Tom Scholes -  Digital Lunchtime Lecture on Success and Pitfalls of Digital Projects (#DLL14)

by Vessela Howell

On Tuesday, 18th March we had the pleasure to meet a witty and entertaining speaker - Tom Scholes of Grove Street Media, a small new media company based in Summertown, Oxford. The company is so small that, in fact, consists of only two people – Tom, who does the programming, and Ben, who does the design. They specialise in eLearning but also work on a range of products and services for the entertainment and advertising industries, and government agencies. Grove Street Media creates language learning tools, educational games, not-so-educational games, animated scientific diagrams and more, and their approach can be summed up as 'making games out of boring content'. Ben, the designer, is currently animating bacteria in action using 3D models, in order to show how antibiotics work.

According to Tom Scholes, all good digital media has then same components: great content, attractive graphics and good layout. In addition, it can also offer audio, animation and video and usable interaction.

When it comes to plagiarism, Tom is of the opinion that picking the best of what is on the web is a good thing (as long as it is legal!). “Anything that stands out from the crowd is worth saving – it is an important part of what you think is good”, says Tom.

In their work, Grove Street Media try to achieve a fine balance between innovative and usable, constantly threading the line between the two. Cutting edge, innovative interfaces can be hard to understand, while plain usable may be boring.

Talking about development and testing, Tom stressed ho important it is to be given detailed specifications by the client. Any vagueness means the client may not get exactly what they want, and it will probably cost them more money.

Testing is really important for developing a good product, according to Tom. The first version of a product is called the alpha version, which is separately tested for content and functionality over two weeks. After that, they come up with a list of bugs to fix, and produce a beta version – which is then tested for another two weeks, improved and so forth. The cycle is repeated two or three times, or more if needed, before the final product can be ready. Even then, Tom recommends that you should always leave a few weeks at the end of a project to fix issues that may come up (and often do). They also try to give customers as much feedback as possible.

For costing, Tom Scholes has recently come up with a useful formula when quoting for a job:

 (D+E1) x Dr + E2 + VAT

D = how many days he thinks the job will take
E1 = how many more days it could take
Dr = day rate (£250 as standard)
E2 = unspecified extra

Tom admitted that, when it comes to unspecified extras, a variety of factors come into play, such as whether it is a new customer or an old one, and how much they have to spend. New customers tend to get a discount, but he also tries to give old customers a good deal to keep the relationship going. Even things like how he is feeling on the day or whether his kids need new bikes can make a difference – although, as a small company with low overheads, they always give their customers a good deal.

Tom and Ben particularly enjoy engaging projects; their favourite projects are the ones that teach something, or leave a lasting message.

About the author of this article

Vessela Howell, Postgraduate student, MA Publishing an Oxford Brookes University

Edited by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 28 Mar 2014 around 10am

Last edited: 27 01 2018