What are you doing, Dave? How AI can help.

March 31st, 2016 in Development, Technology

Artificial intelligence seems to many less an issue for business and more for science fiction writers. There’s HAL 9000, anxiously asking Dave what he’s doing in 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are the robot overlords of The Matrix, overtaking humans in intelligence and using them as their batteries.

It’s worth saying that the wildest fears of science fiction may be over-egging the pudding: many technologists, like Tom Chatfield [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/18/artificial-intelligence-humans-computers], argue that it would be simple enough to engineer the systems in which AIs operate in such a way that they would not outgrow them and take over our own.

Indeed, artificial intelligence is with us right now, managing systems with specific purposes that can provide concrete benefit. AI is not some futuristic fancy (although its inevitable triumph over mere humans may well be); it’s a tool we can use today.

Fundamentally, AI is simply a term for a computer program able to extrapolate appropriately from a set of data. Take Amazon’s new Machine Learning product, a cloud service that enables companies to build predictive models from statistics they gather. The models are limited to certain questions: predicting the most likelihood of three or more potential outcomes, for instance, or arriving at an accurate model for the volume of a particular product the company should stock. But it’s still artificial intelligence.

Google Translate is another good example of AI businesses can make use of today: we’re so used to using it that we don’t think of it as artificial intelligence at all, but in understanding natural language, in learning from mistakes and reasoning from context, Translate is absolutely a form of AI. Like Machine Learning it is limited to specific tasks within set parameters – but that doesn’t make it any less intelligent in those spheres.

In other words, business may not yet have an answer to Star Trek’s Lieutenant Commander Data … but they have access to AI nevertheless.

Even coders like me aren’t immune. As this article at Primary Objects [http://www.primaryobjects.com/2013/01/27/using-artificial-intelligence-to-write-self-modifying-improving-programs/] shows, an AI which could develop an entire website is (thankfully for me!) a long way away; but it isn’t impossible, and is likely in one form or another inevitable. Indeed, as computers become more numerous and ever faster, and more and more connected to others, they will become increasingly able to access the cloud and Big Data to take on more and more functions.

That poses real opportunities for business – and it’s worth keeping on top of how AI can help you today and tomorrow. Help is the operative word: that programme at Primary Objects took 6,057,200 generations and ten hours to say “I love all humans”. AI isn’t HAL 9000 – for now at least, it’s here to help.

How Keeping Up With Technological Change Is Like War & Peace

February 12th, 2016 in Development

There was a scene in the recent BBC adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel of Napoleonic derring-do, War and Peace, which emphasised the dangers of straggling. On the great winter march out of Russia, a prisoner of the French army whom the audience had come to admire a great deal simply couldn’t take the ferocious conditions anymore. He dropped back – and was shot by the soldiers as a burden.


I’m pretty sure this was designed to make us perceive Napoleon’s army as the bad guys. Perhaps I’ve been in the tech sector too long, but I wasn’t quite as shocked as the series wanted me to be: this sort of behaviour, thankfully without the actual bodily harm, is par for the course where I’m from.


Technology, like an army, stops for no one. Today, we have almost grown accustomed to what would have been to our ancestors an utterly bewildering pace of change. The Russians about whom Tolstoy wrote lived in more or less the same way as their grandfathers; today, our lives are in some ways unrecognizable from what they were even ten years ago. It can be a real struggle to keep up, then – but you don’t have any choice if you want your business to be a success rather than taken to the rear and shot.


The consequences of not keeping pace with technological change are as dire as they are obvious: fall behind a trend – mobile internet, for example – and you’ll be less useful or accessible to your clients, less relevant to their needs. Fail to spot the next technological horizon and you’ll miss the key opportunities which could have benefited both you and your clients; and fail to harness the power of IT and your internal processes will become less efficient than your competitors – and your customers will sense that, too.


The obscurity of the Luddite is a terrible thing. But in a period of such rapid change how can you avoid it without simultaneously being a genius? You’d expect someone who works for a web design agency to say this, but the first rule of thumb must be: listen to your geeks. Every business has at least one, and their natural enthusiasm for tech has a really practical impact if you can harness it to figure out what the next big thing might be.


