• 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.

    As content creators, we often have to touch upon subjects which can seem rather technical, dry or even bureaucratic. For example, paying your fees, applying for visas, and understanding degree structures would all fall into this group to some extent. If we are providing this kind of information then there is a responsibility on us to explain these subjects in a way that respects the user’s time, ability and environment.

    A useful starting point for this approach is to ask ‘what does the user want to know?’ not ‘what do I want to say?

    Clear communication is effective communication. Using simple language shouldn’t be considered dumbing down your content, rather opening it up to a whole new audience who might have struggled with more complicated terms.

    We frequently deal with types of content that you could describe as functional or transactional, but these same principles should apply if we are writing promotional or marketing content.

    We should show as well as tell. For example, we know rankings reflect how great the student experience is at the University of Dundee but that selling point becomes even more powerful if a student talks about this in a blog post or a video.

    Inevitably, there will be some instances when it will be difficult to apply all of these principles. When talking about the impact of University research for example, we might use a quote from an academic that contains specialist language. Of course, one person’s specialist language is another person’s jargon so we should try to balance that with an explanation of the subject in layman’s terms.

    With so much content being produced across our digital and non-digital platforms it’s important that our internal and external audiences have a consistent experience when using that content. The content style guide should help make this as seamless as possible as it contains guidance on voice and tone, writing and a growing reference guide on grammar, spelling, and University of Dundee terminology.

    As a content team we’ve put a huge amount of work into the content style guide, indeed it’s been something of a labour of love. It’s amazing (or perhaps tragic) how passions rise when content people discuss things like the Oxford comma or semi-colons. We believe that words matter. They are often the difference between a good and bad user experience and this, ultimately, impacts on our reputation as a University.

    The guide isn’t exhaustive by any means and we want it to evolve and grow. In some ways, creating it is the easy part. The hard work now begins in applying it to our content and getting people to engage with it.

    If you have any thoughts or questions relating to the content style guide you can email styleguide@dundee.ac.uk

  • 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.

    This theme of community underpinned the whole occasion, whether it was the friendly welcome we received at the pre-conference meetup at the Dolphin Pub, to seeing people catching up from previous years to, perhaps more seriously, the overall theme of the conference: ‘It’s The End Of The Institution As We Know It (And We Feel Fine)’, emphasis very much on ‘we’. In a sense, given recent political decisions, this has as much to do with Higher Education as a whole, as it does to do with the concept of web or digital, or whatever we’re calling it this week, within it. The tone very much was “whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together” – the “we” either being an individual team, an individual University community or Higher Education as a whole.

    In the first plenary talk of the event, University of Kent’s Bonnie Ferguson discussed how her University dealt with the outcome of the Brexit referendum (given that University of Kent markets itself as ‘The UK’s European University’) and how universities can adapt to change. In response to this, Bonnie brought up the concept of systems and processes being antifragile or to be strengthened by change. Whilst this is probably too philosophical and complicated to really get into here, I would urge readers to seek this out and to find out more about it.

    Next up was our very own Andrew Millar. Given that Andrew is head of my department, we’re going to now veer into a patch of brown-nosed favouritism. In what would end up as the top-rated talk of the entire event, Andrew spoke about the institutional changes that we have gone through and how we have (an institution, not just as Web) turned this to our advantage and of the challenges that lie ahead. Bringing together common problems experienced by most in Higher Education (financial unrest, changing markets, restructures), this rang true with the majority of conference attendees. It’s clear we are all on the same road, just at different points of the journey. This talk reiterated to me how Dundee has, and continues to, turn its problems into opportunities to improve.

    In concluding his talk, Andrew brought up new technologies and how these will impact on Web. With things like wearable tech, chat bots and assistants such as Alexa, we face a future where our users won’t even be using web browsers and prospective applicants will be accessing our course pages and applying for our courses via a disembodied voice in their house. As a community, this future should excite us and we should be grasping this change with both hands.

