We have just finished working with colleagues in Marketing and Engineering to create a new set of web pages. This project was significant for us as it marked a change in the way we deal with common stumbling blocks.
This week we ran our second design sprint, with the focus now on ‘subjects’. It was my first experience of a design sprint and it was fascinating to see how the day unfolded and the different ideas that staff and student participants brought to the session.
Not sure what a Design Sprint is? These are fun, interactive problem-solving sessions with students, staff, and other key audience members. For more information, read Join a Design Sprint to shape future website experiences
Our first Design Sprint took place on 13th February. 12 people from around the University gathered together with Rob (UX Manager) and myself (Design Manager) from Web Services.
We spent a fun and informative day working together trying to solve one of the many problems we face as we create a new university website. The challenge we set ourselves for the day was solving this problem: How do we help people find staff information?
We have over 2,000 computers for students across our campuses: about 800 of these are in locations accessible to everyone. To help our students find a free computer we take information from our IT suites about how many computers are in use and how many are currently available. We display this information around campus on our IT suite availability screens. Many of our IT suites can also be booked using the central room booking system.
Our existing availability screens weren’t able to show room booking information, so a room which might not be available due to a class being taught might well show as having computers available to use.
Creating content based on the top tasks of our users makes a lot of sense. The basic principle is that you can create a great user experience for the majority of visitors to your website if you focus on a relatively small subset of tasks. People come to our website looking to do stuff. They have decided that time spent looking on our pages is an investment and it will deliver them some sort of benefit. There’s a limit to their patience though (think seconds rather than minutes) so it’s important we give them the content they need. Fast.
We know how to supply this information – through well written and carefully structured content of course! But as content specialists we need to think about the bigger picture as well, and the process of writing content for the Alpha has forced us to ponder some questions about our approach.
As part of our continuing work on the new University website, we are undertaking a series of Design Sprints. These are fun, interactive sessions with students, staff, and other key audience members.
Most organisations know what their biggest challenges are. Although, if you ask around, you may find that everyone has a slightly different interpretation of them. And without a shared understanding of a problem, it’s really hard to get to a solution.
That’s where the Design Sprint can help.
A Design Sprint is a structured ‘design thinking’ process that translates business objectives into actionable insights in just a few days.
The aim of each Sprint is to fully understand a problem and generate design ideas as possible solutions. A prototype is then built in one day (a prototype is a working demo of the solution based on the best idea). The prototype is tested with real users, generating feedback at a very early stage without building the full product or website.
This post continues our series about our new design system as part of the University of Dundee’s website relaunch.
Accessibility for digital products like websites, emails, and apps is measured in four different ways:
Accessibility has always been something we have considered as part of our work in the Web Services team. As you will have hopefully heard, we are relaunching the University website. This is a fresh start and an ideal chance to look at how we can ensure the new website is fully accessible.
Pair writing is a method we have been using to help us gather content. We work alongside subject experts in short sessions and write together.
I recently worked with Anne-Marie Greenhill from the Academic Skills Centre to rewrite the content for their webpages and she wrote:
Working with colleagues to complete specific tasks is common practice for some of us in the Academic Skills Centre so it was interesting to collaborate in this way with the web team. We had our requirements about what visitors to our site would need to know and the web team had to consider the overall development of the University’s web pages. Writing together gave us a better understanding of what these entailed.
Thanks to you we have had:
2000 calls assigned to the web team over the past year
30% of the calls came from External Relations, our number 1 customer
50 calls resolved in a week, our highest so far
1 hour to assign calls to the best person who can help you
Our most common feedback is “Wow that was fast!”
In any area of design colour plays a huge role from print to digital media. Colour can help convey different emotions, capture target audiences and communicate action. In our design system, colour was one of the first areas we looked at for moving forward. This will ensure we have a good basis or building block for all the work we are going to cover. Colour will help convey user interaction and different elements and components on the page. It will also play a major roll on the overall impression of the new site when a potential student visits the site for the first time.
When deciding on the appropriate colour for a website, consideration should be given to the target audience. The colour used for a product focused on the elderly may not fare well with teens or younger generations. Also, over use of extremely bright colours like red, yellow, blue etc. causes eye fatigue and could drive visitors away. As a university, our audience is diverse. This includes a wide range of nationalities and age ranges that we need to take into consideration.
