THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

3 posts from January 2019

23 January 2019

A week in the life of... Dr Jan Kattein, founding director of Jan Kattein Architects

Dr Jan Kattein is founding director of Jan Kattein Architects, a design studio that advocates socially engaged working methods. The practice embraces design as an opportunity for dialogue and exchange. Their work strives to make a civic contribution, using design as a means to support economic, cultural, educational and social prosperity. Jan took part in the British Library's Business & IP Centre’s Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme in 2018 and is now working with Global Generation to design a community garden to support the Library's outreach programme.

Monday... I was hoping for a slow start in January, but there are already a raft of emails in the inbox, annual staff reviews need to be scheduled, a tender is due later this week, a new member of staff is joining the team and a number of new projects are starting.

The week starts with a meeting with Westminster Council's regeneration team. Westminster have firmly committed to consultation and dialogue with their communities around regeneration projects and have set up a series of local regeneration bases in several areas of the borough. Regeneration has attained a somewhat tainted reputation in recent years because it is often associated with displacement of communities and gentrification of neighbourhoods. Whilst I understand the root of these concerns, I can also see the very tangible benefits that an inclusive approach to regeneration can bring for local people. When embracing the Mayor's principles of 'Good Growth', regeneration is principally about creating opportunities for all sections of society. And this is mainly what our work is about at Jan Kattein Architects. Working together with local authorities, the private sector and the third sector, we can unlock educational, economic or cultural potential in projects and find a way of using the design process as a means to bringing greater community coherence. I often think that as a profession we need to become much better at accepting accountability for our work. In the knowledge that an inclusive city is a more prosperous city, the smart players in the private sector are doing that already and local authorities are increasingly taking the view that an integrated and transparent way of working brings real tangible benefits. Architects have traditionally had the role of synthesizing a range of different parameters that allow the built environment to function and are well placed to act as mediators between the various interests that inevitably collide when working in urban regeneration.

Morden High Street Regeneration
Morden High Street regeneration

Back at the office, I need to put the finishing touches to a tender submission. Tower Hamlets Council have invited us to submit a bid for a small high street regeneration project in Roman Road. High streets are such an important part of civic life and London would not be London without its 600 high streets, the jobs they provide, the contribution they make to public life and the cultural diversity they bring. I have now been involved in delivering some 30 or so high street regeneration projects in London. In high street regeneration our engaged way of working finds particular bearing. The aim of our work is never just about physical change, it's about shifting people's perception of their environment, about sewing a seed for a mindset change and instil confidence in a struggling but vital sector of our economy. There are challenging years ahead for the high street and if we really want to protect this important civic asset, we have to come up with some inventive new uses that service communities and the experience economy. We also need to carefully consider our spending habits and the tax regime that currently creates an uneven playing field which is heavily skewed to benefit multi-nationals.

Tuesday Today starts with a talk at the Cass School of Art and Design. I still lecture and teach at intervals. I am pleased to give a share of my time to a new generation of designers and thinkers making their way through university, but am also aware of the contribution that this interaction makes to rehearsing and disseminating our message. I have found that the communication of our work relies on a thoughtful and nuanced message which is best brought in person, with patience and the opportunity for critical discussion.

Church Street Regeneration
Church Street regeneration public consultation

In the afternoon an internal resourcing meeting. We introduced these weekly meetings to better manage workloads and to predict capacity. The challenge with our work is that things are rarely predictable. What we do is subject to public scrutiny, brief changes, political whim and an evolving social or economic context. Whilst these are challenges that are tricky to manage when running a business, it makes our work profoundly human too and that's why I am happy to tolerate uncertainty and why everyone at Jan Kattein Architects needs to become a master at improvisation.

