Gmail makes the future of email look a whole lot brighter!

The last couple of months have seen some exciting announcements, which look set to change email development forever.

Gmail now supports media queries

Google has started the process of releasing a number of updates for its family of email apps online, as well as its dedicated Android and iOS apps. These updates will not only bring it into the 21st century and allow email designers to have more control over how their messages are rendered, but it will vastly improve Gmail’s ability to render CSS style rules in HTML emails and ensure that CSS styles are not stripped out.

One of the benefits of this is that CSS rules can be defined once and will cascade automatically to the correct elements when rendering, just like CSS was always designed to do and how it’s worked in web browsers since the late 90s. Developers have previously had to ‘inline’ style rules on to every individual element in order make emails look any good for Gmail users, leading to bloated, difficult-to-read code. While developers will likely still need to inline styles for a while (there are still email clients that don’t render styles in <style> tags reliably), this latest news hints at a future where inlining isn’t necessary, taking one of the more ‘trickier’ steps out of the email development process (different inlining tools work in subtly different ways, as do automated inliners built into apps such as Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor).

The second benefit of this is that it will be possible to use @media queries within <style> tags to adjust the styling of an email to suit the user's current device. In recent years, email developers have had to develop entirely new solutions for optimising the layout of emails in Gmail and other mobile email apps without @media query support. The most popular of these solutions is known as ‘fluid-hybrid design’. Andy even developed and shared his own version of the technique to help developers apply it more easily. But even when simplified, in comparison with standard ‘responsive design’ techniques, fluid-hybrid is far trickier to master and comes with its own set of quirks and limitations.

While there are still plenty of other email apps without @media query support, Gmail is by far the most popular (with a huge 16% market share), so Google’s planned changes mean a drastic reduce in the need for fluid-hybrid. Whether that means it will fade into complete obscurity, remains to be seen. As long as it remains useful for targeting other less-capable email apps, fluid-hybrid may still have a future.

Litmus partners with Microsoft

Litmus announced in August that it was partnering with Microsoft to ensure that future versions of Outlook would give email developers and users a better time.

Microsoft Outlook (in all its guises, from Outlook 2003, right to up to the new has always been a ‘thorn’ in the side of email developers all over the world. Having to use the Microsoft Word rendering engine to render HTML emails throws up all kinds of unique and complicated bugs for developers to work around, meaning that they have to code HTML emails using tables for layout - just like they did in the 90s. It has always been the weak link of the email world, making it incredibly difficult for the industry to move forward, so hopefully Google’s latest news could change everything!
While developers will still be tied to creating emails that work in older iterations of Outlook for a while (we can’t forget about those users just yet - every recipient is important), it’s certainly good news that Microsoft is now listening to email developers, and at least intend to make things better for them in future.

To summarise

Email as a marketing tool has seen unprecedented growth over recent years, but these announcements signify a shift in attitude by the big players of the email industry. This means that email developers can hopefully spend less time trying to solve abstract rendering bugs and spend more time creating beautifully designed, engaging experiences for more recipients.

There are still plenty of other email app developers out there that aren’t yet prioritising the same things, but with Gmail and Outlook aligning their attitudes with Apple (the Mail app that comes with iOS, which has had fantastic support for modern CSS and media queries for years), industry standards are set at a level that other developers simply cannot afford to ignore.

In the words of 1993 UK chart-toppers D:Ream, “Things can only get better!”.

Advice for anyone starting out as a web developer

The experience for many junior web developers can be quite similar when you first enter the industry, though the first few months may consist of a mixture of mild gratification and abject fear.

After a while, you may have begun to master a few languages, built some fancy websites and even worked on several applications. It’s at this stage, as a web developer, it becomes dangerously easy to get stuck in your comfort zone. You either begin to spend longer on tasks than you really should do, or spend so long labouring over the technical aspects of an application, that you forget about the end user’s experience.

To help you avoid a few of the most common pitfalls you might face, the friendly folk in our web team have compiled a list of three gems of advice that they wish they’d known when they started out.

1. Don't reinvent the wheel

It's something you've heard uncountable times before, but with development, it's easy to forget. Search for open source packages or frameworks that suit your needs; because nine-times-out-of-ten, that niche approach you were thinking of making can be drastically simplified by using something already well written, tested, supported and documented.

2. Whatever language you're using, use a linter

A linter will automatically check your code for stylistic or programming errors, such as unused imports or undefined variables - something that will save you hours of banging your head on the table trying to find that one misspelt variable.

3. Don’t second-guess your end users

Development should be based on real user's needs as a result of user research. Don't waste your time developing features or functionality as a result of guessing what your users want. Building that super-nice feature because you think it might be useful might be a fun challenge, but it risks never being used if you didn't ask users what they need first.

A-Z of life at RKH | Foosball

F is for foosball in the A-Z of life at RKH.

