Affinity portfolio: Falmouth University

January 2015 [link to original article]

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The remit was to provide a platform for university staff to publish a wide range of projects in one central location. The site had to seamlessly support everything from full websites through to blogs, all managed by the same CMS.

University lecturers and support staff wanted to publish and edit content easily, while independent project owners needed to publish and maintain their areas within the ‘AIR’ portal. Almost all users were expected to be non-technical, so the CMS had to be intuitive. It was agreed that this would be based firmly in WordPress, as this was the platform many staff were already familiar with.

This multi-armed project not only had to unite multiple formats under one umbrella, but be searchable, and this presented a unique challenge. The website also had a relatively small budget, which made the undertaking even more complex. However Affinity accomplished every task presented, providing a successful, unified and indexed platform for everything from complex interactive art experiments to fashion show blogs.

Affinity deployed WordPress as the core CMS as requested, users were able to publish and edit content in a similar way as if they were using their personal WordPress blog. University staff were thus presented with an intuitive User Interface (UI) that hid the complexities of the CMS.

We deployed multiple custom modules which seamlessly aggregated content across the network, and this helped us to provide the global search facility. The intuitive CMS User Interface meant that staff were able to upload and edit multimedia content themselves without the need for training by Affinity, which also reduced costs considerably.

The diversity of uses to which a general ‘projects’ site was to be put meant that we needed to consider the diversity of audience too. We thus made the site multi-device responsive, allowing the wide variety of content to be efficiently rendered on tablets, laptops and mobile phones.

The new site hit all the objectives our clients asked of us, from functionality to implementation, and was the platform used to successfully promote many a fascinating university project.

App vs Mobile

January 2015 [link to original article]

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With online activity moving from our laptops to mobile devices, many of our clients need to decide the best way to communicate with their customers on mobile platforms.

Responsive Web Design (RWD) allows users to browse on their phones and tablets with ease, but developing a more mobile-specific offering requires a robust purpose-built platform. This will either involve building a mobile website or developing your own app.

In deciding between a responsive web design which may involve an overhaul or re-skin of your website or having a mobile application developed, there are many issues to consider. Affinity’s expert developers will be happy to advise

A mobile website is specifically designed to perform on smartphones and tablets. Built for touch-screen interaction over 3/4G, it is coded for the limitations and advantages of the platform such and lower data speed and local search results via GPS.

So why opt for an app? A well-made app can offer a far better user experience than a mobile site, it can load faster and can utilise features on the phone such as camera or NFC. An app may also be coded to operate offline if needed, and it is always present on the users’ device.

Each choice has its benefits and disadvantages. Selecting which option works for your organisation depends on your circumstances. Specific considerations to be evaluated before a decision is made will inevitably include costs, time frame for implementation, design approach, user experience and journey, performance, and ongoing maintenance. All these concerns should be addressed before a final decision is made.

The best approach for many clients is, we have found, a combined approach offering a solution that develops both a mobile site and app – depending on the objectives. Mobile optimised websites rank high from mobile devices and that may be all you need, but if you want people to use geolocation or one-click ordering then you may well require an app too.

System architecture

January 2015 [link to original article]

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Systems architecture wasn’t born with computers. It is comprised of techniques developed over thousands of years from disciplines such as manufacturing and construction.

It is a process that lends itself to designing any efficiently complex system, for example when Affinity builds an IT infrastructure for a business we may use an Enterprise Architecture.

Systems Architecture mostly describes how objects (called ‘systems’) are handled within a structure and how they interact to mutually support this framework. It involves taking multiple viewpoints of a system from different perspectives and circumstances, including socio-cognitive aspects. Each view produces an analytical description of the system.

Such in-depth analysis produces an Architecture Description, a formal representation of the whole system and how it interacts. This allows specialists from diverse fields and departments to work together on a highly complex system whilst keeping the development process transparent. Systems Architecture makes your project perform to its best potential and run more efficiently, reducing delays and costs.

Affinity use a powerful tool to overcome the complexity of systems. Systems Architecture is more than just a design model for complex systems, it is a discipline. A lingua franca to describe, model and design systems in a rich and diverse way. This leads to good object handling within the system and better-informed decision making in the development of your project.

Agile

January 2015 [link to original article]

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The Agile project management system is based upon continuous developer and stakeholder input alongside regular live feedback which allows for improvements to be made at every stage of the process.

Designers and developers at Affinity need to react quickly and without hindrance to changing circumstances and client needs. Agile is a highly flexible system that allows for rapid, non-linear changes to a live project whilst keeping it firmly on deadline. Fast reaction times are built into the DNA of our business, and client input is always an important and continuing part of this cycle.

Affinity’s design, development and coding teams work together in one coherent unit and always together with our clients. Thus they can adapt quickly and provide solutions to problems (sometimes even before they arise!). If your needs change or a new technology arrives that can do the task better, we can change course in an instant without losing time or work.

With the Agile project management system, our multi-disciplinary groups can focus on just you and the product, with you as part of the working team. The process is transparent and open, and gives everybody have flexibility to adapt and evolve as we move forward.

Should you prefer, Affinity is also able to deploy waterfall methodologies to manage your project such as PRINCE2®, PMP® & PMI® or a mix of both.

Waterfall

January 2015 [link to original article]

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The Waterfall model of project management describes each phase of your project taking place chronologically, so that progress flows steadily downward like a waterfall.

Within this system, all requirement gathering and design is done during pre-contract operations by meeting our stakeholders on site, getting to know them and ensuring we thoroughly understand the project.