Likewise, read magazines like Wired or websites such as Engadget.com – these specialise in talking about the latest developments in accessible terms. Very often publications like this are consumer-facing, and that’s key: the most rapid change is happening in this sector, and keeping track of the latest trends in smartphones or tablets will help you understand what your customers expect. Not only that, but big step-changes in business – cloud storage, for instance – began life at the consumer level. Stay a step ahead.


So a bit of curiosity can go a long way. Do you kids endlessly play video games? Join in! Gaming is a great way to experience new technologies – from peer-to-peer communication to social sharing and distribution, gaming is constantly making the most of the latest technological opportunities to enhance players’ experiences. In the same way, take a trip to your local tech store – play with the product, talk with the salespeople. Make the latest gear a part of your life. Splash out every now and then on a new toy.


In other words, tech isn’t something happening to other people – it’s happening to you, too, whether or not you embrace it. Futurologists spend their careers writing about the long-term future (and it’s well worth picking up one of their books every now and then for context); the least we can do as individuals is understand what’s popular now, and equip ourselves to imagine the next short-term shift. Thinking outside the box – outside your comfort zone, outside your sector or department – keeps us all flexible.


And finally, of course, I’d suggest you talk to an expert. If, having read the magazines and played with the gadgets and thought about the future, you think you might have an idea – or even if you’ve merely identified a hole in your organization you think tech could fill – call us or some other group of experts (it should definitely be us) so you can start to plan properly how you’ll make the most of the next big thing . . . and keep up with that long, sometimes grueling, march.


All this Napoleonic hi-jinx got me thinking, actually: on the battlefields of Belgium in 1815, during Napoleon’s last stand, many things contributed to the final French defeat. But one of them? The British Baker rifle: a type of firearm with a grooved, rather than smooth, barrel, which could project the bullet faster, further and more accurately. That is, even Napoleon could struggle to keep up with technological change. Don’t let that blind spot be your Waterloo.

Just Like Starting Over: Why DIY Isn’t a Dirty Word

January 18th, 2016 in Bespoke, Development, Web

I’m going to start with some jargon, because sometimes there’s just no avoiding it.

My term of the day is “technical debt”. No, this isn’t what overly optimistic people might call their overdraft limit or credit card statement; it’s the phrase we use to describe the inheritance we taken on when we use an “out of the box” solution.

Oops. There’s some more jargon. “Out of the box” is the phrase used to describe a pre-existing product that can be purposed to a variety of applications. Think of a website builder – a piece of software that allows you, and many others, to build a very basic website using a limited number of templates.

Equally, as an agency we might be presented by a new client with a solution they have previously developed, and which they would like us to move over to our servers as part of our new service to them. This isn’t an “out of the box” solution per se, but it’s definitely a case of us taking on a previous developer’s work – and very often we’ll need to fix issues and add new functionality to it.

That’s “technical debt”: taking on and working with the foibles of a previous piece of software rather than building something expressly for a new purpose, from scratch. Few people like debt, and unsurprisingly we’ve found that it’s often better for everyone if we just start again – build new software for the new servers and new systems. That way, we understand the code better, and it’s been written expressly for the current purposes and contexts.

We understand that clients can see things from the other end of the telescope: they’ve paid for a system that does more or less what they want, so why should they pay again for us to re-build it? After all, it will take time for us to write the new version of the application and get it to a stage of maturity similar to that which the previous platform has already reached.

But if there’s no tight deadline, we’ve found that in the long run it will work out cheaper to write the code anew. Why? Because the devil’s in the detail: your time-honoured software only more or less does the job, and that means we’ll be constantly trouble-shooting the gaps between what the software can do and what it needs to do. That bug-fixing costs money, and it will continue for as long as we try to use the old system for new purposes.

