knowledge gatherers, IT consultants (!) and a few more too!

The key subjects of the conference were:

Children’s Community Health Services
Personal Budgets
Priorities for 2016
Bristol’s Local Offer.

Back in September 2014 we proudly went live with - which is our online solution for Bristol’s Local Offer. We were excited to be launching it ‘proper’ at the conference, and get some on-the-ground feedback and input from both parents and carers, and the professionals offering the services found on the website.

During the afternoon ‘Local Offer Live’ session, we helped set up multiple tables with a laptop or tablet running the website (IT consultant hats :-), and liaised with groups of parents and carers who were using the site in earnest. The outcome of this is lots of real feedback from actual users, which is totally invaluable and can only lead to improvements and enhancements to the website - a really positive result.

We had lots of chats with lovely people, and all feel like we’ve not only improved our knowledge base, but also enjoyed participating and helping out with the day as a whole. I’m now really looking forward to catching up with the core Local Offer team later this week to discuss our findings from the day.

Annette Ryske

Created on Tuesday March 10 2015 05:31 PM

Tags: localoffer send

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Accessibility at the BBC

Accessibility at the BBC

Thankfully the sweatband and spandex was entirely optional when accepting my role as 'Accessibility Champion' for Focus.
I attempted to earn that title by heading along to a well delivered talk from Ian Pouncey - the BBC's Senior Accessibility Specialist (pictured). I had to start somewhere and rumour has it the BBC just might know what they're talking about!

With genuine enthusiasm, Ian talked us through how accessibility is embedded in to the process of delivering websites and applications at the BBC, covering standards, training, philosophy, and organisation.

They've got great training available at the BBC but unfortunately for those of us outside of the 'circle' it's all in-house. I was hoping some of you superbly knowledgable readers might know of any courses available to the public that are similar to these that the BBC have for their team:

- Accessibility for web developers (on-line course, 2 hours)
- Introduction to screen readers (1 day course)

In return I give you my discovery; web aim's colour contrast checker - da daaaa! It's amazing, simply select the colours you wish to combine and they'll let you know whether they pass or fail accessibility standards.

But back to the BBC, I was surprised to hear that their accessibility team only consists of three members. That didn't make me furrow my brow as much as this did though: 'The BBC are exempt from the accessibility law… providing they exceed the requirements'. I'll leave you alone for a minute with that one!

For a while now there has been an awareness of accessibility and even an understanding of how it works, but many are still unsure as to why it is so important to consider accessibility right from the start of the design process.
These words from Tony Hall (BBC DIrector, 2013) answer that quite simply: "Everybody deserves the best" - we should all remember that. Everybody deserves the same level of consideration. I must confess there was a time when I felt making a website accessible would negatively affect the visual appeal of my design but there is no reason why the two can't go together. Yes, it makes it more challenging but that's all part of the fun and even the ultimate world-saving Champion 'Superman!' came up against a little Kryptonite now and then.

With great power comes great responsibility! Maybe I'm letting this whole 'Champion' thing get to my head but seriously Ian strongly advises companies to nominate a Champion and stressed the importance of such a role. This includes networking, extending reach and spreading knowledge within the company. It's not just for developers and you don't have to be an expert already.

Muhammad Ali started training at the age of 12 to become one of the greatest heavyweights in sport's history. I'm about 20 years late for that kind of a start but I can still be a champion in the accessibility ring!

Jordana Jeffrey

Created on Friday February 27 2015 11:31 AM

Tags: web-design focus disability onlinetool

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Hartlepool Borough Council select Focus for Care Act web site

Hartlepool Borough Council select Focus for Care Act web site

The office saw high fives and big smiles all round last week as it was confirmed the good folks at Hartlepool Borough Council have commissioned us to create a new web site for their Child and Adult Services Department. Following a competitive tender process which saw a final list of six potential suppliers 'pitch', Focus were selected, ahead of some rather big boys, and we couldn't be more pleased. 

As part of The Care Act 2014, which comes into effect in April, all local authorities need to provide a resource of information for people who are searching for care, support and services in their area. Not only will the new web site include a searchable directory of providers, events and activities but our technology will allow users to create a personalised portal of information and content relevant to them and their circumstances.

Simon and Neil also discovered that Hartlepool is home to HMS Trincomalee - the oldest British warship still afloat. We were tempted by the offer of a tour that told of 'tales of bloody wars and rat-infested dinners', but chose a local Thai restaurant instead.

The new web site is due for launch by April 1st.

Simon Newing

Created on Thursday February 19 2015 09:21 AM


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Developer Jobs at Focus

We are expanding the technical team at Focus and so we're looking for two full time web developers to join us at our HQ in Temple Quay, Bristol.

You'll be working on lots of projects for our varied range of clients, including local authorities, government agencies, charities and commercial organisations. We're looking for someone with a focus on 'front end' web development, and someone with more 'back end' and programming experience.

