We celebrated a very specific anniversary this week:
A lot of the team has been traveling (or having a baby!!!) over the past couple of weeks but almost everyone is back now. We’ve been pushing like crazy on “El Grande Burrito” and we’re now THREE WEEKS out from finishing the project.
We welcomed our newest team member, Paulette, this week. She’s going to be project managing, kicking ass, and keeping everyone on track.
Eric was a writing machine this week. He wrote a great article on the differences between a product and project manager. He spoke at Refresh Austin on the same topic, and submitted a panel idea for SXSW 2015. (There are only two weeks left to submit ideas!) And in between all of that, he’s been transitioning our clients over to the newest version of Packagr.
AngularJS wowed the team again this week with its form validation tools. Like many other things that Angular just does for us, its form validation tools are built-in and active by default, and provide most of the functionality we need. So by using Angular, we get sensible, useful form validation that not only works but provides a clear path to future functionality that’ll be coming to browsers in the near future.
If you didn’t see Eric’s post earlier this week on the team building a pixel derby taco truck, you should see the pictures!
For Packagr enthusiasts, check out this article on using the Craft CMS Matrix to design custom fields for longform content.
Ben spent ten hours in meetings this week with our client working on “The Grande Burrito” project. As we’re nearing the big launch, we’re seeing that the work for this final push to get it launched is just as difficult as all of the work leading up to it.
Other big news: the upcoming version of Packagr will allow you to “browser wank” your project all you want! Previously, we’ve been focused on the actual device previews so you could see what your project would look like on an iPad, a laptop, a phone, etc. Ben created an option that makes the content preview more like a traditional word processor so you can resize your window to whatever size you want.
Bushra has been fine-tuning the new Packagr UI and she and Eric have been working on theme creation. They’ve looked at real-world examples of publications we like and found what makes those styles readable and aesthetically pleasing. One that we all agree is great is the Harvard Law Review. Their aesthetic is beautiful and clean, and clearly meant for reading.
Eric met with Joel Goodman from Bravery Media to talk higher ed. Joel has been working in the higher ed tech space for several years and shared his insight of the industry. We see some great applications for Packagr in the higher ed space and are preparing to demo Packagr at some conferences later this year.
Lots of stuff to share this week!
The Great Discontent has a new look that we’re big fans of: http://thegreatdiscontent.com/
The NYTimes shared some tidbits about their CMS tool, SCOOP.
And finally, a couple of #longreads that are totally worth diving into. A beautiful article on how designing for the ideal solution worked at Bell Labs in the 1950s and an epic post on the new “coding literacy” can be found here.
This week has been insanely busy here at the XOXCO office!
On that note, we’re at the tail end of a development sprint with the latest version of Packagr! I got to play around with the updated UI and the new editor, and it’s so simple to use. Bushra has been working on establishing that UI by problem solving in some really interesting ways. For example, she asked herself this week if she could walk someone through using Packagr by verbal instructions alone. She also played around using iconography vs. text for visual cues and testing which works better.
Eric also got to play around with the new UI and editor, and used it to validate our approach by re-creating some Vice articles. Using Packagr’s RSS feed importing feature, and matching the styling through CSS, he was able to recreate the existing look and feel in our more flexible format.
The team’s other big effort this week has been on a “the Grande Burrito,” a big, ongoing client project.
With a dozen pages, each with multiple screen sizes, there are now hundreds of comps to show. Bushra has developed a good organizational system using Sketch and InVision to present at design reviews, and leave behind with the client.
The client wants a way to make their web experience tell a story that their customer relates to, so Bushra has been thinking about that strategy as well. That narrative can really determine a customer’s perception of a business, the quality of their experience, and whether or not they buy.
"You can only use so many pictures to tell the story," said Bushra "I’ve been trying to use the other tools I have to make the voice of the company personable on the web."
Our friend Dave Rupert was kind enough to give a Packagr shout out on the latest episode of his Shoptalk Podcast. Thanks, Dave! Be sure to check out next week’s episode, which features our good friend Sam Kapila.