Imagine that the old piece of software is a square peg; maybe when it was first fashioned the hole was square, too … but now the corners have shifted slightly and our developers are having to shave a bit off the peg, or fiddle with the diameter of that round hole. If we’d just made the peg from scratch, it would fit perfectly every time – and we’d understand the material the peg was made from better, too, so future improvements would be much quicker and easier for us to implement.

Likewise, if one of our developers builds your software, all our developers can fix it – because we share “frameworks”, another bit of jargon that basically refers to a shared environment in which code is written. Your previous developer’s work will almost certainly use a different framework – and from any security vulnerabilities to its quirks of grammar, we’ll probably be able only to allocate one developer to understanding it. That means that if I spend a month figuring out your old software, and then I’m sick for a week or go on holiday, then James will be totally stuck.

So it might seem counter-intuitive, but starting over from scratch is often quicker and cheaper in the long run. Like any other type of debt, the technical kind has to be paid for again and again – and in that sense I suppose that sometimes jargon isn’t so divorced from everyday language after all.

Why Affording An Agency Website Is Like Eating Cake

October 29th, 2015 in Apps, Bespoke, Design, Development, Marketing, Web apps cake Design development Web website


I realized the other day that I’ve been spending a lot of time at networking events in recent weeks. This is not just because it’s a great way of scoring free cake (hardly a networking event in the country now does not supply afternoon tea as standard, I can only-slightly-smugly report). It’s because these sorts of meetings offer great ways to meet new clients, and understand how all businesses are thinking.

One of the constant themes of my conversations with people from SMEs is one of cost – or, maybe more accurately, how expensive many businesses imagine a professional website might be.

We’ve all met the small business owner who asked his friend to build a website, and wound up with one that was half-finished; we’ve all probably tried to build a website using one of these ‘out-of-the-box’ services or web builders, and found it just cannot do the job. The fact is, your business’s website is ever more important – and needs to be professionally tailored to the particulars of your business. That takes a proper design agency.

The people I talk with over all those cream teas, however, are always worried that they simply can’t afford an agency. You might expect me to try and convince them otherwise, and, I confess, I do – but it’s a fact we don’t want to hide that, sure, we’re more expensive than using a website builder’s templates or getting your mate to do it.

But you invest a lot in your business, and an investment repays over time. We believe that the little bit extra we cost – and it’s nowhere near as much as many people seem to fear! – is worth the investment, and will help your business be the best it can be.

Come to think of it, it’s all a bit like cake (yes, I have cake on the brain – why do you ask?): the better the ingredients, and the better the baker, the tastier the final product. If you’re trying to impress, you don’t use value flour, you don’t scrimp on the icing, and you don’t ask someone who’s never made a cake before to whip one up for you. Your business will look worse than it is – and be less accessible to customers than it should be – unless you build your website like you’d bake that special sponge.

At Image+, we build a website around your business: we’ll design it to look uniquely yours, build in the features you need and those customers expect, and write the content for you so that it’s all professional and compelling. You’ll have face-to-face meetings with us; we’ll be on the end of the phone whenever you have a question; and we’ll do it all for you – you won’t have to fiddle with a single button if you don’t want to!

Let’s say you spend about £3000 on your website with us – that’s a standard amount for a fully-featured website, tailored for you, though we’ve done cheaper – and let’s say it lasts three years before it needs a bit of a facelift. That’s just £80 per month, which is a great deal given that proper websites, as opposed to bad ones, are proven to generate leads, improve repeat business, and increase your brand’s reach. From this perspective, dealing with a tricky online website builder that churns out a basic cookie-cutter website and doesn’t offer any after-sales support seems like the bad investment, right?

So. Not only is an all-singing, all-dancing agency website cheaper than you think; it justifies whatever extra expenditure it may incur over the cheap-but-far-from-cheerful alternatives. So why not pop in and have a chat with us about what we can do for you? I’ll even bring cake.

