Rocket ROCKET DESCRIPTION Tue, 12 Jul 2016 13:41:00 +0100 en-GB hourly 1 #TCMC Take Aways 2016 Tue, 12 Jul 2016 13:41:00 +0100 During the previous few Children's Media Conferences I was on the blogging team and wrote, an awful lot about the conference. This year I was involved in a different way so I feel the need to write a post now. It's quite long. If you don't read it all, here are my key take aways from three days of intense conferencing:

  • Virtual Reality can be viable for children, Augmented Reality is probably better.
  • Words are powerful and representation is so important.
  • The industry feels an epic weight of responsibility and duty of care.

VR for children?

First things first I need to out myself as a Virtual Reality (VR) neigh-sayer. I'm still not completely sold. I can't see it taking the mass market by storm. But I said Flash would never die, so bear that in mind. I feel the physical barrier of the current headsets to be too great. I am annoyed/bored by the general lack of agency provided by a lot of the experiences I've seen. I am however much like every other tech lover intrigued by the power of immersion and pulled in by shiny new gadgets.

Currently the industry is wary of allowing VR for children under 13 years of age. I don't think I'm out of line to say this is a bit of a knee jerk overreaction. I get that we need to protect children, and that strapping phones to their heads seems deeply unnatural and it summons visions of a dystopian future where we no longer live in the physical world. However. At the conference I saw three things that have shifted my opinion.

One: Dubit's Fairy Garden

Developed by the team at Dubit for Playground, an interactive art exhibition for children that I was involved with organising to run along side the conference this year. It's been developed to work on the HTC Vive. It's only a brief experience but it feels very magical and the looks on kids faces when they're done! Wow. The exhibition is on until Sunday 10th July - I recommend you go visit if you're in Sheffield ;)

Two: Mattel's View Master

It's much like the Samsung Gear, it requires a compatible phone for it to work. It's been designed specifically for children. Developed in conjunction with an ophthalmologist and offers a "blend of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality" experiences.

Three: Curiscope's Virtuali-Tee

Ed Barton CEO of Curiscope showed off a t-shirt with a digitised image of the human rib cage on it. Using a smartphone app you're able to explore the internal biology of the wearer. Augmented Reality (AR) has been languishing in the place I can see VR ending up. The empty experience, best explained by comparing them to fireworks. At first you're surprised, delighted and excited but once you've seen a few you're kind of like '... now what?' but this is one of the first projects I've seen that takes the experience beyond that. Actually embodying learning, exploration and discovery in a fun way.

Words are powerful and representation is so important

The conference was dove tailed by really powerful talks from Jess Thom - Tourettes Hero, Lemn Sissay - Poet and George Mpanga - Spoken Word Artist. They all spoke of the power of seeing your self on screen and in the world.

Jess talked about how we need to include all voices and all abilities, quoting a stat that 67% of Brits feel uncomfortable talking to a disabled person

... this percentage has no place in an open, engaged society

Lemn explained how he talks to children about the power of words, about how what words like 'Migration' mean...

Migration is what birds do, and how free are they?

He spoke passionately about his frustration and on a number of occasions pulled me up short in regards to my own privilege and hypocrisy

When people say "I don't see colour" I wonder if when they look at a person with prosthetic leg if they also say "I don't see legs"

Representation is something that lots of industries are talking about and are working through. I've heard lots of people across different sectors say "it's hard" but it's really not.

In summing up his experience of the conference George the Poet made it very easy.

Potential doesn't exist until we realise it

Duty of care

The undercurrent of every session I went to, in all the conversations I've had it was made clear that children's media is not shying away from things in the current climate. This community of people feels an epic weight of responsibility to ensure we protect and educate the children of the UK. Despite what I have suspected for the past few weeks empathy and compassion are not dead. At a time when the UK is so divided, so fractured by hate and so confused by misinformation there are still people prepared to help. People who care that children understand what is going on, to help them to make their own decisions about things. Even though we are totally bereft of any political leadership the children's media sector understands it's leadership role.

This years conference has helped me find my hope, it was buried, very, very deep under a lot of uncertainty and fear, but I found it.

Thanks #TCMC see you next year :)

Rocket helping kids' music education in New York Tue, 08 Mar 2016 16:24:00 +0000 18 months ago we were involved in Don't Stop the Music - a Channel 4 documentary to highlight the failings in primary school music education, with an accompanying online campaign to get the public to donate unused instruments which were renovated and given to school kids for music lessons. (You can read the full case study, if you want to know more)

We were thrilled to have produced something online which had such a massive real-world impact for thousands of children and young people. We were even more thrilled that it caught the attention of people around the world trying to achieve similar things.

WQXR in New York is the USA's most listened-to classical music radio station. They got in touch to see whether we could radically overhaul how their instrument drive was run, in time for their 2016 campaign. We leapt at the chance, and of course we were able to take everything we had learnt in building the UK version make the WQXR version even better.

The donation process was designed to be simple - collecting the donor information needed legally and logistically, and allowing them to pledge several instruments in one go.

But the real benefit is in a back-end system which allows staff at drop off points and warehouses to record when donations are received; repairs to be estimated and approved; and then instruments allocated to schools. Emails are sent automatically to donors at key stages in the process to keep them up to date with their instrument's progress.

Despite being half-way around the world, collaborating between old Yorkshire and New York was really successful - we were able to collaborate online via Basecamp and Skype throughout the process; reviewing designs and wireframes, and carrying out testing.

It's only a few weeks until the Instrument Drive kicks off, and we'll be urging everyone in NY to look through their "closets" (cupboards), put their old instruments in the "trunk" (boot) of their "automobile" (car) and hit the "freeway" (main road) to take it to the nearest "store" (shop) collecting instruments. (I think we all understand each other now).

Why we’re supporting Django Girls Sheffield Mon, 15 Feb 2016 15:13:00 +0000 There are lots of reasons we're supporting Django Girls, most obviously it's a lovely piece of marketing. Having our logo and name associated with a positive event in the digital/tech community is kind of a no brainer.

Django Girls is an international initiative that organises “free Python and Django workshops, create open sourced online tutorials and curate amazing first experiences with technology.” Django Girls is a non-profit organisation and the events are put together by volunteers, they need sponsors to make the events happen. So when I saw Samantha's tweet about trying to get an event going in Sheffield I was really happy to be able to get Rocket involved.

We've had lots of conversations in the office about the lack of diversity. As a team and as an industry we've all become hyper aware of this challenge but we’re not really sure what to actually do about it. Women would help drive a different perspective on content and, as recent research has pointed to, are considered to be better coders. So this piece of marketing is part of a larger more strategic piece of thinking for Rocket. For us and especially for me it’s a lot more personal than just promoting ourselves to get more work.

We just advertised for a Junior Developer role and 100% of the applicants were male. It’s just feels wrong. Time constraints mean we weren’t able to hunt out more applicants. But it feels like a missed opportunity. From my perspective I have been a developer, I’m no longer a developer as it happens but, it is how I started working in this industry.

I started by accident, by the luck of being in the right place at the right time. I was given an opportunity and somehow had the sense to take it. I started web design when I was working as a receptionist at a small software development agency. My boss knew I was interested in design and since there wasn’t a huge amount of receptioning to do he threw me a HTML book, installed Frontpage on my PC and I was off. The first website I ever “designed” (I very slightly modified a template) had an animated gif for a logo. And yet I’ve still managed to develop a career in interactive and digital media which has lasted a good long while.

What all of that means is I’m very aware of how important being given a chance is. So what I think Rocket is able to do is create those chances.

Supporting Django Girls in Sheffield is part of a sincere commitment by us to change the dynamics in our team. We make great work, and we can imagine how much better it could be when we’ve an office full of different perspectives and experiences.

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead. Wed, 13 Jan 2016 15:21:00 +0000 Of all the things that happened in 2015 the most important to me is the realisation of what Rocket has become. A potent, purposeful and incredibly capable creative agency that can compete on a national and international level.

This bold statement feels oddly comfortable - ordinarily I wouldn't dream of boasting such lofty claims.

But this is different. I feel it's an accurate reflection of the talent in Rocket, what we are doing, who we are collaborating with, where we are going. It feels like anything is possible in the year ahead.

The year that was.

In 2015 we kicked ass. Delivering awesome projects, gaining amazing new clients and winning fabulous awards - that's our year in a nutshell.

Come on then 2016, let's have you.

Many who have worked with Nick over the years will recognise the dedication, insight and value he brings to Rocket and clients alike.

What you might not know is that I've known Nick personally and professionally for about 12 years. In that time we have seen each other marry, have kids and generally get a bit (lot) older. Together, and with the rest of the team, we've also built a business. A business we are really proud of. We've won huge awards and worked in collaboration with incredible people and organisations - more than we could have ever dreamt of.

In light of this I'm really pleased to announce that Nick becomes Creative Director (This link opens in a new window) in the business in 2016. It's so well deserved and a reflection not of just where we have been, but of where we are going.

In this role he will have a broad remit of creative direction, in that all facets of our business are intrinsically creative. He will also have greater ownership and input into our growth and operational strategy through 2016 and beyond.

Growing our team.

Back in mid 2015 we were fortunate enough to welcome Imogen to the producer team. In line with our growth strategy, Imogen (This link opens in a new window) helped increase our knowledge, skills and expertise.

In 2016 Aimee (This link opens in a new window) also joins the producer team. Relocating from the US (working with some of the biggest brands on the planet) we again grow and develop this team to an exceptional level.

But that's not all. Our plans are to welcome more people into our development and design teams throughout 2016. So we are looking to meet people, both freelancers and prospective full time employees. Get in touch, come and see us, we have coffee/beer/wine!

We love Sheffield.

DocFest (This link opens in a new window), Children's Media Conference (This link opens in a new window) and DjangoGirls (This link opens in a new window). In 2016 we will be part of all these wonderful events. Part of our belief is to contribute and elevate events, causes and initiatives that make a difference. That these events all take place in Sheffield means our support makes perfect sense.

Investing in ourselves.

In January we will realise the launch of our first joint venture called Juice (This link opens in a new window), a health and wellbeing digital product. Having been in development for quite a while, we are really happy to see this launch in 2016.

