Posts Tagged ‘concept labs’


Stop, Collaborate and Listen

by Joe Dollar-Smirnov



Collaboration is at the heart of innovation.

Newtons law, Einsteins general theory of relativity, the lightbulb and the kitchen sink are all examples of great things that have come out of some sort of collaboration. The benefits of collaboration are clear, yet the actual practice is often underestimated and difficult to get going. Here are 5 top tips for ensuring collaboration flourishes.


1/ Humble pie

Everybody’s opinion is valid. Allow people to feel comfortable in the environment to speak up if they feel they can add to an idea and collaborate. Great ideas come from all levels of the organisation from intern to CEO.


2/ Peer to peer

Treat everyone with the same level of respect.


3/ Brainstorm

Get your ideas out. Vocalise, share, sketch, write and build. Play. Be quick, the more ideas you get out of your brain the sooner you’ll start to see real value and inspiration. Ideas will feed new ideas.


4/ Constructive critique

Don’t be rude. The only people who have an excuse to get defensive in a critique are the people who have not had much practice. If you’re an old hand then be the one to accept criticism on the chin and move on. Learn.


5/ Dispose of ideas (your own ones!)

If an idea isn’t really working don’t dwell on it. Throw it away. Repeat.


BBC Connected Studio – Behind the scenes of Build Studio

by Sari Griffiths

Following the BBC Connected Studio’s first Creative Studio for Homepage, Navigation and Search – attended by Cain and Alex, we were one of nine ideas invited back to work on two days of rapid prototyping to prove our concept at the Build Studio. On Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd , four of us – Stu, Haro, Can and I – went up to sunny Salford for a couple of days of intense developing.

The background of BBC Connected Studio is covered by Cain in his blog about the Creative Studio, so I will go straight into describing the two days.

Day one

After a smooth registration and a much needed breakfast, we gathered in the bright and airy 6th floor room at Dock House, Media City, Salford. This was going to be our home for the next couple of days.

Adrian Woolard (Project Lead R&D North Lab) got the day started again. Briefing was short and to the point, already feeling the heat of the day. Everyone in the room was itching to get started. All nine teams grabbed a table each and started straight away. Faulty power sockets were sorted out within a minute, and a mountain of sweets and snacks arrived shortly after – though unfortunately without Wagon Wheels (Much to Adrian’s disappointment). 😉

While we were setting up and getting ready, Adrian and Eleni (Senior Product Manager of BBC Homepage) kindly gave us some brief feedback from the last session as none of us individuals attended the Creative Studio. Many BBC gurus stopped by to chat to us, and especially Ross – the personalisation guru – gave us lots of interesting insights. It was brilliant to talk through your ideas and try to explain concisely, the best way to visualise your idea with clarity.

We spent the rest of the morning reviewing what was available code/data wise, and planning what we were going to do. In terms of concept, we decided to be single minded and focus on one aspect of Cain and Alex’s original proposal, that evolved into “Discovering new content in real time”. In terms of code/data, we decided to start certain areas from scratch (rather than using the homepage code that the BBC provided) using Node.js alongside using the data provided as is. It was a difficult call, but given the time frame, we felt that would be the quickest route to what we wanted to achieve.

After a good lunch, we were running at top speed. Actually the whole room seemed to be running at top speed. There were lots of conversations and frantic tapping of keyboards. You could almost hear the hums from everyone’s brain working. We were all blinkered, totally focused on what we were doing. Everything must be done by 4pm the next day!

By the time we left the building, you could probably see some steam coming out from our (and everyone’s) ears… We had some much needed drink and food, then straight to bed!

Day two

bbcphotoAnother beautiful sunny day.

All teams were given a slot to talk to the audience in the morning to see what they thought of our concept. As Stu, Haro and Can were developing away, I picked up the task to take the audience through some flat visuals.

The audience responded to the idea very positively, and it gave us great insights. Some confirming our convictions, some giving us new ideas.
“It would definitely change the way I use the homepage”
“If it’s like this, I don’t mind logging in”

Encouraged, we worked through the afternoon, and before you knew it, it was 4pm. We were all still buzzing as we sat down for the presentation session.

Nine teams presented in a friendly atmosphere, all listening intently, exhausted but proud of what they achieved in such a short space of time. We were also keen to finally find out what all the other teams had been doing around us.