Mobile-First Design: Why Remembering Mobile Is Like Putting On Trousers

October 14th, 2015 in Design, Development, Search Engine Optimisation, Web

We’re all familiar with the concept of optional extras: additional cup holders in your car,

or ‘accent stitching’ on that custom-made suit. But you wouldn’t buy a new motor

without an engine, and you wouldn’t slip on a new three-piece that didn’t come with

trousers. Those are just the basics. But why is it often so different for websites?

In today’s world, your website will be viewed in a hundred different ways. On a

smartphone or a desktop, a tablet or a netbook; it might be loaded up in Chrome or Safari,

Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. This makes demands on your developers that were

absent in the ‘good old days’ of IE’s dominance, always installed on a 486DX2 66 MhZ



Just like an engineer or a tailor, web designers need to move with the times in terms of

what is considered ‘the basics’. That’s why we believe that all websites should be

‘responsive’ as standard. What do we mean by this? It’s simple, really: we mean that

every client should have confidence that their website will display perfectly on any

screen – and that none of their customers will be turned off by a design that just doesn’t

work on their device of choice.


This might sound like common sense, but a surprising number of other web agencies

charge extra for building responsive websites. That is, they treat the ability to display

properly on the varied devices people now use as an optional extra. For us, that’s like

forgetting to put on your trousers.


Think about it: according to comScore, the number of people globally using mobile

devices of one kind or another to access the internet has now exceeded those using the

traditional desktop computer. If your site is designed exclusively for desktops – still the

‘basic package’ offered by many developers – you will be alienating the largest segment

of your audience.


Not only that, but the internet has changed to reflect these new behaviours: Google has

made changes to how it ranks websites in order to reward those which prioritise the

mobile experience. They are not only penalising those websites which don’t offer any

mobile functionality at all; they are denying rankings even to websites which offer

limited responsive features, such as providing a ‘no-frills’ mobile version of their desktop



What can you do about this? You can choose a developer who doesn’t simply remove

functionality from a basic desktop website until it ‘fits’ on a smartphone screen. At

Image+, our design philosophy is ‘mobile first’: we start from the smallest screen,

creating a great website which we can then enhance with each move upwards in size

towards the desktop. This, not surprisingly, is the approach which Google endorses.


‘Mobile first’ design isn’t just what the world’s biggest search engines expect. It’s what

your customers want, too. Make sure your website is the success you need it to be – and

don’t settle for a designer who forgets to put on their trousers.

Brazil Predictor: Football Without Formulas

May 30th, 2014 in Apps, Development 2014 App brazil cup development ios predictor world

With the World Cup rapidly approaching, everyone wants to work out who’s going to win. Nothing could be easier:


Or at least, that’s how Stephen Hawking, world-famous physicist and former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, would work it out. In a press conference this week, Hawking revealed his equation for calculating England’s chances at the World Cup. All those numbers and symbols boil down to two words: not good.

The scientific validity of Hawking’s formula has already been questioned. So what options are there for those of us without maths PhDs? How can we get to play the great World Cup guessing game?

You might want to try Brazil Predictor, a new app for iDevices that gets into the nitty-gritty of the World Cup without asking you to calculate Pi. Available for iTunes, and designed for both iPhone and iPad, we developed this app to help make everyone an expert pundit.

We love our football at Image Plus, and spend some of our off-hours competing with each other to demonstrate the most detailed, most accurate vision of the beautiful game. Brazil Predictor is our attempt to make this easier to do in every office, and amongst every group of friends.

The app allows you to predict the results of every match, and follows the consequences of those scores right through to that final on July 13th. To add an edge to proceedings, the app also allows users to invite your friends and set-up mini-leagues that monitor how everyone’s predictions are doing.

The app assigns points to each user based on how close their predictions are to the actual results of the games. As the tournament proceeds, each user will creep up that league table on the basis of their knowledge of the game: think Cameroon will beat Mexico? Or that Ghana will triumph over the USA? Brazil Predictor will hold you to it!

Want to prove yourself the football expert amongst your mates? Brazil Predictor lets you do just that. And there won’t be a single bit of algebra in sight.