Choosing a colour scheme for a site should be a careful thought process and also take into consideration people with disabilities to allow your information to be available to everyone. Coupled together with colour theory a colour palette should convey a message or ideology, and also make that experience on the end user side memorable.
a structure comprising a series of horizontal and vertical lines, used to arrange content
Nearly all sites these days are designed upon a grid system for laying out elements on the page. It allows us as designers to provide a system that can work with a solid structure and present content and imagery in a much more readable, manageable way. Grid systems have always been used in the printing industry as standard but their transition into web design has allowed web designers to achieve a level of consistency which would otherwise be difficult to achieve.
The grid system will inevitability be invisible to the end user but it will allow for a site that users will find easy to navigate, read and understand. This is very important as a lack of alignment of elements is very noticeable and creates a sloppy impression. This might very well result in a lack of trust from users who visit your site.
As you may have heard or read about, we are currently restructuring, rebuilding and redesigning the university website.
As Design Manager within the Web Services team, this is one of the most significant projects of my time here so far. In fact, it will be one of the biggest challenges of my 14-year career. And I’ve wrestled with HTML nested tables and Internet Explorer 6…
So I’ve been thinking about how we can prepare for this challenge. What have been the common design-related problems on projects in the past? What are the issues affecting design that typically come up in a large project? What can we do to prepare for the significant amount of design work that will be part of this project?
As we’ve said in previous posts, we’ve spent a lot of time collecting user stories relating to the audiences using our website (view the results). That gave us a lot of information, but it doesn’t really tell us what the really important tasks are for users (top tasks) and what are the not so important tasks (tiny tasks). This is where the next phase of our research comes in.
We’ve identified three distinct primary audiences that our website has to work for.
There are a number of other audiences that don’t fall into these categories, but they represent a smaller proportion of traffic. Whilst we will be keeping them in mind as we develop, and will be delivering specific solutions for them in the future, the above audiences are our initial focus.
I’ve covered the background to this research in my post about what prospective students want from our websites.
I’ve covered the background to this research in my post about what prospective students want from our websites.
We’re taking the opportunity to bring the infrastructure that supports our Content Management System (CMS) [TerminalFour/T4] into line and fix some issues that we’ve had with our setup for a number of years. In the past we’ve had neither the time, resources or the chance to address it, until now.
As part of the process of starting again and building a new and improved www.dundee.ac.uk, the design team here in Web Services are making big preparations to make sure we’re ready. Ready for what exactly? Ready to start again and rethink everything we have ever designed. Every button, every text style, every page layout. We’re starting again with open minds, ready to listen to what our users need to help them meet their goals, to get the information they need, to enjoy their experience visiting our website.
It’s not flashing lights and glamour all the time in the web team, we do a lot of work which we hope you never even notice going on.
This week we made some important changes to the way we handle authentication to the CMS. When you sign into the CMS we authenticate you using a protocol called LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol). Some time ago now UoD IT introduced a new LDAP server to improve performance and resilience of the service. They’re hoping to decommission the old server soon and so we needed to do some work to keep our CMS up and running!
Do you want to improve your writing for the web and make your copy as bold and clear as possible? Then try running your text through Hemingway Editor. This online app highlights common errors and suggests ways to tighten up your writing and strengthen the copy. It uses principles followed by the writer Ernest Hemingway, who was known for his simple, yet strong and direct, prose.
In this blog post, I’ve outlined a few ways we can benefit from these principles when we write for the web.
We had a brilliant time last week running workshops to identify the top tasks that staff need to complete when they visit the website. These were very useful sessions that not only allowed us to gather the crucial data we needed, but also gave staff from across the University a chance to speak to others who share the same frustrations.
One of the principles that is the foundation of the web project is the ability to not only be open in what we do, but also to make things available early and often and continually assess how we’ve performed as a team.
Agile is a project management methodology that allows us to do just that. Just over a month ago the Web Services team went through Agile SCRUM training that gave us the foundation of knowledge we needed to implement it effectively. Knowledge is one thing, but putting it into practice is a whole other thing!
We decided to try it on a small project to start with before ramping it up to larger projects. Doing the setup for the alpha project seemed like a prime candidate.
We have very ambitious plans for the University web presence, and whilst there are lots of things that are uncertain at the moment, we know it’s going to take a lot of work from a lot of people.
