A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

The Web Development Process Explained in 11 Animated Gifs

Building websites is hard work. And a lot of it isn’t that much fun.

To help explain the process, we’ve put together this tongue and cheek post that explains how we typically feel during the various stages of a web development process.  Since we build sites for clients, this post if from the point of view of a web development firm.  Clients will likely experience similar mood swings, but at different points.

(1) Award of project…

excited will ferrel elf

As a web development firm, having people hire us to build websites is a pretty critical part of our business model.  The process of signing up new clients can be time consuming and stressful, so it always feels great to get a win. (more…)

6 Things

6 things you probably didn’t know about the Brick Factory

We’ve had a good first half of 2014. We sent an update on what we’ve been up so far this year to to our email list, and wanted to share it here on our blog as well.  Enjoy.

email

drupalcon

23 Takeaways from Drupalcon Austin

Chris, Mike, Ron, Shane, Teddy and I spent last week at Drupalcon Austin.   We learned a lot, and ate our fair share of Mexican food and BBQ.  Following is a list of our key takeaways from the trip.

(1) Drupal 8 won’t be released until sometime in 2015.  During a Q&A with Dries Buytaert and other key Drupal 8 contributors, they advised against using Drupal 8 if you have a project you need to ship in the next three to six months.

(2) In the same panel, it was mentioned that it took a year after Drupal 7 was released for the majority of contributed modules to get updated.  The goal is to cut that time in half, to six months, for Drupal 8.

Drupalcon

(3) When Drupal 7 was released, support for Drupal 5 was dropped immediately.  Assuming funding allows, the plan is to perform critical security updates to Drupal 6 for one year after the release of Drupal 8.  This is huge, as it will give the hundreds of thousands of sites run in Drupal 6 more time to make the transition.

(4) Drupal 8 will not support anything lower than Internet Explorer 9.  This got a big cheer from the crowd.  Drupalcon attendees are not big IE fans.

(5) 12% of the 100,000 most popular websites on the Internet are powered by Drupal.

(6) Paraphrasing Nica Lorber from her content session: “Clients underestimate the importance of content and won’t pay for it.”  So true.

(7) Another tidbit from Nica: People read 20% slower online.

(8) Nica also made the point that flexibility is overrated when it comes to content.  She recommends developing structures for content with clients and sticking to it:  make decisions.  I couldn’t agree more.  On the web constraints actually help.

(9) If you want to see the bats emerge from the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, you’ll have to show a bit more patience than our Brick Factory team.  We waited about 45 minutes before giving up on them.

Congress Avenue Bridge

(10) Ron heard a lot about Docker, the open source project that containerizes applications. He wrote:  “Docker is really useful for managing and deploying applications and the software/libraries needed within the same or among different environments. Even the new Red Hat Enterprise version distribution that came out two days ago supports Docker.”

(11) Our front-end development team loved the “My Brain Is Full” session.  Teddy wrote: “This session summed up how I view web development right now. Lots of technologies sprouting up at once that are difficult to keep track of, with the hope that these front end development processes will be streamlined over time.”

(12) The “Twig Playground” session was also popular with our team.  Teddy again: “Morten DK was probably my favorite presenter because he did a good job of pinpointing aspects of Drupal theming that I don’t like and he cursed a lot. It seems that a lot of these issues will be gone once Drupal 8 comes around.”  Shane: “Twig is a great addition in Drupal 8.  This will make Drupal more secure, and it will also be more familiar to people who are switching from other platforms.”

(13) If you love music (vinyl in particular) and are in Austin, don’t miss Waterloo Records.  Bring your wallet.

Waterloo Records

(14) Many of the Drupal firms we talked to have done a full embrace of Scrum, an agile software development framework. For many this has simply become how they do their work.  I’m a bit skeptical of whether this will work for us across the board.  I tend to think that the right methodology can change from project to project.   From my conversations, Scrum seems to work best on projects with scopes that are less well defined and with clients who have time (at least ten hours a week) to be involved in the website build on a daily basis.  If you want to learn more about Scrum, check out this session.

(15) Ron and Chris are much better at their jobs than at riding a mechanical bull.  Ron and Shane are both pretty good a ping pong though.

Drupalcon mechanical bull and ping pong

(16) Great quote from Jordan Hirsch’s session on requirements gathering: “You can’t ever truly skip a discovery phase.  You end up doing it even if the client doesn’t pay for it.”  Yup.

(17) The audience shared Jordan’s pain when he talked about how destructive hidden requirements are to the web development process. Like the Salesforce integration you find out about two days before launch.

(18) I loved Adam Edgerton’s presentation on scaling a Drupal firm.  One key point he made was that profit doesn’t necessarily scale along with revenue.  A digital agency might make the same profit at $10,000,000 in revenue as they did at $4,000,000.  He mentioned that once you get over 25 people you start to need process.  At that point you are no longer a tribal company.

(19) An emerging trend is the use of Drupal as a backend system for content management with frontends that are 100% outside of Drupal.  In particular, a lot of firms are using AngularJS on top of Drupal.