IP development, joint ventures and editorial and content creation are all areas that we will continue to explore and develop as part of our growth strategy. I hope to bring you more news on this topic throughout 2016.

BOOM! There you go...

We look forward to developing our wonderful partnerships with clients, creating projects that elevate their business and push digital in new directions. And of course we have secret projects in development that we can't disclose quite yet!

More than any single one of these things - we look forward to what 2016 will bring. Because regardless of how much you plan, how strong your strategy might be or how much you know now - its the as yet unknown, the future that is the real adventure.

This blog post will make you feel OLD Mon, 21 Dec 2015 09:57:00 +0000 One of the things which is at the heart of all our work is a deep focus on users - what they want and need, and how they behave. Empathy is one of the most useful skills we have. And one of the biggest mistakes you can make is assuming that everyone thinks, acts and behaves like you.

We do a fair bit of work with creating content for young audiences, and if you remember the turn of the millennium, then young people almost certainly don’t use online services in the same way you do. They’re probably not even using sites and services you’ve even heard of.

As part of a recent project, I was reviewing the latest research into what young people are doing online, how they’re doing it, and why. Here’s some of the interesting facts that came out this year:

  • Children’s Internet usage has rocketed in the last decade

    Kids of all ages are online 2½ times more than they were a decade ago. In 2005, kids aged 12-15 were online for an average of 8 hours a week - in 2015 this is now 18.9 hours. 96% have internet access at home - up from 67% 10 years ago.
    Source: OFCOM (This link opens in a new window)

  • Nearly all teenagers like social networking

    It’s probably no surprise to learn that almost all 14-16 year olds (96%) use social networking sites, as do the majority of those aged 11-13 (89%). SnapChat is hardly used by adults, but really popular with young people - 39% of boys and 54% of girls say they use it. And while 37% of adults think Facebook is the “coolest” social network, only 14% of teens agree.
    Source: Populus/BBC (This link opens in a new window) / GlobalWebIndex (This link opens in a new window)

  • Teens REALLY multitask

    11-15 year olds manage to squeeze nine and a half hours’ worth of media and communications activity (TV and online) into around seven hours each day - for example using smartphones and tablets to communicate online at the same time they’re watching TV.
    Source: OFCOM (This link opens in a new window)

  • Young people like making, not just consuming

    82% of young people say they are interested in digital making (programming, photo editing, music making, designing, etc), and 89% of parents think it is a worthwhile activity for their children.
    Source: NESTA (This link opens in a new window)

  • Teens love shortform ten times more than adults

    While only 2% of adults’ media consumption is online shortform video clips, a whopping 19% of 11-15 year olds’ time is spent on YouTube and similar sites... this is mainly at the expense of watching broadcast TV.
    Source: OFCOM (This link opens in a new window)

  • Constant social media usage can have a damaging effect on teenagers’ mental health

    Glasgow University researchers found teenagers with higher levels of emotional investment in social media, and who use it at night, were more likely to have poorer sleep quality, and lower self-esteem as well as higher anxiety and depression levels. And over two thirds of children have experienced or witnessed some form of online bullying.
    Source: BBC (This link opens in a new window) / Populus/BBC (This link opens in a new window)

  • Young people don’t know why media exists

    Children rarely give thought to how or why content is created, and take its existence for granted. Although lots of children surveyed understood that advertising was a way of making money for an organisation, they were unaware that the channel or site displaying the advert would have been paid to do so. In fact displaying advertising, particularly from brands they were familiar with, was seen as a mark of credibility and trustworthiness.
    Source: OFCOM (This link opens in a new window)

The common theme running throughout is that this is a constantly changing landscape. Ten years ago there were no smartphones, virtually no online video viewing - and the most popular social network for young people was Bebo!

As we prepare to post links to this blog post on Facebook (but probably not SnapChat, and almost certainly not to Bebo), the only thing that is certain as we approach 2016 is that new technologies and trends will continue to change how all of us, young and old, live our digital lives.

Rocket go back to school Fri, 27 Nov 2015 09:37:00 +0000 In response to the digital skills shortage our industry faces BIMA created Digital Day; a day where digital agencies team up with local schools, talk to young people about how awesome a job in digital can be and give them the opportunity to work on a brief with the potential to win a ‘money can’t buy’ prize if theirs is one of the winning responses.

This is the first year Rocket has been involved in Digital Day, so Andy and I didn’t really know what to expect. We were teamed with Stocksbridge High School and arrived bright and early for our day at school. Our bunch of lovely students took their seats and digital day began.

The first part of the morning was spent talking about the work that we do at Rocket and how Andy and I both came to work in digital through very different career paths (the higher education route for me and a hands on industry led path for Andy). After we’d hopefully convinced them that working in digital is possibly the most amazing job you could ever have, we decided to move on and test their metal with the day's challenges, set by Standard Life, Sony Music and Vodafone.

We had enough students for three teams, after we’d introduced the briefs each team chose which one they would like to tackle. Two teams chose Vodafone’s brief to create a new and exciting feature for the ‘My Vodafone’ app, and the other team chose the Sony music challenge to plan a digital marketing campaign to help their favourite Sony artist with a new album release. Both reasonably difficult challenges we thought. The Standard life brief (to think of a fun, easy and digital way to help younger adults to save money) which stood out to Andy and I as being one that would have a lot of scope for ideas wasn’t chosen by any of the teams… maybe saving really isn’t that interesting to young people!

We spent time with each of the teams talking about their ideas (of which there was no shortage) and understanding what was required to fulfill the brief. By lunch time they’d really got on top of what they wanted to do, to the point that some of them had gone away to their computers and started trying to create some of their ideas (rapid prototyping or what!) After lunch they focussed on refining their ideas and getting their presentations together. The groups worked really hard and came up with some great ideas including a helpful little character called Voda, a pre-order promotion to gain access a live streamed Calvin Harris gig and ‘Yodarise yo’self’ and they presented them to each other at the end of the day, (some of their presentation skills outshone mine it has to be said).

In future I’d love to see more girls being involved in these sort of days, our group was all boys who were taking the Computer Science course. As I woman in digital I can count on one hand how many other women I’ve worked with on the design and development side of things, and I really think the female of the species has a lot to offer our industry on the practical side of things. It feels like the day could have been offered to more than just the kids interested in computers too, our industry has lots of careers that don’t need you to know how to code or design. All said and done though, I came away from the day feeling inspired by the levels of creativity and was reminded just how lucky I am to work in such a forward thinking, fast paced exciting industry doing a job which I love. Hopefully we’ll be seeing a few of these guys again for a bit of work experience next year too, so they can find out first hand what it’s really like to be part of a digital team.

"Where's the f***ing chicks?" Wed, 28 Oct 2015 12:09:00 +0000 Innovation, inspiration and insight aren't my take-homes from the Power to the Pixel (This link opens in a new window) event I recently attended. Rather, a rally cry from a single audience member stole the show.

The brochure promises: 'Power to the Pixel connects the film and media industries with innovators, pioneering storytellers, finance and distribution'. In reality it's a good excuse to bring people together who want to tell stories and engage their audience in new and interesting ways. So over four days in London's South Bank, people from around the world gathered to share their ideas, knowledge and insights.

And for the most part that was exactly what happened.

The good and the not so bad

Over the two days I attended I listened to people talk passionately about their work and what it means to them. The quality, ambition and innovation of the work on display was invigorating and refreshing - but not always.

Ingrid Kopp (This link opens in a new window) spoke about curiosity and diversity when building a team, how these values should be baked in to your foundations - I really appreciated her talk. Catalina Briceno (This link opens in a new window) mentioned that the majority of recognisable celebrities (survey in the US) are were and remain native YouTubers - the interesting part was the audience reaction, equal parts disbelief and denial. Alex Ayling (This link opens in a new window) spoke of BBC's recruitment of a YouTuber (and how they even paid her - Aunties generosity knows no bounds). Both Ingrid and others spoke of VR being the future (when does that get old?) which seemed to fly in the face of the theme of the event, to be Audience-Centric.

Perhaps the best piece of work came on day two with Elemented (This link opens in a new window), an animated web series about science, intrigue and adventure on a beautiful new planet. It was presented by Emily Paige (This link opens in a new window), Director, Producer and Partner at ed.Films (This link opens in a new window). Little could be revealed about the storyline which was a shame, but safe to say it was absolutely beautiful, well presented and compelling.

Where's the fucking chicks?

"Where's the fucking chicks?" and "You're a bunch of clones!" are some of the questions posed by a member of the audience to Alex Bowker (This link opens in a new window), Dave Ranyard (This link opens in a new window) and Saschka Unseld (This link opens in a new window) during the Q&A of Virtual Stories: Diving into a new Storytelling Dimension.

And I bet they wished they could have dived off stage. The comments were visceral, powerful and were an electric shock to the formalities. What followed was an all too brief discussion of equality and diversity. In comparison to the impassioned comments made earlier the guys didn't stand a chance.

It felt a little unfair at the time. They may well be white, male and middle class, but that doesn't mean they are culpable for the gender gap. Liz Rosenthal (This link opens in a new window) invited them onstage to talk about VR. Not face judge, jury and executioner.

Perhaps the questions could have been approached in a slightly more appropriate manner, but they no longer feel like an attack, more a frustrated shout for help. I believe whoever asked those questions achieved what they set out to do. To expose us to the harsh truth that this isn't a particularly diverse industry and that it needs to change. And change it should. Expanding on Ingrid’s comments, equality and diversity help nurture greater curiosity, which across the board can only be a good thing.

So for all the innovative work on show and the inspiring people I met - Where's the fucking chicks? remains one of my major take-homes of the event.

Not least because I am white, male and arguably middle-class.

Making Multiplatform Magic Fri, 05 Jun 2015 22:07:00 +0100 I'm very excited about DocFest this year for a few reasons.

I'm going to be pitching at CrossOver Market with Rachel Genn. Rachel is an ex Neuroscientist who's been working more recently as a writer and artist. We've been working together to develop her idea for an interactive documentary about how addiction to / fear of regret has formed peoples lives. We're pitching for support and funding.

