Product Highlight – QR Codes and Mobile Stylesheets

After a conversation with one of our regular clients who thought QR codes were the coolest thing (they are pretty cool) and had no idea it was a service we offer, a new blog topic was born…

While QR codes have been around since 1994, their use in western marketing is relatively new. ‘QR’ stands for ‘Quick Response’, as the inventor intended the code to be decoded a highspeed.

They started out being used to track parts in vehicle manufacturing, but their ability to be read by mobile phones caused their application to spread to several other fields. Now QR codes can display text, add a vCard contact to the user’s device, open a URL, or even compose an email or text message. Almost all smartphones with cameras are able to read QR codes natively (with the exception of the iPhone, although free apps are available to add this functionality), which means that these codes are quickly becoming an important part of cutting edge marketing. They can be put on almost any form of print media, from billboards to fliers, and even some digital medias.

So, why do WE love QR codes? Well, our favorite application for them by far is URL linking – We put QR codes on our print media and link them to our client’s website. Sure, the site URL is there too, but it’s just so much easier to scan the code with your phone and have it automatically redirect your browser to the URL. There’s several other benefits – No URL to remember, an instant impression is made, and you have control over the URL the user visits. I will note however that using QR codes does warrant another consideration – If you’re encouraging viewers to visit your website via their smartphone a mobile style sheet should be implemented on your site. This is a special style sheet that will change the display of your website to accommodate the smaller screen size and resolution of a smartphone. Although mobile browsers have come a long way and can now display most sites quite accurately, there are still limitations.

So, in conclusion – QR codes are cool, make sure you have a mobile stylesheet, and Critical Productions is your source for both!

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Happy New Year! We revisit 2010

An example of one of the new rendering styles offered

The last year has flown by… It seems like just last month I was writing the recap of 2009! Anyway, 2010 was a big year for us as a company:

  • Gross income up approx. 80%
  • Expanded our client base by approx. 25%
  • Upgraded our hardware, software and rendering techniques (yet again)
  • My wife and I had our first child (Again, more of a personal achievement, but I’m sure everyone at the office and even some of our clients will remember this one!)

We’ve got high hopes for 2011 too – For starters we’re revisiting our site (always seems to be a priority with each new year…) any updating our portfolio material. We’ll also be updating our featured projects so you guys can see more examples some of our cooler projects of 2010. We’re also pushing our growth with a beefed up marketing budget to make sure our name gets out there – Every builder needs renderings, and every business owner needs a website, so we want to make sure everyone knows the best place to go for either is Critical Productions!

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Happy Holidays!

With all of our active projects caught up and nothing scheduled for the next week the Critical Team will be taking a nice Christmas Holiday for the next week. We’ll be back January 3rd to start our new year. We’d like to wish all our clients, contacts and friends Happy Holidays, and we wish you all the best in the new year!
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GTFRC Launch – “Thanks for a great product …”

A few weeks ago we launched the new website for Growing Together Family Resource Center. While the site is relatively straight forward in terms of programming complexity, it’s got a few really cool features that we implemented specifically to address the needs of the client. There’s a “Submit your Schedule” tool to allow parents to quickly and easily schedule stays that dynamically expands to accommodate as many dates as needed. There’s also a Twitter feed to allow for news updates to be posted to the site, which was the fastest, most efficient way to give our clients an interface for adding news updates to their site. Debbi Sluys, the Director of GTFRC was so pleased she offered a testimonial;

 

“Even though I am not “tech savy” I was educated on the process and feel confident using the various services e.g. Twitter.  Thanks for a great product and excellent service! … I will recommend your company.”

We listen to the needs of the client, and work with them to provide a solution that will address those needs while staying within budget. It’s a great example of how we ensure even an  ‘average’ project with Critical Productions is extraordinary!

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Congratulations to Seg Ins Inc. for their new TV Commercial

Our work has been featured online, on billboards, on several forms of print media, and even on DVDs, and now, for the first time, Television! Check out the Seg Ins Inc. Commercial below, promoting their signature product, the Big Bed truck extender. The commercial was produced by Creative Bube Tube, using our previsualization animation showing the functionality of the device. Pretty cool!

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reCAPTCHA- A Great Initiative

Just thought I’d write up a quick post regarding reCAPTCHA – A free CAPTCHA service that can be implemented on any site that not only stops spammers, it digitizes books, newspapers and old time radio shows at the same time! The idea is that people waste time every day solving captchas (about 200 million CAPTCHAs a day), and while on an individual level you might only be wasting 10 seconds or so each time, the combined time spent is over 150,000 hours each day.ReCAPTCHA takes that time and effort and makes constructive use of it.

