ArgoNet (1996-2000s)

Work for ArgoNet, Argo Group, and Freedom2Teach (AKA Passport2Learn)

Published , updated by Richard GoodwinFiled under Web design

ArgoNet (the italics were part of the company name) was just starting up as a new Internet Service Provider (ISP) when I got involved.  The boss of QD Enterprises, Andrew Foyle, had tried to get his Acorn computer on the Internet using the Demon Internet service, but they hadn't heard of Acorn machines and couldn't help.  So he decided to start his own ISP, with a suite of software (Voyager) that would get any Acorn user on to the Internet as painlessly as possible.

I'd worked with the lead programmer, Jason Tribbeck, on James Pond's Thames Water adventures, so when they needed someone to design icons and put together web pages he suggested me.

After freelancing on the Cyber Café project and designing the icons for the Voyager Internet suite, I ended up moving to Chichester and working for ArgoNet full time.

First version

This was in 1996, so website design wasn't exactly advanced. Simple images and centred text:

The design was pretty crude, and links were hot - we had a page of interesting places to go (recycled from the Cyber Café), and an obvious chain with links that were literally glowing hot. I had to build a link checker and a simple page generator that handled adding and removing NEW! markers to maintain the page, because maintaining the page completely by hand was a bit of a pain.  Although I loved looking for new cool stuff to add!

Not sure

Found these on an old hard drive backup. Nope, don't remember this:

I liked the prospectus icon, and some of the other bits and pieces got used or modified in a later design, but on the whole it seems pretty crude.

Later years

This is the more familiar ArgoNet front page. The F2 logo in the top corner shows that this is a later version after the company had been split off from the main Argo Group.  Last I checked the ArgoNet logo was back in place - Orpheus Internet still have the site running.

The design didn't change much over the years, but this Christmas topper shows that the order of the icons moved around, and the ArgoSphere learning resources logo got added in.

Christmas version of the ArgoNet page header.  It's the same, but with snow on it, and ArgoSphere has been added - a fish with a Christmas hat on!

I read something (I think by web usability guru Jakob Nielsen) that sites should be consistent, and that if you used a colour for one part of the site it should be the same everywhere so people didn't get confused. So I deliberately designed a site that broke that rule, by using different colours for the different areas - the main part was blue so it was in keeping with the logo colours, but the support area was green and I think the links area (now more than one page) was orange?

Argo Group

The company was always made up of several different parts - there was VTi for hardware, Eclipse for games, and ArgoNet for Internet access.  But after working on thin client network computers and moving in to the mobile 'phone era, Argo Group became more prominent.

The first site was initially a straight rip of the BMW site at the time, because the boss liked it.  It got changed, bits added, and it probably didn't look quite as good (or expensive) as the real BMW site, but it did the job.

The second Argo Group site looked a bit more professional; some of the visual cues came from the ArgoNet site, but it was darker and more photography lead.

Just look at those cutting edge devices!


The Group moved out of the Chichester offices to be nearer London (where all the important stuff happens apparently), and I spent some time commuting there, but after a while - and some time working in London itself - I managed to get my old desk back in the ISP offices. Although by this time it was a separate company and moving in to server software for schools.

The server software side was originally Passport2Learn, but as these two screenshots of the home page show, this must have become Freedom2Teach very quickly - a different logo and colour scheme, but the same navigation, same main areas and illustrations, even the same news at the bottom!

Freedom2 had originally been the project name for my experimental adaptive news site for Argo Group, which meant the domain name was ripe for reuse.  Of course we weren't part of Argo Group any more, but confusingly were bought up by Andrew Foyle, who had started both companies in the first place.  I once tried to write a potted history of who I worked for that took in the whole journey from QD to Freedom2, but it all got very confusing.

I also knocked up the main Freedom2 website, which originally used the Argo sail but I think that was a no-no after the split so we quickly moved to a new F2 cube logo.