• Tackling policies and corporate information on the University website

    Policies. You may not have noticed but we’ve got a lot of these on the website. Not just policies but other types of corporate information like procedures, regulations, disclaimers, reports, rules, statutes, templates, codes of conduct, classification schemes, privacy notices – stay with me this gets much more interesting, I promise.

    This university, like all others, produces mountains of this stuff. How we manage this kind of content is something that has preoccupied this team recently.

    Take a random sample of university websites and you’ll be lucky to find any instances of institutions presenting clear, accessible, well organised and structured policy content. We want to change this. However, it’s not without its challenges.

    There’s a view that it’s typically the content that people care least about. Why is this?

    Typically it’s wordy with long sentences and dense paragraphs. The legalese nature of the content often makes it the opposite of plain English. It’s commonly the output of committees which, to be blunt, are dull.

    But dull content can have its uses.

    Dull content is often important content.

    Dull content matters.

    Why it matters

    It’s important that publicly funded institutions and organisations (and universities come into this category) are transparent about how they operate and are governed. This means that items like policies and procedures need to be published on the website. And kept up to date.

    From a user perspective, corporate information can be important content too. This is especially the case when something goes wrong or perhaps something changes in a person’s circumstances.

    It’s worth considering a user’s emotional state when they are trying to find a policy on a website. An employee who is anxious and worried because of changes in their personal life may become even more upset if they can’t find a work/life balance policy for their organisation.

    When policies matter to website users, they tend to really matter. And the frustration people feel when they can’t locate information easily only compounds what is already a stressful situation.

    Don’t make me think

    The information architecture of traditional organisational websites often forces users to navigate and understand the organisational hierarchy to access crucial information like policies. Unwittingly they make it difficult for users by publishing the information in silos across the website.

    Information foraging

    Improving how users find this content is one part of our challenge. Another is making it easier to recognise and understand the content when they come across it.

    Search card for policy content on the new University website
    Search card for policy content on the new University website


    Search card for a privacy notice
    Search card for a privacy notice


    Imagine a user journey as a series of pages through a website leading to a destination page – in this case, a policy. A person will make quick evaluations of those pages based on how well suited they are to completing their goal. In an interesting behavioural study by Peter Pirolli and Stuart Card, this was likened to animals foraging for food, they called it ‘information foraging‘.

    “Each source of information emits a ‘scent’ — a signal that tells the forager how likely it is that it contains what she needs.”

    Information Foraging: A Theory of How People Navigate on the Web

    Universities have not been particularly good at providing clear indicators in content that help users ‘forage’ for information successfully and recognise it when they see it. This is especially true for policy type content, often because very little attention or thought is given to how it will be represented on a website and how people interact with it. The publishing process often ends when the content is finalised in Word and saved as a PDF which is then uploaded to the web. A reliance on PDFs means that a print mindset still dominates thinking for how policies are consumed in a digital medium.

    Badly structured policy content often forces the user to read or scan the entirety of the content before they can decide whether it’s the information they were looking for. Plain English summaries are a rarity. Labels such as policy, procedure, statement, and regulations are used interchangeably with little consistency and so rendered meaningless. There’s little or no attempt to think how this kind of information maps onto a person’s mental model of the different kinds of subjects it might cover.

    Header for corporate information on the new website displaying the title, summary and label for policy
    Header for corporate information on the new website displaying the title, summary and label for policy

    What we’re doing

    Clearly there’s lessons we can learn to improve the overall user experience around corporate information.

    To ensure this content is searchable on the new University website we’ve given it structure using a content type called ‘corporate information’. A content type is basically a reusable collection of fields in our content management system (you’ll probably come across content types for ‘course’, ‘guide’, ‘facility’, ‘story’, and others as you navigate the new University website). Structuring content around content types has many benefits but the most obvious one for users is that it allows them to narrow their search to one specific type – in this case ‘corporate information’.

    Content types combined with the power of taxonomies allows us to categorise content. In this case we have created the three taxonomies below which relate to corporate information.

    Corporation information type

    Because we’re using ‘corporate information’ as a fairly broad brush for all sorts of compliance or procedural content, this taxonomy provides a way of segmenting it into different types. ‘Policy’, ‘procedure’, and ‘disclaimer’ are just some of these.

    Corporation information category

    Corporate information category taxonomy
    The corporate information category taxonomy in the website search


    The category taxonomy gives us the ability to associate items with broader thematic areas. Think of the anxious employee in the scenario I highlighted earlier, instead of them trying to understand our organisational hierarchy they can view a list of all work/life balance policies from our website search


    ‘Group’ is one of the terms that you’ll see a lot on the new website as it connects lots of different types of content. A group represents part of the University’s organisational structure – for example a School or Directorate and, within these, departments, services etc. A group will have responsibility for a policy so we can indicate this to the user in the content.

    These three taxonomies combined gives users some very flexible ways to filter content.


    There’s a strong reliance on presenting policy and related content on organisational websites (including this one) in PDF format. There’s many reasons for this. The source document for a policy is often a version controlled word document and, as I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to export this a PDF.  Policies are sometimes long and often contain design elements that make more sense in print rather than viewed in a browser. It’s often assumed that PDF is a better format because the user will print then read the content.