Waterfall is a time-tested system inherited from much older industries such as construction, where it was costly to go back and change something once it had been completed. So before any coding takes place, Affinity produce a Project Specification Document (PSD) which details the scope, specification and approach to be agreed by the client.

Because the waterfall system is sequential and linear, it is much easier for non-technical individuals to understand. It can therefore be the lingua franca between teams of developers, designers, and clients and make for a smoother-running project. There is no need for an MBA to understand the graphs, the waterfall method makes sense right on the page.

Affinity is able to deploy multiple waterfall methodologies, including PRINCE2®, PMP® & PMI® as well as other project management systems such as Agile, depending on the particular demands of the project.

User Journey and Information Architecture

January 2015 [link to original article]

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Desire Lines are the paths that most people will take, often in preference to a proscribed route.

Michigan State University didn’t put any paths on their lawns. They waited until little footpaths, or ‘desire lines’, had been worn away by footfall, and paved those. With such user feedback, MSU gained at once both the most efficient paths and the greenest lawns.

There could be no clearer illustration of a true ‘user journey’.

CMS

January 2015 [link to original article]

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A Content Management System (CMS) is software used for organising content on a website. It allows chosen staff to contribute, deploying approved templates quickly and easily to create great multimedia web content.

All our CMS architecture also allows for the formatting of content, lets staff control revisions and automatically index content as well as allowing for search and retrieval. Affinity became one of the early adopters of open source CMS offerings and have since become Drupal specialists as well as experts in several other platforms. Drupal is the PHP-based technology powering both whitehouse.gov and most Whitehall departments because of its reputation for security and stability.

The advantages of open source CMS software, and particularly Drupal as our ‘weapon of choice’ in many cases, are manifold. Project can be delivered much faster and at lower cost because we aren’t employing a team of coders to build each CMS from the ground up. Instead we can use multiple modules like building blocks and create a tailor the CMS architecture to your exact requirements.

Our open-source CMS platforms including Drupal, WordPress, Magento and Joomla are secure and robust – continually tested by a large online community, not just a limited number of in-house coders. They are also subject to rapid enhancement cycles and security updates through thousands of community-delivered modules and constant testing.

We’re experienced with other technologies too of course, such as JavaScript Node.js®, HTML5, Flash Video®, Ruby on Rails® and use them, but we believe in Drupal and the other major open source code and online community is very often the best option out there right now. We are active users, supporters too and contributors in various open source projects.

Ecommerce

January 2015 [link to original article]

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Affinity has over a decade of experience in developing ecommerce platforms. Our teams have a proven track record in complete online store development, from inception to support and maintenance.

Years ago we bespoke-coded e-commerce systems specifically for each client. The only way to deliver robust e-commerce offerings back then was relatively costly, time-consuming and slow.

Today Affinity works in some of the most exciting areas of new technology. We develop large transactional ecommerce platforms, build web stores and high performing CMS generated websites, all utilising cost-effective Open Source technology.

We are specialists in the Magento platform for e-commerce and have developed successful ecommerce stores for a range of clients from medium SME’s to Blue Chips. We have a particular range of expertise in:

  • Information Architecture & User Journeys
  • Ecommerce Theme Design & Integration
  • Complex Multiple Payment Gateway Integration
  • Custom Module Development & Integration
  • Module Customization Services
  • Complex Data integration solutions for Product, Stock, Delivery, multiple warehousing/fulfilment
  • Experienced with SAP, Focus, Biblio, ONiX, Sage, Oracle, Opera, Sales Force, SugarCRM Open ERP integration with two way communication
  • A range of flexible Support & Maintenance contracts

Only when our clients are satisfied will we have achieved the right result, and it is only through creativity and innovation that we can do that. We are active users, supporters and contributors of Open Source projects around the world, a hub of innovation here in the South West of the UK.

We’re experienced with other technologies too of course, like JavaScript Node.js®, HTML5, Flash Video®, Ruby on Rails® and use them, but we believe that Open Source code and the online community are the often best option out there right now.

Mobile

January 2015 [link to original article]

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With around sixty percent of online activity now taking place on smartphones and tablets, mobile websites have truly come of age. Responsive Web Design (RWD) allow cross-platform browsing but a site designed specifically for mobile devices will always provide a far superior user experience.

Why are mobile-specific websites so much better? One reason is that they are specifically designed for handheld devices operating over 3G/4G, coded to be light on a customer’s data plan whilst optimising download speed. Mobile devices also differ radically from PCs in available memory and the way they are navigated.

The latest generation of mobile browsers are capable of handling new web technologies like CSS Mobile and XHTML Mobile, so your mobile site can be just as engaging as your desktop version. Google appreciates a well-made mobile site just as much as your customers do, ranking mobile-optimised websites higher when searched from mobile devices. You are also at an advantaged by prioritising in local search results via device GPS.

The proliferation of mobile devices and operating systems means that an Affinity mobile site must be rock solid. With each new generation of smartphone and OS update, your site must render perfectly without requiring any expensive updates. Affinity’s developers make sure every mobile site is both cross-platform and futureproofed.

Responsive Design

January 2015 [link to original article]

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Today’s user has the choice of a plethora of different online devices, from mobiles, laptops and tablets to game consoles and wearables.

Screens are of infinite variety and will continue to proliferate. At Affinity we know that you only get one chance to make a first impression, so our developers employ Responsive Web Design (RWD).

This kind of website is designed to respond to the sort of device it appears on, seamlessly altering its composition to improve the accessibility of all content. Depending on the screen size and type of device, an RWD website always re-arranges itself for the best user experience possible.