At RKH we take foosball very seriously. To us, it’s more than just a fun table-top game, it’s a fully fledged sport. The team have regular league matches and put in hours of practice to hone their skills over lunchtimes and after work. Our current table is starting to look pretty love-worn, we’ve repaired it endless times and our players are covered in tape, but we don’t know what we’d do without it. We definitely couldn’t think of a better way to spend our breaks!

No one can say for sure who first invented it, but the first patent for the game as we know it today was registered in Britain by Harold Searles Thornton in 1923. The first leagues started springing up in Europe in the 1950s, but Foosball didn’t gain widespread popularity until the mid-1970s. In 2002, The International Table Soccer Federation was founded, with the aim of promoting table football as a serious sport and established the game with the IOC and GAISF.

Our own team are no strangers to a good competition, Ian and Rick were chosen to represent RKH at the Cranfield Table Football Championships back in June this year. They did us all proud, battling their way to second place against 29 other highly skilled teams from right across the Midlands. Our competitive streak isn’t just reserved for outsiders, though, the RKH table football trophy is highly prized and league matches are fought hard, with everyone vying for the honour of displaying it proudly on their desk.

Grande Cappuccino in a Pantone 3425 cup please

I regularly stop by our local independent coffee shop to pick up a smooth morning caffeine hit and have a chat with the folks that own and run it. We have a shared love of many things; beautiful typography, classic cars, photography, food and not least, great coffee.

During one recent conversation, we got around to questioning what makes a coffee cup recognisable? What will make a work colleague know you’ve popped into Bean & Co for a sneaky double macchiato when they see a cup on your desk?

Besides the obvious giveaway, such as a logo or word mark, we settled on the use of colour and just how important it is for brands to own something distinctive. This can be one simple, definable colour, Harrods’ green for example, or it can be an entire kaleidoscope of colours, as long as they are used consistently and create a coherent, recognisable style. Think Paul Smith stripes or Burberry’s Haymarket check. These are globally recognisable symbols to anyone remotely fashion-oriented.

Our conversation never lasts for hours as he’s a busy Barista and I needed my Grande Cappuccino fix, but bringing things back to coffee, by consistently using a colour, it’s easier for others to identify where your caffeine loyalty lies. Add a touch of clever design and you’ll have a coffee cup your colleagues will lust after when they don’t have one.

Food (or shall we say coffee) for thought.

RKH loves Stranger Things

Over the past few weeks the RKH office has been taken over with talk of our latest collective obsession, Stranger Things. The few of us who hadn’t yet heard of it were already adding it to our Netflix queue halfway through watching the trailer, and it’s persuaded Matt to get an account just to watch it! With a team full of people who grew up watching the genre classics of the 80s, it’s no surprise that we’re all completely hooked on the heady nostalgia of it all.

What Stranger Things does so well, is take the best bits from some of our most treasured cult classics and blends them together to create something that’s both familiar and yet fresh. Set during the early 80s, it unapologetically runs with all of the classic movie clichés of this era. There’s the group of friends getting caught up in an epic adventure, the bookish girl who bags the football star, the struggling single mum, drunken police chief, top secret government research facility and the school yard bullies. From The Goonies to ET, Alien, The Thing, Carrie, Poltergeist and too many others to mention, it’s clear to see where the Duffer brothers drew their inspirations from.

This is made immediately apparent right from the off, with the brilliant use of typography and score in the title sequence. Designed by Imaginary Forces, it’s a masterclass in effectively building atmosphere and setting a tone with so little and it’s had all of our designers fawning.

Steph feels like if Stephen King, John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg were to have a lovechild, Stranger Things would be the glorious result. Dom commented that thanks to its retro sentiment and clever pop culture references, including the King inspired title, “it feels like you’ve unearthed a lost 80s original that you somehow missed the first time around.” He also points out the nods to more modern classics with a heavy 80s vibe, such as Super8 and Donnie Darko.

It doesn’t matter that the setting is unoriginal or that its inspirations are deliberate and obvious though, as the story is perfectly original and gripping. It leaves you eager to explore this strangely familiar world further and desperate to learn more about its characters and their fates.

Andy sums it up perfectly: “It’s so brilliant because it works on so many levels. The movie nerds can geek out over all the 80s references and brag about their movie knowledge and 80s fans get those wonderful pangs of nostalgia that we all love so much. Everyone else gets a high quality, well written and acted show with a great story. Not to mention the brilliant 80s soundtrack too!”

If you’ve already finished it, we love this supercut of movie references throughout the series. We’ve already spotted a few more to add to that list too!

RKH go to the races

Last Tuesday, we decided to do something a little different and arranged a team evening out at Leicester Racecourse. Blessed with the perfect weather for it, we arrived just in time to grab some drinks and make the most of the beautiful sunshine.

