Introducing a new home for my projects.
I’ve began amalgamating some useful tools into a new entity that I’ve had under my belt for a while.
This new project will be outlet for me to develop web tools, release code and blog about it. I call it “The DeadUseful Project”.
There’s already some projects you may be familiar with:
- PageRank Viewer
- Pretty IP
- Is it up (or down)?
- Valid email checker
- Dates calculator
- Is my browser up to date?
- Blog Goes Live
- New Projects
- Open Source Code Releases
- Twitter Updates
- Project Updates
Watch this space.
Google’s new logo. It’s official: flat is the #1 design trend for 2013.
Finally watched the last episode of the last series of HouseMD last night.
Are you a technology enthusiast? An engineer? Perhaps you’re a creative mind or just like making things?
Well, here’s something for you!
There are hackspaces all around the world and now there’s one in The Potteries.
A hackspace is a place for people with common interests, often in computers, technology, science, art, can meet, socialise and/or collaborate.
We’re a group of technology enthusiasts, engineers and creative minds that have started meeting on a regular basis in an effort to collaborate on various projects.
As a group, Potteries Hackspace has been seeking a place to meet since it formed in 2010.
Now, thanks to Randles (Garages) Ltd, the group are holding open meetings every Tuesday at 7PM at the disused site in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire. You’ll find us in the old valeting bay of the former car dealership.
Whether you’ve got a project you want to stuck in with, or even if you haven’t, anyone is welcome to come down and have a brew.
It’s free to come along, there’s no obligation to donate but it is encouraged.
What are you going to make?
Find out more, visit: potterieshackspace.org
I’ve now finished rolling out “Phase 2” for the Randles website.
- See the updates LIVE at www.randles.co.uk
To start with there were three database issues I wanted to address…
Firstly, The type of database we were using is no longer suitable. The used car database was powered by a simple SQLite implementation. SQLite is fine for lightweight tasks, but will not scale as much as say MySQL. This was migrated to MySQL.
Secondly, management of the vehicles needed to be improved. In order to scale the usability of the “used car” section, it demands a user interface. You should be able to easily add/remove from the database. Using MySQL provides the basis to allow this to happen.
Thirdly, the previous URLs for used cars was terrible (eg: http://www.randles.co.uk/used-view?id=17714916-hpidow0443304). This needed to be transformed into much prettier and SEO friendly URLs (eg: http:// www.randles.co.uk/used/view/1/peugeot-107). Once the database was running on MySQL and it was easier to manage old and new entries and is easier to utilise and maintain the entry IDs.
This was a blocker. Until this was carried out it would make expanding on this section much more difficult and although there was no visual different (apart from the URLs) it was a task that needed doing.
I decided to stick with the PHP PDO database abstract layer and simple adapt my code to handle both MySQL queries and SQLite queries.
I used sqlite2mysql.php to migrate the actual database, then just flicked a switch to start using MySQL instead of SQLite. Almost seamlessly.
I updated all the import scripts and implemented adminer (Database management in single PHP file) for any adhoc edits via the existing interface.
All went well on the development site and so I pushed it to the live site.
So what’s next?
The “used” section is probably the most important page on the website after the home page.
We’re used to seeing the same old “autotrader” approach, we can do better! Let’s go back to basics…
There’s 3 simple features that aren’t found in print that the user expects on a used car website:
It’s important to remember how important these functions are to the user and build an experience that is centered around them.
The style, design and general presentation was much to be desired, this needed to be updated with these new features and brought into line with the new styles.
In addition to this, modern features have been introduced:
- Autocomplete combobox - this will replace the traditional make & model dropdowns
- Remove pagiation - infinite scroll and/or “more results, button”, similar to Google Images
- Price slider - prettier user interface for the end user
Here’s the result:
Here’s what you’re looking at:
- Header: A smaller header/banner section giving more focus to the content.
- Search: Removed from the body content, onto the left hand sidebar, styled in-line with the home page.
- Auto complete combo box: Simply click the drop down and either choose or search for the name of the car you’re looking for, even if you don’t know the make. Couldn’t be simpler.
- Price slider: A really simple visual aid.
- Pagination: Having so many pages to choose was intimidating for visitors. The “Next” and “Previous” buttons combined with search, filter and sort functions means there’s no need for traditional page numbers.
- Photos: Pictures are faster than words, so the jargon was removed and replaced with photos of the vehicles with the price and a caption.
- Labels: I used a semi-transparent block on top of the photo to clearly display an informative caption underneath, while still letting the photo “shine through”.
Combined with an updated style, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a much more inviting page.
As if that wasn’t enough, the individual vehicle profile pages or “view” pages were begging for a refresh too…
What I needed to improve:
- The second heading (h2) is surplus to requirement as the title is already in the grey title bar.
- The price should be clearer.
- The images (often sets of 3 or 9, sometimes more) take up a lot of space and are rather intrusive. Replace this with one large image and a smaller set of thumbnails, which should all fit inside about 50-60% of the content area.
- The vehicle description doesn’t need to be labelled as such, it should be obvious.
- The “Standard Options” or features should be managed into an easy to read table or grid with supporting images.
- The vehicle’s details can be laid out with the description to make it more appealing.
- The location details and map should be better presented so it seems more integrated. The map should be clickable.
Here’s the result:
Sure, we’ve still got work to do here, but with a few tweaks here and there, we’re on the right path to “Phase 3”.
I’ve been quiet for a little while settling into the new job role and tackling some quick fixes as well as dealing with some larger infrastructure challenges.
I originally created the current Randles website as a stop gap to tide them over until a plan could be put together for a better one. Now I’m here full time, that plan is in place and I’m able to begin rolling out some much needed changes to bring it up to speed.
This is the homepage as it stood back in June.
