The RKH Christmas Playlist

The start of December means it's officially Christmas time at RKH, so we've put together a little playlist to help get you into the festive spirit! 

There's everything from straight up classics to the slightly more obscure, but the one thing they all have in common is they make us think of Christmas. Listen to the whole thing on Spotify here

Steph

The Ramones - Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)

East 17 - Stay Another Day

The Futureheads - Christmas Was Better In The 80s

Georgia

Wham! - Last Christmas

Michael Bublé - White Christmas

Corey Taylor - X-M@$

Rick

The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York

James

Nate Dogg and Snoop Dogg - Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto

Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas

Rage Against The Machine - Killing In The Name

Liam

The Darkness - Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End)

Billy Mack - Christmas Is All Around

Danny Elfman - What's This?

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Matt O

Bing Crosby - It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Bing Crosby - White Christmas

Traditional - Silent Night

Iain

Snow Halation - dj-Jo

Andy

Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah 

Mud - Lonely This Christmas

Frank Sinatra - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

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Kyle

Chris Rea - Driving Home For Christmas

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - I Believe In Father Christmas

Chris de Burgh - A Spaceman Came Travelling

Harriet

Brenda Lee - Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree

The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York

Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas (1984)

John Lennon - Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Mike

Rage Against The Machine - Killing In The Name

The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York

Jona Lewie - Stop The Cavalry 

Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody

Paul P

Tom Waits and Tramp - Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet

Killing Joke - Love Like Blood

Run DMC and Aerosmith - Walk This Way

Jess

Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You

The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York

Dom

Vaughn Monroe - Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Rage Against The Machine - Killing In The Name

Harshul

Eartha Kitt - Santa Baby 

The Jackson 5 - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Smile; shut-up and stare

I recently came across a tweet by a friend who then got caught up in an argument with his colleagues on whether tomato ketchup should be kept in the fridge. To solve the argument, he set up a quick online poll.

My instant thought when he sent the poll through was, who keeps ketchup in a fridge? Without hesitation, I voted no. The following morning, I woke up and headed to the kitchen for my breakfast, you can guess where I found the ketchup - yes, in the refrigerator. 

Since this, I have noticed that I don’t like the idea of the ketchup bottle not being cold, which (I think) influenced my vote. However, I do like chilled ketchup on my sandwich (which I noticed the next morning).

You might be wondering why this is relevant? Well, what I’ve just talked about links well with what I do day-to-day! As a user researcher, instead of asking clients to tell me what they like and don’t like about their services, I allow them to interact with it and run through their thoughts out loud whilst I observe them to see if I notice any contradictions in what they say and do. The good part of user research is that it often flags up such basic problems which seem quite obvious once the user knows about them. The not so glamorous part is trying to convince its worth to a potential client.

One example of a time when user research generated some interesting results for us was when I worked on a project concerning an online campus map. For this project, I went around the University campus interacting with students in the hope of finding their true feelings about the product. Without the physical product in hand some participants had good things to say about it, but the moment they started interacting with it, the real frustrations started to be shared. Their actions started to contradict their expectations and that’s what I needed. 

Coming from India means that I have found that having English as my second language plays quite well in my favour, as I don’t assume what people are trying to say. This makes me want to ask them what they really mean. To give you an understanding of where your product currently stands in terms of usability, I would advise you to run through the product with people who are potential users of the service.

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 Outlook.com) 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.