This past week has been extremely eventful both in outside of the office. I really enjoy it when professionally I feel as if things are moving in the right direction for me and I've also spoken in the past about the importance of the company for which I am working to be one which is making a difference to the world in it's own way. This week these have both been happening on a grand scale.

Kier site team meeting the Royals
Kier have been lending a hand on the BBC show DIY SOS by providing free labour and materials to their latest project up in Manchester. This is their largest one yet and the idea is to redevelop an entire street for retired veterans. From my point of view, the majority of this work is being covered by our PR team with regular 5am starts and by ensuring we are making the most of it on social media. I have been called on to monitor the sentiment, amount of activity and assist with any planning that is needed. However, this went into overdrive on Wednesday following the arrival of two very special guests...

Both Princes William and Harry visited the project meaning the amount of coverage we had went into overdrive making the national news. As far as 'celebrities' go you can't really get much bigger than the future king and his brother so I have been pulling everything together to gauge the affect on us as a brand. It's all great news and we're expecting more of the same when the show airs in mid-October.

On a personal level this has also been a big week for me too as I won a Silver award at the first ever Hertfordshire Digital Awards for this very blog!
The day began with an excellent networking breakfast at Knebworth Barns hosted by fellow nominees (and eventual winners) Labrums Solicitors. I really enjoyed chatting digital over a fry-up with such beautiful surroundings and it meant that come the awards night later I'd  see some familiar faces. 

Knebworth Barns proved a great
location for some networking
What struck me was that the majority of nominees were quite small agencies with decent sized contracts. This shows that big companies are happy they are getting a professional service outside of the usual London establishments. Where I was unique was that I was nominated for this blog (which is maintained in my spare time and not as part of my day job) and that I was the in-house expertise for work that is still generally being outsourced.

My wife and I rolled up at the Holiday Inn Stevenage at 7pm for the awards ceremony where a judging panel consisting of industry professionals from other big companies such as Maserati, Warner Music Group and Sky Sports had made their decision on the best local talent. I definitely felt I had been at this game a while as I got chatting to people with whom I had worked in the past over a bucks fizz. Of the 14 categories I was to be up first (I'm guessing it was alphabetical) so at least I was spared the wait!

Another award for the
After a delicious two-course meal, and some entertainment, it was announced by host Robin Bailey that the Gold winners were to give a speech! At least I was spared that impromptu embarrassment as I walked up to accept my plaque and to have my photo taken for the Hertfordshire Mercury.

Overall, it was a great day celebrating my achievements in digital with so many like-minded people. Regular readers of this blog will know that I love an awards evening and there's no doubt that being a part of this has helped me to elevate my own profile (and that of my company) in my home county of sunny Hertfordshire.
Having recently embarked on a project to rebuild our company website I've been giving a lot of thought to not only how we structure the site but also how we can design it to stand out from the crowd. Looking around the web for inspiration I've come across some truly beautiful examples of modern web design (Media Queries is a good place to start).

Attack of the clones
However, after a while, the majority of websites blend together in my head and I've come to the conclusion that actually a very large proportion all look the same (three columns, a big homepage image, a left hand navigation) This is definitely true of a lot of the premium themes which you can purchase for Wordpress etc.

This got me thinking is this is actually a bad or good thing. With the current emphasis on having a responsive website to work on the myriad of devices now available this does definitely mean there are certain compromises and simplifications necessary to the design. As the web has developed the days of just two browsers (good old Netscape Navigator) is long gone and trying to accommodate the eccentricities of each is a big task. The same is also true once the site hits a certain size and needs to sit on a content management system with lots of editors with different levels of editorial rights and the current monopoly in search from Google means that we are all slaves to how they index our websites.

Designing websites is definitely less free form than it was in the days of Flash when you used to have to hunt about to even find where the navigation was! As with all design there comes a point when humans are less involved in the process and instead the machines take over to make things quicker, cheaper and more automated. When these are done so cost effectively and efficiently (such as in the case of frameworks like Bootstrap or platforms like Squarespace) then why spend more time trying to achieve the same results?
This is also a sign of the times with all businesses further monetising their offer. Where a website used to be a nice to have it is now an essential resource for all companies and is designed not just to showcase their products and look pretty but has to prove it's worth by achieving real sales conversions. The fear of being different and standing out is a risky strategy which many web committees (and clients) do not want to chance.

A new chapter begins
for the Fryer family...
My middle son started school last week and my wife and I have been having the struggle every morning to get him into his uniform (he's very young for his year!) This got me thinking further about the merits of uniform to break down social class etc. so that instead of being judged on looks people can be judged on what they say and do. Maybe the fact that most websites conform to a certain style is actually a good evolution...

Are we supposed to invent five wheeled cars as four wheels are too mainstream? If designs are proven to work then why deviate. Most shops on the high street all look similar so that it's easy for customers to find their way around and feel comfortable, and the web shouldn't really be any different.  Books don't wildly alter their layout for each new publication either. Essentially it's all about the content.

It's clear I've got some interesting times ahead on settling on a new design for our website but whilst I work hard on implementing the final product, and spend my time at home empathising with my son's new found love of an imminent weekend, I'll also bear in mind that it is human nature to try to conform.

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