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Digpen V: A Students Notes

Published: 29 September 2012

Notes from Talks at Digpen V; Including "Habits of Great Studios", "Node.js: Javascript from Client to Server and Beyond!", and "Whisky and Web Design".

DigPen is a relatively new web conference held in the South-West of England. The event has matured significantly over the last couple of years since it was first held in 2010. Having only been to the first one I thought it could be interesting to see how much it has changed over the last couple of years.

DigPen is:

[A conference] about collaborating, sharing and celebrating our amazing community of designers, developers and entrepreneurs. We run community conferences and events, and support meetups, hackdays, barcamps and anything else web and digital going on in Devon, Cornwall, West Somerset and West Dorset.

The schedule for the event can be found on the official website. I attended the following events:

  • Habits of great studios
  • ABCs of G-Cloud
  • Introduction to Django - live coding workshop
  • Node.js: JavaScript from Client to Server and Beyond!
  • Designing Content: How web designers can stop worrying and learn to love content strategy
  • Whisky and Web Design
  • Discussion Session: Collaboration

The notes I have included may not be 100% accurate, I had to write pretty fast during some of these talks. Some of them may also reflect thoughts and ideas that the hosts talk may have triggered. The notes have had some minor edits made, but on the whole are as I jotted them at the time.

Shirley Atkinson recorded each event on video and has posted these on Vimeo; each post has the correct video embedded with it. Here's the introduction.

If they don't make sense, ask. I'll do my best to put them in context for you. Also, they may not be entirely accurate, if you spot any mistake I have made please do let me know and I'll make corrections.

Update: Sophie Dennis has been compiling a list of all resources a materials relevant to the conference on Lanyrd.

Habits of great studios

This talk was hosted by Iain Lobb.

Shirely Atkinson posted the following video of his talk on Vimeo.

  • Invest in your website.
  • Invest in branding.
  • Don't let customers think your a risk for their project
  • Pitch for free, but don't work for free.
  • Add value, what makes you better than a random group of freelancers?
  • Reply to every email, the contact may be useful in the future
  • Competitors can bring in extra customers through out sourcing work.
  • Talk the project down, so when they see the real project it blows .them away
  • Don't take on dangerous jobs.
  • Enter for awards, it will cost but most people won't enter. You will win one sooner or later.
  • Use social media for engagement as a human, not PR
  • Try to turn your business into a product. Look for a mass-production service to sell.
  • Specialise. You will probably do better for it as you gain a name in the area. If you do too much you won't get this reputation.
  • Charge based on what a project is worth to the customer, not what it costs you.
  • Design for the product user, not for the client. They are't the end user.
  • Research a company before working with them.
  • "Duedeal" [Link anyone? Or did I miss-hear the name?] for finding out what a client is worth.
  • Don't be afraid to walk away from a project. If it costs you more than its worth leave it.
  • Keep a list of everyone you have been in contact with.
  • Base yourself near similar companies so there is a local workforce to hire.
  • Offer a relocation fund for new employees.
  • Good ideas can come from anyone; clients, workforce, etc. They come over time, don't push them.
  • Keep your team informed about everything that's going on in the business.
  • Listen to the negatives from within your company.
  • Provide incentives for people to bring their ideas into the company.
  • Allow staff to train each other, it helps everyone.
  • Don't let project drag on. People get bored with them and loose motivation.
  • Invest in good equipment.
  • Use talent from outside the company.
  • Don't outsource what you do best. Do your specialisation in house.
  • Don't let your company grow too fast, you may outgrow the income and lower your standards.
  • Hire a goth. They are weird, so they have good ideas.
  • Don't promise people extra pay etc, if you think they're worth more do it there and then.
  • Give maintenance to junior staff. Senior people don't want the work on the same project for years.
  • Give the shit jobs to freelancers.
  • Don't create roles people can't move on from.
  • Aim to finish all projects early.
  • Don't launch a site on a Friday afternoon. You'll end up working on the weekend, launch on a Monday so you have a week to fix it.
  • Managers are not senior developers or designers.
  • Everyone is customer facing. Let them deal with the client for the project they're working on.
  • Sales people are not human. They'll make you a stack by getting the work in, if they're good.
  • Backup and use source control.
  • Let people specialise in an area. They'll get a lot better in one area, give other jobs to someone better suited.
  • Designers and developers are not project managers, so get someone to manage them.
  • Phones on silent in the office.
  • Music on headphones.
  • Keep organised, name photoshop layers.
  • Eat fruit and give coffee, although cake works better according to Shirley Atkinson.