After getting ourselves settled in a good spot, we looked over the race guide to see which horses were racing and pretended to know what we were doing. Brett chose to back Snuggy as soon as he saw the name - it’s also the name of his son's favourite toy and so of course he took it as a sign and had to give it a shot.

It seemed like it could be anyone’s race as we all anxiously watched the horses vying for position. Snuggy finally broke away and took the lead right at the last moment, leaving us excitedly cheering him on as he crossed the finish line and Brett feeling pretty pleased with himself. Jess, Will and Kyle all got lucky over the next few races too.

For the 6th and final race, we decided to all put in a few quid and collectively back the biggest outsider, Gabby’s Lad at 33/1. Having the underdog come in would have been such a great way to end the evening, and splitting the £544 winnings would have been pretty nice too! However, despite getting our hopes up by being at the front of the pack for almost half of the race, he lost it towards the end and came trailing in behind the others in dead last.

It wasn’t all bad though, Faye picked the winning horse in the last race and ended up being our big winner of the night. She had said to us how much she liked Tulip Dress’ name right from the start of the evening, and she stuck with her gut even despite the horse being a huge outsider.

Well done Faye, Brett, Jess, Kyle and Will… Better luck next time everyone else!

Hive Society Honey

Back in June last year we welcomed tens of thousands of eager new workers to the RKH office. Ready for their arrival, we assembled The Hive Society, a crack team of RKHers tasked with keeping them all in check and well looked after in their new rooftop home. 

Our workers have been through a lot since they arrived. We’ve been plagued by bad weather and the conditions have been pretty unideal for honey making, but they’ve soldiered on and made the best of it. Then, just a few weeks ago as the weather was finally starting to look up, we found them under attack from an army of greedy wasps! 

After a battle of Game of Thrones proportions, resulting in many casualties on both sides, David and Brett bravely stepped in to save the day. Risking the wrath of the wasps, they narrowed the entrances to the hives to give the bees a better chance at keeping the intruders at bay and protecting their precious honey. Thankfully it worked, and with our help, the bees prevailed. 

For our efforts, we’ve been rewarded with our first batch of delicious golden honey, fresh from the RKH hive. We all excitedly gathered in the kitchen to get our first taste and watch as it was carefully extracted from the honeycombs and strained, ready for jarring. In total, we collected 57 jars, enough for one each, plus enough spare for us to gift to friends and family. 

Our bees have done us proud, creating some of the sweetest honey we’ve ever tasted and our beautifully designed series of labels adds the perfect finishing touch to all of their hard work.

Detroit: Appetite for Reconstruction

Credit: KnitSpirit

Credit: KnitSpirit

The photographs depicting the incredible decline of Detroit are shocking but well documented. Images of abandoned hospitals, crumbling theatres, buildings engulfed by trees and slums have a tragic beauty to them. The Motor City’s glory days fell victim to increased globalised competition and a harsh recession, which forced residents to leave the city in their droves. It was the antithesis to the American Dream.

By 2014, the population had dropped to 689,000; two-fifths of the number who lived there in 1960, which explains the eerie, ‘ghost town’ feel of the photography, perhaps best captured by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. Documenting Detroit’s decline and capturing the tragedy is perhaps the easy part. As the city climbs out of bankruptcy, its recovery is slowly taking shape  and Detroiters are building their own futures in an attempt to redefine their city.

The question of what to do with the abundance of decaying houses needs to be addressed  before the city can make a realistic, long-term recovery. A glance at reveals that the local government has knocked down over 10,000 vacant homes in a two and a half year period as part of the USA’s largest ‘blight removal’ programme. With the aim to demolish a further 40,000 over the next 8 years, it looks like a trend set to continue.

Credit: Thomas Hawk

Credit: Thomas Hawk

Alongside this demolition programme, however, is the ‘Building Detroit’ initiative, where residents can buy properties at auction from as little as $1000. This makes space for some Detroiters to exercise creativity as cheap prices mean affordability for ambitious innovators with a vision. A combination of low-cost buildings, community spirit and creativity could prove to be the recipe  required to rebuild a unique identity for the city of Detroit.

Three projects that highlight the desire Detroiters have to rebuild their city are:

  1. The Brick + Beam Detroit project, which acknowledges the efforts of residents seeking to find solutions to ‘rehabbing’ existing building structures. Project funding for a supportive network to enable ‘rehabbers’ to work together and share expertise. An interactive map on The Brick + Beam website allows users to show their progress and share insight whilst the resources tab tackles issues such as hiring contractors, DIY surveying and repairs.
  2. Barbers and gardeners unite in a wonderfully creative partnership called ‘The Buzz Initiative’ where modern barber inspired mowing patterns are adapted for vacant lots. (Only in America, right?!) This unique solution to land management has seen different creative talents across the city unite with a shared goal and has been awarded $84,055 in funding.
  3. To some people, unwanted buildings are simply giant blank canvasses and those who paint them are celebrated at the annual ‘Murals in the Market Festival’, which sees 50 local and international artists paint their large scale murals across the Eastern Market District. For a dose of inspiration have a browse at the efforts from last year’s festival.