    Another interesting aspect of the community is the opportunity to see how other universities do things or approach problems differently. University of Lincoln’s Tom Wright headed up a workshop on the Tuesday afternoon titled ‘Making Web and Digital Work For Your Students’. In this, he (and two graduates and the event’s sole student) detailed how they make student-created video content work for them. While we are looking at recruiting student vloggers (and bloggers), the University of Lincoln have one thing that we don’t: an entire School of Film & Media, specialising in practical production. I felt that there was a response from the more ‘traditionally academic’ universities that this is something that they would not be able to achieve given that their studies are not geared towards that. This is a misstep in my opinion. Lincoln are tapping into a resource that they have on their doorstep. We are already putting out insightful student content (video or otherwise). The real issue is find that source in the first place. This workshop, at least in my mind, confirmed that we need to keep pushing forward, particularly if it offers us new and interesting ways to interact with our audience.

    The second and third days of the conference covered topics such as governance issues, showcases of tools and platforms, insights into users and wider aspects of the sector. These got into the nitty gritty of the community and raised many pertinent questions – how do people govern control of content in a Higher Education community in a meaningful way, how do people ensure one single truth in terms of data, how do we work with our users in a better way? All of these underpinned the themes of community and change that had been established on the first day.

    This brings to mind Carley Hollis’ (Head of Digital Communications at St. Andrews) talk from the second morning. While her talk was on the topic of setting standards, the sense that I took away from the talk was that they’re a little down the road from us – in a metaphysical community-journey way, as well as them being over the Tay Bridge, they’ve maybe gone through changes that we haven’t yet and they govern content in a different way from us. How are we going to change as we move forward? How are we going to improve on what we already do? I’m looking forward to finding out.


    As with all trips away, our time down in Canterbury did much for bolstering our arsenal of horribly complicated and self-involved in-jokes and stories. Amongst these include ‘The Burger’, a lady cat called Cuthbert and The Horrible People Who Got On At Waverley. As you are our community, we would be honoured to share these with you in some capacity in the near future. We welcome all thoughts, comments and questions.

  • 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.

    Initial investigations

    I began by looking at the content that currently exists, both on the university website and on our school websites. I found that there are three main areas to tease apart when it comes to PhD-related web content.

    1. Research area or theme

    Some prospective PhD students don’t know quite what they want to study yet. Others come with a ‘passion project’ already in their mind. Both benefit from being able to filter the information available according to a broad thematic research area.

    I found research area lists both on the main university website and on some school sites, but there was a lack of consistency and clarity in which areas were listed and what constituted a ‘research area’. I found lists within lists, duplicate content, a mixture of internal main website links and school links… It was a bit of a mess frankly, but this inevitably happens to multi-stakeholder content over time, and after all, I was here to fix it.

    2. Funding

    Studentships. Programmes. Scholarships. Bursaries. Fees.

    Paying for one’s PhD is probably near the forefront of most prospective students’ minds, and while the information is all there for them somewhere, there is once again a lack of consistency from school to school and from theme to theme in how this information is presented. Some disciplines take a ‘funding first’ approach, funnelling their potential students via funding grants to then pick a topic. Others list their funding programmes separately. All research funding comes with strings attached:

    • You may need to be from a particular country
    • You may need a minimum grade in a prior degree
    • You may need to have a certain economic situation
    • You will almost always need to be studying in a specific area
    • Some funding is rolling
    • Some funding has a deadline
    • Some funding has a set number of places

    It’s Complicated. Users may arrive on the site wanting to look at potential funding for their research area first and foremost, but others either already have funding, or are self-funding, or are more interested in finding their research area or even a topic first, which brings us to…

    3. Projects

    So here’s where it gets properly difficult.

    Individual PhD projects are necessarily presented very differently by different disciplines around the university.

    In Life Sciences, for example, there’s an epic list of very specific topics. You pick one like it’s an Argos catalogue and from there you can check whether you’re eligible for funding with any of the associated PhD Programmes (here meaning funding opportunities).

    By contrast in a humanities subject there may not be a formal projects list. Some funders will currently be providing studentships in a specific topic or theme, but this is variable from funder to funder, and from research cycle to research cycle.

    There’s nothing wrong with presenting this information in different ways for different user needs, but it does present a problem when you’re trying to structure a central resource in a way that makes any sort of sense.