    PDFs are a hard habit to break for organisations but the new digital accessibility requirements should make many think about that addiction.

    As a university, we are now compelled by law to ensure our digital content can be accessed by as many people as possible. All content (including PDFs) should be accessible to people with:

    • impaired vision
    • motor difficulties
    • cognitive impairments or learning disabilities
    • deafness or impaired hearing

    PDFs are not a particularly accessible format. Documents have to be marked up to ensure that people using screen readers can navigate the content and identify sections, headings, and images. It’s often a jarring experience with users presented with unnavigable content and layouts which only make sense when printed.

    We should think carefully before adding a PDF to a policy and ask if it would be possible to provide the same information as part of the content of the page rather than as a download.

    Migrating content

    We’re now working with key contacts across the University to migrate existing content into the new website. Just as importantly, we’re beginning to define the guidance for publishing corporate information. User testing and feedback from staff will of course be vital as we do this. The end result should be policies and other types of corporate information which are easier to find, more readable, and accessible.

  • Where did the last year go?

    It’s just over a year since we started launching content on our new content management system. Our initial focus was on building the blocks of functionality and content that make up individual areas with our focus now moving onto migration of content. Here’s a quick summary of where we are.

    University level content

    Emergency response

    Over the course of the pandemic, clear and consistent information out to our community has been critical in ensuring that people are kept well informed and have a resource to get the latest information. Often this information was changing on a daily basis. As we start to reverse and return to campus, good quality information is crucial.

    Cornerstone content

    Much of the information that we share online is common in structure and often ownership across the University. A huge amount of work has gone into creating these building blocks to drive consistency of experience for the user and improving the search experience.


    This has by far been the biggest part of the migration project to date. We’ve reviewed, rewritten, enhanced and created over 550 courses and created and migrated almost 2,500 modules as well as integrating with key corporate systems to drive consistency of data. These pages are constantly being reviewed and updated with new content as new courses and modules come on stream and old courses and modules are also being removed.

    School / Discipline

    We’re working extensively with contacts in each of the schools to migrate their existing presence across to the new system.


    As we build towards REF2021, in addition to all the work within the School site migrations and work on telling stories to ensure research is highlighted, we’re bringing new areas online to further enhance our promotion of our research.

    Professional services

    As we’ve been migrating content as part of our “Guide” and “Corporate Governance” work, we’ve also transferred individual areas as well.


  • Moving towards remote working

    We live in uncertain times and it seems that, perhaps at some point, we might need to start working remotely. Whilst this poses many challenges, my team has been gradually moving to a location agnostic way of working over the past couple of years. I wanted to share exactly what that looks like on a daily basis in case it’s of use to any other teams. We have not completely cracked this, but some of our experiences might help others during these times.

    Daily Check ins

    We have operated an Agile methodology for project management for a couple of years now, and an essential part of that is the daily stand up. Whether or not you’re actually “standing up” is immaterial, the crucial part of this is that you have a dedicated time at which your team can get together to share what they are doing and raise any problems. At these meetings we ask each other the following questions

    1. What did you do yesterday?
    2. What are you planning to do today?
    3. Is there anything blocking you from completing that work?

    Not only does this help us know what everyone is up to, but we can often collaboratively figure out solutions to problems to unblock issues for each other. These meetings are deliberately kept as short as possible. We can get round 10 people normally in the space of 10mins. Anything that requires more discussion gets discussed after the call with the relevant individuals.

    daily scrum calendar

    To do this we use Microsoft Teams. Every day at 9:30 we dial in to a call no matter where we are based. We regularly have people located in the Tower Building, in the Fulton Building, at home and even those that are on their way into the office. Teams provides an excellent way to not only hear, but also to see each other as well. As the potential for isolation starts to rise, this will become more important to see other people.

    Communication throughout the day

    slack interface

    Throughout the day there will be many times that you just want to ask a quick question of one person, or harness the collective knowledge of the team. Using “chat” is a powerful way to leave messages for each other without having to disturb the flow of the day. People can respond when they need to and others can dip in and out to keep abreast of what is going on. Our tool of choice for this is Slack. We use this because of its advanced chat interface, but also because we regularly collaborate with external agencies as well as colleagues from across the Higher Education sector. As this is a freely available tool and therefore with no formal data processing agreement with the suppliers, we have strict rules around the content that can be posted in this tool (e.g. no personal or confidential information). Whilst not as advanced, Teams also provides a similar type of experience.

    Planning and recording work

    A common drawback of remote working in the past is ensuring that staff not only know what work needs completed, but also ensuring that the work is being completed in a timely manner. We have several solutions for this.

    Bugs and Feature Requests

    bug tracker form

    As we develop the new University website, we find lots of things that aren’t perhaps working as they should or discover new features that would make our lives easier. Everyone in the team is encouraged to log these and we go through them once a week to decide what we should and shouldn’t take forward and in what priority. We use Microsoft Forms for this.

