Jamie's Porsche 911 obsession

If you know RKH you’ll know that there’s a healthy contingent among us who are petrol heads. There are also a few connoisseurs of the electric car as well, but this is my blog post and I like noisy, big engines.

I love cars, I always have. I love motor racing. I love sports cars. I love classic cars. I love driving. It’s a love affair that has been in existence for the majority of my life and shows no signs of abating.

It’s hard to pinpoint where it all started.

I have a very early memory of being in a garage at Donington Park when somebody suddenly started up an AC Cobra. I was literally blown away by the noise of the Shelby Ford V8 engine.

Another one about being thrown around a grass track at Oulton Park by Jimmy McRae in an insane Ford RS200.

My dad didn’t help matters by constantly buying and then doing up performance Fords including a number of XR3s, XR3is and a ridiculous Fiesta RS Turbo.

But deep down the true cause of this, and the pinnacle of my obsession belongs to one car and one car only.

In my humble opinion the most perfect combination of design and engineering that has ever been produced. An iconic car that surpasses its purpose and transcends to a pure design classic.

The Porsche 911.

I’ll get the geeky car nerd bit out of the way so that we can get onto the design bit, which is of course what this blog is supposed to be about. By maintaining the same basic modus operandi for fifty years - a flat six, rear engined, rear wheel drive, two door supercar - and slightly honing each iteration, Porsche have created a car that drives like no other, handles like no other, sounds like no other and looks like no other.

It is as near to perfection as a car can be. I love the 911 more than is healthy for a man to love a car.

Pretty much everyone on the planet can describe what a 911 looks like.

The beautiful swooping curves over the body of the car, the bulbous headlights and the enormous wheel arches that are wider at the front than at the back. I imagine most people could make a passable stab at drawing one from memory.

The 911 is immediately identifiable and utterly iconic. Despite the fact that Porsche have introduced other models since, it is the 911 that will always be Porsche for me. The others are just side notes in the story of the manufacturer. Other manufacturers have their ‘look’ - you can tell a Ferrari is a Ferrari - but I’d argue that no other specific car model is as totally ubiquitous as the 911.

The other day I asked my Dad when it was that I first became fascinated by the 911. Without hesitation he said I was 4. I drew them, I built models of them, I pretended I was driving them. It has been a constant throughout my life and very little, if anything, has stood the test of time for me like the 911 has.

So, why is the design of the 911 so memorable? And I mean design in the full product design sense, rather than just the aesthetic.

The famous Indian custom car designer, Dilip Chhabria, was asked which car was the hardest to customise and he immediately chose the 911 saying: "It has to be the Porsche 911. It hasn’t dated since it was designed. It is a very desirable car. I have attempted to redraw, reskin and redesign it but could not do anything with it. I realised that it is difficult to alter the perfect design.”

Porsche set a very simple brief with the 911 and stuck to it with a steadfastness which is unparalleled, not just in the automotive industry, but also in any other sector that I can think of. They have been brave and utterly consistent in what they have done with the car. Rather than make wholesale changes with each generation they have just made tweaks here and there, adapting and subtly changing it, making it better and better and better.

There’s a lesson here to be learned by all of us who work in marketing communications. The temptation when working on any brand is to go in and change it. To think that we know best and to tear everything down and start again. Of course, in some cases this may well be the case, but I’d argue that in most instances we can take the Porsche route - be very clear about what it is we want to achieve and then by a series of iterative changes take the design on a journey to a better place.

Porsche is still on its journey and hopefully it will continue long after I’m around to witness it, but in the meantime I’m going to continue enjoying my lifetime obsession and appreciate the 911 for what I believe it is - the most beautifully designed car on the planet.

A-Z of life at RKH | Gains

G is for Gains in the A-Z of life at RKH.

Gains is the act of being healthy, packing on the muscle and looking lean, and it’s quickly taking over the RKH office. Several RKH’ers have already dedicated their lifestyles to the pursuit of Gains, with only a few of us managing to escape its lure - for now.

Long gone are the days of over indulgence on biscuits, cakes and beer. Now dubious-looking protein shakes and questionable-tasting protein bars are the norm when it comes to snacks.

One of our avid Gains enthusiasts commented: “Gains is more than just going to the gym; it’s a way of life. It’s about being careful of what you eat and making life decisions based on your health.”

This is exemplified by how the self-named ‘Gains Crew’ rate their lunch choices based on the amount of protein. Toasted bagels filled with chicken and spinach are in, whilst carb based options such as pasta are most definitely out.

Regular visits to the gym include weight lifting sessions, swimming and workout classes. The Gains Crew sometimes even sacrifice RKH’s Friday pilgrimage to the pub, choosing to worship the gym instead.