    Gathering qualitative data

    Having designed the Life Sciences PhD section, I already felt pretty familiar with the PhD user journey for the school. I needed to gather more data on humanities students.

    With a casual poll of my own friends on Facebook I quickly established that, as suspected, arts and humanities PhD journeys are very individual and varied. So I set out to interview some humanities students and gather qualitative data on their experiences.

    I spoke with three students, but my most illuminating conversation was with a recently accepted PhD student who had previously done her masters at Dundee. While she considered other institutions for her PhD, a return to Dundee turned out to be the best choice for her.

    Over a phone interview, we talked through her personal user journey, not just on our website but throughout the whole process from her topic idea through to her confirmation letter. I wanted to know what part our website had played – and how well.

    The findings

    Overall, my interviewee was happy with the communications she had with the University, but the website specifically failed her on two counts.

    1. Research area

    She hit the first stumbling block right out of the gate: her research theme wasn’t on the research areas list. Maybe it should be, but more likely it’s simply an interdisciplinary project, and that’s okay – you can’t list every possible option in these situations (trust me, I’ve tried).

    However, when she didn’t find her research area listed (which is likely a common occurrence for prospective PhD students in humanities) she had nowhere else to turn. There was no number to call, no list of contacts to pick from. She eventually called her old Master’s supervisor – something she could only do because she was a former taught postgraduate student of the University – and was sent in the right direction from there.

    2. Funding

    Her second issue was finding fees information. She had investigated funding elsewhere on the web but quickly established she would need to self-fund, so by the time she was looking on our website she knew she was looking for a fees page.

    Unfortunately, she struggled to find this as the link isn’t very prominent and the information isn’t presented very clearly. Even once she had the numbers she was still missing information, as she needed to study part time and wouldn’t be paying fees on a conventional schedule. In fact, she told me, it wasn’t until she got her confirmation letter through the post that she knew for sure what her payment schedule was going to look like.

    Once she had spoken to her new supervisor he was able to explain how her fees would work as a part time student, and she observed that it was complex and individual enough that she’s not sure that it could be easily rendered in type on a webpage. However, we didn’t provide a contact or any sort of information to help prospective students with potentially complicated repayment schedules. We just presented a price list.

    The sharp-eyed will have noticed that my interviewee’s issues above precisely match items 1 and 2 under my ‘most important stuff we need to tell our users’ list. So that’s awkward.


    The quick fix

    I made several changes as part of my immediate clean-up project.

    • I added a dedicated PhD landing page with clear links through to all relevant content
    • I introduced a clearer distinction between PhD-specific information and taught postgraduate content
    • I rearranged the pages to make them more clearly navigable
    • I provided some clarity around what our research areas are
    • I made the fees page link far more prominent
    • I’m in the process of liaising with stakeholders in humanities to try to provide more direct contact options for students with more individual needs

    Looking to the future

    The main take-home here is that the PhD user journey is incredibly variable dependent on myriad factors – the student’s area of study, their funding options, their personal situation, and so on. The PhD area of the central website, in striving for compromise and consistency across disciplines, is letting down those students with more particular needs – which, when it comes to PhDs, is quite possibly most of them.

    When it comes to user experience a primary objective is to help the user find the information relevant to them as easily as possible. But in situations like these, we also need to make it absolutely clear when the information a user needs is not being provided on the web, and provide them with a good alternative means of getting that information.

    I’ve often told folk in the past that a big part of what we are trying to do with a University website is stop people just picking up the phone when they have a question. But sometimes, that’s exactly what they need to do, and that’s okay.

    More generally, exercises like these are part of an ongoing process. We’ve been consulting with stakeholders around the University over the future of PhD web content since the central web team’s inception, and we still have a long way to go.

    These chats I had with current students were an invaluable part of that overarching mission, and will feed into our future approach to presenting PhD information, but they’re only one piece of the puzzle. We will keep working closely with PhD students, supervisors and administrators across the whole institution, we’ll keep communicating our thoughts and our progress, and we’ll stay open-minded when it comes to presenting solutions. So stay tuned!

