A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory
blog_new_orleans

Drupalcon New Orleans: 21 Key Takeaways

Chris, Mike, Ron, Shane and I spent last week at Drupalcon in New Orleans.   We learned a lot and enjoyed a little too much of News Orleans’ food and nightlife.  Following is a list of our key takeaways from the trip.

(1) I attended my first Drupalcon Business Summit on the Monday before the conference.  It was inspiring to hear the perspectives of others running Drupal development firms and I came out of the Summit with tons of marketing ideas and growth strategies.  I would highly recommend the Business Summit, as well as the other Drupalcon Summits (Government and Higher-Ed) that were held on Monday.

(2) In his Druplacon Day 1 keynote, Drupal founder Dries Buytaert proposed a number of new initiatives for Drupal 8.  I was personally most excited by the proposed improvements to the way media and workflow are handled in Drupal 8.

(3) Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar was built between 1722 and 1732 and is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States.  It is also lit nearly entirely by candlelight and is the darkest bar I have ever been in.   Cool place.  Photo of Ron and Chris enjoying some adult beverages.

Ron and Chris at the darkest bar in New Orleans during Drupalcon.

(4) Around half of our Brick Factory staff work out of our Washington, DC office with the other half working remotely.  I attended a good session on running a distributed Drupal shop that included a bunch of useful tips.  One interesting factoid from the session: 30 million Americans currently work from home and that number is expected to double in the next few years.

(5) Given the increasing architectural complexity of Drupal, Ron thought most development shops would host their Drupal sites on one of the excellent Drupal managed hosting platforms that are out there (Acquia, Pantheon, Platform, Blackmesh, etc.).  These platforms provide Continuous Delivery solutions and are more secure, reliable and scalable than self hosting.

(6) Apparently the state of Georgia saved $5,000,000 switching from Vignette to Drupal.

(7) The Crab BLT and onion rings at St. Lawrence are highly recommended.  Great food and cool place.

Fried crab BLT at St Lawrence in New Orleans

(8) I attended a Drupalcon session on improving the Drupal administrative experience that was very useful.   It sounds obvious, but the key to creating great content management tools is to spend time planning out the administrative experience in the same way you would the front end experience.  We are certainly guilty of skipping this step at times.

(9) If you have ever wondered why WordPress has a robust marketplace of themes and modules/plugins and Drupal doesn’t, check out this talk.  The session explains how Drupal’s General Public License prevents the selling of modules and why that may not be a good thing.

(10) From the same Druplacon talk, there apparently is a closed Drupal distribution called NP8 that is aimed at media companies and costs several hundred of thousands of dollars a year.  We’ve got to get us one of those!

(11) Ron and Shane have developed an intense ping pong rivalry at the various Drupalcons they have attended together over the years.  Ron continues to dominate, although he definitely showed some signs that he may be past his prime. Shane is coming for you Ron!

Drupalcon ping pong match in New Orleans.

(12) Most of the programming sessions at this year’s Druplacon focused on training developers on how to use Drupal 8.  The Drupal 8 sessions were packed with overflow crowds,  with many standing and sitting the floor.  From our own work and talking to others, it is clear that that the learning curve for D8 is much higher than D7.

(13) We are very excited by the caching layer in Drupal 8 and the various contributed modules that the improved caching is making possible.  There is an experimental module called BigPipe that allows for uncacheable programming blocks to be loaded after everything else on a given page. RefreshLess also looks really interesting and promising.

(14) We all thought theDrupalcon Day 2 keynote by Sara Wachter-Boettcher was amazing.  The talk was about how we can make our designs kinder and more inclusive.  She shared some great anecdotes about how website design and language can unintentionally lack empathy.  One example: brands that send Mother’s Day promotions to people whose mothers may have passed away or are not involved in their lives.

(15) Chris found the Lessons from WordPress Core Drupalcon session that covered the differences in approach between WordPress and Drupal very interesting.  Wordpress tends to prioritize backwards compatibility and the content editor experience. Drupal prioritizes code and the programmer, and hasn’t traditionally worried about backwards compatibility. Things are changing a bit on the Drupal end, and there are ongoing discussions about whether the Drupal release cycle should mirror WordPress more closely. It seems the sweet spot may be somewhere between where Drupal was and WordPress is, and it looks like that is where the Drupal community is headed.

(16) Unlike most cities in the US, the bars in New Orleans don’t really seem to close so the night can just sort of keep going and going.  This sign we came across sums up the ethos of the place pretty well.

The soup of the day is whiskey.

(17) If you are a programmer just getting started in Drupal 8 we recommend the Altering, Extending, and Enhancing Drupal 8 session.  Great overview.

