A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

“Doodling” Your Homepage


In honor of the 4th of July, our creative team has put together a custom animation for our homepage.  Visit www.thebrickfactory.com to check it out. 

We were inspired to create custom versions of our Brick Factory homepage by the awesome work the Google team does with their Doodles.  For years, the Google team has created unbelievable illustrations to celebrate holidays, honor heroes and to commemorate random events.  Some of my recent favorite Google Doodles are Jim Hensons 75th birthday, Lucille’s Ball’s 100th birthday, and Google’s statement on SOPA/PIPA.  

In researching our list of the best designed college websites, we came across the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website.  Since 2003, MIT has changed the background photo on their homepage every single week day as a way of telling the story of the school.  Below is a recent screenshot about a scientific discovery from MIT researches that I’m frankly not smart enough to understand.


I love what both Google and MIT are doing.

Millions of people go to the Google homepage every day, so having a cool doodle pop up now and then just enriches the experience.  It makes Google fun. 

For MIT, the Daily Image is a really effective story telling mechanism.  The beautiful images they use encourage visitors to click through to the content in a way a static headline never would.  It also provides users with a  compelling reason to come back.  Every day.

For us, our homepage drawing are a way to showing off the skills of our creative team and showing a bit of the personality of the firm.  More to come.

The cost of Search Personalization

Many Internet companies (like Google, Microsoft, Netflix, and Amazon) tout the virtues of search personalization.  By using a multitude of factors, the companies can provide more relevant information to a person.

I agree that there are benefits to it.  When I google “Montgomery County Public Libraries,” search engines can use my IP address – that indicates that I’m in the Washington, DC area – to assume that I’m looking for the libraries in Maryland instead of Pennsylvania, Texas, or Alabama.

However, as I noted in June 2011, Eli Pariser examines many drawbacks to personalization in his book The Filter Bubble.  Many of his points are about privacy concerns and more erudite qualms about web sites only presenting information that conforms to one’s world view, and Orbitz – the travel site – now provides a clear consumer protection argument against personalization.  The Wall Street Journal headline says it well, “On Orbitz, Mac Users Steered to Pricier Hotels.”  Basically Orbitz found out that Mac users tend to spend more on travel, and to capitalize on it, the company now presents pricier options to people using Apple products than it does to PC users.

Search personalization can both help us and work against us.

A Look Under the Hood: Our Mobile Statistics

I’m not breaking any news here when I tell you that mobile is exploding.  Smart phone sales have overtaken sales of PCs.  There are nearly a billion smartphones worldwide.  10% of all web traffic now comes form mobile devices.

This is all important stuff for us to follow.  But as big of a deal as these overall industry trends are, at the Brick Factory it is more important for us to understand what is going on in our own world of non-profits and advocacy groups.  How is the move towards mobile impacting our clients?

In an effort to answer that question, we took a detailed look at how mobile usage of the websites we manage (65+ sites) is evolving.  We did this by comparing accesses from mobiles devices (defined as smartphones and tablets) in February 2010 to data from February 2011 and February 2012.  While we can’t publicly release all of our findings, we did want to share some aggregate data.

Overall Mobile Traffic

As the chart below shows, the percentage of site traffic from mobile devices has increased dramatically over the last two years.  Mobile traffic to the sites we looked at doubled from from 2010 to 2011, and then again from 2011 to 2012.  In February 2012, 8.8% of all traffic came from mobile devices.  This is pretty consistent with overall industry trends, which estimate that 10% of all traffic comes from mobile.

Mobile Traffic as & of Total Internet Traffic

In analyzing the data,  a critical point is that  desktop traffic did not drop.  Overall traffic and desktop traffic increased form year to year.  Mobile traffic just increased at a higher rate.  This is important, as, at least for our clients, mobile traffic isn’t taking away from desktop traffic.  It is helping to expand the audience for our sites.


For this study we used Google Analytics definition of mobile, which counts the iPad as a mobile device.  The chart below shows the top mobile browsers for the sites we manage for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Mobile Browser Breakdown

Here is another view of the data which makes it easier to see how things have changed over time.

Mobile Browser Breakdown

The story hear is that Android, iPhone and iPad are the dominant players.  This consolidation makes things a bit easier for developers like us.  Being able to focus on a few big devices/platforms makes it simpler for us to develop solutions that work on nearly all devices.