  • 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.

    Formative/summative (usually used with regard to assessments)

    Do you know what these words (which tend to appear on course webpages) actually mean? If you do, it’s likely you’re an academic member of staff, responsible for setting and marking assignments.  Put yourself in the shoes of the intended audience for these pages: high school students, who are likely to be baffled and even put off by such unfamiliar language.  We need to use terms that our users are going to be familiar with, and such vocabulary suggests that we haven’t given our target audience enough consideration.  How you would describe the format of assessment if you were having a chat in person to a 16 year old?  It’s very different to the way you would write a formal policy document. Most people overestimate the knowledge and vocabulary of even their professional audiences and sometimes jargon is so ingrained you forget you are using it.


    This is another word which is often found on our course pages, but which can make it sound as though we want to send our students camping!  For example: ‘You will be fully equipped to develop your own career’. This word also tends to be used in the passive tense, which takes a reader longer to analyse (only microseconds, but it all adds up) and increases the word count of a sentence.  In many cases, simply saying ‘you will learn’ works better as it is more direct and active.

    Innovative and state-of-the-art

    There are few university courses or departments which would not want to describe themselves as innovative and this is one of the most over-used words we find on our webpages.

    If something about your course is genuinely innovative it should sell itself.  It is better to focus on particular features, and crucially, the benefits they provide, rather than using filler adjectives like this.  Instead of using these words, think along the lines of ‘We provide X, so you can do Y’.  Give your readers the evidence and let them decide.

    Very, actually, really, just, and similar adverbs

    These don’t add anything to the message of your page but simply reduce the scannability of the text and add unnecessary bloat.

    Please note 

    This phrase doesn’t mean anything – it’s the text after it that is important.  When readers scan down the left-hand side of the page, picking out keywords, the phrase ‘please note: deadline is 1 July’ doesn’t jump out at the reader in the same way ‘Deadline: 1 July’ does.  Once again, the phrase adds bulk to the page whilst reducing meaning.


    Since readers will often be scanning the text on our webpages, we need to ensure that this process is as smooth as possible for them.  Words such as former and latter mean that a reader will need to jump forwards and backwards in the text to understand it which disrupts scanning and increases the time it takes them to process the material.

    Click here

    Never use ‘click here’ when you are including a web link.  Link text should describe what the reader will find when they click on it.  This makes it easier when someone scans the page.  Example:

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, cu essent doctus deserunt per. Vidit nulla homero cu nec. Quas tacimates vituperata ut qui, ex eum nostrud evertitur, quaestio evertitur duo ei. Per ei sale labores, et vim amet corpora, cibo senserit vis et. click here. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, cu essent doctus deserunt per.

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, cu essent doctus deserunt per. Vidit nulla homero cu nec. Quas tacimates vituperata ut qui, ex eum nostrud evertitur, quaestio evertitur duo ei. Per ei sale labores, et vim amet corpora, cibo senserit vis et. Please read about our history courses Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, cu essent doctus deserunt per.

    Complicated words or phrases when there is a simpler alternative

    Simplifying your text will make it easier for your readers to quickly grasp what you mean.  For example:

    Facilitate → help

    In order to → to

    In the event of → if

    Due to the fact of → because

    At this point in time → now

    In as short a time as possible → quickly

    Utilise → use

    Website when you mean webpage

    We have only one University website.  If you are writing content for a department or centre within the University, please ensure that you refer to this as a ‘webpage’ or ‘webpages’ rather than a separate ‘website’.

    Words to use

    Just before I wrap up this post, I’d like to briefly mention a couple of words that are to be used when writing for the web.  The English language is rich and powerful, and there are many, many words to choose from, but the two most important words are

    ‘You’ and ‘we’

    ‘You’ is the greatest word in the English language when it comes to writing content.  It puts the reader directly at the heart of the action (avoiding the passive voice), can help to simplify complex instructions, and conveys a friendlier tone.  Choosing to use ‘we’ and ‘you’ also avoids the problem of gender-specific writing.

    Do you have any thoughts on this?  Are there any words you come across frequently which are your personal bugbears?   Please comment and let us know.