To archive human knowledge and to make information more accessible to the world, multiple projects are currently digitizing physical books that were written before the computer age. The problem is, a page scanned from an old book cannot be parsed accurately by software – Enter reCAPTCHA! When the parsing software comes to a word it can’t read, reCAPTCHA will send it as a captcha to a random human filling out a form online. By solving the captcha, that person has “parsed” the word. You might wonder how the captcha can be solved if the computer doesn’t know the right anwser – Each word that cannot be parsed correctly by software is given to a user in conjunction with another word for which the answer is already known. The user is then asked to read both words. If they solve the one for which the answer is known, the system assumes their answer is correct for the new one. If five other users answer the same captcha identically, then the system can assume with high confidence that the answer is correct.


Pretty awesome if you ask me. They’ve even made it really easy to implement on your sites with ready to use PHP snippets and a plugin for WordPress and Mediawiki. We’ve been using it company wide for all our captcha needs. We hope there’s more constructive initiatives like this in the future!

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Dinner Sponsorship a Huge Success

Critical Productions WRHBA Display

Brian Beaupré and Kyle Kosik man the Critical Productions Display at the WRHBA meeting.

Last Thursday the Critical Productions team went on a bit of a field trip! Three of our Project Managers and a couple Account Managers were at the Golf Steakhouse showing off some of our awesome pre-visualization products. We set up a media display, hoping to peak the curiosity of any attending members – As members slowly started arriving for the networking prior to dinner, our table visuals started to draw a crowd. In addition to a cool video loop running we had two interactive kiosks that were set up with samples of our Material Selection Systems, Virtual Tours, and Exterior 360s, and these were VERY popular.

After the networking, everyone was seated to prepare for dinner. We then made a presentation focusing on new, unexplored technology that builders can take advantage of -  Using a projector we were even able to demonstrate some of the technologies live to the entire association, which was pretty exciting and well received.

Overall, it was a great experience and a lot of fun. Hopefully our fellow members thought so too!

 

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Official Sponsor of April WRHBA Meeting

We’ve hit the ground running with our new Builder’s Association membership – After only two months we have decided to sponsor the next WRHBA meeting (April 15th), so we’ll be making a formal presentation of 3D technology and everything it has to offer the members of the association. We’ll be showcasing some cool products like our Material Selection System and Virtual Tours, and our New Rendering Techniques.

 

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Critical Productions joins the WRHBA

Tristan Mitchell (left) accepts membership from WRHBA President Brian Blackmere.

We’re proud to announce that Critical Productions has joined the Waterloo Region Home Builder’s Association as a service provider. Over the past two years we’ve been considering joining, (paired with some encouragement from existing members who are clients of ours!) and we’re glad we finally did. We’ll be offering our knowledge and expertise in our fields of rendering and web development. We are looking forward to contributing to the growth and success of the members, I think we really have a lot to offer. Looking forward to many fruitful relationships!

 

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New Rendering Techniques

New Rendering TechniqueWe’re always trying to advance an improve our techniques to give our clients the best – Over the past few years we’ve been monitoring the progress of a remarkable piece of software that had enormous potential, and only recently did it actually surpass our old techniques. I’ve really enjoyed working with it and I’m even more excited about the results, so I had to show them off.

Check out my test project – a (relatively) quick test render I did today.

 

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IP phones + Packet QOS

IP PhoneA while back I posted about our new IP Phone system and how awesome it is. Well, months later we’re still loving it – With only one significant complaint. Because the system works entirely over the internet, there’s noticeable (and sometimes crippling) quality issues when our bandwidth is strained. That means talking on the phone while working on the internet causes problems… Which as a Web Design company is pretty much all the time.

The solution? We considered upping our Internet service speed, but the speed increase was nowhere near worth the price. We thought about changing provider to a SDSL service to up our upload (since that seemed to be the one that was most affected), but we’re happy with our current service and figured there had to be a better way.

Then, @kkosik found some information on the internet about Packet “Quality of Service” (QOS) to prioritize data packets for certain connections. There were apparently several different ways to set this service up, but we decided the most cost effective way was to replace our router with a more utilitarian one.

A few hours later, Kyle had the new router set up with the QOS configured to prioritize our phone system packets. We tested it by having a few people in the office upload/download stuff from our server and trying to make a call – The connection speed from the HTTP/FTP transfers dropped a bit, but the phone connection was solid. It worked perfectly! We’re quite happy we were able to solve this annoying problem so cost effectively! I’m going to try and convince Kyle to write a post/tutorial of how he set it up, so stay tuned!

