• About me…

    I'm Dan, I'm 23 and I'm currently rocking out the FdA Web Design course at Wakefield College

Learning Objective 4 – Evalutation

In this journal entry I will evaluate my learning experience, being critical of my self-learning ability and overall performance. I will also evaluate the end product, drawing comparison with the learning processes I went through.

Deciding what I wanted to learn was the easy part, as I had already been keen to learn PHP. However, planning how I was going to learn was where I stumbled. I lacked direction for a small period of time, this might be down to my tendency to work best when the task ahead is clear, and organised by someone else. I had learned my first lesson having realised that my slow start led to me losing much needed time.

Having already worked with Javascript, I immediately became familiar with the syntax and how it was structured. However, I had noticed the first flaw in my Learning Contract. After doing the online tutorials I had set out to do, I came to realise that the book I had bought was not relevant for the task at hand.

After looking for an alternative, I managed to buy an alternative and have it delivered the next day. This impacted slightly on my time restrictions but had I not been able to have the book delivered the next day, the impact would have been far greater. I found another tutorial to do in the mean time on how to upload files as by this stage, I had already thought considerably about what I could produce in my Creative Brief.

Somewhere during the some 70+ sides of annotated sketchbook notes I had written throughout Learning Objective 2, I began to see the second flaw in my Learning Contract. The amount of work I had set myself was too much in comparison to the other objectives, a direct result of a lack of research on my part when I came to writing my Learning Contract. For instance, had I studied the W3 Schools PHP and MySQL tutorial prior to me starting it, I would have noticed the size of it and the amount of annotation it would require. As a result, this led to me cutting my learning short so that I could get on with the build.

Although I had learnt a lot in Learning Objective 2, I learnt the most when it came to actually using PHP. After doing ‘The Learning Styles Questionnaire’ in year one, I had identified myself to be a mixture of the Reflective and Activist learner types, this showed to be a bit of a contradiction[1]. However, I know that through studying other learning types and matching them with my past learning experiences, I am mostly a ‘kinetic’ learner, I learn more through doing.

I found myself referring to my notes a lot and often going back to the book. I wrote out a lot of code in Learning Objective 2 but found that there were some areas that I somehow missed, and there were some things that I had not explained properly. When writing notes from a book, you understand the book as you go through it, so the notes you make, make sense to you.

I occasionally found myself searching online for solutions to problems and the fact that I had to gain knowledge from other sources shows a fault in my learning process. I did, however, find solutions to problems myself proving that throughout my learning process, I had gained a working knowledge of PHP. The idea of the Learning Contract was to learn first, devise and produce a product second, but as PHP is such a large language to learn, it’s hard to know what to learn.

The product largely fits what I proposed in my Design Brief. Users have the ability to register, log in, upload their photos and view them in their browser. I did however, encounter problems when it came to managing photos. It was my intention that the user be able to delete individual photos once they were uploaded, however, I opted instead for a button that deletes all photos. This still fits in with the aim of managing the users photos, but down to time restrictions, it was not to the extent I initially wanted.

To summarise, my learning experience was OK but it had many faults. I am happy with the knowledge I have gained and I have created what I set out to create. However, there were a lot of problems that would have easily been avoided had I put in proper research before writing my Learning Contract. Time management was also an issue with me having to juggle three modules, home and work life all at once. Together, these issues impacted on the time I had left for the project leading to a rushed end result.

Word count: 794

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Learning Objective 1 – The Ins and Outs of PHP and MySQL

In this journal entry I will cover how PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP) is used in the industry. I will also outline the technologies advantages and limitations.

PHP is a server-side scripting language that is often used in conjunction with My Structured Query Language (MySQL), a database management system. The two technologies work together to add interactivity to websites and other online applications, creating a product where the information displayed to the end user is customizable (Skillset). An example of this would be a Content Management System (CMS), which is an interface where the user can control the information they display on their website.

Typically, PHP development focuses on what is going on behind the scenes of a website, and technical design such as devising databases, focusing little on the visual design of a product (Skillset). As PHP runs server-side, the users’ system resources are not used, this can result in faster loading times and can also eliminate compatibility issues that may be raised by a users web-browser or operating system (The Advantages of PHP).

The technology is open-source which means that it is always being updated by the open-source community. As a result, the technology is considered stable and any problems, bugs or security failings that may arise are often dealt with quickly (The Advantages of PHP). One of the biggest benefits of PHP being open-source is that it is free, which goes towards explaining why PHP is so widely used.