As well as that I'm producing and chairing my first ever session at Doc/Fest. It's titled Making Multiplatform Magic and we're going to be presenting the some of the best projects from the UK this year. I wanted to take this opportunity to share the links to the projects. For very selfish reasons I wanted to do this session because I really wanted to hear these people talk about their amazing work, how they got the projects off the ground and how they got made, to try to get a better perspective of how really good multiplatform is made.

Dan Tucker is History Editor for BBC iWonder, he’s going to talk through the Our World War interactive episode where the user is put in the shoes of a commanding officer in the first world war.

Lindsay Poulton is a Producer/Director at the Guardian and she is going to talk us through her work in the interactive team. Specifically covering The Shirt on Your Back which takes the user through the causes and impact of our western need for fast fashion on the families and communities of Bangladesh.

Rich Payne Senior Digital Producer at Maverick TV is going to talk through the conception and creation of the Emmy winning game Reverse the Odds. By playing the game you are actively helping Cancer Research to carry out their research in their fight against the 'Big C'. This is something very close to my heart, it’s a 'Game for Change' taking advantage of the fact a lot of people are spending a lot of time playing games on their phones anyway, why not take advantage and use it for citizen science?

Last but by no means least my colleague, Senior Digital Producer at Rocket Nick Crossland will talk about the Emmy nominated Don't Stop the Music - James Rhodes' campaign to address changes that need to be made in music education in the UK.

So on Sunday at 4:45pm in Channing Hall if you have a festival pass you can come along. If you have any questions you'd like me to ask the panel please drop us a tweet @rcktsheffield. If you can't come I'll write up a review here in a week or so.

I'm really quite excited.

BAFTA Win for Live from Space: Online Thu, 07 May 2015 08:00:00 +0100 Just over a week ago Rocket attended the BAFTA Craft Awards. Myself and Nick were nominees in the 'Digital Creativity' category for Live from Space: Online'.

And so with smiles on our faces we travelled to London. Expectations were limited to simply having a great evening at what might be a once in a lifetime event.

We did just that. Until the announcement of our category.

When Rocket's name was called out by Iwan Rheon (aka Ramsay Bolton) we couldn't have been more surprised.

Breathless, unprepared and overwhelmed, we took to the stage to accept the award, and were then whisked backstage for a blur of photographs, presentations and red carpet interviews. Throughout, I recall being unable to string a meaningful sentence together - such was my shock and amazement.

A week or so has past since the the event and it still doesn't feel real. But I can now put down the acceptance speech we should have made...

We are honoured to receive this award from BAFTA. All the nominations in this category are incredibly strong pieces of work, and all created by incredibly talented and dedicated people. We know just how much time, effort and care goes into producing interactive work which pushes the boundaries of digital creativity in the way all these projects do.

Live from Space was an epic production. Nearly 100 people contributed to the website, across design, build, writing, illustrations, video production, project management and social media. We proudly accept this award on behalf of all of them. I would particularly like to thank the following people:

  • Richard Davidson-Houston, David Glover, Mark Atkin, Paddy Gordon-Stewart, Noora Ahmed-Moshe and everyone at Channel 4. Without their trust and continued support we would not be in this privileged position.
  • Tom Brisley, Iain Pelling, Sally Dixon and the whole team at Arrow Media. Their vision for this project was as ambitious as it was awesome. Thank you for allowing us to work with you on what we describe as a 'career high' project.
  • Annabel McLeod was the glue that held TV and Online together - quite how she manages to do this incredible job is quite beyond me.
  • The guys at Weave for tolerating us and our requests for 'more' despite their being no 'more' time. And of course the amazing guys at Team Cooper for realising our gaming vision.
  • Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata - the two astronauts turned space-based TV presenters who thrilled us with their recreation of the website game in space.
  • NASA for being NASA. As part of this project we had a glimpse inside your world and it blew our minds - you are an out-of-this-world inspiration.
  • Last but not least I'd like to thank everyone at Rocket. The timescales for delivering this project were verging on the impossible. Yet you delivered everything to a remarkable standard. In particular Nick, Dale, Phil, Gavin and John played key roles in making this a remarkable success.

In December 2014 I wrote 'By any measure it’s been a successful year for Rocket'.

Barring BAFTA realising they’ve made a terrible mistake, and sending some burly chaps to door-step us demanding the BAFTA masks back, it seems 2015 is shaping up to be bigger and better already.

BAFTA Nomination Wed, 25 Mar 2015 14:00:00 +0000 BAFTA nomination brings more major recognition for Rocket’s work on Live from Space

Digital agency Rocket has been nominated for a British Academy Television Craft Award for its work with Arrow Media and Channel 4 on the multi-platform TV event Live from Space. This prestigious nomination follows the agency’s Gold Lovie Award and Royal Television Society Second Screen Award for the same project.

The British Academy Television Craft Awards recognise and reward the very best behind-the-scenes talent in British television. Live from Space is nominated in the "Digital Creativity" category.

Rocket developed the programme website, which included an Astronaut Test, a micro gravity game, an interactive documentary of Commander Chris Hadfield’s first ever space walk with specially recorded narration, and a distance tracker which showed how far the International Space Station was from the viewer’s location on Earth. Even NASA was impressed – the Agency recently gave the project a Group Achievement Award for "outstanding production and execution of the first ever live documentary from the ISS".

"Live from Space was an incredibly exciting project for us and we’re thrilled with this BAFTA nomination," says Rocket managing director Andy Barratt. "We had the opportunity to flex our creative muscles and come up with a whole range of engaging content to work alongside the series - bringing viewers closer to the action and the reality of life on the ISS."

Over the three weeks the Live from Space site was active, it received over 400,000 visits and 282,000 unique visitors. 247,000 people used the Tracker to follow the ISS’ journey around the globe, over 100,000 people completed the Astronaut Test and over 870,000 balls were fired in the Earth vs Astronauts game by viewers, celebrities and NASA astronauts. (62% were on target.) You can still visit the website here:

The British Academy Television Craft Awards event takes place on 26th April at The Brewery in East London. The Digital Creativity category celebrates excellence and innovation in interactive projects relating to television broadcasts. This year’s nominees are: Live from Space: Online, which enhanced Channel 4’s Live from Space season; mobile application Reverse the Odds: Stand Up To Cancer, an educational game that also encouraged audiences to donate; The Singer Takes it All, the345b singing gameshow where viewers judge performances live via a mobile app; and War of the Words VR, an immersive virtual reality experience of poetry for mobile phones to accompany the BBC Two documentary. For more information, visit

International Digital Emmy Nomination Wed, 18 Feb 2015 17:00:00 +0000 The team at Rocket are celebrating after their work for Channel 4's multiplatform series Don't Stop the Music was announced as just one of two UK nominees (both Channel 4 projects) for an International Digital Emmy® Award.

Don't Stop the Music was a multiplatform documentary series about concert pianist James Rhodes' fight to help save music education in the UK. Working in partnership with production company Fresh One Productions, Rocket created the website, online petition and instrument donation mechanism to help build the momentum around James' campaign and encourage viewers to get involved. The petition now has over 70,000 supporters and the value of the over 7,000 instruments donated has topped £1 million. The campaign has also been mentioned several times in Parliament.

Andy Barratt, Rocket's Managing Director, says:

The whole team is absolutely blown away by this nomination. We were passionate about what the programme wanted to achieve and we've been thrilled by the success of the campaign. Now, to have the work recognised in these prestigious global awards is the icing on the cake!

Adam Gee, Channel 4's Multiplatform Commissioning Editor, says:

Don't Stop the Music was a really tough project to pull off with an ambitious UK-wide musical instrument amnesty at its heart. The TV, digital and real-world activity had to be integrated perfectly to achieve the end result, which was as satisfying as can be - around 10,000 primary school children a year given an opportunity to get their hands on an instrument.

Don't Stop the Music has been nominated in the Digital Program: Non-Fiction category, alongside entries from the Netherlands, Japan and Brazil. The awards are highly selective, with only 12 projects in total from around the world receiving nominations.

The International Digital Emmy Awards are run by the International Academy of TV Arts & Sciences. The awards presentation will take place on the opening night of MIPTV on Monday 13 April in Cannes, France. MIPTV is the world's largest TV and digital content market.

Photo by Thomas Hawk / CC BY-NC 2.0

Cake Off Champ Thu, 15 Jan 2015 12:00:00 +0000 Eek, what a close run thing the Christmas ‘Cake Off’ competition ended up being. Emma put up a sterling fight winning 131 votes for her ‘Rudolf Baileys Mud Cake’ but Joe and I just snuck into the lead with 135 votes. I’m not going to lie, I shamelessly used my child to win votes! But it was for a very good cause and I’m so pleased that the Sheffield Hospitals Charity (specifically the neonatal unit at Jessops) will benefit from the £1000 prize money. Thank you to everyone who got involved and voted, we all had a lot of fun (and a lot of calories) in the process.

2014 was an eventful year for me personally and professionally. Personally, I roller-coasted through the first half of it, either as a resident or visitor at Jessops Hospital bringing my first baby into the world and the second half was spent rising to the challenge of being a new mum. Joe gets cheekier by the day and is doing really well after a bumpy start (no pun intended!). Professionally, Rocket won a clutch of big awards, some for work I’d been involved in before my earlier than expected departure and the company got bigger. 2015 sees me back in the studio with the team and looking forward to the exciting year we have ahead of us.

A Case For Change Thu, 04 Dec 2014 12:00:00 +0000 By any measure its been a successful year for Rocket, one that only a few years ago we could not have imagined. One of the key reasons for this year being so positive, is that we have embraced change.

Throughout this year the Rocket team took on some of the largest national and international names in the digital industry. In awards up and down the country Rocket were shortlisted for (AOP, BIMA, Broadcast Digitals, The Digitals) and won (BIMA, Lovies, RTS). The team even received an Achievement Award from NASA.

The team (now 11 people by the way) have produced sterling work. Live from Space and Don’t Stop the Music are my personal highlights. Across the board the quality of output has been exceptional and clients couldn't be happier.

And then there’s the financial KPI’s. All targets exceeded, of particular note is revenue which realised a stunning 80% increase.