However, we can’t just stop business as usual activities while we do this, so we need to ensure that work continues to be carried out. The key to this is ensuring that we are correctly prioritising tasks and making sure that requests are being routed properly so that they get to the right people.
We are committed to providing support to all our users from 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday, and have dedicated members of staff whose sole purpose is to provide that support.
To help us, we are asking that everyone logs their calls by emailing email@example.com. We use the same system as UoDIT, but calls will be routed through to us.
Due to the volume of emails we get daily, it’s difficult to keep track of everything we are being sent, so please make sure that you log calls using this address so we can make sure nothing gets lost and we can monitor response times.
We have clearly defined the criteria we will use to triage calls coming in and these are available in our support policy.
The University’s new content style guide is a large resource, and it’s a living document, so it’s only going to get larger. Within it are rules and guidelines covering everything from tone of voice to correct apostrophe use, from word choice to date format. If you find a formatting, style, punctuation or spelling situation not covered by the guide, it’s probably only because we haven’t thought of it yet. It’s really, really big.
That means it would be very hard for anyone to follow every rule in the style guide all of the time, particularly when there are lots of rules that folk won’t even know they’re breaking. Over time we’ll get better and better at this, of course, but in the meantime it’s worth asking the question: what are the style guide’s main aims? What’s most important?
We’ve launched our new campus map and I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss some of the new features it delivers and why we’ve made the change.
The campus map is often the forgotten child of a university website. Seen by many as “just a list of buildings on a map”. For many first time visitors to campus (such as prospective students and freshers) it’s one of the first ports of call in finding their way around. That makes the campus map a valuable tool for conversion and for helping our new students feel more at home.
This week we’re thrilled to announce the launch of the new content style guide. Forming part of the brand website, we’ve produced the guide so we can take a clear and consistent approach to all the content we produce.
We’ve laid out some basic principles that should be adopted when writing content:
At the heart of these principles is our intention to create content that helps the person reading it.
Back in July, seven of us from Web Services attended the annual Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) conference, this year held at the University of Kent, in Canterbury. IWMW is, in their own words, “the premier event for the UK’s higher educational web management community” – in essence, a conference for University web and digital teams. As one of the resident newbies in our team, this was my first experience of this particular conference and of the community that is involved in it.
I was asked recently to look into the way we provide information to prospective PhD students, with a view to improving the way PhD related information is presented on the central University website.
PhDs are one of those slippery customers with web content all over the shop. Not only is there content both on the University website and on School sites, but over and above that there’s a distinct lack of consensus on whether PhD information belongs under ‘Research’, ‘Study(ing)’, ‘Postgraduate’, or a special category all of its own.
We aren’t looking to do a massive overhaul of the way we organise PhD information right now: that’s a major undertaking and an awful lot of other things need to be considered first. However, there was a feeling that the central pages could be better organised as they stand, and it fell to me to fix them. (Thanks, Danny.)
In the spirit of starting-as-you-mean-to-go-on, I thought I’d dip my toe in and do some proper preliminary investigation that would both aid me in solving the issue at hand and stand us in good stead for any epic redevelopment work in the future.
Writing for the web can be very different to writing for print. Visitors to your webpages will not be reading the text in the same way as they might read a leaflet or brochure. Instead they will be scanning the text, picking out key words and phrases, and trying to gauge the meaning of the content in as short a time as possible.
Imagine you’re driving past a billboard at 60mph in the car. You can only take in a limited amount of information and there’s no time to mentally process any complicated wording. Whilst the window of opportunity for a webpage is not quite so narrow, you need to bear in mind that your readers might be racing through your content rather than reading and digesting every carefully crafted word.
We need to adapt our writing style accordingly. We don’t want to confuse our readers by using words which are ambiguous, difficult to understand, or which act as obstacles to providing a clear message or straightforward navigation.
With this in mind, we’ve listed below some words that you should avoid using as these reduce the readability of our content.
The Web Service Team, Global Recruitment Team and Applicant Experience Team have been working on updating the scholarship search on our website.
The first version, which went live in autumn of 2016, didn’t list every subject and country in the world and this sometimes led people to believe there were no scholarships available for their desired selection. This has been resolved with a new country and subject dropdown that you can use to filter the results.