Dated, busy, clunky, it needed some work.
Last month I quietly pushed out “Phase 1” of the changes I’d made to the Randles website…
- We know the “used” is the most popular section, so as per the “F-Layout" the "used search" was moved to fit into the banner section
- It needed to be more obvious which manufacturers are at Randles, so by presenting navigation blocks on the homepage and pointing them to the new vehicle landing pages the user experience was improved
- The style of the sidebar needed modernising to fit in with the look and feel we were heading towards
This resulted in it looking like this:
That’s Phase 1 complete. Much more inviting and a much better user experience I’m sure you’ll agree.
We’re not quite there just yet though but we’re almost ready to roll out “Phase 2” so watch this space.
The current Randles website is due an overhaul.
The brief is create a new website for the Randles Motor Group to accommodate the new franchises while giving us the opportunity to introduce new technologies and take advantage of modern concepts.
Here’s a sneak peak at the initial concept…
This new concept design takes Randles in a completely new direction.
So what do you think? Your feedback is welcome.
- Blocks: Similar to the upcoming Windows 8 interactive tiles, this creates an intuitive website navigation with the most popular options displayed first.
- Logo: It’s human nature to look for a face, so the new logo sports a little smile. Combined with a bright red square in the background and a white typeface the Randles logo is now unmistakeable.
- Search: From a user experience perspective, this makes it very easy to get help and find content on the website that may not be obvious from the navigation. From a management point of view it means the content can be tailored to the search queries.
- Live updates: To keep the website fresh, a social network feed will sit just above the footer, allowing the website to act as a social media hub.
- Join the newsletter: The newsletter is a great way to keep customers informed about Randles, so giving new customers the opportunity to join is important.
- Social links: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, RSS (Blog): Randles is on them all, and now you know.
- Background: Subtle, but exciting. The idea is to periodically introduce new backgrounds to suit the section of the site, a new car or a current promotion.
- Mobile first: The new design will utilise new technologies and concepts to create a responsive design that will not only look great on a mobile phone, but on tablets, desktops and even large TVs!
As of April 2012, I have agreed to enter into full time employment, initially for 12 months with a company very close to my heart that has been demanding my expertise more and more:
The Randles Motor Group is a fast expanding, family business that already has Peugeot and Suzuki dealerships in Stoke and Stafford, with more to follow.
I’ll be joining my mum & dad, my sister & brother-in-law in the company to support the demands of further growth as the group IT manager.
Not only will I be expanding the existing IT infrastructure, but will be putting much needed IT network administration in place and leading the development of a new group website.
What this means for:
Unfortunately some opportunities to expand the business did not come to light and I have made a decision to begin winding down the business.
I will honour any existing support agreements as best as I can until their natural end. Any ongoing services such as broadband or hosting will be transferred to another supplier.
For now, I will also continue to take bookings for small jobs on an “as and when” basis, to be carried out on evenings or at weekends. Special arrangements can be made for “urgent” issues.
I will still remain involved in the business as a partner but all day to day operations have been transferred to my business partner, James Henry.
James Henry has agreed to continue to drive the business forward and supports the decision I have made.
Phurix customers should continue to use the regular communication methods. Should you contact me directly about Phurix, please appreciate that I may not be able to get back to you as quickly as you’d hope.
Most other projects (code, forums, blogs, single purpose websites, etc) should continue to run as normal without much interaction from me. However, please appreciate that I may have less time to contribute to them.
I have considered reducing the amount of intellectual property I own and online real estate I manage, but no changes are planned at the moment. Announcements will be made if any changes are planned.
The reason I have decided to do this is because it’s the right time. As Randles grows, I want to be more involved to ensure that they are making the most of their IT.
My goal as Randles Motor Group IT manager will be to increase sales by developing a new website and increase productivity by improving the IT infrastructure.
Taking this job has in no way been an easy choice, but it will give me the opportunity to really apply myself and allow me time to step back from everything else while I plan my next move.
Hopefully you will continue to support me and can understand why I have made this decision.
If you have any questions or feedback, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
- James Wade
I’ve been running the Suzuki4u website since 2004. It’s now the biggest UK Suzuki forum.
However, because it was running outdated forum software it was getting over run by spam bots.
I reacted and updated the software to the latest version.
I also went ahead and updated the logo, but before I show you the new logo, let’s take a quick look at the logos over the years…
Suzuki4u 2004-2007 Logo
Suzuki4u 2007-2011 Logo
Suzuki4u 2011 Logo, ready for 2012 and beyond!
Anyway, checkout the updated Suzuki4u website and forum:
I’ll be introducing a new website in 2012, so watch this space!
- wade.be gives The IT Exchange Ltd. website a facelift!
When I first met Simon from The IT Exchange Ltd (ITE), he explained to me how his website was outdated and wondered if I could do him a new one.
ITE are printer specialists and really wanted to stress how they recycle IT and that no printers go to waste.
Tired: Their original website
Fresh: Introducing the new website…
- The header shows a re-rendered version of the original ITE logo to retain consistency with their stationery. The contact telephone number is clearly displayed on the right along with the email address to make it easy for visitors to get in touch.
- The banner really had to show what ITE is all about: printers and recycling. Being green is important to businesses and they wanted to show that they understand that.
- Smooth corners were a bit of a pain to implement on every browser, but worth it for that soft look and feel making it easy on the eyes.
- Call to action was added in the form of a large button so users can easily “get in touch”. A neat trick with this button is it’s also offers live help via Google Talk when Simon is logged in. When he’s not, you’ll be taken to a contact form.
- The footer has room for their address, contact details and company details. I felt this was quite important to re-enforce the integrity of their business.
The site is officially launched!
Good luck to Simon, all he has to do now is edit the content and let people know!