Last week the team celebrated at the Christmas Party. There was wine, there was food and then there were hangovers.

I believe the above success story illustrates two important things. First up has to be the hard work put in by everyone at Rocket - for an agency of our scale to achieve so much is remarkable. Then there’s just how much Rocket has changed in the last year, its been pretty seismic, but none of it has happened by accident.

Some of the key changes and developments we have made include:

  • Review of vision, values, marketing and business strategy
  • Review of KPI’s and introduction of better mechanisms to measure them
  • Recruitment across New Business/Marketing, Design, Development
  • Formalisation of Management Team
  • And a range of other things too extensive to list here.

Had the team not implemented these, last year would have looked different. We wouldn't have achieved such dizzying heights illustrated above. And to a degree we wouldn't have had the knowledge and understanding to fully appreciate the success either.

This isn't to say change is easy. It's not. Being able to maintain your values, team happiness and wellbeing whilst growing is difficult at best.

Perhaps the biggest change of all, and the biggest challenge, is the shift in individual / team ambition and aspiration to match that of the agency going forward.

What does that future look like? Well that's a post in its own right. But, looking ahead Rocket will continue to embrace change.

I believe is the only way to ensure sustainable success.

I’ll keep this conversation going to give you an idea of what we are doing and why. Feel free to chip in as well.

In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of what we are up to in the next couple of months:

  • Launch the revised brand (more on that in a future post)
  • Recruitment of Digital Producers (see our recruitment ad)
  • Build on company culture and revise office environment

Until next time...

The Great Christmas Cake Off Wed, 03 Dec 2014 12:00:00 +0000 This year to celebrate Christmas, we wanted to do something a bit more than just sending out Christmas cards. We thought it might be better and slightly more sustainable to donate the money to charity, but just doing that sounded a little too easy.

To achieve this while at the same time spreading the festive spirit one of our creative geniuses came up with the idea of having a ‘cake off’ and if we’re honest no other idea stood a chance. It felt like a win / win / win. We get to have fun as a team, make and then eat cake AND help a charity that is close to our hearts.

We did have a lot of fun on the day of our Cake Off and a week in to the voting the competition is hotting up.

Voting will close at 12pm (midday) on Thursday 11 December. We will then count up the votes to discover the winner. The winner will be announced on Friday 12 December. In the event of a tie the money will be split between the winner’s charities.

Ready. Steady. Vote!

Working Without a Mouse Fri, 28 Nov 2014 12:00:00 +0000 This is the last in a series of posts introducing accessibility on the web. Previous posts have covered:


The mouse is usually found on desks in offices around the country. Whether it’s left-handed, ergonomic, wireless or magic it’s still a familiar way to use our computers, but it’s not the only one.

With laptop, netbook, tablet and smartphone use on the rise there’s a good chance you’ve tried:

  • keyboard only
  • track pad
  • touch (fingers)
  • touch (pen)

The mouse may be a well recognised computer accessory - but it’s not the easiest to use.
Do you remember the first time you used a mouse? Did the cursor fly all around the screen? I know it did for me.

Using a mouse requires refined hand-eye co-ordination. The very young and the elderly tend to find it difficult to use a mouse well and often have an extra large cursor to help them - not just so it’s easy to see, but also to make it easier to ‘click’ in the right place.

Incorrect mouse use can also lead to problems with repetitive strain injury.


Even if you don’t own a smartphone or tablet, chances are you’ve used a touch screen device in the past year:

  • Self service checkout at the supermarket
  • Ticket machine at the train station or cinema
  • Airline check in
  • Post-n-go at the post office
  • Location map at the shopping mall
  • Exhibition information at a museum or gallery

How did you find them to use: slow, clunky, awkward, or intuitive?
Was it accessible for you?

Airline check-in touch screen kiosk

Image:  Touch screen for airline checkin by Lynn is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Modified from original

Touch devices respond to touch, usually fingers, instead of the cursor.
This means links and buttons - the traditionally clickable items - need to be large enough to respond to your touch. Links that are too close together can be awkward to select.

Touch controls include:

  • Tap (instead of click)
  • Swipe
  • Pinch (often used to zoom)

With touch being one of the 5 senses it’s incredibly intuitive, and this is one of reasons tablets are increasingly popular with older people, often giving them access to the internet for the first time. The ability to simply point and touch the screen removes some of the barriers faced by those who find a mouse difficult to use.


Sometimes touching a screen isn’t always possible.
In this cold weather have you found yourself unable to use your smartphone with your gloves on?

Gestures are a developing way to interact with a computer without touching it. Known as ‘gesture controls’ certain movements are linked to various tasks. For example, you could wave to perform a ‘click’, or give a thumb’s up to submit a form.
Products such as Leap Motion are exploring new ways we can control our computer through gestures (think Tom Cruise in Minority Report).

For users with restricted movement this technology can’t develop fast enough.


Even more than the mouse, the keyboard is the primary way to interact with a computer.
What happens when it’s the only way to use your computer? What happens when your mouse is broken or the batteries are flat?

For some users the keyboard is the only way to the interact with a computer. A mouse may be painful to use, or too difficult to control.

When designing a website it’s important to make sure ‘clickable’ items are obvious and can be accessed by keyboard alone.

Close up of TAB key on a computer keyboard

Image:  Little TAB key by Kai Hendry is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Modified from original

The easiest way to use a website is to use the TAB key to move between the ‘clickable’ items such as links and buttons.

  • Tab moves you forward.
  • Tab and Shift together moves you backward.
  • Enter (the return key) acts like a click
  • Space bar allows you to select checkbox options

A good design will highlight the clickable item when you ‘tab’ to it with the keyboard. This is similar to when a link changes as you hover the mouse cursor over it.

In this example image below there is a clear outline surrounding the link to our Twitter account @rcktSheffield.

screenshot of website link with border around it


Siri is the name given to the voice on an iPhone.

He or She (depending on which country you live in) is an artificial intelligence. Siri responds to your voice, answers questions and performs tasks - such as transcribing and sending an email or text.
As you can see from the image below, Siri also has a sense of humour.

Screenshot of conversation with Siri

Image:  Siri by Lance Aldridge is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Siri has revolutionised how we interact with smartphones - talking to Siri is just like talking to a person, you talk to him and he answers. The added bonus of Siri is that the conversation is also displayed written on screen.

Voice by Google is the Android equivalent to Siri. Use the phrase ‘ok google’ to start a conversation. Use it to search, take a photo, send an email or text etc.

Helpful resources

Here’s a handy list of voice commands for Ok Google.
This site provides a guide for using Siri.
If you want to find out more about how computer interaction is developing this video is a great start. A computer scientist shows off an experimental room called the Room E Walkthrough.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series introducing the subject of web accessibility and why it’s important for everyone.

If you’d like to improve the accessibility of your website please contact us:

Accessible Images, Animation & Video Thu, 27 Nov 2014 12:00:00 +0000 This is the fourth in a series of posts about web accessibility. Previously I've looked at  why accessibility is important on the webhow to make your content readable and why colour is more than just a question of taste.

Invisible pictures

How do you convey the content of a picture to users who can see them?
A short text description known as “alt text” can be added in HTML. This text is presented to users who can’t see the image. Alt text is also used by search engines - but don’t use it to boost your SEO, use it to help your users.
In this example the image of a bowl of gummi bears has the “alt text” set to “white bowl filled with gummi bears”.

White bowl filled with gummi bears

Words and pictures

Any words in your pictures are just as invisible as the rest of the picture, so in general it’s best to keep words as words and out of pictures. So what do you when you can’t avoid having text on an image - such as on a book cover?

Eating People is Wrong by Malcolm Bradbury, Published by Penguin Books

In this instance it’s best to use “alt text’ to include the important information shown on the book cover: “Eating People is Wrong by Malcolm Bradbury, Published by Penguin Books”.
If you fancy a copy of this book it’s available to purchase on Amazon.

Another layer - text on top

Positioning text on top of images is a great way to use words and pictures without trapping the text. The tricky part is making sure the text is still readable. Text that stands out beautifully against one image becomes completely unreadable with another.
The colour contrast rules apply just as much with images as they do with blocks of colour.

'This is hard to read' written on a dotted background

'This is readable' against a dotted background


Sometimes an image can convey meaning much simpler than text ever can.
The icons of men and women on toilet doors are probably the most recognisable icons in our everyday lives. Icons are best when they transcend language and become universal.
Combined with “alt text icons can be a very powerful design tool, especially on small smartphone screens where space comes at a premium.

almost empty batteryfull battery


The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG (2.0) are very clear when it comes to animation and video - there needs to be a text based alternative.
The animation should have controls to play and pause it and it should limit flashing.

Animated gifs don’t usually come with controls as they are a special kind of image file which runs through a series of images in sequence giving the appearance of animation.

This animated gif shows a cat playing with a toy and falling over. The first viewing is funny, but the movement gets distracting very quickly.

Animation of a kitten playing with a toy


Ever play a video with the sound off because you didn’t have headphones available?
Captions are perfect for those occasions when you aren’t able to hear the sound in a video.

YouTube allows you to create, or upload captions for you videos. 

An alternative to captions is a transcript, a text version of the audio included in the video. TedX include transcripts with their videos, and this a really helpful way of finding a quote after viewing.

Helpful tools

The Web development toolbar is a browser extension with a number of handy features for checking your images in a page. It’s an easy way to see how the site looks (and works) with images hidden. It’s also good to replaces images with alt text, or show alt text alongside images.

The Noun Project is creating a universal library of icons. It’s a great place to get inspiration.

YouDescribe is an experiemental project for adding audio descriptions to YouTube videos. Audio description is an extra audio track on a video that is heard in combination with the normal video audio. It adds information that can only be seen, or may not be clear by sound alone. eg. "Dracula enters the room. A girl in a white dress stands at the open window her dress catching in the wind. Dracula approaches the girl, gesturing at her neck and bearing his teeth."

If you would like to improve the accessibility of your website please contact us:

Accessible Colour Wed, 12 Nov 2014 12:00:00 +0000 This is the third in a series of posts about web accessibility. Previously I've looked at why accessibility is important on the web, and how to make your content readable.