Impoverished areas sparking unique and exciting imaginative output is not new. Many places have created a specific urban identity, such as Tacheles in Berlin, the street art movement and parts of London or New York before their more recent gentrification. Hardship, natural disasters, loss, recession and other major challenges throughout history have led to creative and determined communities coming forth and reclaiming places across the globe. Instead of being known as the fallen motor city, Detroit could become known as the creative comeback kid.

In order to achieve this, local government agencies should choose to support the redevelopment of the city through the arts, seeing them as pivotal to the city’s future, understanding the value in them and, thereby, securing the sustainable regrowth of Detroit.

The RKH Summer Playlist

It's summer! To get you into the spirit, we've put together a playlist of our favourite summer tracks.

Whether you're looking for a good playlist for a long road trip, a collection of music to zone out to on the way home or you're just curious about our eclectic taste in music, check out our Spotify playlist here.

Guns & Roses - Paradise City
Nathan Fake - The Sky Was Pink (James Holden Remix)
The National - Apartment Story
Chemical Brothers - The Sunshine Underground
Roni Size - Heroes

Bill Withers - Lovely Day
Montell Jordan - This Is How We Do It

Bryan Adams - Summer of 69
Natalie Imbruglia - Torn

Fred Wesley - House party
N.E.R.D - hypnotize u
Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood - Summer Wine

Rusted Root - Send Me On My Way
Lion King - I Just Can’t Wait to Be King
Shakira - Hips don’t lie

Blink 182 - All The Small Things
Fountains of Wayne - Stacy's Mom
30 Seconds to Mars - Kings and Queens

Lovin’ Spoonful - Summer in the City
Beach Boys - Good Vibrations
Oasis - Champagne Supernova

Moderat - Bad Kingdom
Kano - GarageSkank
Rudimental - Rumour Mill
Julio Bashmore - Au Seve

Bob Marley - Sun is shining
Shaggy - In the summertime
Morcheeba - The sea
Groove Armada - At the river

Beastie Boys - Get it together
Incubus - Are you in?
A Man Called Adam - Easter Song
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy

Kungs vs Cookin on 3 burners - This girl
Klingande - Jubel

Thievery Corporation - Culture of Fear
Gorgon City - All Four Walls
Dusky - Ingrid Is A Hybrid

System F - out of the blue
Salt-N-Pepa - Shoop
Arab Strap - The First Big Weekend

KAASI - Those Days
Goldie - Inner City Life
MssingNo - Fones
Archy Marshall - Swell

The Zombies - Time of the Season
Cream - Sunshine of Your Love
Faithless - I Want More
Queens of the Stone Age - Make it Wit You

Coldplay - Adventure of a lifetime
Justin Timberlake - Can’t stop

Modest Mouse - Dashboard
Pixies - Break My Body
Fleetwood Mac - Seven Wonders
Glass Animals - Gooey
D.I.D - Do The Right
The Bronx - Pleasure Seekers
Wham - Club Tropicana

The Beatles - Here comes the sun
Bob Marley - No woman no cry
Lighthouse family - Lifted
Buena Vista social club - Chan Chan

A-Z of life at RKH | Exhibitions

E is for exhibitions in the A-Z of life at RKH.

From flowers to fashion, automobiles to art, health to home improvement… it seems there’s now an exhibition for everything, everyone and, more importantly, every business.

For many of our clients, attending exhibitions is a great way of networking and engaging with their target market directly. While most businesses attempt to connect with audiences through digital channels, exhibitions provide an opportunity to break down computer screens or shop window barriers and interact with consumers in an open and friendly environment

But, logistically, they can be something of a headache. That's where we come in.

When organising exhibitions, we begin by understanding our client's aims for the event. This might be gaining new contacts, increase brand awareness or simply showcasing a new product or service. Once this has been decided, we start designing the stands and that’s where the real fun begins.

Once the stand requirements are confirmed, our team draw up blueprints and start designing the stand. We've always enjoyed the challenge of producing an inviting, creative and engaging stand that helps clients differentiate themselves from other attendees.

They're extremely intensive to organise (before he began planning exhibitions, our Director, Jamie actually used to have a full head of hair!) However, once they're all set-up, it's a great experience - nothing beats seeing people interact with spaces we've designed and it’s also a great way to build a first impression with a brand.

After organising numerous shows each year, we've learned how to handle the pressure and, for the most part, retain a respectable amount of hair on our heads!