ABCs of G-Cloud

This talk was hosted by Mark Craddock.

Shirley Atkinson recorded the talk, as posted below.

And the slides are on Google Docs.

  • Data published at data.gov.uk
  • Government spends sty least 16 billion on IT each year. Could be up to 30.
  • 6 suppliers get 80% of the funds.
  • One supplier charged 10,000 to change one line of code in the header on a website.
  • CloudStore is just a frontend to access the framework
  • Gov.uk/govstore
  • Can find suppliers on the system.
  • Government want more agile developers.
  • Agile.civilservice.gov.uk to notify the government that you are an agile developer.
  • Only 248 suppliers to date.
  • 29000 public sector buyers.
  • ~5 million email users.
  • Use google apps.
  • Large gap for public sector jobs in the south west. Only one company in Devon/Cornwall.
  • Simple to get in. Only minor checks required.
  • They will help you get in.
  • Buyers can review the service providers.
  • They require information on how to get data in and data out and how much it costs for when they leave.
  • G-cloud 2 is closed. Can only apply for g-cloud 3 now.

Introduction to Django - live coding workshop

This workshop was hosted by Stuart Marsh.

No notes were actually taken in the session as it consisted of the speaker building an example application. If published, I will link to any resources the speaker publishes here.

The source for this workshop can be found on GitHub.

Node.js: JavaScript from Client to Server and Beyond!

This talk was hosted by Robert McCarthy and Gary Ratcliffe.

The talk slides are embedded below.

  • Why?
    • Forms.
    • Validation needs to be client side and server side. Node.js means they can write validation once, and use it both server and client side. Particley useful when using sites that run on multiple languages, java, asp, etc
    • The idea behind using Node.js for Goss was to allow once set of [form] validation rules to be used on all sites on both the server and the client.
    • The forms package is used on all of their delivery platforms.
    • JavaScript engines were bad. Jscript was appalling and Mozilla rhino not too bad.
    • Use google v8 JavaScript engine. Very very fast.
    • V8 is single threaded. No multithreading as this makes things complex and slow.
    • Used a v8.net wrapper to integrate.
    • Cant handle concurrent requests at the moment due to the single thread. Can only get away with this as they are dealing with small tasks and v8 is silly fast.
    • It's had to be fixed, Node.js stepped up to this.
  • Node.js is
    • Ideal for high scalability web applications
    • Not thread based, it's Non blocking instead.
    • Uses a similar implementation as Nginx and so uses little memory
    • Fast, reusable, scalable, etc.
    • Used by a lot of big business now.
    • With node you can literally write the server by creating instances of a basic server.
    • It's all based on function callbacks.
    • Allows the processing of on request while it waits for another to complete a job.
    • A lot of infrastructure now appearing around Node.js.
    • Need a very strong understanding of JavaScript.
    • Need to look at the source code for real world projects to get a good understanding. Examples are too simple.
    • Often used with MongoDB
  • Do you need it? Think carefully about it.
    • A tool for applications that use a lot of AJAX requests.
    • Very low level language in itself.
    • Can be very difficult and complicated to deal with.
  • Coffee script is an alternative syntax to JavaScript. Kind of like a CSS pre-processor.
    • A variant called IcedCoffeeScript exists for use with Node.
    • More elegant than Node.js.
  • Node.js can block the CPU, despite what people say.
    • Some maths can take 10-15 seconds at a time, at which point it can't do anything for anyone else.
    • Goss using JavaVM and Node.js workers in order to get around CPU blocking.
    • Means they can get front end developers working on some backend development.
  • Current issue with web dev is code can't be reused between front and backend.
    • Sooner or later we have to move past the phase where the client is 'dumb'.
    • We need everything in one language to keep it maintainable.
    • Is it just a dream?
    • Meteor is a solution. Built on Node.js.
    • Allows you to use the same code in the browser and server.
    • You can hack the code to make requests in the browser.
    • Allows for real time synchronisation between the server and client. For example the server gets new content, so this is automatically pushed to the client.
    • Avoids the requirement for writing complicated Node.js code.
    • Allows use of sequential code.
    • Uses sockets.js to open sockets when available.
  • Still old school client server model now, but will soon change as devices get more powerful.

