Behind the curtains: wireframe to website prototype

Val Cartei, from our IT team offers her thoughts about some of the work that's gone into developing the MHMS website.

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Wireframes and prototypes are a must when it comes to creating projects that need to cater for many and different needs from many and different stakeholders, and MyHouseMyStreet (MHMS) is no exception to the rule.

Comic strip diagram of overly-complicated product development process

First things first. Wireframes are basic illustrations of the structure and components of a web page. To create them, Dave and I would met in pubs and, with the help of a glass or two, started brainstorming on scraps of paper. You can see our efforts on Flickr:

At a second stage, we translated our sketches in OmniGraffle to create  a digital version of the wireframes so that they could be shared with the other team members. This helped communication across the board, from the project manager to the designers, from the the developers to the volunteers involved. 

The next step was to create a prototype of the site. Prototypes are semi-functional webpage layouts of a mockup/comp that serves to give a higher-fidelity preview of the actual site being built. OmniGraffle professional has some really useful tools for GUI and Prototype design, which let you add interactivity to your pages and export them in HTML. So that you can open your prototype in any browser and navigate your way through as if you were a user!

Lessons learnt? With wireframing and prototyping you can really have your cake and eat it. However, to make everyone happy, they must be developed as a collaborative exercise. Designers, developers, product owners and of course users should all be involved in creating, critiquing and evaluating prototypes from the beginning, to avoid bas surprises!

Why we're excited about the 2011 census

Not many people get excited about a census, but we do at MyHouseMyStreet, and there's one this year! We see it as a link from what we're doing now back to the first census in the early 1800s.

MyHouseMyStreet uses information from census returns (among other sources) to explore the details of Brighton and Hove's former residents. They remain confidential for 100 years, so the most recent one available is 1911.

Sergeant Pepper (nearly) lived in my house

This discovery shows the type of interesting and unusual things that can show up in historical research.

A friend of mine looked up the details of his own Belgrave St. house in the 1861 census. As well as the large number of people living there (nine in a small two-bedroomed house), most of their occupations were listed as 'Equistrian'.

Shopping in Sydney Street

A look at street directories gives a flavour of the shops and businesses in this street through the years.

Earlier directories show that most of the shops served everyday needs, but there was a marked change by the 1960s. Local food shops were in rapid decline with the growth of local supermarkets (who can remember the Tesco in Gardner street?) and then out-of-town shopping.

Coaching days

Whilst looking through the Brighton street directories I came across the profession of Fly Proprietor. I hadn't heard of this before, but after checking up I discovered that 'fly' is one of several words used to describe a Hackney carriage. That led me to look into the history of coaching around Brighton, and it was soon clear that anyone travelling through Sussex before the time of the Regency was in for a comfortless and perilous journey.

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