As you can see from the data, the introduction of the iPad has had a huge impact and is really what is driving the growth in our mobile stats.  In two years the iPad has gone from not existing to a 35% mobile browser market share.  We really haven’t seen much traffic yet from other tablet devises.  This is important to understand as you plot your mobile strategy, as designing your website to work on an iPad is a much different task than designing for iPhone or Android.

Rise of iPad

Site Comparison

The percentage of visitors accessing from mobile devices varied dramatically from site to site. For some sites, 25% of users came from mobile devices while others only saw as little as 2% coming from mobile. Not surprisingly, sites with a news focus tended to attract a higher percentage of mobile users than more static sites.  Sites with mobile friendly designs also attracted more mobile visitors than sites without.

The chart below shows the percentage of accesses for all of the sites we looked at.  Each row represents a site.

Site by Site Browser Data

Bottom Line

Our traffic data shows that mobile browsing has increased dramatically over the last few years.  The data for the sites we manage is in line with the overall industry trends.  When we look at this data in 2013 we expect mobile accesses to have doubled again and to represent 15-20% of all site traffic. 

As a digital agency, the ramifications for us are pretty clear.  Making the sites we build mobile friendly is no longer just an option to consider.  It is a requirement.

Thanks to Ashley Montague for compiling the data for this blog post and Freddy Trejo for the awesome graphs.

Top 10 Best Designed College Websites: The Sequel

We did a post on the best designed college websites a couple years ago. Since the digital world is constantly evolving and it seems trends become outdated overnight, we thought it would be worthwhile to take a fresh look and see what has changed in the last few years.

Interestingly enough, many of the sites were exactly where they were two years ago, showing no signs of having been updated. As much as anything, this is an indication of how much work it is to build and redesign a university site.

Having looked through hundreds of universities sites, we found several sites that impressed us with their design and smart navigation structures. Look at our list of ten below and let us know what you think.

Update: You can view our 2013 list of best college websites here.

(10) University of Chicago

This one has a simple, clean design.

(9) Boston University

This is a good site, but hasn’t evolved in a few years.

(8) Vanderbilt University

They do a great job of pulling out their school colors from great photos.  Overall, a solid site.

(7) Notre Dame

We like the photos and permanent navigation, but don’t love the pixilation/fonts that are used in the navigation and subheads.

(6) Duke University

This is another site that hasn’t been updated in a while, but a great site, nonetheless. It’s straightforward and useable.

(5) Depauw

We love the slider and clean header.

(4) Northern Arizona University

The unique layout of this site is refreshing.

(3) Johns Hopkins University

This was our top pick on our post two years ago for its incredible use of photography. It has not changed.

(2) University of Pennsylvania

We like the way they include simple feature on the left and large image without getting too busy.

(1) William and Mary

There is a very fresh classic look. It’s also easy to find your way around the site. Beautiful crisp images.

Three Easy Steps: A Quick Look at Social Media Fundamentals

Recently I had the pleasure of sitting on a ‘Fail Fair’ panel about social media. My time was fairly limited so I decided to keep my presentation short and sweet – focusing on the three most essential fundamentals of social media:

  1. Don’t break guitars
  2. Don’t eat at McDonalds
  3. Don’t say dumb things

Admittedly, these aren’t the most commonly referred to fundamentals of social media. If I were to say any of these in a client meeting there would likely be blank stares and the possibility of me being asked to leave the room. I stand by them nonetheless.

So lets break this down a bit more, shall we:

Don’t break guitars

Watch this video but – quick disclaimer – the song will be stuck in your head for days.

Don’t eat at McDonald’s

Our friends at McDonald’s decided to get cute with hashtags on Twitter. Here’s an example from their #MeetTheFarmers and #McDStories campaigns:

McDonald's Tweet

You can probably see where this one is going… and the response:

Tweet Response

Don’t say dumb things

Just stop… seriously stop. Please.

In conclusion…

  1. Don’t break guitars – or listen and own up for mistakes. The right decision could have been made many times in the case of United. It never was. 12 million views – I’m sure someone out there much smarter than myself can calculate the cost of that negative PR.
  2. Don’t eat at McDonalds – or be ready for the good and the bad. Not everyone agrees with you, that’s life. Get over it and be ready with a counterpoint. If you’re not you probably should rethink your strategy a bit.
  3. Don’t say dumb things – hopefully this one makes sense.

Hope you enjoyed the not-so-standard look at Social Media Fundamentals. If you have any tips or social media failures to learn from please let us know in the comments.