Why HTML5 Is Alive

November 15th, 2013 in Design, Development, Web code development html5

If you’ve only recently got used to the idea that websites are written in some weird language known as ‘HTML’, we might have bad news for you: we’re already on the fifth version of it! The good news, though, is that this makes a real difference to the effectiveness of your website.

‘HTML’ stands for ‘HyperText Markup Language’ and was invented in the early 1990s by the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee. Its primary purpose was to enable users to ‘mark-up’ text on the internet, particularly with links to other texts but also with instructions for how to display the text – as italics, for instance, or in bold.

HTML encloses text within certain tags in order to achieve the desired effect. For instance, text can be rendered italic by enclosing it with ‘<i>’ or, more recently, ‘<em>’ tags. This function has been fundamental to the success of the World Wide Web: HTML is the reason computers can display attractive, navigable text immediately and without any coding knowledge on the part of the user.

Like any successful innovation, HTML has been subject to further developments. The number of usable tags have increased, for example, so that even the apparently simplest function – opening a link from which Google can read some information in a new window, for instance – can be expressed in a number of complex ways. (One of the many far-from-perfect methods might be ‘<a href=”http://www.image-plus-co.uk” alt=”Image Plus” title=”Image Plus” target=”_blank”>’. Clear as mud? Thought so!)

Berners-Lee is now director of the World Wide Web Consortium (or W3C), which exists to promote ‘web standards’ – essentially encouraging the millions of people who write code for the web to do so in as uniform, simplified and accessible a manner as possible. That’s why HTML5 is about to be introduced: to iron out the many kinks and inconsistencies that have developed over the last twenty-five years of HTML improvisation.

So why is this important to you? Because HTML5 will make the World Wide Web work better: it replaces not just HTML4, but XHTML1 and DOM Level 2 HTML (don’t worry, there’s no test later). It adds new support for media – fast becoming as important to the web as text, if not more so – and it eliminates many tags which once existed in order to keep the code manageable and (relatively) easy to read for humans. Finally, it makes sure that HTML will still make sense in an increasingly multi-platform world – on desktop computers, on mobile phones, on tablets and even on TV.

HTML5 is still in the testing stage, and won’t be fully released until the end of 2014. But at Image Plus we’re already engaging with this key new language for the web, and making your website ready for the future: with new functionality, better on mobile, easier and quicker to read and convert for screen, and – most importantly – readable everywhere by everyone.

Your website is your shop window. HTML5 keeps it clean.

Get Sudsy With Pudsey: A Life-Changing Website

October 17th, 2013 in Design, Development, Web children cms need peugeot pudsey Responsive

We make a lot of websites. Our aim is for all of them to change our clients’ businesses for the better… but it’s not so often that we can claim a website of ours might change someone’s life. We’re really excited to be able to say exactly that today!


We’ve worked in conjunction with one of our long-term clients, Peugeot, to design and build Get Sudsy with Pudsey. The website is designed to promote Peugeot’s great idea for supporting this year’s Children In Need: the UK’s largest car wash!

Peugeot is an Official Partner of the BBC charity, and is hosting car washes across the country in order to raise money for what is a great cause. Anyone who takes their car to a local Peugeot dealership will be able to donate to Children in Need in exchange for a good vehicular soak.

It doesn’t end there, either: at the launch event in Chiswick on Tuesday 5th November, none other than Peter Andre will be dipping his sponge in the bucket! People interested in running their own car wash, too, can receive special packs from Peugeot to help them get car-washing at home.

It goes without saying that we’ve built the website free of charge, and we’re happy to do our bit for this great effort. We’re even hosting our own car wash, at which Image+ staff will take a break from their screens and … well, get sudsy with Pudsey!

Children in Need supports over 2,600 projects nationwide, all with the goal of providing children with happy, safe and secure childhoods that can help them fulfil their potential. That means that every penny Peugeot can raise from their car washes will go towards changing a child’s life. We’re really proud to be a small part of that effort.