Another reason for PHP’s popularity could be it’s ease of use as the script is very similar to it’s predecessor C and also similar to Javascript, another C based language. PHP integrates well with other languages such as HTML as it can be inserted directly into a HTML file (The Advantages of PHP). Also, as noted by Elizabeth Naramore, the language is very flexible and there are “no less than 30 ways to do the same task”. However, she then goes on to state that as there is no code standard, as there is with HTML, it can be difficult for others to pick up and code from where you left off (8 Experts…).

Keith Casey suggests that because the technology is easy to learn, new programmers don’t always consider security leaving their applications open to attack. Lorna Jane Mitchell agrees, stating that because anyone can program PHP, there is a lot of bad code out there as a result (8 Experts…).

A benefit of PHP’s open-source community is the willingness of the community to help others and share its knowledge, adding to the languages ease-of-use (The Advantages of PHP). However, the open-source aspect of PHP can also be a downfall. Chris Cornutt calls the language flexible but “scatter-brained” and reflects that as PHP has developed over time, it has suffered from a “Wouldn’t it be cool” mentality, he believes that it can damage the languages maintainability in the future (8 Experts…).

To summarize, PHP does have it’s drawbacks but it’s ease of use outweighs them. The open-source community will be useful but I may have to refrain from using existing code, and opt for developing my own way of doing things. PHP remains to be the most popular ‘back-end’ coding language and coupled with personal reasons, learning it’s drawbacks hasn’t swayed me wanting to learn the language.

PPD 2 – Presentation

Introduction

This presentation will cover my year on the course, and at the end I’ll talk a little about what I want to achieve in the next year.

  1. An Insight – I’m going to start by talking about WRL1 [Work-Related Learning 1], which was a great experience for me, though I get the impression the majority of the class hated it. I think I enjoyed the ‘investigative-ness’ of it, going on the hunt for professionals, going out and interviewing them. The interviews went well and I feel I got a good insight into how the industry works, and got a good mixture of views of how it should work.

    The hardest bit for me however, was gathering it all together into the report, not to mention having to transcribe every word my interviewee’s said, this was no doubt the most time consuming task. Writing has never been my strong point so I will admit I did struggle with the report itself. I did myself no favours for the fact that I had interviewed 4 people, this meant that I had more to cram into the report, meaning that in the end my conclusion was lacking, this resulted in fewer marks.

    Regardless of my marks, I still believe a obtained a lot of knowledge from the experience.

  2. Typography is key – Typography was an interesting one. At the start I never really understood the importance of typography when it came to design but Steve made a very good point that very few designs contain no typography at all and that typography will mostly always be a part of our design work. Initially I thought that typography as a subject could be quite boring, but it was actually very interesting. It’s the sort of thing that can easily be taken for granted, I knew it was there but had never paid it much thought.

    It was a little tough going on the revision side of it with us having to remember 56 typefaces, what they look like and who created them, but it was good to be able to get into creating something now after all the written work we had had to do in WRL1. The creative briefs were great, I loved them, though with Steve’s absence I think we got slightly more freedom in our designs than Steve had intended.

    (Show Fentimans)

    I loved this task, it was our second design task. We had to design a label for a soft drink. The colours we could use were outlined and we had to create something that had a traditional feel. The use of ornaments were allowed.

    I think I achieved an old fashioned feel with the shapes I used and the typefaces and ornaments I chose though the colours do help. Initially I wanted the label to be diamond shaped but on realising that the label had to be rectangular, I stuck with the diamond shape but put parts of the content outside of it. The problem with deciding to use a diamond shape meant that I was left with even less space, as the label wasn’t that big to begin with. Never the less I don’t feel that the design is too cramped and on printing it out I checked with Steve that the typeface sizes were verifiable.

    (Show Lithos)

    This was another one I enjoyed. The task was called Type Trumps and was to design two cards for chosen typefaces. My choices were Antique Olive and Lithos. This one is Lithos, as you can tell.

    My inspiration for this was the fact that Lithos is based largely around Greek letterforms, this lead to my idea to design the card almost like a tablet of text from ancient times. To achieve this better I could have better used letter-spacing. As ancient tablets tend to consist of rows of characters with no separation, I decided to use the allotted colours, black and red, and separate the answers with each colour. The red in a strange way reminded me of blood and I was getting a Sparta/300 vibe from it. I did try to separate the words with daggers but Lithos dagger character looked more like a cross, and we were only able to use the allotted typeface.

  3. Designing my first website – was fun. I had built a small tabled website on my previous course but I had not really gone through any design processes. Before this course I had very rarely designed anything, I never really considered myself to be arty but after the series of Typography tasks I surprised myself and actually found my inner-designer. There was a little bit of ‘investigative-ness’ involved with this, we had to decide on an unsung hero, get them to agree to let us design and build a website about them, get the content from them and crack on. This was where my first lesson came in, getting content from clients can be a pain. Thankfully Maureen was not too bad and I did manage to get all of the content out of her in the end.

