Thinking outside the box

We’re always busy at DataSalon working hard on client change requests and new product features to enhance our core product MasterVision and make it even easier to use.

However, occasionally it can be valuable to have some time away from the office to think about the bigger picture, and last month we were very happy to attend Render Conference in Oxford, a two day event focused on web development.

There was a fantastic range of speakers from leading technology providers including Google and Facebook, with talks covering an incredible range of topics. Here we discuss a handful of themes which we found particularly interesting and useful for our future product developments:


We already use animation in MasterVision to enhance menus and widgets, and our new Analytics Beta development has allowed us to take this further with fully animated charts and maps.

There were several talks on this topic discussing how to use animation effectively, including a nice example on a fill-out form, which is quite an unusual place to find it. The key here – and in most cases – is to use animation in a subtle way: a contrasting example was shown of content rotating and spinning into view as a page was scrolled down, which was more disorientating than helpful for the user.

Accessibility & Inclusivity

Website accessibility is often talked about in the abstract and so it provided a remarkable insight to have a talk on this topic delivered by a blind speaker, with guide dog on stage. He described how for many disabled people smart phones are an essential part of life rather than a ‘nice to have’ gadget, and enable communication that was not previously possible – for example, FaceTime allows deaf people to use sign language on screen.

We were also given an insight into ‘CAPTCHAs’ from a blind perspective, where you need to guess the text from partly obscured letters to prove that you’re a ‘real’ user. As an ‘accessible’ alternative, an audio version using distorted sound is sometimes used – but this was so tricky that no-one in the room could make sense of the example clip played!

For services with a small and restricted user base like MasterVision, it might seem tempting not to worry too much about accessibility, but to counter this view an important point was made: any user may be temporarily ‘disabled’ when using your site on a bright day, with coffee in one hand, when short of time, or on a small device – all very thought provoking.


The majority of our clients are currently desktop based, but we do have some iPad usage and intend to add full mobile support for MasterVision once there is genuine demand for it. There were a number of talks on this area which therefore provided some nice insights for the future.

A headline point was how the web on mobile (normally accessed via Safari or Chrome) has been quickly closing the gap on ‘Apps’ (which you’d typically buy and install from an App Store). It’s now possible to ‘install’ a  website to the home screen and deliver a full screen experience just like Apps can, but with a much smaller ‘footprint’ – which is key when competing for users’ photo and video space. In addition, web services are now able to work offline if needed – allowing users to continue to access their data with no internet connection or when there is low connectivity.

The above covers just a small snapshot of topics raised at the conference, which also included talks on subjects as diverse as gender (how/when/should you ever ask about this?), resilience (“hope for the best, prepare for the worst!”), cutting edge testing techniques, and even rainbows (which are not as easily explained as you might think!). We found it to be an inspiring two days and a valuable way of keeping up with all the latest web technologies so that our clients can continue to enjoy the best possible user experience when using our online services.