Driving the digital hotel experience

This week, we launched a new digital initiative for our client, Beaufort Park Hotel and Conference Centre, starting with the launch of a new website.

The Beaufort Park Hotel has long been delivering superior guest experiences, as recognised recently when it was named Best Place to Stay at the Flintshire Food and Tourism Awards, but until now the online experience didn’t deliver the same standard of service.

The old website wasn’t mobile-friendly and, after a few years service, the design was beginning to look dated and uninspiring. Cumulative content bloat was also blunting the structure and flow, making it increasingly difficult for users to find what they were looking for.

We worked closely with the team at Beaufort Park, along with a customer focus group, to plan, design and develop a new website that is built with logical information architecture and drives satisfying user journeys.

The new, responsive website is the first in a series of customer-facing outputs that will use various channels and technologies to help to create the best possible online experience for guests before, during and after their stay at the hotel.

beaufort-park-hotel-homepagebeaufort-park-hotel-responsiveSusan Warnock, General Manager of the Beaufort Park Hotel, said: “We’re delighted to now be offering an improved online experience for new and existing customers. Our website is often the first line of contact with new customers, so it’s important that we immediately send out a message that customer experience is at the heart of our business.”

We’re excited about the nest stages of the project with Beaufort Park and we’ll keep you updated on its progress.

Find out more about the work we’re doing with Beaufort Park and some of our other clients.

Downton “Abbey Well”

TV producers were left embarrassed this week when a promotional photo for 1920s drama series, Downton Abbey, included a plastic water bottle in the background (must have been Abbey Well). Take a look below – its sandwiched between two priceless vases, just right of the toffs:
downtonNever wanting anyone to be left feeling embarrassed, we thought we’d help out by carefully photoshopping the water bottle out. Take a look below (its no longer between two priceless vases):
downton-fixedApparently, plastic bottles were not in wide use in the UK until the 1960s – 36 years after the new series of Downton takes place.

Thankfully its not the 1920s anymore and we’re able to drink water from polyethylene terephthalate containers and clear up historical inaccuracies using Photoshop.

An ITV spokesperson said “Cheers”.

An Evening with Umbraco

On Wednesday night, we were lucky enough to spend a couple of hours in the company of Umbraco founder, Niels Hartvig.

In a very candid and informal talk, Niels enthralled the 90 or so delegates that had travelled to Manchester to see hear about Umbraco from the master himself.

Niels Hartvig at Umbraco Manchester Meet UpNiels talked about the mistakes the company has made in the past, from the lasting effects of minor typos, to the major U-turn with Umbraco 5. Then, with considerable modesty, Niels talked about the significant successes the company has enjoyed with high-profile companies like Peugeot and Microsoft.

One of the key points Niels made throughout his talk was the importance he placed on the growing Umbraco community. Part of what makes Umbraco so popular with coders is the community it has nurtured:

 “Umbraco is transparent and honest… Umbraco lives because of its community which thrives on collaboration and is passionate about technology. We work together to bring about change.”
– Umbraco manifest

Niels Hartvig at Umbraco Manchester Meet UpSimplicity

Niels affirmed his personal desire to constantly make it easier to use Umbraco’s interface. Its simplicity and intuitive controls are part of what makes this such a popular content management system for web editors.

In terms of set up, Umbraco provides the basis of what’s needed to create a content managed website, allowing you to choose the add-ons and extensions you want to use. In comparison, many other content management systems are really bloated and over complicated giving users all of the options you could ever possibly need, irrespective of their requirements.

From Group Dane’s point of view, Umbraco is a winning solution, as it allows our developers to build sites from the ground up, only adding features that are required by our clients. This makes our clients lives easier because they get a very simple interface, containing only the features that they will actually need.

The future

Niels talked about Project Belle, a new user interface design, which aims to help end users use the backoffice more easily.

Find out more about Belle and how you can have your first look at it by downloading the alpha version.

Umbraco as a service

Perhaps one of the most interesting chapters in Umbraco’s history is due to unfold soon.

Niels talked about Umbraco’s plans to offer a service which will appeal to less technical users, rivalling the simplicity of WordPress in terms of set up.

The packages will offer users development, staging and live environments, with a simple one click deployment between them.

And finally…

For us, the resounding message was that, other than a great deal of talent and skill, Umbraco’s success has largely been attributed to a strong desire for simplicity, acute perfectionism and transparency within its community. I believe there is a great deal of good stuff still to come from Umbraco.

For more thoughts on Umbraco, check out our post, Umbraco we love you.

Images courtesy of Simon Antony.

How is your UX affected by responsive design?

“My experience of your website started at my desk and ended on the train.”

While on my lunch break yesterday, I visited a travel website on my work computer. My experience of the website was very good, so much so that I didn’t even realise when my lunch break was over. My boss will be pleased to read that as soon as I realised, I got straight back to work (honest).