Beauty and the beastly display

Our design team have a great pedigree in using colour to elicit the right mood for a site, tying it in with the brand and drawing the user’s attention to key actions.
We use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 2.0 to ensure that colour is more than just attractive. In the same way that small text is hard to read, the wrong choice of colour for text is equally a problem.

The examples below show how the colour of text against a background changes how easy it is to read the text.

Dark text on pale background and dark text on dark background

Colour blindness

You may remember taking a test for colour blindness when you were at school. In the UK there are 2.7 million colour blind people. Considering how colour blind users will view a website has an impact on the design. We test our colour choices against each of the 4 main types of colour blindness to ensure the text is just as readable for everyone.

Using the example of this photo of coloured crayons we can see the difference colour blindness makes.

a set of coloured wax crayons in a rainbow of colours
Normal colour vision

a set of coloured wax crayons coloured as someone with deuteranopia would see them
Deuteranopia (a green deficiency - the most common form of colour blindness)

a set of coloured wax crayons coloured as someone with protanopia would see them
Protanopia (a red deficiency - less common than deuteranopia)

a set of coloured wax crayons coloured as someone with tritanopia would see them
Tritanopia (a blue deficiency - a very rare form of colour blindness)

a set of coloured wax crayons coloured as someone with monochromacy would see them
Monochromacy (total colour blindness)

Relying on colour

Using colour alone to indicate something isn’t very helpful.

Green balloon with "well done" written on it Green balloon with "sorry" written on it

Here’s an example from the Healthy Lungs for Life quiz we made for our client the European Lung Foundation.

One of these balloons is shown when a user answers a question. The colour supports the message shown on the balloons. Without the text the meaning of the balloons would be unclear - and for colour blind users even less understandable.

Helpful tools

I like the Check my colours site for reviewing colours on a published website. 
Provide the checker with your site URL and it will inform you of any errors in colour found in the website style sheet.
Using this site requires understand of website style sheets (CSS files) and also how the styles are used on the site.

Color Oracle is a handy tool to install on your computer that allows you to preview designs or web pages as a colour blind user would. This helps you see where a design needs improvement. Sim Daltonism is a good alternative if you are only using a Mac as it allows you to see a simulation next to the original.

If you would like to improve the accessibility of your website please contact us:

Accessible Text Fri, 07 Nov 2014 12:00:00 +0000 One of the most important parts of any website is that users can read the content. This will allow them to add to basket, get involved, back the campaign etc.

This is the second post in a series on the subject of accessible websites. The first post introduced the subject of accessibility on the web and why it's important.

It’s vital to think about users of your site who find reading difficult:

  • low level reading skills,
  • dyslexic,
  • English as a second language,
  • difficulties with their eyesight,
  • poor memory and concentration.

For these users the way text is presented will mark the difference between your website being readable or being useless.

In addition it’s worth considering:

  • the site being viewed in low level lighting conditions (such as on a smartphone in a train carriage),
  • the user being in a hurry to find information,
  • using text to speech tools.


Our design team are meticulous in their choice of fonts for headings and main copy.

If the font is difficult to read it doesn’t matter how pretty it is. We make sure the font fits with the look and feel of the site but is also readable. Sometimes fonts that work well in printed materials are inappropriate for the web.

This example from the tongue-in-cheek website Comic Sans criminal site uses two different fonts.

Comic sans criminal - helping people life you learn to use Comic Sans appropriately

The words "Comic sans criminal" are fairly readable, even though it's written entirely in capitals.
The phrase "helping people like you to learn to use Comic Sans appropriately" appears in a script font which is much harder to read but looks very attractive.

We work with fonts that display well on smartphones, tablets and large desktops and include fallback fonts for those times where our first choice font is not supported or fails to load.

Capital letters - there’s no need to shout

Dom Joly holding an oversized phone

Writing text entirely in capital letters can be seen as shouting at your users. It’s also not as easy to read as when text is written in normal case, or even entirely in lowercase.

Screen readers can sometimes interpret words written entirely in capitals as an acronym which isn’t helpful.

If you want to emphasize text use bold as this will be both visible on the screen but also recognised by the screen reader, so your meaning comes across to everyone.

Font size

Don’t you just hate small print because it’s too small to read? Tiny text is real source of frustration for me - and something we refuse to make a problem for anyone else.

Printed text being magnified

Making text a comfortable size to read on screen, tablet or smartphone is vital - not just for those with poor eyesight, but for everyone.

Paragraph width

A paragraph that is too wide is hard to read - it requires more concentration, it’s easier to lose your place and this puts people off reading. We aim to keep the width of paragraphs to a comfortable size to make sure users keep reading. This is important for everyone - but especially for users who have difficulty reading.


Displaying text that is easy to read for dyslexic users actually makes it easier for everyone.
The British Dyslexia Foundation lists the pros and cons of a variety of fonts in an article helpfully entitled Typefaces for dyslexia.

This includes the following helpful tips for finding a readable font:

  • clearly distinguish between capital I, lowercase l and the number 1
  • make sure the spacing between letters is good. Don’t let rn look like m
  • make sure a isn’t confused with o

10 flickering lights is an example of a where poor letter spacing can change how your message is read (warning - includes implied swearing).

Making text better

A great design will ensure website text is easy to read. To make sure it’s easy to understand requires great copy.

Working with an experienced copywriter has many benefits for web content, but anyone can follow these simple tips to make text more accessible:

  • Buttons should use action words - eg Sign up, Get in touch, Add to shopping cart, 
  • Links should make sense if removed from the sentence eg Download our terms & conditions PDF, 
  • Keep text short - get to the point succinctly and save users from reading more than necessary.

Extra steps

  • If possible, use Plain English to ensure the language used is easy to understand and avoid confusion. This is especially important if you’re providing a public service.
  • Apply the same principals to any PDFs available from your website

Helpful tools

The Readability Test Tool scores websites on the complexity of the text content.
The result shown is based on a range of different reading tests. Using the visual indicator you can quickly see if the score is low (Red) or high (Green).

This test checks a specific page only - not the entire site at once. If you’re concerned about how difficult your website content is to read it’s best to talk to a copywriter and discuss your requirements.

The Hemingway app is an online tool that uses visual cues to help you write copy that is less complicated and with fewer errors. I really like this site, it’s so simple to use and can make such a difference.

If you would like to improve the accessibility of your website please contact us:

Push to Open - An Introduction to Accessibility Tue, 04 Nov 2014 12:00:00 +0000 I’d like to clear up some of this confusion and show why making the web accessible is good for everyone. This is the first of a series of posts on the subject. In future posts I will be covering these areas in more detail:

Why bother with accessibility?

We encounter offline accessibility measures every day:

  • the ramp to enter a shop,
  • the larger toilet cubicle with the handle on the wall and the red alert cord,
  • the supermarket self service machine that talks.

It’s easy to consider that these measures are just for those with disabilities - the people with the blue badges on their car, the wheelchair users, the people with carers - but that’s not the case. Accessible design is really about inclusivity - making things more usable for everyone.

Wheelchair ramp icon

The ramp to enter the shop is not just for wheelchair users, it’s also for:

  • mobility scooters,
  • pushchairs and prams,
  • it’s better on the knees when you have heavy bags,
  • it’s helpful if you’re maneuvering small childrens,
  • wheeled shopping bags,
  • handy if you’re using crutches,
  • great if you're unsteady on your feet,
  • ideal if your eyesight makes steps difficult.

So although we think of the ramp as being added for wheelchair users it benefits a much wider audience.

So how does this apply to the internet and making websites accessible?

Have you ever found yourself on a website confused about how to get to the contact form?
Ever had your mouse break and needed to use the keyboard to complete a vital task?
Has your hayfever made your eyes so sore it’s hard to focus on the screen?

An accessible website can help with all of these issues.

Now consider that there are users who have difficulty with any of the following on a regular, if not daily basis:

  • hearing,
  • memory and concentration,
  • communication - written and verbal,
  • dexterity - including ability to use a mouse, keyboard or touchscreen.

hand with tendonitis using a mouse

Accessible design isn’t a luxury for these users it’s vital - it’s also their right.
In the UK all business websites are required by the Equality Act 2010 to be accessible - ensuring users with a disability are not prevented from using the service.

So not only is making your site accessible a good plan for your users it’s also a legal requirement.

There are guidelines that set out the requirements that need to be met to reach AA or AAA standards. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 These are the web equivalent of adding ramps and having larger toilets. The guidelines can be tricky to understand as they are written for web developers and expect a level of technical understanding of how websites are constructed.

Key areas demystified:

  • Don’t rely on images to convey important information,
  • Clear, understandable navigation - such as menus,
  • Not everyone uses a mouse to ‘click’,
  • Make sure links make sense if read out of context of a sentence,
  • Include text alternatives to audio and video files - such as transcripts or captions.

This list only scratches the surfaces of what needs to be considered to make a website accessible.


How do you know if your website is accessible?
This isn’t a straightforward question to answer.

In most cases websites have some parts that are accessible and areas that aren’t.
How do you identify the issues so that they can be fixed?

A comprehensive accessibility review of your website is the best way to discover what needs to be addressed. A good review will test your website with:

  • using a screen reader,
  • screen magnifier,
  • keyboard only,
  • using voice control,
  • colour checking tools.

These (amongst other techniques) will identify where your site can be improved.

Helpful tools

Here are a few online tools that I find helpful.

The web accessibility checker checks websites against the WCAG standards for accessibility. The results are returned under headings such as: known problems, likely problems, potential problems
The results require an understanding of both the WCAG standards and technical understand of how the website has been created.

WAVE - the web accessibility evaluation tool provides contextual icons on your web page to help explain issues and successful features. It can be very confusing to use at first, but is a handy tool to understand website accessibility. The ‘no styles’ option makes it easy to see how your site appears with the stylesheet removed - does the content still make sense?

These are only tools - they can help, but they are not a solution in their own right.