    (Show design)

    I went for the colours not because they are the FdA colours but because I concluded that these are the main colours associated with cats. The paw is obvious. I went for the typeface in the head as Maureen strikes me as being gentle and as well as the website being for my grades, I wanted to use it to generate sympathy for her, the typeface has a personal feel so I think it helps that along. I went for a simple design as we had to consider the build phase, this may have limited me.

  4. Building my first proper website – As it happened the build wasn’t too challenging once I got my head around floating divs. The last and only website I’d built was a simple 3 page info-site of a musician built with tables, so divs were new to me. Although I had been told over and over, one of the biggest things I learnt was how bad IE6 actually was, it’s the sort of thing that you can be told about, but will only know about it through experiencing it. It was a bit of a learning curve.

    In the end the website didn’t differ too much from the proposed design though one of the things I had to change was typeface sizes. I’d initially designed in points but had to convert them to em’s. Also I had intended for there to be a white line separating each menu item but that proved to be a bit fiddly.

  5. More Design – This module was not unlike the Typography module only this time we were designing for the web. I didn’t enjoy these tasks as much as the Typography ones. Whereas we had direction when it came to the other tasks having had guidelines to follow, this time for the most part we were free of guidelines. At first glance that might look like a good thing but it was designing on the hoof that I had problems with in some cases, especially when it came to the self branding task.

    (Show Jelly Belly)

    In this task we had to create a Jelly Belly banner for a flavour assigned to us, drawing inspiration from the banners already on their website. I had more fun with this as the guidelines were there, and the ideas came flowing quicker. I tried to match mine as closely to the ones on the website as a requirement of the task was to stick to the same sort of style as those already there. My flavour was ‘Orange Crush’, I tried to emphasise the ‘crush’ by creating an orange that had appeared to be crushed, but drawing vector splashes to fit with the current styles. It turned out ‘Orange Crush’ is a brand in itself so I used the brands logo also.

  6. Designing and Building my second proper website – The task was a mock client scenario featuring a brief the second years were given by a live client, this was a simulation based on that. This task brought all that we had learnt throughout the year together in one, we had to re-design the clubs logo and website and follow it through right to a finished, live website.

    (Show design)

    Learning from the last website I designed, I decided to be a bit more adventurous with this one, though the design looks more like a website simply because there is much more content. The client demanded that the website be predominantly blue but I decided to add an extra colour in there too. I feel the colours blue and cream have a slight regal feel, but the background design takes away from that. Initially I was going to do a gradient but on realising that the two colours don’t blend well, I decided to break them up.

    The logo is largely based on their existing one.

    As I decided the be a bit more adventurous with the design, this very much complicated the build. IE6 being the problem in most cases. Learning from the last build however, I decided to build in IE6 first, laying the framework down, then move on to Chrome when putting in the content. The biggest issue I had with the build was getting the drop down navigation to work cross browser. I built the menu through CSS and managed to get it to work but the problems came with getting it to work in IE6 as IE6 does not recognise hover when put on anything but an anchor tag. The navigation took a lot of time and in the end the positioning varied across different browsers. Although the build was complicated I still feel I got a lot from it and no doubt when I encounter the problems I faced with the build again, they will be easier solved.

  7. A look into the futura – This last year has been a bit hectic and there is a lot more to come in the next year with the plan being to take on a number of client projects. I currently have 2 projects and I plan to take on more through the summer, first to build my portfolio, second to keep my mind fresh and ready for September.

    The group seems to be comprised of more programmers than anything and although I came on to the course wanting to be a programmer, I would like to have a shot at taking on more of a designer role. I would also love the opportunity to be an all rounder when it comes to client work, with the view of hopefully being capable in whatever role is needed of me when the times come as I’m sure will be the case for most anyway.

    Half way through the year I had set myself a personal target of reaching marks above the 60 mark, unfortunately I did not achieve this so it is something I am hoping to achieve in the second year. Although I am obviously learning a lot and picking up new skills throughout the duration of the course it really pays to have it down on paper as in most cases this would be what an employer sees first.

Team Work…ing?

 

The task was to, in a team, plan and implement a range of solutions for the marketing of our course, FdA Web Design. At the time of beginning the task, we were 6 members strong and I was chosen to head the discussion. The brief we were given for the task was quite vague but we got on with it, we jumped ahead making our own out of the task in front of us, and that was the problem. The way we were going about the task was wrong from the outset. The Brief was brief, it was meant to be that way, we were meant to obtain information this time, rather than be given it.