Wednesday Staff reviews today. Our office is open plan and designed to encourage social interaction. The arrangement of our workspace is a direct representation of the horizontal management structure that we are striving to achieve. A supportive environment where people talk to each other and lend a hand or provide advice informally is critical to everyone giving their best. The downside of our office space is that there is very little privacy; so that a private conversation has to take place at the local pizzeria. This year, that's exactly where we are doing staff reviews, over lunch. It's been beneficial so far, getting out and away from the desk has brought about some friendly but frank conversations. We clearly have to review how we support our team. I suppose the crux with horizontal management is that the level of responsibility taken on by staff needs to be matched by just as much support, empathy and engagement. I always thought we were doing quite well in this field, but I suppose one can always do better.

Jan Kattein Architects office
Jan Kattein Architects office in Islington

Thursday Good news this morning. Camden Council have emailed the planning permission letter for our designs of the Story Garden, a new temporary community garden for Somers Town residents behind the British Library. The project was conceived in a partnership between educational charity Global Generation, the British Library, Stanhope and Central St. Martin's College (CSM) to create an ecological outdoor education space on a disused site just north of the Library. Enabled by the Library and Stanhope and through Camden Giving and the Mayor's Greenspace Fund, the garden will host workshops and events, provide growing space for local people and a maker space for CSM students until the end of 2020. A community-built straw bale roundhouse will provide a field classroom, a public kitchen, a sheltered outdoor dining space and small office are the communal hub of the garden. CSM are bringing a digital workshop onto site and a commercial greenhouse will provide all-season growing space for food and to propagate shrub and tree seedlings ultimately to be planted in estates, parks and squares throughout Somers Town. The space will also be used by the British Library to work on community learning, business and engagement projects.

Story Garden
Story Garden at the British Library

Friday Spanish Architecture Magazine A+T have published a six page spread about our Skip Garden project in King's Cross. It's a real joy to read how others perceive one's work.

In the afternoon meeting at Lendlease's office in Elephant & Castle to present the designs for a temporary place making installation that will form part of a large-scale regeneration project. Interesting discussions about what makes a good street and a good public space, how to foster cultural activity in a new neighbourhood and how to respond flexibly to people's changing needs in the urban environment.

Blue House Yard
Blue House Yard meanwhile village in Wood Green, London

I really enjoy working on meanwhile projects because they are a great platform for design innovation and because they provide an opportunity to engage with communities and start a dialogue about the sort of place where we all want to live without quite committing to a permanent and finite solution. After all, some of the world's famous landmarks like Gustave Eiffel's tower in Paris and the London Eye started their life as temporary projects - and I wonder whether they'd ever have received planning permission in the first place if they had been conceived as permanent structures from the outset. Temporary projects have made a really valuable contribution to the way we think about architecture and urbanism during the last decade.

Back in the office, an internal review of our exhibition design for the forthcoming Spare Parts exhibition at the Science Gallery at King's College. We have made the decision to manufacture the exhibition components ourselves. Just like most other architects, we work with contractors, specialist fabricators and makers to realise our designs. But ever so often, we build ourselves, sometimes as a team at Jan Kattein Architects, sometimes together with communities, apprentices or craftsmen. Building together engages the team, teaches new skills and provides room for experimentation and innovation - and as architects it makes us better at instructing others to build. If you are free, come to the Spare Parts exhibition opening on Thursday 28 February 2019!

I enjoy the heterogeneity of my work, the fact that what I do makes a difference to people's lives and the day to day interactions with my team, but now I am happy that it's Friday.

18 January 2019

Five tips to drive traffic to your website

Grow are small business marketing consultants, whose founder and MD, Alasdair Inglis, is the Marketing Expert in Residence at the Business & IP Centre. Here they give us five tips to help drive traffic to your website.

 

You had to build a website for your business, that much was clear. You designed and honed your site until it was ready. Then what?

Like many people, your website is all dressed up and ready to go, but where's the traffic?

There are lots of brilliant websites like yours selling great products and services but don't have the traffic they need to be successful. If you find yourself at this point, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will run through some basic techniques to help your site rank on Google and get traffic.