(20) Chris went to a session that talked about the importance of developing processes that are non-blocking.  The web development process goes much more smoothly when folks aren’t constantly taking breaks to wait on delayed deliverables/approvals.

(21) Ron is excited about the configuration management software Ansible.  He wrote: “I was sold when I heard that it is agentless, so you don’t have to install anything on the servers. Besides that, it uses current standard protocols and syntax and can also handle app deployments. It seems like a dream come true.”

(22) I can’t say enough good things about the tacos at La Condesa.  Probably the best tacos I have ever had.  Go now.  We didn’t take picture of the tacos as we were too focused on eating them, but here are some other food porn pics from the trip.

Tacos and BBQ in Austin

(23) Drupalcon will be in Los Angeles in 2015.  We’re fired up, ready to go.

3RD_ROUND

Our New Website

We quietly launched our new Brick Factory website last week.  I’m really proud of it.  I think it is a true reflection of who we are and what we do, which is tough to pull off.

When web development firms build sites for themselves, the instinct is to show off.  To overdesign.  To throw in every bell and whistle.  “Let’s implement all the ideas!”  The resulting sites often look like they are designed for other web designers/developers, as opposed to the actual audience, prospective clients.

As a firm that preaches simplicity and talks a lot of audiences and conversions, it was important that our own site reflect the work we do for our clients.  It is a real tribute to the talent of our staff that we were able to create a site that is simultaneously simple, completely unique and beautiful.

The launch of the new site also represents the Brick Factory entering its next phase.

As a group, we’ve focused the last year on getting better at what we do a little bit every day.

We’ve embraced new processes and technologies.  We’ve fixed some structural issues we were having.    We’ve invested heavily in the development of some new products we will announce soon.  All while doing some incredible work for our clients.

So please take a look at the new site and let me know what you think.  Also be sure to check back in on us, as we have some great things in store for the rest of the year.

Email Rates

Five political emails that look nothing like political emails

As someone who works in digital public affairs, I paid close attention to the emails that were sent out by the Obama campaign during the 2008 and 2012 election cycles and am now closely watching what is being sent out by  Organizing for Action.  The reason I’m paying attention is simple: the Obama folks know what works.  Years of research is behind every email that gets sent.

Since the election, emails from Organizing for America seem to have followed two general templates:

  1. Emails sent from individuals (Barack Obama, Michele Obama, David Axelrod, Lindsay Siler, etc.) are almost always text-based and extremely simple in their design.  Images are rarely included.  Very straightforward formatting.  They are made to look like the emails you receive from your friends and family.  You can see an example here
  2. In contrast, emails sent generically from Organizing for Action are extremely visual and viral in nature.  They include pop culture references, infographics and animated gifs, and usually only minimal text.  You can view examples of these types of emails below.

I’ve been particularly interested in the increased frequency and complexity of the visual-based emails.  They have much more in common with product marketing emails than traditional political ones.  I think the rise of these emails is a good indication of how competitive the battle for email opens and clicks has become. 

When you send an advocacy email today you are fighting for attention.  You aren’t just competing against the opposing political party or issue group.  Your are fighting companies like Groupon, Amazon and Gilt for the attention of your supporters. 

In the case of Organizing for Action they are also fighting fatigue.  Many have been on the Obama email list for six or seven years and have gotten thousands of email from the various versions of the campaign.  Even is they don’t subscribe, you have to think many are tuning out the emails. 

The increasingly visual and share-hungry emails sent out by Organizing for Action are an attempt to win this battle for attention.  They can’t just inform, they have to entertain a bit too.

Having gotten through the throat clearing, here are five examples of visual and viral emails sent by Organizing for Action the last few months.  Click on the title or image to see the full email.


1. Fist Bump

Not a lot of explanation required here.  This simple, e-card style email was sent out as part of a list building campaign around the President’s birthday.

fist-bump

 

2. Infographic Email

This infographic email was sent out by Organizing for Action to celebrate their one year anniversary.  The 2012 Obama campaign has used this style a few times.  I love it. 

infographic

 

3. Cats

As a way of connecting the Affordable Care Act with Valentine’s Day, Organizing for Action sent out an email asking friends to share kitten photos with their Facebook friends that include health care-related messages.  The actual email template is actually pretty text-based, but I included this one due to the clear attempt to leverage the Internet’s love of cats for political gain.

cats 

 

4. Breakfast Club Gif

In-mid February Organizing for Action sent out an email asking visitors to take a pledge that they will help spread the word about the March 31 health care coverage deadline.  If you took the pledge, you are automatically entered into a contest that would give you the chance to meet president Obama.   Organizing for Action sent out this email featuring the Breakfast Club gif below.  The email is about a contest deadline, so, presumably, the animated gif is telling you to stop what you are doing right away and enter.

breakfast-club 

5. Prince Animated Gif Email

As a way of promoting the same contest as the Breakfast Club gif, this email included not one, but two, animated gifs of Prince presumably judging you for not having taken the pledge yet.  I actually felt a bit tricked here, as upon receiving the email I had assumed President Obama and Prince would be doing some sort of joint appearance.

prince