A large difference between this task and previous PPD tasks was how this one was delivered. In previous cases, Steve would introduce a task, we would go through it and have the chance to ask questions. This time was different, we were given the task and told to get on with it. I think that had we had the usual sit down, there may not have been the frenzy that ensued. However, that was not the point of the task.

Ideas were bouncing around the room and we seemed to let excitement get the better of us. In that excitement we missed a vital requirement of the brief. The brief required us to compose a proposal document of our ideas and how we may go about them. As the dos and don’ts had this time been missing from it, I found myself running back and forth between the seminar group and Steve with various questions, questions that could have been considered in the document itself.

Sensing our lack of understanding of the task, Steve lost patience and in light of a discussion after the seminar group, we arranged to meet outside of University to discuss the task. Although we thought we had made progress, and left the meeting confident in what we had achieved, our confidence was premature. We had again somehow forgotten about the proposal document, and when certain ideas were bounced back to Steve, he again lost his confidence in us.

To make matters worse we were faced with losing yet another member of the class. Steven’s reasons for leaving were not clear but I can only assume that it was a combination of recent events and his lack of confidence in the course. It was a huge shock as now we were down to a team of 5. We managed to get back into the task and had created our proposal document. After discussing it with Steve, we decided what we were going to do and how we were going to do It.

Everybody had their things to be doing as well as keeping in mind deadlines for other pieces of work. However, we had not decided on a concrete deadline for this task. As I can only speak for myself I believe the lack of a concrete deadline coupled with me failing to prioritise my work lead to my failings in the task at hand. I was perhaps adding more weight to other modules when instead I should have treated this task equally, as this time the work is not just for my benefit. If the same can be said for others then maybe the problem could have been remedied by us properly identifying a leader?

Throughout the course we have always looked at Emily as our leader, without her necessarily agreeing to it. This may be down to the fact that Emily is already in the industry and perhaps because we see her as the strongest link. I had been assigned to head the initial meeting, perhaps it was I that was to head the project overall? Either way, we never actually sat down to agree who would be leading the task, which is in a lot of cases vital to a teams success.

If we were to do the task again we would definitely need to identify a leader. The first thing we would have to do is pay proper attention to the brief and in an orderly manner throw our ideas into a proposal document showing in depth consideration of each. Once we have done that and gained feedback from Steve, we would then need to assign everyone roles and commit to proper deadlines, making sure to prioritise our workload, and above all, making sure that each one of us is taking the project seriously.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park Visit

We couldn’t have chosen a better day to go to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the grass was green, the sun was shining, and the park was undergoing an overhaul, there were works going on everywhere! Luckily enough (most of) the sculptures Steve selected for us were there ready to be pondered.

I was given two sculptors’ work to choose from, this was because I had expressed earlier that I would love to write about a particular piece. Unfortunately the piece I was looking for wasn’t there, but maybe that was a good thing as the fact that I had studied it prior may have defeated the object of the task. So, I was left with the back-up plan, I had the work of Anthony Caro to look over.

Caro’s work was down by the ‘Lakeside’. There were two pieces, one a rusted arrangement of steel entitled ‘Dream City’, and another entitled ‘The Promenade’, which was made up of several arrangements of steel, this time in the colour grey. I decided my piece was going to be on ‘The Promenade’ as there was more of it, there was more to talk about, hopefully.

'The Promenade' by Anthony Caro

My initial thoughts were that the random geometry and the grey colour reminded me of a dismantled battleship, or a destroyer, huge pieces of steel looking like it had just been ripped off of the HMS York. The curved steel could have been the ships plating, the wide, cylindrical parts may have been from the ships turrets. I was thinking about how the pieces’ name could fit in with the feeling I was getting, and then it hit me, perhaps it had been washed up on ‘The Promenade’ after a storm?

One thing I considered was that they may represent the dismantling or break-down of the UK’s steel industry. This was certainly during the sculptors time. Could the steel arrangements represent a collapse of industry altogether? I am going through a stage of really appreciating the natural world we live in, this also comes with seeing the damage that mankind and industry has done to the natural world. I often imagine how the world would be without mankind. The collapse of industry would certainly allow more room for nature to flourish.

I decided to research into Caro and found that my initial feelings could quite easily have been the feelings of the sculptor himself when creating ‘The Promenade’. After a simple search of his name online I discovered that Caro, before coming a sculptor, was in the Royal Navy!