  • Hello world!

    Welcome to University of Dundee Sites DEV. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

  • 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.

    The new requirements came from extensive user testing and went live on February 8.

    Our scholarship search will now be the single place to find University of Dundee and external scholarships, bursaries and other funding opportunities.

    Check out the new scholarship search.

  • 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.

    Respondents were also asked what type of student they were (UG, PGT, PhD or Exchange) and what their domicile was (Scotland, EU, England, Wales, Northern Ireland or International). This was to allow the data to be filtered.

    Freshers' Survey

    How we did it

    From Monday 5 September to Monday 12 September 2016 there were 30 people from across External Relations going out to speak with students and ask them to complete the survey. We focused our attention on Bonar Hall, DUSA, Enquiry Centre and the Library as these areas had a high concentration of new students.

    Each student was handed an iPad Mini and asked to complete the survey which took 3-5 minutes to complete.


    We targeted 500 responses and there were 575 students completed the survey.

    Student Type

    Undergraduate 429
    Postgraduate 115
    Exchange 26
    PhD 5


    Scotland 308
    International 106
    EU 83
    England 51
    Northern Ireland 26
    Wales 1

    Open Days

    Did you attend one of our Open Days? Total %
    No 323 56%
    Yes 252 44%
    Grand Total 575 100%

    360º Virtual Tour

    Did you use the 360 virtual tour? Total %
    No 441 77%
    Yes 134 23%
    Grand Total 575 100%
    Did you find the 360 virtual tour useful? Total %
    No 11 8%
    Yes 123 92%
    Grand Total 134 100%
    How would you rate the 360 virtual tour? Total %
    0 2 2%
    50 21 17%
    100 103 82%
    Grand Total 126 100%


    Before arriving, what did you think of our communication? Total %
    0 26 4.52%
    50 126 21.91%
    100 423 73.57%
    Grand Total 575 100%
    What did you think of the way we spoke to you? Total %
    0 9 2%
    50 42 7%
    100 524 91%
    Grand Total 575 100%
    If you applied to more than one university, how did the amount of communication from us compare? Total %
    0 17 3%
    50 156 30%
    100 352 67%
    (blank) 0%
    Grand Total 525 100%

    Social Media

    Thinking about social media, how many Facebook groups were you asked to join? Total %
    0 104 18%
    1 115 20%
    2 132 23%
    3 106 18%
    4 9 2%
    4+ 109 19%
    Grand Total 575 100%
    What is your favourite social media platform? Total %
    Facebook 388 67%
    Instagram 68 12%
    Twitter 62 11%
    Snapchat 40 7%
    I don’t use social media 11 2%
    LinkedIn 6 1%
    Grand Total 575 100%
    What is your preferred method of communication? Total %
    Email 421 73%
    Social media 139 24%
    Postal letter 15 3%
    Grand Total 575 100%


    Had you ever heard of the word “Matriculation” before coming to Dundee? Total %
    No 250 43%
    Yes 325 57%
    Grand Total 575 100%
    How did you know where to be today for matriculation? Total %
    Asked a friend 114 20%
    Asked a member of staff 59 10%
    Email with a link to website 132 23%
    Email with all the information 161 28%
    Social media 10 2%
    Website 99 17%
    Grand Total 575 100%


    Overall, how well did our website meet your needs? Total %
    0 6 1%
    50 106 18%
    100 463 81%
    Grand Total 575 100%
    How easy was it to find what you were looking for on our website? Total %
    0 20 3%
    50 186 32%
    100 369 64%
    Grand Total 575 100%
    How visually appealing is our website? Total %
    0 15 3%
    50 136 24%
    100 424 74%
    Grand Total 575 100%
    How easy is it to understand the information on our website? Total %
    0 10 2%
    50 111 19%
    100 454 79%
    Grand Total 575 100%
    How much do you trust the information on our website? Total %
    0 7 1%
    50 56 10%
    100 512 89%
    Grand Total 575 100%
    How likely would you be to recommend our website to someone else? Total %
    0 9 2%
    50 110 19%
    100 456 79%
    Grand Total 575 100%

    How will the results affect change

    If we can get prospective students to campus they are more likely to convert to matriculated students. This is proven from data from previous Open Days. Only Scottish respondents to the survey were in the majority that attended an Open Day. However, 92% of those that used the Virtual Tour found it useful. Work is underway to adapt the Virtual Tour for Virtual Reality headsets to be used at UCAS events to bring the students to Dundee in a fun and interactive way.