    Development of Features

    gitlab interface

    Gitlab is our tool of choice when developing new functionality. It allows us to record requested functionality as well as track it through a defined lifecycle from development work, through Quality Assurance, into User Acceptance Testing and finally release. It integrates with our continuous integration systems and version control repositories to ensure work is recorded and versioned appropriately.


    microsoft planner board

    Microsoft Planner is our friend here when recording what work needs completed, who it is assigned to and what stage it is at. In addition, we also use a tool called GatherContent which allows people to collaborate on content through a defined workflow.


    topdesk interface

    A large part of our time is taken up with dealing with support calls from across the University. These requests are diverse and sometimes not only involve our first line support team, but also second line knowledge experts to get them solved. TopDesk is our call management system that allows the recording, routing and reporting on of calls. This ensures that when people from across the University are asking us to do something, we can ensure that they are being actioned in an appropriate and timely way. It also allows us to route calls to others in the University that use the system for them to complete work for us where we need their assistance.

    Fortnightly Demos

    Even with all this communication and recording of work that goes on, it’s not always possible for everyone to know exactly what and when something is happening. So, every fortnight we get together (virtually normally) to demo the work that we’ve been doing. This allows individuals to see what has been developed so far, see new functionality that is coming up and to ask questions. Microsoft Teams is again our tool of choice here because we can see and hear each other, but we can also share our screens to demo what we’ve done.


    At the heart of the success of any move to remote working is the culture that you foster and the communication that you have as a team. We are very fortunate to have at our disposal an impressive array of tools that make this easy, but a true digital culture must go beyond just “using tools”. Ultimately the human buy in needs to be there. There is a real danger, that without proper supervision and accountability, that “working from home” turns into a day sat in front of Netflix. It requires a lot of discipline on the part of the worker but also a degree of trust on the part of the manager. There is a responsibility on both sides to not only ensure we are doing the work we are employed to do, but also, we as managers are giving people the space to do it in without the need for constant supervision. Regular communication and record keeping are the key to ensuring accountability and building that trust between worker and manager.

    We must also accept that a person’s working from home patterns may be different from those on campus. Getting out and about for fresh air and sunshine where possible is going to be important. That may involve people taking longer breaks during the day but working later at night to make up for the time.

    COVID-19 is a scary thing and will no doubt cause major disruption, but it is also an opportunity for us to change and evolve our work habits to make full use of the tools available to us and potentially help strike a good work life balance.

    Should anyone want to discuss our ways of working, we are always open to sharing our experiences with others.

  • Recent accessibility enhancements

    We are working towards ensuring the University’s websites are fully accessible for everyone – and legally compliant – by September 2020.

    We aim to make our websites accessible to everyone in the following ways:

    • Perceivable: Making text and media perceivable for everyone
    • Operable: Helping users navigate content
    • Understandable: Making and media text understandable
    • Robust: Maximising compatibility

    We performed an accessibility audit recently. Performing an accessibility audit is part of the process of assessing where we are not achieving the above aims. Continue reading…

  • Displaying our awards and accolades

    Awards and accolades on the homepage

    Following on from the great news that we have been named the University of the Year for Student Experience by The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020, we have updated the homepage to highlight some of our major awards and accolades that help to show we are a fantastic choice for students. 

    Screenshot of the updated homepage


    Upcoming change to course pages

    We will shortly be adding awards and accolades to our course pages.
    Continue reading…

  • What’s so great about the new people pages?

    Staff profiles are one of the most hotly debated pieces of functionality that we have tackled on the new University website. We know that with almost 3,800 members of staff, we will have almost as many opinions about what they should and shouldn’t include and how they should look. It was important to hear as many of those opinions as possible which is why we’ve spent almost a year gathering information, developing prototypes and seeking feedback from a variety of people.

    The new people profiles represent a big leap forward for the new site. They are one of the core building blocks around which we will create a lot of our content from now on so that we place our world class people at the centre of the site.

    New features

    A profile for everyone!

    One of the most interesting pieces of feedback we received from a variety of different people was how people associated profiles with the value the University places on them. Governance across Schools and Directorates varied wildly here with some areas showcasing all their staff, whilst others reserving them for the more senior positions. Many staff said this made them feel that their contribution to the University was undervalued.

    We’re therefore making it possible for everyone to have a profile on the site to allow them to showcase the work that they do.

    Consistent and correct information

    High quality and correct information is a key driver for the new site and wherever possible we’re trying to reduce duplication of information and rely more on pulling information from primary data sources. We find a lot of profiles that are duplicates of others as well as many for people who have no longer work for the University.

    We’re therefore moving to automatically creating profiles based on central HR data, so they’re automatically created and removed when someone joins or leaves the University. Wherever possible we will be encouraging people to ensure their information is correct at source.

    Better flexibility

    Our people are involved in a wide range of work that we currently try to represent primarily through text. This often falls short in doing it justice. Many, especially those in the visual disciplines, don’t have the ability to include imagery or video within their profiles.

    We’re therefore adding functionality to allow people to add in imagery in several different formats to help them describe the work that they’re involved in.

