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15th April 2015 by toucan team

The Team User Experience Digital Development Graphic Design

I have to confess that it has always amazed me - “coding” “developing”, or simply “geeking out!” This is a short introduction into my fascination with the digital world followed by a Q and A with Stephen, one of our in-house developers, so carry on reading!

I’ve always had an interest in digital. Stephen and I are immersed in it and we’ve both witnessed the ‘world wide web’ take off. In the mid 1990’s we saw the ‘Matrix’ hitting our screens followed by the launch of Google in 1998, with Yahoo just before that, both unrecognisable from the search engines that we know today. From what I can remember the internet was a fairly boring place, and you could only seem to access pages with a specific URL, not at all like today’s search functionality. Growing up as I did in and around design studios I was given the opportunity to design my own ‘website ‘ (which was really just a page! - albeit with a lot of help!)

As part of my university studies we were expected to create our own portfolio showcase microsite. We were taught the basic code and development techniques. I can read and understand HTML, but for me English is hard enough to understand without the added stress of learning a development language as well, so I stayed away from it for the majority of the time, (other then looking at it If I want to see if a certain plugin has been used for instance.) Whilst a student I became good friends with a chap named Luke Watts who is now a successful web developer/designer working in London, Together we learned tonnes and I pushed him to develop things that I was convinced were achievable – everything possible right? We dabbled in all sorts and from here onwards I was taught the importance of the user and site mapping.

I’m sure that the same is said about us designers, but from experience web developers are a funny bunch! – usually very precise, often wearing glasses, generally regimented and always with an odd sense of humour. I tried a joke once with our developers... Two of them were chatting to one another about how to add class, so I gave them a bow tie and a top hat! Needless to say it didn’t go down to well, but I thought it was funny!

At the pace that technology is moving it’s more important then ever to keep up with current trends and development techniques. In a lot of instances the things we can create today may simply not have been possible yesterday. Embedding digital skills into the national curriculum is a great step forward and with companies like Barclays initiating their amazing ‘Digital Eagles’ programme - providing coding sessions for 7-17yr olds – the future looks utterly brilliant.

Having a good working relationship with a developer is only going to be a plus for a designer, (I’m not too sure how they feel about it!) I frequently try and push the in house team as much as I can, but also seek their advice and guidance. This good collaborative approach ensures that we solve the problem in the best possible way.

Okay, let’s find out a bit more about one of the toucan developers, Stephen... 
...so Mr Wagstaff it’s time to get down to business.

How long have you and code been in a relationship together?
It all started with that seductive mistress BASIC way back in the day, GOTO10. Things got complicated with the web around the turn of the millennium I got involved making a Dr Who fansite on geocities and we’ve been together ever since, Dr Who that is, not Geocities.

Are there any development tools you use to help you aid a project, tricks of the trade that sort of thing?
Several but most recently … Grunt. It makes everything easier! Grunt is a task runner which automates and improves on a lot of the processes involved with a project, in particular we use it for making CSS and Javascript files production ready.

What skills and technologies are you the most interested in improving upon or learning?
Javascript is a generally misunderstood and abused language and is an area I want to get more involved with particularly with node.js. It’s the future, at the moment. As for skills, my juggling really needs work.

I’ve just gone on to a website you built (and I designed!) and the browser is displaying a blank page. Talk me through the steps you'd take to troubleshoot the problem.
The first step which is often overlooked by designers is to check the URL, if it’s correct then of course the blank page is a feature and only serves to enhance the user experience, there is no problem. Who said there was. If in doubt though, crack open the dev tools and all will be revealed.

What web browser do you use? (… I can answer that one… CHROME !!! )
And i thought you knew me! For developing it’s always Firefox, now the developer edition, partly because I find the dev tools better than anything else but mostly because it’s black and square.

For general browsing its generally any one of Firefox, Chrome, Opera or recently Vivaldi. Very rarely do I not have several browsers open at once, often this is on purpose, I’m looking at you OSX. As with everything its about using the best tool for the job. Sorry fanboys but sometimes Windows is better.

What’s so special about Chrome?
I really don’t know, so I Googled it and the first result is this http://mashable.com/2008/09/02/awesome-google-chrome/ so it must be true.

Do you have any personal web project happening at the moment?
There’s always something on the go (I have a lot of time on trains) but generally it’s just playing with new tech.

Has there been a particular development project you’ve been proud of?
That's like choosing a favourite Teletubby, cat or video game, impossible. That said I've become slightly obsessed recently with page speed, and after a lot of tweaking one of our recent projects scored 100 on the Google pagespeed check (it may have been 98, but I was getting slightly delirious)

Maybe also a Wordpress project which involved a lot of wrangling code into order. Wordpress will not defy me!

What does HTML and CSS stand for?
Hyper Transactional Monkey Language and Cracking Super Styling.

How important is it to have a responsive website?
Very! or if you prefer très, sehr, iawn, molto, tre, вельмі Responsive isn’t just mobile it’s everything. A website shouldn’t respond to a device it should respond to the available space to view it … try increasing the font size in your browser … I’ll wait.

You’re back? Awesome, hopefully this made the page you were viewing respond appropriately generally by dropping into ‘mobile’ mode but I bet it didn’t.

Windows particularly makes it very easy to half screen apps, no body likes having only half a website workable.

When we first get involved in a project what is normally your first thoughts (and don’t say ‘oh crap!’)
Excitement! Every project is interesting no matter how straight forward it may seem on paper, take for example trying to optimize everything on page load. Writing that has made me realize that actually a lot of the time the interesting development work is often the stuff that I will bang on about and watch the designers eyes glaze over … which is actually most things.

How do you value working with designers in-house. ?
To be serious for possibly the first time (ever) it’s awesome, it suits the way I work perfectly, I like to develop iteratively and to be able to get feedback immediately from designers on the design and the UX of a site or app is properly useful.

Not being creative myself but liking ‘design’ it never fails to amaze me some of the things that they come up with. (I’ve done what you asked please don’t hurt me)

What website do you look at or use /do for inspiration.
I read a lot of tech oriented sites but at the moment Thenextweb, Readwrite and The Register are generally at the top of the list. It’s always interesting to see what other people are doing with various bits of tech though so often I’ll just be browsing around on the hunt for cool things!

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