We presented some visuals to explain our concept along with the prototype. Stu wanted more from the prototype – as he always does having such a high standard! – but I thought what we achieved was just right as a proof of concept.

I personally really enjoyed presenting which I don’t usually. Talking to so many people before hand helped me hone what to say and the very positive atmosphere at the presentation undoubtedly helped too.

That was it. It was brief beer time then home time.

So what did we think?

These were a frantic and fantastic two days and it was amazing to see that everyone achieved so much. After all it was a sort of a competition, but it was such a positive and buzzing atmosphere, it didn’t feel like it.

It was a shame we had to run to catch our (very delayed) train at the end. It would’ve been lovely to catch up with everyone over some drink. But hey, I’m sure our path will cross again.

Big thumbs up and thanks to the BBC Connected Studios team. It was run very smoothly and everything seemed to go to schedule. We enjoyed every minute of it.

If you are thinking of attending the future events, go for it. It’s exhausting but so much fun!


BBC Connected Studio – a fun day of innovation

by Cain Ullah

WP_000670On Friday last week (that is the 4th of May 2012 just in case you are reading this in 2013) we spent an excellent day up in the BBC’s plush new MediaCity, Salford offices with a bunch of BBC folk, other start-ups and generally bright, vibrant people. The cause was the first instalment of the BBC’s Connected Studio. First, a little about what the Connected Studio is and then I’ll tell you some more about the day.

BBC R&D are looking at innovation all the time with the real possibility that some of the very cool new tech they are currently working on not surfacing for another 10 to 20 years.The Connected Studio is an initiative to look at how the BBC can innovate just a little beyond the existing roadmap for digital. The intention is to do this in a collaborative manner with BBC staff working with invited external digital agencies, technology start-ups, designers and developers to participate in generating new ideas, concepts, features and functions . Find out more here.

The main focus areas each having their own creative studio days are 1) Homepage, Search and Navigation 2) Weather and Travel 3) BBC Children’s and 4) The Olympics. There is a reasonably detailed engagement charter detailing the steps to achieve the goal of generating ideas and moving them rapidly through concept to proof-of-concept to pilot. Each focus area will start with a Creative Studio day. This is a one day event (the first being 4th May. More on that later…) to facilitate ideas and concepts. Out of the ideas pitched at the end of the day, a number of the companies or individuals will be invited back to the Build Studio. The build studio is a 2 day innovation workshop to develop ideas and proof-of concepts much like a Launch 48 (although you already have the concept by this point). The objective is to have a working PoC at the end of the 2 days. Of these PoCs, up to five will be invited to work on a 6-8 week Pilot Build for which there will be up to a £50K budget. The BBC then has an exclusive option for a 6-12 month period to take forward any successful pilot it chooses for full product development.

There is a total fund of £1m to develop concepts throughout the year, with an additional £1m of BBC staff time.

That was a quick overview of the overall concept of The Connected Studio I’ll take you through the experience of participating in the first Creative Studio.

The Creative Studio

We were limited to 2 attendees, as I believe was every other company. So I attended along with one of the UX Consultant’s in our network Alex Ng. The Creative Studio on 4th May was all about Homepage, Search and Navigation. Prior to the day we had been provided with a creative brief so knew that the focus was to explore the potential uses of customisation and personalisation.

You have the option of booking in advance, a 15 minute closed pitch with the BBC and a third party. This is for those that already have a developed idea and want to protect their IP. Everyone else presents in an open session, the time you have to present largely depending on the number of people presenting.

Arriving at MediaCity between 9-10 for registration (I left my house at just after 5am) you get a good breakfast before getting started at 10.

The new BBC Office has lots of space that has been built to foster collaboration and creativity. WP_000669We were situated in an events space that had been segregated into a number of areas for the main presentations, break out areas for collaboration and another presentation area for some presentations by some key BBC experts that were open to all if they chose to attend.

Adrian Woolard (Project Lead R&D North Lab) got the day started, introducing us (probably about 60-70 people half of which were the BBC) to what the Connected Studio is, the vision unveiled by Raph Rivera and what was expected of us. James Thornett and Clare Hudson then introduced us to the current homepage and it’s journey to now, their strategic objectives and the challenges they face. At 10:40 we were ready to go and had a 4pm deadline to be ready for the presentations.