Both roles are paid between £24k and £34k based on experience but if we meet the right person and they like us, those salaries aren't fixed. They do however represent the level of skills and experience we'd like for both roles.

We are a friendly team with a non-corporate working environment based in swish new offices right by the train station, overlooking the 'World of Food Fair' that takes place every Thursday in Temple Quay (yum). Everyone gets lots of time off including extended Christmas breaks and the whole team have significant input into company strategy.

For the 'front end' role we're looking for:
 - really strong 'build' skills in HTML, CSS and JQuery and a solid portfolio of well built, semantic and responsive web sites.
 - knowledge and passion for creating and building usable and accessible web sites.
 - some experience with Git or other version control.
 - any knowledge of an open source framework such as PHP or Ruby would be of some advantage.
 - whilst commercial experience in a similar role may be of benefit, it's not a show stopper.

For the more technical 'back end' role, ideally we'd like:
 - a good grounding in developing web applications in an open source framework - ideally Ruby on Rails (as that's what we use) but we are keen to meet with people with relevant experience in other open source languages.
 - some 'front end' skills including HTML, CSS and JQuery.
 - working experience with Git or other version control.
 - working experience of automated tests or test driven development would be a significant advantage.

If you'd like to apply then please send all the relevant details to:

CV's are great but we're really keen to see examples of your work.

We're hoping to interview before the end of February.

Strictly no agencies.


Simon Newing

Created on Friday February 06 2015 03:17 PM


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Accessibility & The Web

Accessibility & The Web

Sure, I was hungry but I wasn't just there for the sandwiches. When I heard Accessible Bristol was hosting an event for anyone interested in the web and accessibility, I saw it as an opportunity to ensure our clients get what they want. Here at Focus we work with a lot of local authorities and for websites such as theirs, accessibility is key.

I was keen to hear from one of the most recognisable and respected people in the web accessibility industry; Steve Faulkner (pictured). An enthusiastic man who has dedicated 15 years to web accessibility. In 2001 he started his career with vision Australia. Today he has kept his accent and is Principal Accessibility Engineer at The Paciello Group as well as being co-editor of the W3C HTML5 specification, and a contributor to other specifications including Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA).

Sitting excitedly in the front row I was pleasantly surprised when the casually dressed, relaxed man sat amongst us took to the stage. This immediately likeable character delivered a highly knowledgeable presentation and although it was very much focused at developers rather than designers such as myself, I still felt included despite being somewhat outnumbered by the 'techies' in the audience.

Steve went through an alphabet themed slideshow; A is for ARIA, B is for Button, C is for Canvas and so on (view slides). Admittedly it was like learning a new language but I always strive to be a better designer, and if learning 'techie talk' and understanding ways I can work more in sync with the development team will help towards that, then count me in.

Once the sandwiches were scoffed and the slideshow slowed to a stop, it was question time. I plucked up the courage to ask a design focused question and felt all eyes on me, then a few more of us admitted to being in the design 'camp' and conversation started to flow. Talk ranged from not knowing where to begin with a blank canvas, to a woman with dyslexia and dyspraxia expressing her frustration when surfing the net.

When it all came to an end, the message that stood out for me as a designer was this;
“Think about accessibility first and foremost, because if you get it right for disabled people, you get it right for everyone.”

If you would like to know more about accessibility, Steve recommended the website On there you can find a simple checklist that presents Webaim's recommendations for implementing HTML-related principles and techniques:

You can keep up to date with all Steve has to share by following him over on Twitter @stevefaulkner

Jordana Jeffrey

Created on Wednesday January 28 2015 12:09 AM

Tags: web-development accessibility web-design userexperience disability

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Focus achieve ISO9001 certification

A very busy 2014 has ended with a very 'pat on the back moment' for the entire Focus team, with the arrival of our very own ISO9001:2008 certificate.

ISO9001 is something we've been working on for some time and provides our customers with reassurance that the management systems we have in place are followed consistently, that they are effective and that quality assurance is something integral to each project that we do.

The work was essentially two fold - the first being the design and refinement of our policies and procedures and ensuring these were documented clearly and in a meaningful way. Secondly, an external ISO approved auditor spent the day in our Bristol office, and sat with various team members as they went through their daily work. I am delighted to say that our auditor was particularly impressed with our organisation of projects, and a few days later the certificate was delivered to the office!

A massive thank you to Susie Amey, our independent ISO consultant and also a massive well done to everyone at Focus who managed to squeeze this all in between the project work - you've earned your Christmas break....

Simon Newing

Created on Monday December 22 2014 04:21 PM

Tags: iso9001

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Google's new "Mobile Friendly" label

If you've been doing some Google searches on your mobile phone recently you may have seen a new "Mobile Friendly" label turn up as part of the search result pages.