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IT’S ALIVE!

Well, sort of?

The Critical Productions website relaunch is live a few days early to make sure we get all the kinks out and our SEO stuff has time to populate.

We’re going to be lauching a new marketing campaign soon and this site is the primary source of interaction for anyone interested in our company for any reason. That means it needs to be the best it can be, so feel free to tweet us, facebook us, email us, fill out a contact form, or even call us (If you prefer more traditional methods!) with any feedback! We’re very interested to hear what you have to say.

One of the things we’re excited about is the updatability of this design – We intend to update our portfolio, featured projects, and blog as frequently as we can. We’ll be announcing additions via Twitter/Facebook too I’m sure, so follow/friend us to stay in our loop!

 

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What is a Browser?

A friend linked this to me and I was amazed by it so I thought I’d share:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4MwTvtyrUQ

In a nutshell, an interviewer walked the streets of downtown New York and asked 50 pedestrians of different ages and backgrounds basic questions about the internet. Now I guess I have a significant advantage being a web designer and all, but I totally not expecting the results they got! Only 8% of the people interviewed knew what a browser was, let alone the difference between a browser and a search engine! This is a great example of why Search Engine Optimization is so important – While only 8% knew what a browser was, all of them knew the question had to do with the internet and the majority answered that it was for “searching” – This clearly illustrates that while they might not know how to type in a web address directly, they sure know how to search!

If you want your potential clients/customers/users to visit to your site, you’ll need to make sure it’s searchable! That’s where we come in – Search Engine Optimization is a specialty of ours… Here’s a couple examples you can even try for yourself. www.royaltavern.ca – This site, although quite simple and small, was fully Search Engine Optimized. Try googling it yourself – It comes out on top, beating the older and more desirable address of “www.royaltavern.com”. www.letsgetorganized.net – Again, another very basic, small site, with full SEO. Googling ‘lets get organized” will put it on top, beating letsgetorganized.com, letsgetorganized.ca, and other larger, older sites. Obviously this is just an example of what good SEO can do, there’s several other ways SEO can be focused to better suite the specific needs of a client. Whether you’re targeting specific keywords, a specific audience, or just trying to get your domain found, Search Engine Optimization is essential!

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New Year, New Site!

Yesterday the partners here at Critical Productions sat down and held a “company review” meeting. Not about budgets, not about clients, not about anything specific – More a review of the company as a whole. What happened in the past year that was a success? What will we do this year to maintain or expand on that success? Are we happy with the direction the company is going? Sounds kind of psycho analytic looking back, but the outcome of the meeting was fantastic! Here are a few points I’d like to share with you all. “Key Successes of 2009″ (the quick version)

  • Gross income of over 200% from last year. If only that translated to NET income…. ><
  • Expanded our render farm to contain over 40 cores
  • Implemented a new digital phone system
  • Got Married (I guess that’s a personal success…)

Read more »

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Happy Holidays!

Well, we’ve successfully tied up the loose ends on all active projects, so the Critical Team will be taking a nice Christmas Holiday for the next two weeks. After a (hopefully) revitalizing break, we’ll be back January 4th to start our new year. We’d like to wish all our clients, contacts and friends Happy Holidays, and we wish you all the best in the new year!
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New Phone System

This week has been busy! With only one week left before Christmas break we’re trying to finish up some major projects to make room for our January schedule. CK Sports Online is now live and kicking, check it out at http://www.cksportsonline.com. We’ve also got various rendering projects on the go, but the most interesting advancement this week has been in our phone system. Kyle has finished the hardware upgrades so our new IVR is now live! Calling our toll free number will now direct you to an automated system to better manage our phone traffic. Our local phone service is now no longer necessary, so we’ll be disconnecting our local numbers as of January 1st, 2010. Until then, we’ve set up a redirect so calling our local numbers will still connect you to our office and notify any callers of the number change. What I find so awesome about this new system is that it’s entirely managed internally, so not only have we significantly reduced our phone service costs, we’re now 100% in control of the system. It’s scalable, so as our sales team or production team expands we’re able to add new extensions or lines at will. Calls are also automatically recorded, which has been surprisingly useful – I am notorious for relaying phone conversations poorly to their intended targets, so being able to pull up the call and listen again is actually quite beneficial. Voicemails are emailed to us too, so even if we’re away from our desk or out of the office, voicemails are received simply by checking our email. The whole system is so much more convenient and just plain better!
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