What's a Macguffin?

MacGuffin is a self-publishing platform for fiction, essays and poetry, both as text and audio. But what actually is a MacGuffin? Director George Lucas describes a it as The main driving force (of the movie…) the object of everybody's search. This idea of discovery, and being discovered, lie at the heart of what MacGuffin is all about.

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What’s special about MacGuffin

With MacGuffin, a reader can hashtag other people’s stories, grouping them into genres, memes or reading lists to share. A writing group can use it to share work in progress. A writer can target new work to a specific target audience and a reader can find something perfect for them. The more people tag, the more it helps discoverability.

It started with a Jam session

To immerse ourselves in the worlds of MacGuffin's users, we organized a design jam where we gathered together writers, readers and literature professionals (such as booksellers and publishers). Our UX Director Dan facilitated a series of activities to discuss how we might design some of the key pieces of MacGuffin's functionality: reading stories, adding stories, and looking at analytics for stories.

Over four intensive hours, many cups of tea were consumed and Post-its stuck to things. At the end of it all, we had confirmed some of Comma Press’s assumptions about MacGuffin’s users and challenged many more. It was even more exciting to learn a whole lot of unexpected things. We had loads of useful insights to feed into the next stages of the project.

Read about the Design Jam

MacGuffin Sketching MacGuffin Sketching
MacGuffin Kick Off Notes
MacGuffin Kick Off Workshop

User journeys

User journeys help to bridge our initial user research work with later stages in the design. We planned to build an interactive prototype of the MacGuffin web app. User journeys helped us get to the prototype stage by informing our decisions about what the prototype would need to do, and how it might look

Read about user journeys


We moved quickly from our user research and journey work to build a prototype of the MacGuffin web app. We worked with Jim from CommaPress to test the prototype with users and to iterate it based on what we learned. Building like this allows us to quickly develop, test, and iterate our design ideas amongst the team at fffunction; with the product owner and the wider project team; and with real users.

Try out the prototype for yourself

User testing

We tested the MacGuffin alpha release at MMU’s Digital Lab in Manchester. The Usability Lab has some rather nice eye-tracking software, so you can see exactly where testers are looking on screen. It’s an excellent tool for sniffing out navigation and layout issues.

If MacGuffin does take off, mining this data for insights into human attention might be one of the smartest things any publisher has done in some time

James Bridle, Guardian Observer

Designed in a pattern library

We designed and developed almost exclusively within the framework of a pattern library. This library formed a central point of reference for the project, allowing the whole project team to see what we were working on as we progressed.

This allowed us to design and iterate quickly, as well as allowing for modules to be developed independently from templates and the site as a whole.

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Macguffin logo progression
MacGuffin logo concept Initial logo design

Building the site and API

We developed the MacGuffin website using Django, a Python based framework. This enabled us to create the completely custom functionality that MacGuffin required. We also built out a custom API to enable the iOS and Android apps developed by Manchester MET to push and pull data from the Postgres database. 

Alpha, beta. Launch

The MacGuffin project launched in late June 2015, after the best part of a year in development, and testing phases. Over this time we've been able to work to improve the project, to meet the core needs of our user groups. Feedback has been really positive, with a review in the Guardian / Observer and interest from New York Public Library.

MacGuffin Live

Take a look

fffunction are excellent problem-solvers, and great communicators, gracefully and patiently talking us through every step, making sure we're happy, and helping us learn as we go. Above all, what shines through is their enthusiasm. fffunction have made the goals of the project their goals, and worked their socks off to achieve them

Jim Hinks. Digital Editor at Commapress
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