    Semantic markup

    A fantastic feature that you’ll likely never see or realise is there! This allows us to describe our content to search engines so that they can better determine what type of content we’re producing and feed that back to their users in more useful formats. This should lead to better quality results in search engines and therefore increased traffic to our profiles.

  • Where have my publications gone?

    One noticeable change to profiles on the University website is the exclusion of an automatic feed from Pure. This may seem strange, especially as we move towards REF2021 and all the work that is being undertaken to support that assessment.

    I wanted to take a minute to explain the reasoning behind this move.

    Our Pure repository and the display system called Discovery (discovery.dundee.ac.uk) has improved its visual look and underlying capabilities hugely since the last REF exercise. Far from being a simple repository of publications, it houses rich information on Projects, Activities, Press/Media and Student Theses. There is also a rich relational architecture that shows the interdisciplinary work that is going on and is a feature of so much of our work. This richness of content far exceeds what can be displayed on a single profile page and to replicate would mean rebuilding Discovery within the new website.

    While a cloud hosted system like Discovery has benefits, it also has its disadvantages. The capabilities that allow us to pull information from the repository often change with each release. Sometimes these releases are non-breaking and go unnoticed. Unfortunately, they can, and do break existing integrations. At a time of rapid development for the new site, the more time that we spend on repairing these linkages, the less time there is to spend on other much needed functionality.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as we’ve investigated how profiles are used by those visiting the page, we are finding that many users are getting “stuck” and not progressing on to view the rich content that is available, with many bouncing off the site completely. When we consider our primary aim of these profiles is to reduce the reputational deficit we have as a University currently, it becomes more important to funnel users through to this rich content so that the full story can be told.

    These new staff profiles are one of our core building blocks and represent a big leap forward in capabilities for the site. They are the product of months of consultation throughout the University and with staff, students, external contacts and the Vice-Principal of Research (Professor John Rowan) to try and understand user requirements, and also balance those with essential business requirements.

    Web Services undertakes regular review and analysis of the website to measure and track its effectiveness. We welcome any and all feedback which we will feed back into our feature road maps for future development.

  • Collaboration and improving undergraduate courses content

    Last week we were proud to launch our new undergraduate course pages. This represents the culmination of several months’ work by Web Services and other teams including Marketing and Admissions as well as our implementation partners Manifesto and Aquia. As the first part of the new University website to go live it’s an amazing achievement and a true team effort.

    Medicine course page
    Medicine course page

    The improvements to these pages are extensive and probably worthy of a separate blog post but for now I thought it would be worthwhile looking at how we approached the project from a content perspective.

    Our undergraduate course pages are amongst the most visited part of the University website. In a typical six month period they account for around 600,000 page views (or 8%) of all our web traffic. They play a vital role at various stages of an applicant’s journey. Despite their importance we were acutely aware that these pages weren’t meeting our expectations – and more importantly those of our users. Content quality was at times patchy and often failed to meet the content standards and guidance on voice, tone, and style set out in the University brand guidelines.

    For a long time there was a desire to look at the content of these pages in its entirety and to improve it in a systematic way. The launch of the first part of the new website with the new CMS, design, and functionality for courses seemed the perfect time to do this.

    Improving user experience

    The previous version of these pages listed around 115 undergraduate courses but in reality there are many more you can apply to. This was partly due to courses such as joint honours being listed on single honours pages. For example, in our course finder if you had followed the suggested search link for ‘History with Spanish MA’ you would have found yourself on the History MA page. From a user experience perspective this was obviously confusing and less than ideal.
    Continue reading…

  • A designer’s thoughts on the UX Scotland 2019 conference

    What is UX Scotland?

    UX Scotland is the conference for the UX, service design and digital communities, welcoming national and international participants to Scotland.

    The event ran from 12 to 14 June 2019 in Edinburgh.

    Who went to UX Scotland?

    Last week saw Rob and myself return to Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh for this year’s UX Scotland conference. We would be running a workshop on Design Sprints and were excited to join the likes of Facebook, the UK Government, and the Australian Government as speakers at this brilliant annual event.

    Joining us was fellow designer, Ryan, for his first taste of UX Scotland. Ryan was especially looking forward to once again experiencing the wonderful commute on Scotland’s fine railway service from Dundee to Edinburgh. This is a route he used to enjoy daily when working for an Edinburgh-based agency before joining the University of Dundee. He was not disappointed! It was really the only negative thing about the three days. (If you do this commute, you have our sympathy, or should I say empathy. That will make sense later).

    Also attending (and speaking) were Michael Crabb and Rachel Menzies from the University’s computing department. They were enlightening the UX Scotland audience on important accessibility topics. Continue reading…

  • What has the design team been doing in 2019?

    It has been a great start to 2019. Okay, so 2019 started five months ago but it has flown by.

    We have been working with our partners Manifesto and Acquia on a rather sizeable project to replace the University website. We are starting from scratch. A blank page. Lots of blank pages, in fact. New content, new designs, new code, new processes. New everything. I even bought some new pencils…

    Our partners turned out to be smart, personable, and extremely well-organised people. Everything is planned and executed like we’re in the military. In a good way, I mean. We don’t have to salute on the daily stand-up video calls every morning or anything like that.

