Our first firebreak

“It’s great to see Scouts fully invested in the agile delivery approach and willing to experiment with handing more control over to the team.” David Weston, Head of Project Management at Reason Digital, delivery partner.

At the beginning of our first firebreak, our development and technical teams decided on the activities they were going to work on. Some of those ideas included:

  • researching new technology; 
  • a proof of concept with new technologies; 
  • a series of bug fixes and ‘tidy up’ activity; 
  • creating guides and updating documentation.

The team then took two weeks to carry out their ideas and presented their work in a team meeting.

One of the ideas – the proof of concept of new technologies – involved creating a GraphQL implementation of the new group finder and its API.

GraphQL was created by Facebook as a way of improving communication between systems. Typically, a developer defines what data can be retrieved from a system that is then built as a fixed interface. If different data needs to be retrieved at a later date or by another system, a new interface would be created or the first one updated, creating extra work, testing, and the possibility of breaking parts of the system already using the interface. 

The approach pioneered by Facebook is to allow the system fetching the data to specify what it needs. By providing one flexible interface capable of retrieving all the data in a system, we can reduce the changes needed and greatly speed up development of new features and tools in the website. Using this approach, we were able to produce a prototype that implemented Graph QL to flexibly display our group finder data.

One of our frontend developers commented, “The firebreak was great for taking a step back and looking at the wider impacts of decisions we’ve made around the fundamental architecture of our applications. Finding the time to reassess and question these approaches is often difficult, but can provide a huge amount of value in the long term.”

Although we won’t be releasing the work produced during the firebreak, we are continuing this work by looking at ways of tying together data from Badges, Activities, Groups and more through a single interface.

We can’t wait to see what the next firebreak produces.

Designing the beta website

Alex Pereira, UI and UX designer.

In a previous blog post, we touched on the design of our new beta website. To explain in greater detail, we interviewed one of our user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designers, Alex Pereira, on his work. 

How did you come up with the designs for the new Scouts website and what principles or ideas, if any, guided you in your design work? 

The new website is based on standard web design principles using a 12-column grid. This transposes easily into a mobile device template, which is really important these days. The design itself is inspired by our brand identity and applied to all the new visual work currently being produced by the team. Because we are working with interactive digital elements more consideration is needed from a user’s perspective.  

Ultimately, the user is the primary focus. We need to give them the clearest and most intuitive path whilst trying to maintain as many of the principles of the brands’ tone of voice – Confident, Active, Challenging, Inclusive, Optimistic. 

Was there anything from the existing Scouts websites that helped to inform your work? 

One of the best things about designing the beta website is that it was a completely blank page to start with. There are no influences or distractions from the old website’s design. Building a complete UI design system from the bottom-up is an exciting and challenging process. 

The improved design will also be mirrored on how the majority of pages are going to function. Users will have enhanced and new features when the work is fully integrated. 

Designs for the beta website in Sketch.

What tools did you use? 

The primary tool I use is Sketch, because it allows for a fast, iterative design process. The goal is to eventually create a complete library of usable building blocks. When a comprehensive library is in place the pages literally build themselves!

Why is good design so important when building a website? 

Every page has a purpose and if it is badly designed users can get confused. If they’re confused, that could eventually see them leave that page. 

The user’s journey through a website can be more guided when consideration is given to typography, space and colour. Building a successful experience that reinforces the brand values is vital so that users feel happy to return and endorse what has been made. 

Search: a quick update on performance

The new Google powered search has been running now for 3 months, so it is a good time to check in on its performance.

Whilst there are some remaining issues with search turning up out of date information, we have been steadily trying to remove the more common content that ends up polluting peoples’ search results. This is an ongoing job.

Generally though, the search appears to be working better for people. The ‘Search Depth’ – the number of pages visitors view after getting results for the search term – is down 12% when compared to the previous year. This is great news, as it implies that more people than ever are finding what they need through search first time.

The real area of improvement however is the ‘Search Refinements’ metric – the frequency with which visitors perform a second search immediately after the first. This is good news because it means that more people are getting the results they are looking for first time.

This has improved by a mighty 31% when compared to the previous year.

As always, please do provide feedback to us using the widget on the search results page so we can continue to hone the way this works.