The Web Services team is a user and data led team. We decided that a great time to do user testing, with new students, was during Freshers’ Week.
A survey was produced to test
We’re in the process of recruiting for a Senior Web Developer within the Web Services team (check it out, developers!). I’m now on the other side of the recruitment process, having recently joined the team myself in May as Chief Pixel Pusher (as known as Web Design Manager). So I thought it would be fitting to share my experiences so far.
Last week we reached the significant milestone of moving a School website into the central web template. The launch of the new University of Dundee School of Business website represents a key strategic component in the University’s transformation vision, building upon strong existing foundations in this area to provide world-class teaching and research in Accountancy, Finance, Economics, Management and Marketing.
As many of us head off on our summer holidays, it’s always a good time to reflect on the year that has just passed. As we’ve highlighted previously, we’ve got a huge amount to be proud of. This time last year we weren’t even a team, the future held a lot of uncertainty and we had very little clue about where we would end up. It says a lot about the people that make up our team that we’ve managed to come together and do some outstanding work amidst that upheaval. From overhauling the course pages, to reforming our working practices. From embedding user and data led decision making to working more collaboratively with people from across the University. It’s been a busy old year!
The work we’ve completed are the foundations on which we’ll build the future of the team and the services that we provide. The scale of the task that lies before us is immense, and the more we look at the data, the more real it becomes to us.
Websites, social media and apps are such a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives that it’s difficult to imagine a time when we made decisions about products or interacted with services purely by picking up the phone or looking at a printed catalogue and completing an order form. We all love the benefits that the digital revolution has brought; it empowers us as consumers, helps us make more informed decisions, brings individuals and communities closer together and ultimately gives us access to previously unimaginable amounts of data and information.
Yet there are drawbacks to this revolution. At times it can feel like we’re drowning in content. People have never been so empowered to make decisions but conversely never has the potential to be overwhelmed by information been so great. What strategies do we adopt when dealing with information overload? Unwittingly or not, we have all become more discerning and savvy as consumers. We cut out or ignore the fluff and the unnecessary content that competes for our attention, we become accustomed to curating content based on our needs and interests and look to trusted sources to validate any decisions we need to make when it comes to parting with our hard earned cash.
We have a long and exciting road ahead of us as we seek to make changes to the University website to help us achieve our long term goals. There are lots of demands on our time and resources, and as a result we have to prioritise what we do. Part of that process is determining some ground rules that we’ll adhere to as a team and as we work with our key stakeholders.
Earlier this year, the undergraduate student prospectus was updated. The marketing and design teams worked with an external agency to give it a contemporary look and feel and to ensure it fully showcased the student experience. The resulting prospectus looked fantastic – it was vibrant, written in a friendly tone, included a variety of student voices, and featured high quality photography which really showed off the campus and city to their best advantage.
Earlier this year we revamped our set of country pages – pages which are designed for prospective students from around the world. These pages help students to become better informed about the University and city and cover topics such as entry requirements, fees and funding, information about visits by the international recruitment team, and general information about life in Dundee.
The University of Dundee has recently restructured how web services are provided under a newly formed Web Services Team.
The Web Services team has 5 disciplines
When the team is working with colleagues at the University to redesign their web presence, we follow a process that has UX as an integral part of the process.
Accommodation is a great selling point for the University of Dundee, we have around 250 self-contained flats, the majority of which are on or around the city campus. Therefore, alongside our revamp of the course pages on the Study website we set about updating the Accommodation site.
Due to the way university applications work, applying for a room is more complex than just booking a hotel. You need to be holding an offer, then we’ll contact you, then there is an allocation procedure to try and match students up with students they’ll get on with. As such the old accommodation site was designed with the aim to guide applicants through all the information they need to know. This was a noble aim however the inherent assumption was that users would follow the predefined route – Ikea style – from start to finish.
In October 2015 the web team commenced a redesign of the course pages in the Study section of the website. The feedback from staff and students was that although the website overall had come on leaps and bounds over the last year there was still much we could do to improve the pages which are so crucial in showcasing our portfolio of programmes and making a compelling proposition to prospective students.
Through user testing with groups of students it became apparent that users were often finding it difficult to get to key information such as entry requirements or they were being overwhelmed or distracted by the sheer amount of options on the page.