If you would like to improve the accessibility of your website please contact us:

Lovies Gold and People's Choice Thu, 23 Oct 2014 11:00:00 +0100 We're delighted to announce that we are the Winner of Best Television Website in the 4th Annual Lovie Awards. Not only have we been awarded a Gold but we are also the People's Choice winner for our work with Arrow Media on the multiplatform website for Live from Space. We we want to thank everyone who voted so much for making the effort to vote! We're extremely excited to attend The Lovie Awards ceremony at St. Luke's LSO in London, on 11th November 2014, where we have an opportunity to deliver a "Declaration of Lovie" acceptance speech. 

The Lovie Awards is presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS), is the leading European award honouring excellence on the Internet. The IADAS, which nominates and selects The Lovie Award Winners, is comprised of web industry experts, including Actor and Presenter Stephen Fry, Founder of Zipcar Robin Chase, Founder of Ifwerantheworld Cindy Gallop, Co-founder of Spotify Michelle You, Head of Digital at the British Red Cross Margaret O'Donnell, Digital Director at BBC Earth Eva Appelbaum, Founder and CEO of SoundCloud Alexander Ljung,  Chief Content Officer & Editor-in-Chief at Telegraph Media Group Jason Seiken, and Founder and CEO of Richard Moross.

We need your help! Please vote for us! Wed, 24 Sep 2014 11:00:00 +0100 We're SUPER excited that our Live from Space site is a finalist in the "Television Website" category of The Lovie Awards. (The Lovie Awards recognise excellence and achievement in the Internet industry across Europe, and are the sister awards of the Webbys).

As well as being judged by an esteemed panel of the great and good of the digital world, there is also a People's Award, voted for by YOU, the public.

Please vote for us!

So - we need your help. Please vote for Live from Space on the Lovies website and share the link around your mates. It takes 2 minutes, no unpleasant lifting or physical effort required. And if the warm glow of helping us out isn't enough incentive, they're offering you the chance to win a VIP trip to the awards ceremony too.

Voting closes on 9th October.

Thank you :)

Over the moon about NASA award Mon, 22 Sep 2014 11:00:00 +0100 It's not every day a package from NASA turns up at the office, so we were very excited last week when a box postmarked "Johnson Space Center" was delivered...

Inside we were delighted to find a NASA Group Achievement Award for “outstanding production and execution of the first ever live documentary from the ISS”. We were, of course, over the moon (I'm allowed ONE space pun, aren't I?) to receive recognition of our work on the Live From Space website for Channel 4 and Arrow Media. 

NASA award this for "an outstanding group accomplishment that has contributed substantially to NASA's mission" - which, quite possibly, practically makes us honourary astronauts. 

It was an amazing project to work on, and wouldn't have been as good without the collaboration with NASA - including contributions to the website content from astronaut Chris Hadfield, and of course them allowing their astronauts aboard the International Space Station to spend precious mission time playing our microgravity game for real.

Check this out for a certificate!

BIMA Award Success Fri, 19 Sep 2014 11:00:00 +0100 We were celebrating again last night as My Mad Fat Diary online content won the Youth Focus category at the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA) Awards. We were also shortlisted alongside Maverick for our work with them on Embarrassing Bodies: My MindChecker in the Mobile category.

Set in the 1990s, E4's My Mad Fat Diary tells the story of lead character Rae's struggles with mental health issues on top of the normal teenage problems of friendships, romance and embarrassing parents. We created an immersive, 360° virtual representation of main character Rae’s bedroom, which housed exclusive extra diary content, photos, playlists and more. It gives fans a chance to have a good rummage around Rae’s world. This was one of our most loved projects, so we were so happy to see it get recognition. 

Channel 4's My MindChecker let viewers take a series of mental health tests, with their results being compiled into the live Embarrasing Bodies programme. Over 2.2 million tests were taken over the course of the series.

BIMA exist to represent, support and recognise the best in Britain's digital industry, and hold their awards annually. BIMA Awards have a reputation as some of the most prestigious in the industry, so we are thrilled to be recognised by them. 

The award was presented by Normski at an awards party held in London, alongside the cream of the British digital industry.

Reasons to be Creative 2014 Fri, 05 Sep 2014 11:00:00 +0100 Last week me and Gavin were lucky enough to get to go the Reasons to be Creative a conference in Brighton for creative folk who work in and around technology. Below is the beautiful credit film made by From Form follwed by a small fraction of the things I learned during the conference.

Technologists can be artists

I've developed a little bit of a chip on my shoulder about how increasingly artists are being defined as separate from technologists "let's get a few technologists to talk to these artists and help them make innovation". As if technologists aren’t artists, as if by being able to use technology we've ceased to be creative. As if throwing them in a room together will magic up the UK's answer to Facebook... I digress.

Andre Michelle's talk was one of the first higlights of the three days for me. I've been a big fan of Andre's work for a while but hearing him talk about his work was something else. He sees the code and the music as one and the same thing. They are not separate things. He talked through the changes they been making with Audiotool converting it from AS3 to HTML5 and the small joys they were finding in the new platform. How the cables could now look so more interesting as they are no longer constrained by the bezier curves of Flash and how they’re now testing a new live collaboration feature. He also introduced us to the large bank of music being made by Audiotool's 50,000 active users who are between them making more music than you could listen to in your lifetime.

There are no shortcuts, walking your own path leads to glory

James Victore tries to use the principle ‘In the particular, lies the universal’ in all aspects of his work. This is an idea, borrowed from James Joyce, that making a connection between your own experience and the work you create is good practice. I was particularly taken with the project they worked on for the NYC Department of Probation and particularly this poster which I’d quite like in my line of sight at work.

There are no shorcuts

Running a small games agency is really difficult, trust me, I know. Luke and Kath at State of Play feel like they’ve found that perfect balance between the finding the time and space for creativity to happen which has in turn brought them a solid business foundation that continues to feed them creative space. Their soon to be completed game Lumino City looks stunning which is no surprise based on their previous beautiful work, if you’ve not seen it go look at and then buy Kami, it’s gorgeous.

It’s not just about software anymore

For the past few years apart from working and looking after my kids I’ve been spending a bit of my time hanging around with people in the Maker community. While I’ve yet to actually finish a project it was a brilliant to get to listen to Wouter Verweirder and Stacey Mulcahy in their talks about how easily accessible bringing hardware elements to digital projects is. Wouter had made a heart rate monitor control a few games one where the payers needed to get their heart rates up to make their characters run faster and one game where they needed to quickly get their heart rates down to achieve zen. He was keen to point out to the room full of Javascript developers that there are ways to create projects like these with Javascript how simple and accessible it can be. Both of them spoke about how useful they're finding Spacebrew to connect various peripherals to various control modules and software. In Wouter's session I won a prize in the twitter raffle and I hope that in a few months we can post a blog here about what we made with it. I hope. I just need to come up with an idea...

As well as small projects there were two projects discussed at the conference involving robots, massive industrial robotos. Mario Klingemann talked us through the fun and games that comes with trying to control such massive robots in a confined space and how Asimov's laws still stand when you're making a commercial art piece. GMUNK talked us through the making of this stunning video where they used projection mapping on to moving objects. It's a live performanace captured enirely in the camera there's no postproduction.

Flash died, but that's ok

Well it didn't die, at certain levels it's still a thriving, but for mainstream browser based interactive projects it's fully dead. The last time I went to this conference it was called Flash on the Beach it was in 2011 approximately three months before the world changed in a very substantial way for us Flash developers, the Christmas we now refer to as iPadmas. One of Mario Klingemann's slides nailed the whole feeling of the conference for me “Platforms Die, Algorithms live for ever”. Regardless of how things have changed we’re all the same, and so with various levels of enthusaism and speed, we're moving our knowledge, understanding and creativity and applying them to other platforms on to other canvases. He also explained that he feels that ‘Code art is more similar to music than it is to painting’ it is something that can be taken and riffed on, in music terms it is common for artists to cover and track by another.

Reasons to return

Gavin Strange’s talk was the stand out highlight of the whole three days. I don’t think I’ve ever watched someone be more in love with their job. So humble and yet so full of energy, he talked about being a caretaker and active member of one of the most loved british creative brands Aardman.

A big screen

He filled the stage mainly with gifs but also with dancing. The worse we have to deal with at work is having to come up with an idea for a deadline or change a bit of text at the last minute for the 57th time, if a surgeon has bad day at work it’s a completely different thing. If you want a bit of a joy filled kick up the bum watch Gavin's Do Lecture.

Since the last time I went I was pleased to see that the conference has broadened out and grown up a bit. It still has the same heart and soul but it’s no longer the domain of just those that might have called themselves Flash Developers. It’s filled with a wider community of like minded creatives interested in beautiful things that work well.

The wonderful thing about the Reasons conference is that it’s not about the detail of what we do, its about purpose and drive, it’s about a bigger picture.

RTS win for Rocket Thu, 10 Jul 2014 11:00:00 +0100 Sheffield digital agency Rckt is celebrating a prestigious win at the Royal Television Society’s Yorkshire Awards last Friday. The agency took home the “Second Screen” award for their work on the website and interactive experience for Arrow Media’s ground-breaking Live from Space programme earlier this year, broadcast on Channel 4.

©2014 Paul Harness;

Working with Channel 4 and Arrow Media, the Rckt team developed the programme website, which included an Astronaut Test, a micro gravity game, an interactive documentary of Commander Chris Hadfield’s first ever space walk with specially recorded narration, and a distance tracker which showed how far the International Space Station is from the viewer’s location on Earth.

Tom Brisley, Joint Creative Director of Arrow Media comments:

“It was an absolute pleasure working with Rckt. This RTS award is fully deserved, as their creative vision for the website was matched by their technical ability to pull off complex second screen challenges. Producing Live from Space was an incredible challenge all round, matched by the fact that Rckt were able to run the website so fluidly as an extension of the TV programme; to create a single integrated experience. The gravity ‘On/off’ button was a personal favourite of mine, as it showed simply and effectively how everyday occurrences play out so differently in space.”

“Live from Space was an incredibly exciting project for us and we’re thrilled to have the project recognised by the RTS,” adds Rckt managing director Andy Barratt. “While we do a lot of programme support work for Channel 4, this was the first multi-platform commission that we worked on. We had the opportunity to show our creative strength. Channel 4 wanted the online experience to be an integral part of the programming, bringing viewers closer to the reality of life on the ISS. We had a lot of fun learning about life in space and trying to think of ways to reflect that to draw the audience in.”