We had developed a few ideas into one concept on the train up to Manchester so requested a closed pitch on the day but they were full. So, it turned out soon after that we had a 2 minute slot to present in the open session in front of the audience and the camera. Not nerve racking at all! As we already had an idea we went off into our own little space to develop it further, prepare wireframes and a presentation to fit into the 2 minute time slot. Other people gathered around the “ideas wall” to collaborate with others who up to now, had only half an idea and wanted to create a team to work up some ideas on the day. Others went to speakers corner where various BBC experts were waiting to answer any questions.

Supporting the open spaces were a number of 15 minute “expert” presentations in the morning. The agenda was as follows:

  • 11:00 – 11:15 – Audiences: Simon Williams (Audience Planning Manager)
  • 11:15 – 11:30 – Market Analysis: Tim Fiennes (Senior Market Analyst)
  • 11:30 – 11:45 – Homepage Tech: Tom Broughton (Senior Technical Architect for Homepage)
  • 11:45 – 12:00 – UX&D: Steve Gibbons (Head of User Experience and Design)
  • 12:00 – 12:15 – Personalisation: Phil Poole (Senior Project Manager: Personalisation & Social Platform)

I didn’t attend all of the morning sessions as I was deep into developing our idea but both the Homepage Tech session and the Personalisation session were very useful. Both gave an insight into the current state of their topics plus a view of the roadmap ahead. Especially interesting was Tom Broughton discussing their ambitions to implement a Triplestore to allow semantic search features – something that was prevalent in the idea we were presenting.

A very nice free lunch was available from Midday and then the afternoon session was focussed around developing the presentations whilst those that had closed pitch sessions were presenting in a private meeting room. Linda Cockburn, a creativity consultant that led the BBC’s Creative Network for 5 years, did a presentation on how to present and then there was an opportunity to present your pitch back to her and real members of the Homepage audience to get personalised feedback prior to the 4pm deadline.

At 4pm we were all ushered to the presentation area where a number of plasmas, a microphone and a cameraman awaited. There were twenty-three 2 minute presentations. The whole day (as expected from the BBC) was run to strict timelines, the excellent event production team running a tight ship for everyone involved including the 15 minute morning expert sessions. So, the pressure was on to fit our presentations into the 2 minutes, some of which were cut off because they ran out of time. All-in-all there was a high quality calibre of presentations with some excellent and varied ideas produced. Some were digital but to my surprise most were hand drawn presentations on flip-board paper and there was one presentation told in the form of a story.

At the end of the presentations at 6pm, beer and wine were provided (until 11 if you wanted to stick around for that long) for all of the attendees to mingle. Some very interesting people and all in all an excellent day of fun and innovation. The next step is to wait to see if we get through to the build studio (we should hear by the end of this week). The concepts presented will be judged on, Distinctiveness, Relevance to brief, Innovation, Value, BBC public purposes and Connected Strategy (One Service, Ten Products, Four Screens –

Our Concept

Without doing too much of a reveal, our concept was based around turning the home page into a living thing that is more dynamic and more real-time rather than a navigation step that users spend very little time on. Less than 10% of people used the personalisation features in the previous version of the homepage and lots of people will continue to ignore it. With this is mind we introduced various levels of personalisation and testing the idea of machine learning to automate personalisation as much as possible. Once a semantic Triplestore is introduced, this could be taken a lot further.

Our key points were the following:

  • Make the homepage more useful and more relevant
  • Make the homepage more real-time
  • Surface content that uses automated personalisation as much as possible
  • Cater for varying levels of personalisation from none at all to more interactive users
  • Use the semantic web to improve the “discover” features of the site to be specific to you

Here’s one our mock-ups that we presented to give you a taste of what we were thinking:



I doubt we will pitch for Weather and Travel or BB Children’s creative studios due to this being less relevant to the work we do but you never know. If they interest you though, I would highly recommend getting involved in The Connected Studio whether you are a digital agency, tech firm or and individual designer or developer. It really is an excellent day.

Here’s a few links of interest:


HTML5 prototyping with Node and Knockout

by Stephen Fulljames

Over the past couple of months, a small team at Red Badger has been working on a number of HTML5 prototypes for an interesting client. Speed of development and easy iteration have been essential so we’ve taken the opportunity to try out a new technology stack which has given what we were looking for and is exciting the whole business.

Maybe a demanding prototype schedule isn’t the ideal place to chuck away everything you’re used to and start afresh, but actually a lot of the front-end development has built on tools and themes we’ve worked with throughout 2011 and we’ve found that the speed and ease of using Node has more than compensated for the learning curve. So, what have we been using?