(18) Overall it was validating to see that our front and back end Drupal development processes are in line with what other firms are doing.  The sessions we attended will lead us to take a fresh look at Pattern Lab, kss-node and CSS regression testing (Phantom CSS/Wraith).

(19) The Responsive Images Druplacon session took an in-depth look at how to size responsive images to work well with all devices and how to implement in Drupal   We use images to evoke emotion on many of our sites, so having images look great in all sizes is something we need to prioritize.

(20) We had some great meals in New Orleans, but the best was probably at Cochon Restaurant.  The smoked pork ribs were amazing, as was the Louisiana cochon with cabbage, cracklins and pickled turnips (pictured below).  Must visit.

Louisiana cochon with cabbage, cracklins and pickled turnips

(21) A few on our Brick Factory team would have benefited from not having a casino strategically positioned between our hotel and the conference venue.  Harrah’s New Orleans misses the Brick Factory.

(22) Next year’s Druplacon will be in Baltimore, approximately an hour away from our Brick Factory DC headquarters.  We’ll be there.

moving

Our New Digs

When founding the Brick Factory back in 2011 one of the first (and biggest) decisions we had to make was about our new office.  The decision was made difficult by a number of challenges:

  1. We decided to launch the firm in the Summer with a firm start date of October 1, 2011.  As a result we only had a few months to find the space, which meant we were limited to offices that were immediately available and didn’t require long build outs.
  2. Finding office space was one of a million things we had going on at the time.  Simply starting the new company was our primary focus, so didn’t have the time to devote our full attention to the search for a new office.
  3. As a new company with a limited credit history, we didn’t have much leverage in our negotiations with prospective landlords.  
  4. We wanted to be in downtown DC, which is a market priced for corporate clients.  There were (and still are frankly) a limited number of office buildings we could afford as a small business.  

We ended up finding a nice pre-built space at 1726 M Street NW near Dupont Circle.  We tore down a wall or two, slapped some paint on the walls and filled it with the nicest furniture we could afford.  And we got to work.

1726 M Street was never our dream office.  It had ugly carpet, limited windows and an eccentric heating/cooling system.  But I’ll always remember if fondly since it was our first office.  It served us well.

In early 2015 we heard that our landlord was planning to tear down 1726 M Street and a few other buildings nearby. The plan was to build a fancy new mega building with rents way out of our price range.  Our landlord exercised the eviction clause in our contract and we had to be out in nine months.

This time around we had a lot more time to find our new space and also a better idea of what we wanted:

  1. A boutique building with character as opposed to a nameless office building like our old space.  We wanted a building small enough that we could have our own floor.
  2. A downtown DC location with metro access.  We loved our old location so didn’t want to move too far away.
  3. After years working in a dark office with windows on one side, we wanted windows on all three sides if possible.
  4. The opportunity to design the space to our specific needs.

The search took a few twists and terms, but we found our new space and today we moved into our new office on 925 15th Street NW.  The space is right on McPherson Square and not far from the White House.  Our new office has our own floor, windows on three sides and was built out to our specs.  It is kind of awesome.  

While leaving the old space is a little bittersweet, all and all we are thrilled with our new office. For me personally, moving into this new office represents the beginning of a new phase for the Brick Factory.  To borrow from Swingers, “our little baby is all growns up.”

We look forward to hosting our clients and friends in the coming weeks and months in the new space.  In the meantime you can see some photos of the new space here.

Drupal Blog Post Header

5 Drupal Websites That Will Elicit Envy

What makes a great website? Is it the copy writing? The layout? The interactive features? The copious amounts of cute animal pictures? Maybe it’s all of the above. And more.

No matter what it is that makes your website great, you can do it in Drupal.

Drupal is a popular open source content management system (CMS) much like WordPress. With the assistance of a talented web development firm, you can a create stunning one-of-a-kind website.

Below are five beautiful Drupal websites. They’re well-designed. They’re engaging. They stand out in a crowd.

And, most importantly, they help both the user and the organization achieve their goals.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ever wanted to go on a private tour of the Met? Through the Met’s sleek and modern website, you can. This website translates the museum experience into a digital one. It accomplishes this by using a full screen layout and with a wide variety of interactive features. Audio clips, short lecture videos, and artwork comparisons add a layer of depth that helps bring the pages to life.

Tesla Motors

Tesla Motors

Tesla’s website demonstrates that their design capabilities extend beyond cars. “Show don’t tell” seems to be their strategy; they let the media speak for itself. The front page of the website features a short, full-screen video that shows off the capabilities of their car. While viewers watch the video, the camera pans downward, directing them to the unobtrusively placed call to action near the bottom of the page.