Some statistics from Live from Space:

  • Over 870,000 balls were fired in the Earth vs Astronauts game by viewers, celebrities and NASA astronauts. (62% were on target.)
  • 247,000 people used the ISS tracker to follow the astronauts’ journey around the globe.
  • Over 100,000 people took the Astronaut Test.

Live from Space was also recently shortlisted in the Broadcast Digital Awards.

MADE NORTH Conference / Sheffield Design Week 2014 Mon, 30 Jun 2014 11:00:00 +0100 Last Friday saw the inaugural Sheffield Design Week / Made North Conference ask the question "Can Design Save The World?". Blending talks from design, architecture and contemporary craft we went along to The Showroom to find out whether it could.

The day started off by delving into the goody bags supplied at the registration desk to find amongst other things, a GFSmith poster, a beautifully foiled Evolution Press sketch book and bright orange Made North pin badges. After a brief period of queuing the talks began and were split into four main themes: Future Making, Graphic Design, Building Change and Value of Design. They included introductions from the Crafts Council, RIBA, The Designers Republic and the Design Council.

Our top 3 highlights were:
1. Dominic Wilcox - Future Making
Dominic Wilcox GPS shoes
Artist, inventor, design and all round nice guy Dominic Wilcox showcased some of his works including; a dual use coffin / work desk (ideal for those who work hard all their lives and then die), Watch sculptures (miniature time-base sculptures creating unique animated scenes from everyday observations and imagined situations) and No Place Like Home GPS Shoes.

Did design save the World? - Maybe not, but it can give you awesome self navigating shoes!

2. Paul Reardon, Peter & Paul - Graphic Design

Sum Studios A Level
Bridging the gap between the Graphic Design talks in the morning and the Building Change (architecture) talks in the afternoon Paul spoke about their work for Urban Splash and about reviving a Sheffield gem. Sum Studios was an old derelict Grade II listed Victorian school, working with Heeley Development Trust it has now been put to use as a neighbourhood of community facilities, commercial workspace and artists' studios.

Disappointingly Paul was almost forcibly removed from the stage (time restrictions had become apparent by the afternoon sessions) whilst trying to tell us about a Camera Club project they are trying to get off the ground in Nairobi.

Did design save the World? - Not in the broad sense, but it definitely helps support improvements to local communities and support initiatives to create better working and living environments and I suppose that's a start.

3. Luke Pearson, Pearson Lloyd - Value of Design
A better A and E
Luke spoke predominantly about a project Pearson Lloyd undertook after being commissioned by the Design Council to create A Better A&E. The aim was to encourage hospitals and healthcare institutes to budget for interventions that could greatly improve the experience of patients and end-users. Based on extensive evaluations a solution was proposed to counter the problem of 1 in 10 NHS staff members experiencing violence in the workplace.
Watch the video to see what they did:

Did design save the World? - Not exactly, but it can create a better environment for people and workers, where physical and verbal abuse aren't common place and where people are kept informed to a required level.

Overall the talks were interesting and informative (although some possibly missed the point of the 'Can Design Save The World' theme), the seating was comfy (you can't really go wrong with proper cinema seating) and the volunteers passionate and helpful. Hopefully the start of something special, MNC / Sheffield Design Week has the potential to be even bigger and better in 2015.

So, can design really save the World?
Not on it's own no, but we are the catalyst, the agitators and the problem solvers. Design can and does make a difference. But without the problems we can't do what we do, so would we ever really want it to?

Sheffield Doc/Fest June 07-12 2014 Tue, 17 Jun 2014 11:00:00 +0100 This blog post marks a few firsts. The first blog post I’ve written for Rckt *waves* and also the first time I’ve attended Sheffield Doc/Fest. To keep this post brief I’ve had to stick to highlights and some of the key themes I took away from the festival in regard to where digital fits with documentary, factual film and TV content.

The Doc Fest Lounge

Community Created Storytelling

One of the stand out projects for me was The Quipu Project an interactive documentary which is using technology to enable remote communities in Peru talk about their experiences of the systemic, unconsented sterilization. Rosemarie Lerner started her presentation at the XO Summit by quickly establishing while digital media is often presented as giving a voice to the voiceless that the stories coming out of the project were not coming from the marginalised, far from it. The brilliant thing about this project is that it is simply providing an amplifier, a link for rural communities to each other and with the rest of the world.

The Quipu project is interesting in the way it’s being developed and the way it is developing. People can call in to the freephone number to listen to the latest stories and if they wish to leave their own story. They’ve found a simple and accessible way to enable remote storytelling and are now looking at creating a platform so this tool can be reused to tell other stories.

(so many acronyms... Virtual Reality, Response As If Real)

Off the back of the arrival on the market of the Oculus Rift a, relatively, accessibly priced Virtual Reality headset, VR is seeing a bit of renewed interest in tech circles, particularly in the games industry so I was interested to see a similar take up in the term of factual content and documentary.

Nonny del la Pena talked through her extensive experience of creating Immersive Journalism at the XO Summit. Nonny is fascinated by the control she can exert using VR, she has seen participants of her work show ‘Response As If Real’. After showing her project where she recreated the stress positions experienced by Guantanamo Bay prisoners, participants said they felt as if they themselves were being held in a stress position. I have to confess to being too chicken to try out Project Syria but I did try out Oscar Raby’s exceptionally personal interactive documentary Assent in which you are guided through a devastating event witnessed by Oscar’s father. It was an intensely immersive experience and at moments I found I was forcing myself to remember I was stood in the Millennium Galleries. I think using VR environments to recreate factual events has a huge scope and am really interested to see where things move next.

Using Twitter as a broadcast platform as well as a measure of success?

At Rckt we’ve a track record with exploring historical factual information in a narrative form on Twitter. We collaborated with Marie James from Channel 4 on The Mill Speaks, which she discussed as part of the Interacting With The Past session. Having a plan for The Mill Speaks was important but letting it develop and leaving room for responding to the audience was a critical part of that project. It was also really interesting to hear from Joe Myerscough from Windfall Films about the development of the @dday7 project and the incredible impact this had on them and also on the audience notably at the point during the day when one of the people they were following ‘died’.

Dan Biddle

Dan Biddle from Twitter UK demonstrated in his session Telling Stories With Twitter the power of a good line. Using the film 'Taken' as an example, he showed us two histograms of the volume of tweets about the film following two different broadcasts. They showed a corresponding spike around the key one liner from the film “I will find you, and I will kill you.” Clint Beharry from the Harmony Institute talked through a piece of research they did, tracking physical emotional responses to The Walking Dead and compared them with social twitter responses.


Our Nick Crossland took part in an autopsy panel of the Live From Space project.For me the most revealing part of the panel was discovering the cost for the astronaut's time. At $78,000 per hour each we’ve been wondering if our game is a contender for the most expensive game ever played?

This is such a small slice of the overall event which was so packed I had to spend most of this weekend laying down to recover - well done to the team behind Doc/Fest for putting on such a brilliant festival.

Our new twitter-linked traffic lights Thu, 24 Oct 2013 11:00:00 +0100 Visitors to Rckt HQ may notice a new feature in the corner of our meeting area - a full sized set of traffic lights, gently emitting a pulsating flash every so often. This isn't a student prank gone wrong, resulting in chaos at a road junction somewhere in Sheffield - but a digital experiment, and nod to the creative history of our offices.

It’s almost certain that you’ve seen a traffic light today - if you’ve made any kind of journey, probably several dozen. Indeed, they’re one of the most widespread pieces of industrial design in the country. The modern traffic light was designed by the famous cutlery and product designer David Mellor - who used to live and work in the building where we are based for nearly 20 years (in fact he saved and refurbished it in the early 1970s - but that’s a whole other story). Displaying an iconic piece of his work in the office makes perfect sense.

So we scoured ebay, and finally found a set (albeit one which after a lifetime sitting beside a road somewhere has seen better days).

Of course simply showcasing them in the corner of the office wasn’t enough for us - we wanted to put a digital twist on them. So Gavin armed himself with various bits of arduino, wire and a soldering iron, and worked some electronic and coding magic to hook them up to the internet.

Now, whenever someone follows us on Twitter we get a red flashing light; amber when someone favourites a tweet, or blinking green when someone mentions us. Oh, and for demonstration purposes, he’s also installed a secret “disco” button, which makes them all pulsate in rhythm.

Traffic lights

The neat thing about being arduino-based is that we can easily reprogram them. Most of our business infrastructure, from bank accounts to phone systems, is accessible via web services and APIs - providing scope for some interesting creativity. For example we COULD initiate a “disco flash” whenever a client pays an invoice, or hook our phones into our CRM system so that when they ring it gives us the green light to answer to clients; red light for telesales callers!

Want to flash at us? Follow us or send us a tweet @rcktsheffield.

BBC Comedy Connected Studio Mon, 12 Aug 2013 11:00:00 +0100 The first choice we had to make when attending the BBC Connected 2013 Comedy Studio was not which idea best fulfilled the brief, but whether to leave the window open and suffer the endless drone of traffic, or leave the window closed and slowly bake in the nigh-on unbearable heat. The air-conditioned embrace of the train down to London St. Pancras was a distant memory while trying to sleep in the the stuffy Camden high street apartment which was our home for the next two nights. Window open was the preference, even when emergency vehicles waited until they were directly outside before switching their sirens to “oh were you sleeping?” volume.

Located on South Bank right next to the London Eye, the London Film Museum was the two day workplace of eight teams competing to try and fulfil a brief that cunningly left a lot to the imagination. The task was to pitch a way to tell the web-exclusive story of an upcoming BBC comedy "Inside No. 9" by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, two of the creative minds behind League of Gentlemen and Psychoville. Whether the story was told in an entirely new way or through innovations of existing methods was up to the teams.

Our view for the two days

Our view for the two days - not bad!