Train - London Later, on the long train journey home, I pulled out my smartphone to finish browsing the same website. At first, I was pleased to find that the website was responsive (which means it adapts to the device it’s being viewed on). But wait. Something didn’t feel right… It looked completely different. I double checked it was the same website I visited on my lunch break… It was. Why was the look and structure so radically different from the desktop site? Why could I not find the information I was looking at earlier? Why was the navigational structure so different that the only things familiar were the colours? Without wanting to sound too dramatic, I felt confused, agitated and impatient with the website.

This got me thinking about how important it is for a responsive website to have a consistent user experience (UX) across different devices. If you’re not familiar with the term, UX is basically concerned with the emotional aspects associated with the use of interactive technologies like websites and web applications.

The whole point in a responsive website is that it will work and display adequately according to the user’s device. However, the fact it’s adapting means that the quality of UX is also potentially changing with it. It is important that any differences across devices must be logical and intuitive.

How is my responsive website’s UX?

Slip your feet into your customers’ shoes and think about how they might want to access your site.

Customers' shoesTest your website’s UX on all screen sizes and devices you intend to support, such as smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. Just remember that you don’t have the power to choose which devices you support – you must always, always go where your customers are. Remember, you can look at your web analytics to determine what devices are most commonly used by your customers.

For help with UX or responsive design, get in touch.

Umbraco, we love you

So you’re looking for a content management system (CMS) for your website? At Group Dane, we usually recommend Umbraco to our clients.

Read on to find out more about Umbraco and why we love it so…

What is Umbraco?

Umbraco is a free, open-source CMS platform that helps web editors to quickly and easily update and publish content to their sites.

Currently, Umbraco is a privately held profit-making company with about 10 permanent staff, who are supported by an additional 15 volunteer developers.

How did it come about?

First developed by Niels Hartvig in 2000, it was released as open-source software in 2005. By 2009, it was widely considered to be one of the leading .Net-based open source CMSs around.

Who else uses it?

Umbraco is used by some of the biggest organisations in the world, including Peugeot, Heinz, Microsoft and Vogue.

umbraco clients

What sets it apart from competitors?

Umbraco is free and easy to use for both editors and .Net developers. Because it’s open-source, it thrives on collaboration, which means that anybody can submit their own bug fixes, features and extensions to be considered for inclusion in the CMS. This means it is quickly and constantly improving.

The diverse usage of the CMS and collaborative development effort means it’s highly flexible. Almost everything in Umbraco is customisable and extensions are available that can enhance the standard installation. These extensions are mainly provided by the community and most are free or available for a small charge.

Umbraco offers support via the community site Our Umbraco, which is not only huge (it has more than 55,000 registered users), it is also extremely knowledgeable. Many of its members are top notch developers keen to help and advise on all things Umbraco.

Although the CMS is free to use (and according to the Umbraco Corporation, it always will be), there are additional options you can opt in for, which include productivity enhancing add-ons. For a small fee, you can also add a support package to the CMS for guaranteed and professional help and bug fixing warranty.

Find out more

Hear it from the horse’s mouth at the official Umbraco website.

Group Dane is a Liverpool-based digital agency, with more than 15 years digital experience. Get in touch if you’d like to know what we can do for you, whether you need a new website/CMS or not.

Post by Louise, Head of Development.

Storytelling in the second screens age

If the first decade of the 2000s was the age of the web, then perhaps this decade is the age of the second screen.

A recent Google study found that our second-screening habits can be defined by two modes: ‘sequential’ and ‘simultaneous’.

We move seamlessly between devices when sequentially screening – perhaps we’ll start a search for product information on our smartphone on the train in the morning, then do some research on a PC during the day, before finally completing the task by making the purchase on our tablet at home in the evening.

In contrast, whilst simultaneously screening – we use multiple devices at the same time. Using a second screen on the sofa to share an entertaining live TV show on social media, is the obvious example – but the possibilities to explore beyond these boundaries are truly inspiring for every sector.

Think of learning – in the classroom, in the space of just a few years, we’re moving from the blackboard to interactive whiteboard to an iPad at every school desk. Imagine being able to tap into the naturally intuitive way that children master and navigate second screen devices. Learning for them is about immersive and simultaneous storytelling.

We’re currently developing apps that know where you are and can place you in that context to learn. Whether it’s at a famous historical battle site or discovering more about the wildflowers and animals at a local nature reserve.

It’s about delivering the right content at the right time, in the right context. Where are we and what do we want to accomplish?

At Group Dane, we love stories. We are all born to tell and share them. They are what inspire us. They are the narrative arcs that curve and shape our lives. So whenever we approach a project, using the power of a story to harness action is a key principle for us. It’s not the device itself or the software platform that matters, it is the connection we make to a story that truly moves us.

If your customer is second-screening content, how does your story continue? How does it engage the customer in the competition for attention? Does your content expand and complement the experience or deliver a compelling standalone idea?

We’re optimists, and believe that the challenge of radical, disruptive ideas can be met with new solutions.

So here’s to the age of the second screens and the exciting, optimistic changes it will bring to storytelling!

Andrew Corbally is Digital Manager at Group Dane.