The global rollout of this new feature started in late November 2014 and is designed to highlight to the user web sites that are optimised for viewing and using on a mobile device, and those that are not. This is quite important - some of our client sites receive up to 40% of their traffic through mobile phones, and optimised web sites are also favoured by Google themselves in terms of search rankings.

Google used a number of automated tests to determine the 'mobile friendliness' of a site including the detection of unsupported software (such as Adobe Flash) and ensuring that links on the page are sufficiently spaced so they can be easily 'tapped'. Google have also provided a handy online tool for checking to see if a web site would achieve the 'mobile friendly' label:

So if you find that Google decides that your web site isn't as mobile friendly as you'd like it to be, then please do give the Focus team a shout.

Simon Newing

Created on Wednesday December 17 2014 03:24 PM

Tags: website google

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Annette's a Rails Girl

Annette's a Rails Girl

Heard of Rails? Heard of Girls? What about RailsGirls?!

(Ruby on) Rails is, and I quote Wikipedia: "an open source web application framework written in Ruby". In layman's terms, it's what our clever web developers use to make our websites.

Girls are... well, insert your own answer here.............. (try wonderful, clever etc). But for me as a Girl, I didn't know much about Rails, or Ruby - and in fairness, I don't need to - but I was starting to want to.

Over the three years I've been here at Focus, I've seen and heard lot of code-y, tech-y stuff, like 'Gems', 'Frameworks', 'Scaffolds' and the like. I see black screens with white text on that looks like something out of the Matrix, and I am DEAD impressed. So when I heard about the latest Rails Girls event in Bristol, I signed myself up to find out more.

So a couple of Saturdays ago I headed over to At-Bristol (where loads of cool stuff was going on with kids flying drones and all sorts!), and got stuck in to a really informative, interesting and empowering day. The guys running the sessions all had different experiences with Ruby and Rails. We learnt some basic information, terminologies and the like, did some tutorials, had a yummy lunch, and then onto the highlight - building our own web application. With the assistance of several experienced helpers, I managed to set myself up a server and make myself an 'ideas application'. I made CSS styling changes, created new 'ideas' (headlines with text), I even made buttons that facilitated an image upload.

Back at work on the Monday after the event I proudly showed off my work. I think the developers sniggered into their sleeves a bit :-) but everyone was interested in what I'd done and how I'd done it.

Moreover, I now feel better informed; when talking to our developers and also hearing them talk, and seeing what's happening on their screen when I ask for changes to a website. I know what a Gem is, and what it means to create a new scaffold. And it helps talking to clients about their website work, I can better picture what might be involved with what sounds like a simple change...

So huge thanks to @RailsGirlsBriz - I enjoyed the day and learned lots of new stuff. And the fact they run these events for free I think is marvellous. Can I go to the next one?

Annette Ryske

Created on Wednesday December 10 2014 09:43 AM

Tags: website open-source web-development bristol rubyonrails ruby rails programming

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Web Testing on real phones & tablets

Web Testing on real phones & tablets

There are so many ways a website can be rendered on screen. Not only is there a huge variety of phone shapes and sizes but all of these can have multiple browsers (e.g. Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer). Then there's the fact that they can display in landscape or portrait mode. Users aren’t using a mouse but are instead using their fingers (some with 'digits' a little less delicate than others!).

It’s difficult for us developers and designers at web design agencies to predict just how our latest website might look online. There are of course websites that are meant to emulate how it will look but they're not always accurate.

This is where Open Device Lab steps in to make life that little bit easier. We headed over to their offices at Aardman to test one of the responsive website designs we're currently working on. We were able to test it on multiple popular devices from the iPad to a Blackberry. In doing this we could avoid the on-line emulators, we didn't have to pester friends with a different phone to ours to "borrow it for a second".
At ODL we could use a pretty handy piece of kit called 'Ghostlab'. Ghostlab synchronises browser testing. It scrolls, clicks, reloads and form inputs across all connected clients. So what you're testing is not the simple page load, but the full user experience. We also had the option to abandon that and fiddle with each device individually which is good for spotting usability issues that could possibly go unnoticed otherwise.

ODL Bristol are sponsored by the digital marketing agency 'Noisy Little Monkey', these guys made us feel super welcome and we were comfortable knowing we had coffee and support at hand (if required). More importantly, we left feeling we had done a thorough job of testing for our client.

So what did this cost us?... absolutely nothing. We're not sure if that's ever due to change but at the moment so long as you book ahead, you're welcome to pay them a visit. A the moment this gem feels like our little secret but you know what we're like at Focus, we promise to keep you guys updated with all things digital and this is definitely worth 'whispering' about.

Jordana Jeffrey

Created on Monday December 01 2014 04:42 PM

Tags: website technology web-development mobile-internet web-design ux responsive

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