There’s also a really great design prep class that Bushra’s sister, Sidra Mahmood, put together. The resources in it are excellent: http://bitmakerlabs.com/design/prepwork/
Today is the last day of a big R&D project we’ve been working on since mid-March. As we wrap things up with a final round of QA, I’m busy committing all the documentation we’ve created to the project’s git repository. But after today, we’re transitioning into a holding pattern while our client takes ownership of the product and readies it for production. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to say what it actually is!
This Friday also marks the successful completion of week 2 at XOXCO for our new designer, Bushra. She has been churning out beautiful design work since she arrived: helping to define a visual identity for PROJECT SHARKY, creating an animated introduction video for SendTab, and encouraging all of us code nerds to think harder about the things we leave in and more importantly leave out of our apps. Bushra’s skill set extends far beyond traditional web design techniques, encompassing 3D modeling, motion graphics, and video editing. I cannot really explain how excited I am to have her push us forward into new and uncharted territory.
With the design taking shape, Sharky is heading towards what I hope to be an early August public beta. Damien is putting the polish on the low level features while I split my time between front end details and server API implementation. The only major blocker we have for this project is to come up with a real name and URL for it!
We decided at the beginning of this week that the R&D project that Adam’s been working on is ready to go from prototype to production. He and I have built at least four complete versions of this product using various tools and techniques (including both Ember and Backbone) and we’re now pretty confident that we can do the things we want to do and provide the level of beautiful experience and glossy interface that our clients have been asking for. Now, knowing what is and isn’t possible, we’re working on what we be the real version 1 of this platform that will hopefully see its way into a variety of products in the next year.
Quasi-related: I found Unhosted.org and the RemoteStorage project while researching existing options for this type of service. This is a great idea - remove the data storage component from the web apps, and allow the users to literally take their data with them, storing it wherever they like instead of being required to use the app’s infrastructure. As all software moves into the cloud, we’ll need more options like this!
Last but not least, there’s been some movement towards getting a new version of Pixel Pix released. Our iPhone pixel art app has already been downloaded 18,000 times, so we’re pretty excited about rolling out new features to this established user base. Amongst other things, the next version will include a few new and very colorful filters, as well as the ability to share Pixel Pix images to in new ways. And maybe we’ll be able to convince Bushra to make a new set of stickers as well!
And that’s that for week 207 of XOXCO, Inc.
As with any framework, there are tradeoffs, and we expected some complications to come along with the magical benefits Ember offers. Coding Ember applications is easier than building everything from scratch using jQuery, but performance and low-level optimization suffers. Overall, we’re going to be extremely cautious for now, and we’ll continue to explore alternatives like Backbone.js, which may offer a lot of the same benefits with less overhead and mystery.
The whole team has been working together on our current big client project. Half the time is spent building a Drupal-powered content management and community moderation tool that exposes a RESTful JSON API to the outside world. The other half of our time is spent building an HTML5 client application that ingests information from the API and creates a dynamically generated interface to the features and content. We’re really excited about using Drupal in this way, as it provides the best and most flexible content management tools we’ve seen. And exposing all of the Drupal data via a JSON API means we do not have to spend time building a custom Drupal theme — all of the customer facing screens are built in the HTML5 client. This allows us to separately develop and scale these two components separately, and means that it will be substantially easier to build new clients that talk to the same server APIs. And most importantly, it means that nobody at XOXCO will ever have to spend time mucking about with PHP template files!
This project runs through mid-July, and then we’ll be spending some time as a team to finish up Damien’s creation, code named “Sharky.” We’ve also got an exciting R&D project ongoing that we hope to debut in coming weeks. More on that soon.
In the meantime, I’ve been interviewing candidates for our design position, as well as for our summer internship. I’m very pleased with every single person I’ve interviewed, and I’m sure this will prove to be a very difficult choice to make. Through this process, I’ve honed my description of how we work at XOXCO and what we hope to achieve as a company, and it is very gratifying to hear from candidates that it sounds like a fun, creative place to work. I am still interviewing candidates, so if you are a designer in Austin looking for a crazy new place to spend your days, get in touch!
That’s it for week #203 of XOXCO, Inc.