Node – Underpinning everything we’ve been doing in our prototyping project; Node is fast, event-driven and built on Javascript. Its been fascinating for myself, as a primarily front end developer, and Stuart with an background to see how our respective specialisms are converging on a single set of tooling. The module loading system, NPM, which is similar to Ruby’s Gem ecosystem, also makes it incredibly easy to pick up and play with the many extensions that are out there – and to create your own too.

Express – A development framework for Node, giving RESTful routing and content negotiation. After working with Open Rasta in .net MVC on a previous project, the ease of setting up applications using Express has been a delight.

Jade – With Express providing the application routing and view rendering, we next add Jade for templating. A HAML-style syntax, offering us simplicity and brevity but compiling to really well-formed HTML and easy to use with HTML5 data-* attributes for Knockout (which we’ll come to later). In fact having used Jade for a while now I’m not sure I want to go back to writing “proper” HTML.

Step / Async – Node’s asychronicity takes some getting used to after having worked with linear control flows for such a long time. Imagine AJAX callbacks as the fundamental way a language works – you can’t rely on other parts of your application providing data at the moment you need them, so you need to be able to create queues for parallel and serial execution. Step and Async are two modules we’ve tried out for this, both have their benefits but Async seems to be slightly in the lead for what we’re doing.

Now – The other great benefit of Node is its ability to serve real-time applications, and the Now module takes this to almost magical levels. Existing as a namespace on both the client and server simultaneously, you can call client methods from the server (and vice-versa) to push data instantly as a general or targetted broadcast. Seeing this in action has really convinced us that Node is something to get excited about, and has wowed the client too!


Knockout – We used Knockout on other projects throughout 2011, but with Node’s inherent ability to supply real-time data its really coming to its own. It’s a Javascript library implementing the MVVM (Model-View-View Model) pattern, which should be familiar to Silverlight developers, and makes rich UIs a breeze to update. The new 2.0 version, released during the Christmas break, removes the reliance on jQuery for its default templating which really opens up its flexibility.

Underscore – Described a ‘utility-belt library’ for Javascript, Underscore is another tool that is compimentary to the likes of jQuery and adds a whole raft of functional programming methods to objects and arrays (among other things). It also runs as a Node module so we can make use of it on both client and server, great for code consistency.

Ender – In fact with Knockout and Underscore at work, it was beginning to feel like jQuery had been relegated to just a “ready” utility, DOM selection and effects. That’s a lot of weight for something we weren’t using very much so as an alternative we’re trying out Ender, which allows you to compile your own library from smaller modules – such as the lightweight DOM selector Qwery. And it all installs and builds in a similar approach to NPM.

LESS – A CSS pre-compiler, and another tool we used during 2011, but as a native Node module its integration is now much easier. If you’re developing in a Node environment you can use it to watch for LESS file changes and compile locally (we also use on OS X), and then deploy the LESS and have the server startup create a complled and minifed version in production. Alongside Jade and Coffeescript its beginning to feel like compilation from more efficient syntaxes down to browser-readable files is becoming a key element to web development.

The whole picture

As well as this Javascript-oriented development we’ve also been trying out MongoDB and Redis for data storage as part of the stack, with equally encouraging results. And to make project compatibilty and pair programming between our Windows, Mac and Ubuntu users easier we’ve given JetBrains’ Webstorm (and PHPStorm) IDE a thorough test drive – given it has all that familiar Reshaper goodness from their Visual Studio tools its looking like a great combination so far.

It might seem that, with all these Javascript-heavy technologies in HTML5 documents, older browers won’t get a look in. As we’re prototyping on this project perhaps its not important, but actually support is pretty good. Every view Node creates is sent as rendered HTML, just like any other web server, and in fact due to its speed we’re finding that we can make sites less “AJAX-y” than we might otherwise – which of course is better overall for accessibility and discoverabilty. On the client side, Knockout is compatible back down to IE6 and even the ‘magic’ of Now is mobile compatible, with beta support for older IE versions. Of course we want to move away from those legacy browsers as much as any other developer, but if it’s a client requirement this stack can still provide it.

So as a result of these experiences we’re investigating using Node and its related technologies more widely at Red Badger during 2012, its already looking like its going to be an exciting year!