  1. Find the right keyword phrases for your web pages

Keywords are the building blocks of how search engines work. Keywords are crucial for driving traffic to your website for free. When people perform Google searches, an algorithm decides what content to show them. You need to tell the search engine that yours is the best result to show. Using keywords throughout your web pages helps Google understand what you offer and when you should appear.

There's also a bit of a catch. Some keywords are so popular that you haven't much chance of ever ranking for them. If you tried to rank a web page for the keyword, chocolate, you will struggle.

The trick is to find less-popular keyword phrases e.g. "Where can I buy organic chocolate?", where you might be able to rank for the phrase, but you'll never rank for the keyword chocolate alone as it's just too competitive!

Targeting the right keyword phrases is crucial. When researching for the best keyword phrases, the key is to find the balance between low enough competition and high enough volume. There are many ways to do keyword research, and some software packages such as SEM Rush give you an idea of how hard it is to rank a keyword phrase in Google.

  1. Putting your keywords to work

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Sadly, it's not quite as easy as just putting the right keywords on your web page. You need to optimise your web pages in order for search engines to rank the web page for a particular search term.

Think about it from Google's point of view. Every person that searches is their customer – and they want to provide the very best service to that customer to keep them coming back (it seems to be working!). To do that they must strive to eliminate poorly written and irrelevant content and anything that could deliver a bad experience to their customer. Optimising your site is saying to Google, "I'm here, I've got good content, and my site is worth showing".  We’ve written a detailed guide to optimising your web pages.

  1. Create your content

Once you know your keyword phrases, it's time to start creating content. Many people dip their toe in the water with a blog. If you're reading this and can write, congratulations, you're qualified to create a blog!

Some find writing daunting, and others don't enjoy the process. Luckily for those people (and writers, too!), we're in the age of video content. Video content is on the rise at the moment and generally receives higher engagement.

A combination of text and video might be the ideal way to boost social media shares and links to your blog– and therefore your search rankings!

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*Tool tip: Yoast SEO is a great little tool for free on-page blog optimisation. If you're using WordPress, give it a try! If not, set up an account and test your content with Yoast before posting text your site!

  1. Get other websites to link to your web pages.

It seems strange to think about, but the internet is just a collection of pages linked to each other. Links are the fabric of the internet. Search engines know this and use links to help them work out the quality of websites and web pages.

The more links from quality sites that point to your website, the more important Google knows your website is. Quality links are one of the major ways Google and Bing rank your pages. If your chocolate-themed website is linked to from chocolate-lovers blogs and chocolatiers’ groups, great!

Link building (the process of acquiring links from relevant quality websites to your content) can happen quite naturally. If you have great content, people will often link to you. Millions of links are being created daily without anybody asking for them.

Sometimes, the organic way can be a little slow. Especially right at the start! If nobody sees your content, nobody can link to it. An outreach programme can be a good bet. Dust-off your best email manners and contact other businesses, make connections and show them what great resources you have! Once you have a good network within your niche, it will be easier to pick up links along the way. This process can be carried out with a relatively low budget by using mail merge software, but it can be time-consuming.

There are a number of different strategies you can use, such as contacting bloggers who write about your niche and asking them to link to a useful article you’ve written, is a great way to get a link. Bloggers are usually keen to be the first to break some news or get involved with something fresh. Perhaps think about what you can offer them in return? Sometimes sending them a product to review is a great way to do this. 

Another common link building strategy is to offer a complimentary guest post to a high-quality website. You will need to write an excellent guest post though!

  1. Use social media to share your content

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More than three billion people worldwide now use social media every month. That's also a lot of potential customers and website traffic back to your site!

Ensure that your social media profiles all link back to your website and that you're sharing your own content and driving traffic and engagement to your site.

Social media can also be an excellent tool for finding relevant bloggers and businesses to get links from and to share your content. Connect with people via Twitter and form a relationship. The clue is in the name… so be social!

Posting useful content, engaging with people and building your followers is a sure-fire way to increase traffic and promote your website. So, what are you waiting for? Your next blog, article or video post is just a few hours away.