Whatever side of the fence you sit, you have to take your hat off to their dedication. Even if they do slightly overuse the word ‘Gains’.

Fantasy football - a football lovers dream

As a teenager playing video games like Sensible Soccer and Championship Manager, I should have seen this coming…

Computer games are great when you are a kid; you have all the time in the world to play them (once homework is out of the way of course!), and you hone your skills to beat your mates the next time you play. As an adult, that all changes. No time for sitting in front of the TV playing a game, so instead my attentions switched to playing a game that takes weeks' worth of planning, but only requires a little attention every few months actually ‘playing’ the game. Introducing 'fantasy football'.

There are lots and lots of different versions of this, but my favourite is Dream Team. Using the ‘knowledge' I gained from all those hours playing football games as a kid, I can finally pretend that I know what I am doing, and choose a great team and formation to win the league!

Dream Team works by each participant choosing a team of 11 players, with a budget of £50m. The formation needs to be either 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, with most people favouring the 4-3-3 as there is a better chance of scoring goals and racking up the points. You can choose from any player in the Barclays Premier League, and try to get the best players in your team to score the most points from clean sheets, assists, goals and other significant statistics.

Each season, this process for many fantasy football enthusiasts starts with as much research as possible over the summer, looking at recent player stats, form and injuries over pre-season. Plus finding out as much as possible about new players that have signed, the positions they have played in before, and if they are due to be away for any part of the season for African Cup games, Olympic games, national service (Korean players) or the South American Cup - all of which can keep players out for a number of weeks. This all takes time. Then after this research, it’s time to start building your team.

Usually, the process of choosing a team starts with the strikers, as these have the opportunity to score goals, and goals equal points. You really need to get a balance for strikers, though, as if you go for the most popular strikers that generally guarantee you 20+ goals a season, you will have spent most of your budget just on these players, so you need to find the right balance. Then you move onto goal scoring midfielders, wing backs that chip in with a few assists during the season, and some solid defenders that don’t pick up yellow or red cards (these lead to minus points and bans). Then you are ready.

When the season kicks off, it is a great feeling each week knowing that you have outscored your mates, and heart-breaking when you haven’t. One of the strangest things about this game is the way it changes your view of a game of football. No longer are football teams sworn enemies of the team you actually support, they contain players that are point machines, and it doesn’t matter who they play for. You find yourself watching games, hoping for cards or injuries for players that aren't in your team, and screaming the names of the players that are, in the hope they can hear you score that elusive hat trick. The whole experience makes it hard to actually enjoy watching a game of football, so is it really worth all this time and effort? Of course it is!

Even though it takes over your life for 9 months a year, you could be a winner, with all of that hard working paying off. The FA cup final at the end of the season could become your defining moment - like the 3-2 thriller when Arsenal played against Hull in 2014. In that particular season, the problem I had was that I had pretty much the entire Arsenal team (a good move from me, so I thought). My team had one flaw though - I didn’t have the players that actually scored that day, but did have the entire Arsenal defence that conceded 2 goals, which left me with minus points (-2 points per player). This move cost me 1st place and the title, but taught me an important lesson about football - it’s a funny old game, and there’s always next season.

Addicted to planning

It came as no surprise to me that the whole office was a little shocked when I first mentioned that one of my hobbies was planning. They couldn’t understand how planning your weeks out and sticking in themed stickers could be, and is, such a fun hobby.

It started over in America and is slowly working its way around the world, there are a variety of planners available and a great range of stickers and kits. I first discovered planning when I stumbled upon a YouTube video of a girl planning out her week and creating a gorgeous sticker spread. From there my fascination grew and I became hooked.

Planning is a creative outlet and a handy way of keeping track of everything I need to do each day, upcoming important dates and managing my time efficiently. It’s a great way to take time for yourself to relax and wind down, but to also arrange the week ahead. Being able to visualise tasks and achievements is very useful when creating short and long term goals. Over time it can be used as a scrapbook to look back on special days and lovely memories.

Many of the stickers are designed in Photoshop, each with their own personal touch. There are a huge variety of stickers available, from weekly and monthly kits, to monthly overview kits, decor stickers and more functional stickers too. The stickers can be purchased pre-printed and cut or alternatively you can purchase and download them to print and cut yourself. Stickers come in all themes and can be relevant to holidays, special occasions such as weddings or birthdays, tv shows and seasons. If there is ever a moment that you can’t find something you want, there are a range of templates available to help create your own.

When I first began planning I never could have imagined how much of a community there was surrounding this simple activity. There are endless Facebook groups and hashtags, all filled with enthusiasm over which planner each member has and which stickers you’re going to use that week. It’s so much fun being able to share a hobby with lots of different people all across the world.

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.