It’s summer 1999 and I’m working for QXL. They are in the middle of a major redesign of their web site. This involves changes to both the back end (replacing a home-grown file based system with Oracle and a commercial shop-building application) and the front end (a complete redesign).
We are doing the back end work, but the front end work is being done by an external agency called Syzergy. And they have, in turn, employed a market research group to run focus groups and other nonsense in order to work out what colours and logos the public really like.
One Friday afternoon the entire QXL tech team (about six people) are invited to Syzergy’s office to see a presentation about the new site and how it was created. We leave our cramped office at the grottier end of Ladbroke Grove and make for their office in the West End.
The first thing I notice is the amount of empty space in their office. We barely have enough space to fit in all the desks we need but they have acres of spare space everywhere. In the meeting room where the presentation is, there are expensive sandwiches and bottled beers laid out for us. And then. in the middle of the table, there is a large glass bowl filled with M&Ms. When I say large, I would estimate that there were two or three hundred M&Ms in the bowl.
And every single one was either yellow or purple.
I think that yellow and purple were the colours in Syzergy’s logo or something. But someone had bought dozens of packets of M&Ms and taken out just the yellow and purple ones to give to us. I never found out what happened to the rest of them.
That’s the image that I always think of when people talk about the amount of money that was wasted during the dotcom boom in London.