    For more information about our project and our partners read this: Introducing our new CMS platform and partners

    This has certainly been an intense project.

    However, we can look back with pride on what has been achieved between the various teams working together across design and development in a matter of months:

    • a new design system with over 30 components, each with multiple variations and responsive states
    • a pattern library full of accessible, mobile-friendly components and templates
    • full integration with a new Drupal-powered website that will allow content editors to easily select templates and drop components into a page

    This post is a breakdown of what’s been keeping the coffee flowing and our pixels pushed so far this year.

    Continue reading…

  • Building accessible, mobile-friendly, fast-loading, attractive website components, and templates

    It starts with atomic design

    We are using atomic design principles to organise our vast number of components and design patterns. These take the form of:

    • Atoms – these are the most basic building blocks within the pattern library and include elements such as buttons, colours, lists, and for inputs like radio buttons
    • Molecules – are created when we put together two atoms from the design system such as a search bar, alert banners, and accordions
    • Organisms – collections of molecules make up organisms and include things like a hero panel that sits at the top of a page
    • Templates – similar to organisms except that they are site-wide components such as the website’s header and footer
    • Pages – these are the highest level of fidelity with the pattern library, and contain all of the above and serve up actual static content for the user to have a preview of what all these components look like with actual content

    The components are held in a ‘pattern library’ using a tool called Pattern Lab. This pattern library is a major part of our new design system; it’s the single source of truth for our design work. It will give us consistency across all future projects and enable us to continually improve over time.

    Continue reading…

  • Upcoming roadmap

    I talked in a previous post about where we’ve got to with the new site implementation. What I would like to focus on for this post is on some of the specifics around what will be coming in July as we start the phased roll out.

    Course Pages

    When it comes to essential content, course pages rank high on our requirements list. Within Web Services, the wider marketing teams, Admissions and Student Recruitment and Quality Assurance, we spend a significant portion of our human and technical resource on managing this content and ensuring they are up to date and correct. They are viewed over 4 million times every year and are crucial to our drive to recruit students, especially in an international context.

    As part of this project, and as a consequence of the research we’ve completed with our target audiences, we are undertaking a complete review and redesign of all our course pages to ensure that they are fit for purpose. This is a huge piece of work that currently has four content designers dedicated to it full time who in turn are working alongside marketing officers for each school. They in turn will be working with academics and students to update existing and source new content to ensure our course pages are working hard for us.

    Given the size of this task we are focusing on Undergraduate courses initially for the July launch (over 240 courses and nearly 1500 pages), and then moving onto other course types in the next phase. A large portion of this work is to try and bring as much information in from core corporate systems as possible to ensure we are keeping information in sync wherever possible. At the moment there is no one system that holds all the information required for a course page, so we’ve been undertaking a data modelling and consolidation exercise to bring that information together from different sources.


    As we considered the types of content that we needed to publish as part of the new site, “Guides” became an obvious focus. Much of the research we conducted showed that our current students and staff spend a large percentage of their time on the site looking for information on “how to do something”. Guides help us re-imagine that type of information in de-siloed manner that’s geared towards a future where voice search will become a dominant mechanism through which you’ll access information. This is a concept we’ve been working with colleagues in other professional services to create over the past two years (e.g. UoDIT) and have had great feedback on. We’ll be taking this to the next level by providing central places to find this information as well as making them available in individual sections.


    One of the core tasks that users perform on the site currently is “trying to find someone”. This is hardly surprising given how large an organisation we are as well as the world class reputation our people have. Therefore we’re working to provide a directory that covers people within the University and gives everyone a chance to have a “digital home” whether you are part of our academic or professional services communities. A large part of this work is looking at bringing information in direct from our HR systems so that it is kept as up to date as possible.

    Initial imports will include people on full staff University contracts but will not include Associate or Honorary members of staff. We will be working with Schools and Directorates to define who of our Associate and Honorary members of staff should be included. Whilst we will be moving to giving everyone a profile, we also understand that there are times when members of staff should not be included on the site for a variety of reasons. There is no central dataset available that defines who these people are currently, so we will again be working with Schools and Directorates to exclude these people from the import.

    Profiles will go through several iterations and releases. Initially we will be importing information relating to core contact details (e.g. email addresses and telephone numbers), but also giving the ability for people to add photos as well as information relating to Teaching and Research activities and general overviews. Additional functionality will then be developed and released as we define the road map in line with business priorities.

    Continual Improvement, Continual Integration

    As I’ve looked at the things that slow our progress both as a web services team and a wider web community over the years, the myriad different designs, functionality and implementations are at the top of that list. Our core website has grown organically over the last 20 years, but especially over the last 10 years on our current implementation. We’re now increasingly moving towards developing standard components that can change and react to individual contexts that allow us to develop once and deploy everywhere. That being said, we’re trying to replace 10 years of legacy with fully thought out solutions, and we’ve just hit month 5 of that development. So not everything will be available at once.

    Once we go live, things wont be staying the same. You’ll see components evolve as we receive feedback from our testing sessions and audience feedback. You’ll see additional functionality being brought on board and existing capabilities being enhanced. As we set up our new infrastructure and the processes that support it, the ability to version, test and integrate our code is at its heart.