Remember your keywords, build those links up and stay social.

Want to learn more digital marketing strategies with Grow? Visit our workshops and events page to see when their next Online marketing masterclass is running.

02 January 2019

Five elements to consider when choosing a winning domain

Here are some top tips from our partner UK2 on choosing the correct domain...

The domain you choose for your next digital adventure is a major decision, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Your web address outlines branding and website identity and also impacts how website users find you online. When the time comes for you to choose your new domain name, there are a few things you need to consider. We’ve assembled a list of the most important website elements including, uniqueness, typability, clarity, substance, and protection.

See our recommendations for these important elements and the questions you should ask yourself before registering a domain in the list below:

#1. Uniqueness

While it can be difficult to stand out on the internet - a place that holds everything and everyone in the world - it is important to attempt to create a unique identity for your brand and website. Your domain name is the perfect place to begin to find your originality.

Startups.co writes that “You need to establish an identity that gives your company direction and helps customers easily find you.” The uniqueness of your domain is important not only to try to create a name for yourself but also to make sure that you aren’t encroaching on anyone else’s territory. Check and double check the domain name you have in mind by answering the questions below:

  • Is anyone else using this domain, or something similar?
  • Is this domain brandable to represent your specific purpose?
  • Is this domain memorable, and will it lead visitors to your page?

#2. Typability

Whilst this word is clearly invented for our purposes, it represents a very important aspect of choosing your domain. When searching out your next domain name, it is important to remember that website visitors will be typing in your web address repeatedly. You will be repeating your domain name out loud for years to come, so you want to consider how it sounds.

Maqtoob writes, “Whether you’re launching a startup, ramping up a business or rebranding your company, it’s important that you have a domain name that rolls off the tongue, is easy to remember, communicates a positive image, looks professional, and inspires you and your team.” If you include unique words that are tough to spell or sequences of numbers that might be forgotten, you might lead people to the wrong site or error pages. To avoid this mistake, ask yourself the questions below:

  • Does your domain easily lead to mistypes or misspellings?
  • Is your domain long and convoluted?

#3. Clarity

Ensuring that your domain is clear lends an aura of respectability that you might otherwise miss out on. There are far too many spammy domains, email addresses, and social media accounts to make us wary of almost everyone we come across online. However, we realise that this is not an easy task. Paul Graham once wrote, “In a world where all the obvious names are taken, finding a good name is a test of imagination. And the name you choose tells whether or not you passed that test.” To be sure that your website gains the credibility it deserves, ask yourself the following questions:

  • From your domain, can site visitors get an understanding of what you offer?
  • Does your domain clearly represent your brand?
  • Could you easily be mistaken as another website?
  • Is your domain as short as possible?
  • If in doubt, is a simple is better than a shorter domain?

#4. Substance

If you’ve ever seen articles about the unfortunate domains for IT Scrap, Pen Island, or Who Represents websites, you know that understanding how your brand is displayed without spacing is very important. Do your best to make sure that you are not using numbers, hyphens, or a collection of smaller words that could become confusing when strung together. Ask yourself the following questions before registering your new domain:

  • Does the domain avoid hyphens and numbers?
  • Could your domain be misconstrued because of spacing?
  • Have you checked into the history of the domain and its other uses?

#5. Protection

The unfortunate truth of the digital world is that if someone has a chance to misrepresent themselves to earn a pound or two, they probably will. While we don’t want to believe that there are lots of unscrupulous folks hanging around the web, the truth is, there are. This is exactly why you want to be sure that you don’t register domains too close to an established entity and why you want to protect your brand by registering domains that are too closely related to you. Before registering, check the answers to these questions to protect your brand and your reputation:

  • Could others purchase domains similar to yours to spoof or misrepresent your business?
  • Are there other domains you should register to keep off the market?

Now that you have encountered the necessary elements of your new domain name, all that’s left is to choose the winning contestant. Check availability, add necessary tools, and register your domain with the help of UK2.NET today!

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