To learn more about the event, and how to get involved, you can visit the Get Sudsy website. We hear it’s pretty good…

Tech Watching: To Each Geek Their Own

August 20th, 2013 in Development hyperloop innovation technology

You can expect every geek you know to be talking about one thing for the next little while: Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. It’s not, as it may sound, a new prog rock band or the latest unlikely science fictional blockbuster; in fact, it’s the next ambitious project of the man behind PayPal, itself a technology that could fairly claim to have changed the world.

The hyperloop, as you can read in this BBC News article, is a proposed new form of transportation: a long tube, in the first instance perhaps connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, through which capsules are fired on a cushion of air towards their destination. In the capsules, of course, are people – who would now be able, if the hyperloop concept is sound, to traverse the hundreds of miles between those two Californian cities in about half an hour.

The hyperloop is exciting for a few reasons, paramount among them the simple thrill of a new technology. At Image+, we’re as exciting about new gadgets and gizmos as anyone else involved in digital tech, and the 21st-century seems to throw them at us almost more quickly than we can keep up. But keep up we do – and needless to say, in the realm of online marketing and design, we do so to your benefit! (Less so, maybe, in the realm of MMORPG gaming or the latest music tech, but bear with us.)

In fact, that’s the second – and stronger – reason why the hyperloop has got so much attention amidst all the other ideas which are almost constantly floated at one conference or another. Musk has form – he knows his stuff. As well as PayPal, he built the Falcon jet engine for NASA and developed the Tesla electric car, the most commercially-viable of all the electric car brands. Like all the best innovators, he keeps up with what everyone else is doing, and feeds that into his work, meaning his ideas have real substance.

Whether hyperloop will take off, we don’t know – Musk says he’s too busy to build it himself. But what we do know is that the key to credibility is keeping your eye on the curve. Our excitement about hyperloop is simply part of our excitement for all new technologies – and that’s what powers the quality of our service. Our designers and coders alike keep an eye on emergent technologies, learn which are the best, and employ them for you on your next website. as Elon Musk knows, it’s a mixture of expertise, experience and openness to innovation which makes for success in all the tech-base industries.

Rest assured, though, that we won’t be leaving Image+ to build a tube between London and Edinburgh any time soon. Unless any of our clients have a bright idea … ?

Mobile Web Design: Websites, Faster

August 20th, 2013 in Design, Development Design load time mobile Responsive Web

Websites are many things: entertainment, social spaces, even works of art. Primarily, however, they’re sources of information, ways to communicate a message to the person who views it.

From a business perspective, this function of websites is of course key. The web can represent a significant investment for a company, so it’s important that you start getting ROI on that investment as soon as possible.

We’ve spoken before about the importance of responsive and mobile web design as a key driver of that ROI: it ensures that no user is ever bounced from your website just because it won’t work on their device of choice. We pride ourselves on producing websites that are cross-platform compatible – so that your message can get through across every and any digital medium.

That’s why the latest pronouncements from Google caught our eye. Websites are most valuable to you insofar as they communicate quickly and cleanly, grabbing a user’s attention and keeping it. To this end, in their recently published guidelines Google have adopted a ruthless ‘one second rule’ for mobile web design:

“…the whole page doesn’t have to render within this budget, instead, we must deliver and render the above the fold (ATF) content in under one second, which allows the user to begin interacting with the page as soon as possible. Then, while the user is interpreting the first page of content, the rest of the page can be delivered progressively in the background.”

Keeping on top of what Google say is a good idea in general (after all, they’re the ones who decide how to rank that site of yours!), but these new guidelines are particularly interesting. Quick-loading websites are the holy grail of designers for good reason: users are increasingly impatient, and they want their information quickly.

The challenge, though, is still to design a website which looks great, whilst keeping the load time down. Google’s guidelines are canny on this front, too: only the first part of your content, the attention-grabbing stuff, needs to load immediately. Grab your user’s attention, and let the rest load in the background until they’re read to scroll down.

We’re old hands at this sort of mobile web design trickery, and we’re always expanding our skillset to keep up with the latest developments and demands. So – whether you want a new website or to redesign your current one – drop us a line to discuss how we can ensure they say what you need to, and quickly.