  • Progress on our new site!

    We have been noticeably quiet on updating you all on the progress to date with the new site and the things that we have planned for the future and the timescales that we are working to. This is a quick run down on what has happened so far in the implementation of the new site.

    Sept – Oct 2018

    As we announced in our last update, we’ve selected a new CMS (Drupal), a new cloud infrastructure provider (Acquia) and engaged an external partner to help us with the implementation of the new site (Manifesto). Throughout this process we had extensive engagement with our colleagues in procurement, information governance and IT who have done an amazing job helping us navigate procurement and data security requirements to ensure we have the contracts, security and support in place that we need. For those who are going through similar things, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of engaging early and regularly with your colleagues in these departments when going through this process.

    Nov – Dec 2018

    As many who have read previous posts will know, we spent a lot of time researching the problems we face and starting to develop prototype solutions. This helped us accelerate the implementation post contract award, but given the vast amount of information that we collected, we had to spend time pulling it all together and designing an implementation plan for the coming months. This is where the help of an external agency has proved invaluable in helping us drill down to the core requirements and the order we need to deliver items in to reach the milestones we defined.

    Jan – Mar 2019

    The majority of our time this year has been spent implementing that plan which, whilst intense, has been hugely rewarding to see all the hard work the team has done so far starting to come together into a tangible product. If you think of building a site much like building a lego house, the past three months (and much of the coming three months) have been spent designing what type of bricks we want to have and how they all fit together. These bricks include:

    • The digital infrastructure, version control, continuous integration systems and code governance practices.
    • The overall content model that defines the types of content we need and the relationships they have between each other.
    • The design framework and language that will be rolled out across the site that gives us the consistency we need to emphasize our brand and its values across all our pages.

    Site roll out

    We decided early on in the project not to do a big bang launch of the site. At time of writing, we have over 20,000 content items on the current corporate site and that trying to migrate everything at once would necessitate a much longer wait before launch as well as large resource implications in keeping things in sync between current and development sites. We’ll therefore be looking to start the launch of the new site in July with a phased implementation following on from that. We aim to try and have the old site retired towards the end of 2020. Our milestones over the next couple of months look like this.

    • March 2019 – First Beta release – Achieved!
      This is primarily an internal launch that helps us prove the infrastructure and development processes.
    • April 2019 – Second Beta release
      We will be looking to make this more widely available to selected internal audiences to allow them to get a better sense of how the site will be structured and look as well as engaging our test community to start weeding out bugs.
    • July 2019 – First release
  • How we’ve been preparing for this transformation…and a thank you

    Last week we announced our new CMS supplier and partners, marking the end of a three year journey and the start of a new one. We’ve also explored our thoughts around how we’re planning to migrate our content. As we work with our new partners over the coming weeks, that will become even clearer. This work will build on the planning and preparation that we started over a year, much of which has been covered in our blog.

    The above hasn’t been completed in isolation nor is it all just waiting in the wings for the new site. We’ve already been applying these principles and practices as we’ve worked with the University community. We’d like to thank the hundreds of staff and students who have given their time freely to submit top tasks, take part in design sprints, feedback on prototypes, and work with us writing content in the Web Services office.

    We will necessarily move into a higher gear over the coming months to bring about this next stage of the website transformation project and we’ll continue to do that in collaboration with our stakeholders. If you want to be involved then please sign up for a design sprint, or follow the progress in our newsletter.

  • Introducing our new CMS platform and partners!

    It has taken us almost nine months of hard work, but after a very intensive and thorough procurement process, we’re thrilled to announce that we have selected the Drupal CMS, running on the Acquia platform with our new implementation partners Manifesto…and I couldn’t be more excited!

    Why Drupal?

    Drupal is a CMS that is used by some of the biggest and most complex sites in the world including 71 of the top 100 Universities in the world. It has one of the largest open source communities in the world with over 1,000,000 passionate developers, designers, trainers and strategists using it and working together on common problems. It gives us a hugely powerful platform on which to innovate and deliver incredible experiences that not only bring people to Dundee, but also takes Dundee to the world.

    Why Acquia?

    Acquia is a platform built specifically to run Drupal, with its founder and CTO being the person who first created Drupal. They power some of the highest traffic sites in the world like the Oscars and Grammys and are used by institutions like the University of Oxford and every Ivy League school in the US. They provide a fast, secure and resilient architecture that will allow us to deliver fast and high-quality experiences to our users across the globe. Acquia has also been named as a leader in the CMS field by Gartner for the fifth year in a row.

    Why Manifesto?

    One of the core principles of this project is that we will not parachute a company in to deliver something who then leave us holding the ball. We wanted a partner that would not only enhance our existing capabilities but wherever possible transfer knowledge into the team. Manifesto are an agency that have worked with large charities, local and central government as well as a variety of other companies. What impressed us most was how far they go to not only understand their clients, but to embed themselves in teams as they deliver projects.

    What next?

    Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sitting down with Acquia and Manifesto to work out exactly what we will be delivering and when. This is a mammoth task and will take time to get right, but we’ll be open and transparent about the progress as we have always have been. There will be no big bang launch, but rather a phased go-live where we release the new as we decommission the old.

  • Planning the big move

    From late summer 2018 the work and planning around our new website gathers pace. A supplier and integration partner for the new CMS will be announced in the coming days. This is an incredibly exciting moment as it means we can now push forward and begin to firm up on our plans.

    Moving house

    One of the biggest challenges we face is how we go about migrating web content from the current to the new website. You could say this is a bit like moving home and, like every house move, if we want things to go smoothly we have to spend a bit of time preparing and planning to avoid any unexpected surprises.
    Continue reading…

  • Why we’re thinking of removing the A-Z

    The global A-Z. Such a simple concept, yet such a nightmare. Only the homepage and “just stick it in the” about section are feared more.

    The reason it’s so disliked by us webby types is the list itself tends to be completely arbitrary. There’s no logic to what goes in, what comes out, or why it even exists. In the case of dundee.ac.uk our A-Z started in 1996 as a faculty list. It moved from the homepage to atoz.html early in 97, but by December 97 the rot had already set in.

    I ❤ Excel

    Think about an A-Z list of staff members. How can you sort the list? By surname? First name? Job title? All of these would be a valid way of organising some structured data just like you could do it in a spreadsheet. The same would apply to a course listing, a list of locations, a list of event dates.

    Now think about the University global A-Z. How can you re-sort this? I’ll let you into a secret. You can’t.

    The rule is: unless it is a defined, automated, rule based A-Z it will, quite quickly, become a showcase for who shouts loudest, who forgets, and who cares.

    Continue reading…

  • IWMW 2018 – University of York

    In keeping with recent trends here on the Blog, welcome to our post about IWMW 2018!

    It’s definitely conference season and we’ve been out about, getting the Dundee name out there. While there have been previous posts on conferences with themes of UX and Content, the Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) conference is more about the overall HE community and web’s place within it.

    I wrote a post about last year’s event and the sense of community was very much a theme. With that in mind, I am going to, along with some input from some of my colleagues, give you an insight into this trip.

    Continue reading…

  • UX Scotland 2018 Conference

    From 13-15 June, 2018, Steve Burrows (Web Design Manager) and I attended the UX Scotland 2018 Conference in Edinburgh at Dynamic Earth.

    There were a total of 54 keynotes, case studies, workshops, discussions, tutorials and, lightning talks over 3 days. Both of Scotland’s unicorn companies, Skyscanner and FanDuel, were in attendance. Along with Instagram, Shopify, Indeed, and NHS Digital, to name a few.

    Continue reading…

  • ContentEd 2018

    ContentEd is a two-day conference on content strategy in the education sector. 2018 is its second year, bringing together content strategists and marketeers from all over the world to address current challenges, explore trends, and talk solutions.

    This year, the Dundee contingent comprised Pete and Morag from the web team, and Lucy from Marketing.

    Overall impressions

    Continue reading…

  • What happens after the Design Sprint prototyping and testing?

    The Design Sprints are producing some brilliant ideas, most of which are being voted highly and making it into the prototypes for testing with prospective students, current students, and staff.

    Check out the prototypes.

    Continue reading…

  • Design Sprint #7 review (Course comparison)

    Our seventh Design Sprint took place on 8th May 2018. The problem we came together to solve was: “As a potential student I would like to compare two or more courses”.

    Day 1, Morning : reviewing the problem together

    The first part of the Design Sprint saw Steve and Rob presenting some background information about the problem. Course comparison tools are becoming popular on the web and help a potential student make a more informed decision. This is due to the fact the tools allow them to show courses side by side on a single screen without the hassle of going through different prospectuses etc.
    Continue reading…

  • 8 things we’ve been reading recently

    Every week we share loads of articles within the team about web and digital stuff. Some of it news, others just fab things we’ve found. We thought if you’re interested enough to read this blog, you might just be interested enough to read these stories too, so here are eight of our favourites from the last month or so…

    Continue reading…

  • Design Sprint #6 review (Accommodation)

    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 sixth Design Sprint took place on 24 April 2018. The problem we came together to solve was: ‘How can we improve the accommodation selection process for applicants?’

    Continue reading…

  • Design sprint #5 review – country pages

    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 fifth Design Sprint took place on 10 April 2018. The problem we came together to solve was: ‘What information should a country page provide to meet the needs of the audience?’  Continue reading…

  • Design Sprint #4 review (School pages)

    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 fourth Design Sprint took place on 27 March 2018. 14 people from across the University gathered together with Steve (Design Manager) and myself (UX Manager) from the Web Services Team. There were however 5 people that booked that didn’t show 😞 Continue reading…

  • Design Sprint #3 review (course pages)

    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 third Design Sprint took place on 13 March 2018. 16 people from across External Relations, School of Medicine and Business Transformation gathered together with Steve (Design Manager) and myself (UX Manager) from the Web Services Team.  Continue reading…

  • Form audit

    Recently, we received an email from one of our suppliers, Form Assembly.