Designing Content: How web designers can stop worrying and learn to love content strategy

This talk was hosted by Sophie Dennis.

The slides for this talk are embedded below.

  • Bad content regularly derails web projects.
  • It is often completely different to what was agreed with the client.
  • Lorem ipsum is only is good to use when it is used correctly.
  • Only use it when you don't want people to read the content, but focus on the layout. For example for representing a blog post.
  • Designing without content leads to bad design.
  • Bad content means people get confused. What's the difference between these two products?
  • "Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it's decoration." - Jeffery Zeldman
  • Content first. [Sophie] not huge fan of term.
  • We shouldn't do a design then add content, or get content than add design
  • We need to tailer design and content to each other to ensure they are as good as possible for each other.
  • Design a process, not a project process.
  • Integrate the content into the project process. Need to find a way to get it from the client.
  • "Clients don't realise they have a content problem"
  • Send them a spreadsheet with a list of pages and the content status for each one with what goes into each one. It'll help the client realise how much work they have to do before the two week [example] deadline.
  • Use sitemap's to visualise the content layout.
  • It's better for the client to realise they can't provide content in time for themselves over being told that they can't.
  • Build a content audit. It's a list of pages, the URL for the page, title, etc. These force people to really think about what they have on the site.
  • Content needs to be under constant review. Do we still offer this service? Is this information still accurate?
  • Use a page template. Request primary content, secondary content, third priority etc so the designer knows what to put first.
  • Content need to work on a large array of devices.

Whisky and Web Design

This talk was hosted by Ben Reynhart.

Ben has now uploaded his slides to SlideShare, these are embedded below.

  • Founded mutant labs; Websites, mobile apps, games, other interactive experiences.
  • Use a good design process, it helps to keep the team happier and the client happier which leads to higher morel.
  • Can be useful to ask what the client likes, what they hate etc.
  • Don't find out what the client wants, find out what they need.
  • Tell the client what to expect. Set their expectations.
  • Don't forget that the client may not have gone through the website design process before, even though you yourself have been though it multiple times, so keep them informed.
  • Use mood boards to communicate visual ideas to a client.
    • Add things that are appropriate to the project, and ask the client to input on the mood board.
    • Get colours, type, imagery etc.
  • Wireframe the design next.
    • Allows you to organise the layout a work out where content goes without getting distracted by type, colour etc.
  • Style tiles.
    • These are simply colours, textures and some ideas for how headings etc could look on the site. This ignores layout altogether.
  • Design concept.
    • Use everyone discussed above to out together a graphical representation of how the site should look in the browser.
  • Rules:
    • Ask lots of questions.
    • Present work clearly and fully - this means explain everything!
    • Don't be precious - try multiple options.
  • Iterate fast through multiple designs.

Discussion Session: Collaboration

This talk was hosted by Ben Jameir-Masters.

You can find Ben's write-up from the talk on Google Docs.


The event was a good one. The short half hour (with the exception of the workshop) session worked well as they allowed the speakers to get plenty across without anything dragging on too long for the audience.

Everything has changed a lot, and for the better, since the first event. The first event felt more like a large discussion about what DigPen could be, but now it has matured somewhat more it feels like event which could eventually grow a lot larger.

I learned a lot today, especially during the Habits of great studios and Introduction to Django - live coding workshop sessions. I won't be hesitating to go next time.

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