Children’s Cancer Foundation

Children’s Cancer Foundation

Australia’s Children’s Cancer Foundation’s website presents the user with key facts that help drive home their mission: to support children with cancer. They use a variety of media, such as a flip book, to illustrate the problem and encourage the user to engage with the content.

The World Economic Forum

World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum’s website serves as the platform to promote their viewpoint and raise awareness of major issues. The drop down mega menu is the highlight of the website, as it shows off Drupal’s customizability. Rather than featuring just text links, it also includes sub-menus, different layouts, and images to help users find the articles they’re interested in.

The Audubon Society

Audubon Society

The Audubon Society’s website utilizes frequently-changing media to replicate the experience of bird watching, impassioning their audience to support conservation efforts. When you first arrive on the site, you’re greeted by a high-quality, full-screen, scrollable image. In addition, each article is accompanied by a clickable bird call of the featured feathered friend. All of these features combined create an immersive user experience.

Final Thoughts

This is just a small sample of great Drupal websites. From the White House to the University of California, Drupal has become a top choice for designers and developers looking to craft beautiful sites.

But these five sites aren’t just beautiful. They combine layout, interactive features, and content to create best experience possible and keep their users coming back for more. The next time you’re thinking of redesigning or creating a new website, consider Drupal.

Collect ‘em all! The complete Brick Factory Fun Facts set

We like to think we are a fun group, and maybe a little strange, but hey we all have our quirks. We just made our quirks into fun cards for you.  We’ve been posting these fun facts on our Facebook page for the past few months, and now we have compiled them all in one place for you.  We know you’ve been anxious to  display these on your desk, hang a few on your fridge, keep a couple in your wallet… etc.

Chris

Dan

gerry

Hannah

Jei

John

Josh

Katie

Mike

Ron

Shane

Teddy

Todd

Tom

Ring ring! Facebook is calling… you to action: 5 great posts by nonprofits

top5_nonprofits

Donate. Volunteer. Sign up. Get involved. Sign our petition.

It doesn’t matter what specific cause your nonprofit supports; you have bottom line objectives you are working to achieve. Whether you are fundraising or promoting a petition, social media is a useful tool to reach your audience. While the mechanics of Facebook seem simple enough, being strategic about how you develop and post content  will help you effectively communicate with your audience and reach your goals as a nonprofit.

We pulled some of our favorite nonprofit Facebook posts that do an awesome job at promoting calls to action. These are excellent examples of how to engage your audience by including that little something extra.

1)  Feature personal stories

People love stories; especially ones that have those happy, feel-good endings. Psychology Today notes that the strength of stories lies in the fact that they include both emotion and fact. When you combine these two, you can engage the audience’s imagination to put them in someone else’s shoes; like in this story posted by Special Olympics of how an NFL player came to create an anti-bullying squad.

Putting a face to your organization’s efforts is a great way to show your audience how your non-profitis helping real people.  Plus if your story makes your audience feel good hearing about other’s involvement, they just might get involved too. Featuring stories of people that your nonprofit has helped really is the best of both worlds for your audience.

 

2)  Create quality graphics.

It’s easy to type up a status with all the information you want your audience to know. But is that the most effective way to get your message across? Almost half of your brain is responsible for the processing of information visually, so why not try to communicate your message in an informational graphic like this one posted by UNICEF?

These can be easy to make, and can stand out in the sea of text and articles flooding your followers’  news feeds. These types of images are different. They draw the eye to the text on the picture first, then to the photo itself, instead of relying on the caption to communicate the message to the audience. Just remember, captions are still a great tool to link to where your audience can find more information.

3)  Ask nicely… and bring back up

This post by the American Red Cross is a great example of presenting your audience with a clear call to action and a little bit of persuasion. If your call to action is something that your audience may have reservations about, like donating, personal stories come in handy again.  Posting a link where your audience can read stories from people they can relate to can squash any fears they may have and bring them onboard.  The American Red Cross did a great job of this by giving their audience a chance to hear about their work from someone outside of the organization with their stories from past blood donors.

4)  Annnnnnd ACTION!

An entertaining video with a philanthropic back story? What could be better? Studies have shown that posts that either amuse or make audiences laugh are more likely to be shared, so if you can tack your nonprofit’s message on to a video that has gone viral, then you’re golden! This post from The Humane Society about Keyboard Cat, is a great example of using entertainment to garner attention from your audience.

5)  Take advantage of trends

Stay up to date with what is currently trending and find a way to relate it to your nonprofit.  This post about Coretta Scott King from the Girl Scouts of America, celebrates both the achievement of an inspiring woman as well as Black History Month.  Something that would have taken this post one step further would have been to jump in on a relevant hashtag or tagging someone influential and relevant to the cause.  The more eyes that see your post, the better chance of increasing involvement.