    Form Assembly do web forms. You may not have known it but you might have seen their product here, here and here.

    In essence, we build the form in Form Assembly and then through an elaborate array of levers and pulleys, it ends up on the website.

    As you may have noticed, we’re in an era of big change. In our plan to relaunch the website it makes sense that we look to improve the way we implement forms

    Continue reading…

  • Vision for Web – Procurement

    We have been planning for some time that the best option in order to fix our web presence, is to completely start from the ground up and essentially ‘starting again’.

    To fulfil this vision, we knew we could not fit our wishes around the processes or infrastructure we currently have and has been in place since 2008. We would need to start with a blank canvas or clean slate and build everything from scratch exactly to the way we require now and in order to achieve these aims for the future.

    Continue reading…

  • Launch of Engineering pages

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • Design sprint #2 review (subject pages)

    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.

    Problem: ‘How do we better serve users who want subject level information?’
    Continue reading…

  • A review of our first Design Sprint (solving the staff profile problem)

    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?
    Continue reading…

  • Revamping the IT suite availability screen

    Why are we making a change?

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • Getting to grips with user stories and top tasks on the Alpha

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • Join a Design Sprint to shape future website experiences

    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.


    What is a Design Sprint?

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • Accessibility in a design system

    This post continues our series about our new design system as part of the University of Dundee’s website relaunch.

    What does accessibility mean?

    Accessibility for digital products like websites, emails, and apps is measured in four different ways:

    • Perceivable: Making text and media perceivable for everyone
    • Operable: Helping users navigate content easily
    • Understandable: Making and media text understandable
    • Robust: Maximising compatibility

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • Pair writing for the web

    What is it?

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • Web Support

    Last year we got in touch to let you know we will continue to support you during the Alpha Project. We asked you to use help4u@dundee.ac.uk so we could respond to your web requests.

    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!”

  • The importance of colour

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • 99 problems but my grid ain’t one

    What is a grid system?

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • Managing design at scale consistently – introducing our digital design system

    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?

    Continue reading…

  • What our applicants really want from our website

    As we’ve said in previous posts, we’ve spent a lot of time collecting user stories relating to the audiences using our website. 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.

    Continue reading…

  • What staff really want from our website

    I’ve covered the background to this research in my post about what prospective students want from our websites.

    Continue reading…

  • What current students really want from our website

    I’ve covered the background to this research in my post about what prospective students want from our websites.

    Continue reading…

  • Scottish Web Folk

    There are many ways to spend a sunny Friday afternoon in October, but by far the best way, last Friday at least, was in the company of almost 50 web professionals from 12 different institutions across Scotland.

    Continue reading…

  • T4 Infrastructure Changes

    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.

    Most users won’t have noticed any issues (as we work very hard to ensure that you don’t) but inside the web team, these issues have an impact on a regular basis. We have two main problems:
    Continue reading…

  • 10 Design principles to help us build a better website

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • CMS Authentication upgrade

    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!

    Continue reading…

  • Studying Abroad – or “How I learned to stop worrying and love SITS”

    So, three years ago, we moved course pages into the CMS from their former home on our good old-fashioned artisan web server Sky. After that was completed, we began moving Studying Abroad from its three former homes into one.

    It went horribly wrong

    Continue reading…

  • Hemingway app – a free tool to improve your writing

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • Staff top task workshops

    Top task outputs

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • Our first sprint

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • Getting support during the web restart project

    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 help4u@dundee.ac.uk. 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.

  • Won’t somebody think of the semi-colons?

    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?

    Continue reading…

  • Launching the new campus map

    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.

    We had a campus map, why did we need a new one?

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • Content style guide launched

    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:

    • Understand your audience
    • Keep it simple, but don’t patronise
    • Keep it short
    • Show as well as tell

    At the heart of these principles is our intention to create content that helps the person reading it.

    Continue reading…

  • A Canterbury Tale

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • The PhD user journey

    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.
    Continue reading…

  • Why we stopped using ‘please note’

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • Scholarship search redevelopment

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • 2016 Freshers’ Week User Testing


    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.

    What we did

    A survey was produced to test

    • Open Day attendance,
    • the new 360º Virtual Tour,
    • our communications during the admissions process,
    • social media,
    • matriculation,
    • the website overall.

    Continue reading…

  • Joining the Web Services team

    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.
    Continue reading…

  • School of Business website launched

    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.

    Continue reading…

  • There is no standing still because time is moving forward

    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.

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  • Let’s stop drowning in content

    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.

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  • The 10 (Web) Commandments

    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.

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  • Selling the student experience

    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.

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  • Changing Times

    They say that change is inevitable, and in the web team we’ve seen our fair share of it over the past couple of years. We’re now a new team, with a new structure, about to settle into a new home to take forward a new vision.

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  • Country pages for prospective international students


    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.

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  • UX Workshop for Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design

    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

    • Web Content
    • Web Design
    • Web Development
    • UX (User eXperience)
    • Support

    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.

    But first, what is UX?

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  • Accommodation

    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.
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  • New Design for Course pages

    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.

    So our first objective was clear –  improve the various issues around navigation and how people interact with the elements on a course page.
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