Initially, I was excited about the visit and really couldn’t see how anyone would not be. However, on realising the piece I wanted wasn’t there, my excitement faded a little. When I got to the sculpture I could write about, I struggled a little bit, I couldn’t really get anything other than the fact that it looked like a dismantled battleship. My creative juices got flowing eventually but in the end it turned out that my initial feelings about the piece were actually spot on!

I would definitely do this task again, it goes to show that you can get inspiration from the simplest of things, it might not be apparent right away, you might have to work it a little, but it’s there.

Word count: 552

Making a Splash! – Proposal

What we aim to do

We aim to use Social Networking as a means to promote the course. We will focus on social networking sites ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’ as these are two of the largest with millions of users globally.

How we aim to do it

The course already has its own accounts on both Social Network mediums but our plan involves creating a seperate entity. We plan to create a page on both sites for ‘The Octopuses @ FdA Web Design’ or something along those lines. The purpose of this is to market the course from a more personal perspective than previous marketing efforts, giving possible students a look into life on the course, making them feel a part of it.

It will involve:

  • The posting of the course on various pages relating, but not limited to: education, schools, the internet and web design. (Facebook)
  • The contacting of industry professionals and companies on the two sites, a simple ‘retweet’ or ‘share’ of a post by us, by them, would go a long way. (Facebook and Twitter)
  • The showcasing of our work and linking to our websites. (Facebook and Twitter/Twitpic)
  • The posting of articles outlining the importance of Web Design in todays world. (Facebook and Twitter)
  • The posting of articles outlining the importance of Education when it comes to Web Design (Could play on the differences between ‘Educated’ and ‘Self-taught’. (Facebook and Twitter))
  • We will all have access to the pages. On Facebook, we will all be set as admins, future students can be added to the admin list when they are on the course, to continue where we have left.

Strengths

The strengths of this plan are outlined below:

  • We can reach our target audience easily with quick and direct access to thousands through posting on other pages and groups walls.
  • It will create awareness of the course on a huge scale.
  • It is cost effective.
  • It has a knock on effect, if one person likes us, all of their friends see, if two out of their 100 friends like us, their friends’ friends see us… etc.
  • Impact of marketing can be seen through user interaction, page likes, retweets, new followers etc.

Weaknesses

The weaknesses of this plan are outlined below:

  • It is time consuming and will need to be maintained.
  • It will need to be moderated.
  • It will need to be carried on by future students.
  • The posts could be seen as spam.

Mini Learning Contract

Learning Objective:
Seo – The Basics

Methodology:
I learnt it through reading an article and a book on the subject.

Resources:
Search Engine Optimization for Dummies [Book], http://www.seofordummies.co.uk

Results:
I started the project not really knowing anything about SEO other than what it meant, Search Engine Optimization. So for me, the first step was to learn what it was rather than how it was.

First of all I gained a basic understanding of how some Search Engines work and how they store or cache pages. I learnt about ‘Web Crawlers’, or ‘spiders’, and how they literally crawl around the Internet following any links they come by. I learnt that after the ‘spiders’ had found the page, it then gets indexed and the page or a cache of the page is stored on the Search Engine’s server. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out all the ins and outs as a Search Engines methods are its best kept secret.

Through learning about how Search Engines worked it immediately shed some light on how SEO works, or might work. I learnt that keywords play heavily on what you do and how your webpage is found. I also learnt that you have to pay particular attention to how your webpage is structured and how your website may be hard for Search Engines to read, and what you can do to change that.

I actually learned something new with HTML too, regarding the ‘meta name’ tag and how it is used to add a description to your page, that is only visible to the user when searching for your page through a Search Engine. This is with exception to Google who first gathers it’s description from your body text based on the information you give in your head tags, then your description tags if no information can be found.

I also learned what not to do in SEO. I learnt the tricks people apply regularly and the tricks that eventually result in people being removed from Search Engines for good. Tricks such as cramming your website full of keywords to the point that it is really obvious, and such as creating hidden pages full of keywords. I also learnt the ultimate no-no in SEO: ‘page-jacking’, stealing another persons well-optimised page and using it as your own.

Conclusion:
In conclusion, I have come to realise that SEO is an art rather than a skill. It can be quite subjective and it’s standards are quite blurry, peoples opinions differ on some of the practices used when it comes to optimising a website for Search Engines. It also appears to be a black art in the eyes of the Search Engine as it/they don’t want Web Designers to know it’s methods. I have also come to the conclusion that if it is obvious that what you have done is for the Search Engines and not the user, then it is probably a bad idea. The Learning Contract itself was quite difficult for me as I have had a lot of things on in the last few weeks, dividing up my time and my willpower has been quite a difficult task.

Word Count: 527