Day 1

After a brief introduction setting out the format of the forthcoming days was a preview of an episode of the series, due to air later this year. Drawing pad in hand, pens at the ready and tables allocated, the three attending members from Rckt begun unravelling the outline script we had been provided with. At first, nothing, regardless of how bonkers, was off the cards and ideas came, not thick and fast, but in a pleasing trickle. Coloured Post-Its spilled across the table as several members of BBC staff sat down and imparted their wisdom.

And by imparting their wisdom they inadvertently harpooned seemingly good ideas we’d had only minutes before. Kill your darlings and all that. Once lunchtime had rolled around we had five broad ideas: everything from games to 3D worlds to treasure hunts and more. A packed lunch was laid on giving the Rckt team a chance to venture out and take a break from the notes and drawings taunting us inside.

Despite taking place mid-week and outside the school holidays, South Bank heaved with people - some worshipping the sun in that particularly British way whenever warm days surface, others filed orderly onto the London Eye (those pods have air conditioning right?) while groups of school-children took in the nearby London Dungeon and the Film Museum itself. Cooking in the sun, lunch was devoured and it was back, quite literally, to the drawing board.

With the late afternoon audience feedback session looming we whittled our ideas down from five to three and begun to flesh them out with hastily scrawled storyboards and brief notes on how the implementation may work. The sessions consisted of four people plucked from the target audience for this kind of online venture, as well as a moderator to keep things on track and, intermittently, members of the Connected Studio staff. Our session was made more interesting by an alarm that went off after demoing only our first idea. It was a very polite alarm though, courteously warning us that there may be another alarm forthcoming, and we may, just possibly, have to leave the building. A pre-alarm alarm if you will.

Regardless, the audience members had a clear favourite out of the three, as well as an idea for a GPS phone application and the subversive claim that they just wanted to watch rather than interact with comedy online. Baffled and wilting in the scorching afternoon heat, we tried half-heartedly to come up with a better idea before making the decision to press forward with the most promising approach. The day had not ended well: we were unsure of our idea and other teams seemed to have more Post-Its, more writing, just plain more than us.

The saving grace however was that members of the Connected Studio event got a rare chance to tour the Film Museum uninterrupted by the general public. This meant the Charlie Chaplain exhibit, the Star Wars sets and various other props and lovelies that were out for display could be enjoyed at our leisure. Maybe things weren’t so bad.

Dinosaur from "Night at the Museum". In a museum. At night.

Karen meets the dinosaur from "Night at the Museum". In a museum. At night.

Day 2

They were worse. The grim feeling of dread had amplified during a broken night’s sleep, not helped by a packed tube journey and day that threatened to be even hotter than the previous. Team Rckt sat down for the morning progress updates covered with a dark pall.

Except other teams hadn’t settled on an idea, or had experienced the exact same tribulations we had. All those Post-It notes were just a ruse to unsettle the other teams! That uptick in morale was followed by Ed Hime, the script's writer not only instantly “getting” our idea, but also the possibilities it represented. Now all we had to do was produce a prototype and a pitch presentation is less than six hours...

Karen had ideas in mind for the look and feel she wanted to create for the demo, something evocative of the story, which gave you a sense of the characters personality. We’d decided that a skeuomorphic approach would be best suited, so she set about collecting an armoury of images to make two visuals for the walk-through of our concept. The first being a bedroom door with some kind of homemade entry device, and the second, a cluttered computer desk in a faded 80s style kids room.

This wasn’t the end of today’s creative requirements though. Nick and Karen were booked in for a session with two actors and a cameraman so we could record film to use in our walk-through. Despite being completely inexeperienced, as directors they managed to get BAFTA-worthy performances out of the now quite hot and tired actors.

Ninety percent of programming is thinking, and nine percent is bug fixing, the rest is actually writing code. So when you don’t have time to think and there are no bugs to fix, you just code and adjust as you go along. It was an approach I’d never experienced before and getting to use new technologies was a boon. In this case it was HTML 5 audio and media input from a webcam and microphone. Jumping from examples - a “can we do this?” exercise - to a working prototype was exhilarating; imagine the “Yeah, I can fly” scene from Iron Man except every hour. And with JavaScript not thrusters. And fewer robots.

Time pressure does focus you, but when you’re adding the last crucial tweaks seconds before the deadline, that’s the kind of stress that doesn’t happen every day. The result demonstrates what can be done in such a short space of time.

Team Rckt hard at work

Team Rckt hard at work

The pitches

The pitches were a nerve wracking experience for all the groups involved - not only did your demonstration have to work (ours only broke a little!) we also had to convince a group of people that your idea was the most innovative and achievable in the brutally short timescales. And in an unseasonally hot and stuffy room. Behind the nerves though was the rare opportunity to see other studios - digital, TV and otherwise - pitching. It’s an invaluable insight as you are, by nature, always on the other side of the privacy screen.

The other pitches by teams from Aardman, Fish in a Bottle, Mudlark, Kanoti and Ralph were all varied although some cleaved very closely to one another in implementation. Virtually all of the concepts were similar to ones we had discussed, considered and discarded for various reasons on day one (unsurprising given we had all been given the same source material). It was tempting to play “idea bingo” as these came up, but interesting to see if other teams had overcome the flaws and obstacles that had caused us to reject them.

We couldn’t pick a winner from the eight teams and despite the escalating temperatures in the room (some would say caused by the “heat” of the ideas in play), the ice cold beers were well deserved afterwards.

Credit where it’s due, the format was well presented and well catered for and is a credit to the BBC Connected Studio initiative and certainly challenged everyone involved to work outside of our comfort zones. And although we’ve already found out our idea hasn’t been commissioned, we await eagerly not only the final product from Kanoti, but also the comedy program itself which is, if the preview is anything to go by, sure to be as funny and as much of a cult hit as both League and Psychoville were.

BRACE! BRACE! BRACE! Tue, 13 Nov 2012 12:00:00 +0000 Conspiracy theorists will tell you that a secret global network of intelligence computers monitors all our emails and phone calls, listening out for words and phrases that might signal terrorist activities being planned. If this is true, then a few weeks ago, when suddenly there was a lot of chatter going in and out of Rckt HQ about a plane crash, along with dates, times, plans and targets, we can’t have been far off having the black helicopters circling overhead.

However, far from toppling Western democracy, we were actually starting work on a project for Channel 4, a web application in support of a one-off documentary, “The Plane Crash”.

The documentary

For this landmark piece of television, they had deliberately crash landed a passenger jet filled with dummies and cameras into the Mexican desert. As well as being a visually stunning TV spectacle, it was also a unique scientific experiment. While cars are routinely crash tested, planes are not. In fact the last time it was attempted was by NASA, 30 years ago, it went badly wrong with the plane ending up in a fireball, destroying any scientific results.

The website

The idea for the website was beautifully simple: to allow “passengers” to use a virtual online check in (modelled on real airlines’) to choose their seat on the plane. They would get a personalised boarding card, an exclusive preview video, and be invited to share their check-in on social media. After the programme aired, they could then return and find out whether they were likely to have survived the crash – or not – in their seat choice.


The most challenging bit was that by the time you took into account launching two weeks before the transmission date to allow people to check in, and the mandatory usability, accessibility, security and load testing before that, we only had two weeks to design and build it.

We used Facebook as a login mechanism, to allow us to remember users’ seat between them choosing them and returning to find out if they survived. Facebook Connect was a good mechanism for this as it allowed us to authenticate users, provide personalisation within the user experience, and store their seat choice based on a unique yet anonymous hash which means we never stored any of their personal details – a great help from a data protection perspective. Although the choice inevitably excluded some users who didn’t have a Facebook account, or who didn’t wish to allow a third party app permission to log in on their behalf, it was necessary compromise.

The application was architected for maximum horizontal scalability. We were expecting a sudden peak of traffic around the time of transmission, and so we couldn’t rely on servers being able to generate complicated personalised pages. Instead we designed it so that nearly all of the interaction, such as logging in to Facebook, and personalisation was carried out client-side via JavaScript. All the static assets, HTML, CSS and JavaScript could then be served and cached by a Content Delivery Network (CDN). We created an API to communicate with the actual servers that stored seat choices, meaning that only a few Kb of data needed to be sent and processed for each user.

The launch

Screenshot: seat selection

Screenshot: boarding card

After a lot of rapid designing, iterating and testing, and close collaboration and support from the online team at Channel 4, we celebrated delivering two versions (pre and post transmission) on time, and waited for the users to start checking in. With promotion from the channel’s social media accounts, and promotion on TV trails, they soon started in their hundreds.

As the tally steadily climbed into the thousands, we were thrilled with the response. Then, three days before the programme aired, something magical happened. It went viral.

People were sharing their seat choices on their Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds. And their friends were seeing them, clicking through and checking in themselves. And sharing THEIR seat choices, and commenting on their friends’ – why they had sat next to them, why their choice was a good one, and so on. People even began using their phones to take pictures of their boarding cards (displayed on their computer screen) and posting them to Twitter.

Photo of boarding card on screen

John created a counter that showed us in real time how many people had checked in, which we projected on the office wall.Within a day, we had reached the 10k mark. We held a sweepstake within the office as to what the total number would be at the time the programme started. The top guess was 22k. Ridiculous, we thought. But by the time we left the office on the day it was being broadcast, it had smashed through the 30k barrier. And that’s when it really, pardon the pun, took off.

Counter projected on office wall

In the four hours before the show started, nearly 70,000 more people checked in. By the time it started, 98,000 actual people had used our app. In fact we checked in more virtual passengers that day than Heathrow did real ones. The design for scalability had paid off, as the site easily coped with hundreds of people registering every minute.


The reaction to the site was immense – eventually reaching 195,000 checking in, many positive comments about the check-in app on social media and blogs, and lots of coverage in the national press.

But the best reaction came from the people themselves on the social media – entering into the spirit of the app: choosing to sit next to friends; vowing to sit in first class so they can go down in style; even forming spontaneous communities around their choices, such as the hashtag #club33D.

Screenshot of a tweet

The success of this site has demonstrated that to go viral, an idea must be simple, gettable and well executed. We’re very proud to have been a part of it.

From the UK to the Ukraine

The app was also used by the Discovery Channel, the co-producers of the film, in several other countries around Europe. We produced translated versions for languages including Russian, Ukrainian and Polish.

More information