    Looking at the communication section of the survey it can be seen that just over 26% of respondents were not completely satisfied with out communications.

    Regarding social media, we can see that over 20% of respondents were asked to join 4 or more Facebook groups but we didn’t ask if that was positive or negative. That additional question shall be added to the survey for next year.

    43% of respondents overall, rising to 50% of undergraduate respondents, have not heard the word ‘matriculation’ before coming to Dundee. This would suggest that using plain English would reduce confusion during Freshers’ Week for what is essentially registration.

    40% of respondents had consulted the website to find out where matriculation took place but 30% asked a friend or staff member. Student feedback showed a lack of awareness and confusion about the matriculation process. Frequently, students wanted to feel reassured they were doing the ‘right thing’.

    The website section shows that over 80% of respondents are happy with the website meeting their needs. Conversely, we need to be aware that one-third were having difficulty finding what they are looking for. This will inform work that I am looking at this semester. Using tools such as Optimal Workshop Treejack and OptimalSort, I will be investigating how we can improve the information architecture of the Study section and the website overall.

  • 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.

    First impressions

    Hopefully, I made some good ones! Walking into the team office on my first day I could see a team of busy-but-not-stressed people who seemed to be quite happily sharing chocolates and other treats in the middle of the room. Some good signs already!

    As I got to know the names, jobs titles and the projects, I learned that this was an experienced (and friendly!) team with a huge range of skills across design, UX, content, development, and customer support. This is important to me, as I like to learn whatever I can from other people.

    Part of the induction was sorting out new equipment that would enable me to push my pixels better and faster than ever before. I was offered a top of the range iMac, any software or service that I needed, plus a new chair (my choice of colour – perfect for a designer).

    We also moved to a new office shortly after I joined. It’s modern, bright, and pretty close to the kitchen for the all-important coffee run. It’s also in a fantastic location on campus.

    Jumping straight in

    Like a child belly-flopping into the pool on the first day of a holiday, I enthusiastically jumped straight into some really interesting work in week one, starting with the design of a template for our story-based ‘long form’ content.

    I am heavily involved in front-end development so this project was a great opportunity to use some really clever tools to create a template in the smartest way possible. I created a new build process based on Node, Gulp, BrowserSync, JS and SCSS. This was the beginning of what will become a new process for front-end development that includes automated testing (using Mocha, Selenium Grid and Testing Bot) and continuous integration (Jenkins).

    We are free to suggest new tools and techniques here, which I think is great. For example, we have switched from Photoshop to Sketch for UI design work. Looking at the results so far, I don’t think we’ll regret that move.


    I’d like to talk about how we collaborated on an extremely sensitive and vital project. The shared Spotify playlist was an incredible challenge but we came together to create a large playlist of (mostly) great songs with an incredible diversity of genres that we listen to regularly. The Beatles, Biffy, Daft Punk, David Bowie, Jurassic 5, Justin Timberlake, Manics, Marven Gaye – all sorts. It’s a fantastic way to discover new music and get to know each other.

    Okay, so the Spotify playlist wasn’t a vital project, but it did demonstrate that we have a real mix of people with different tastes who can still work well together. Our real projects focus on ensuring the website is always improving to meet the needs of our users and promote the University around the world.

    Since May, we have collaborated to launch a new template for schools, implement a smarter search facility for scholarships, design and build a new room booking system, start running A/B tests to demonstrate how we can increase conversions, and gather a serious amount of qualitative and quantitive user data that will help us make better design decisions going forward.

    Agile, our way

    We run our own flavour of Agile to break projects up into small user stories that are easier to manage. We recently moved from Trello to Pivotal Tracker to give us more control over our priorities and allow us to estimate project completion dates with more accuracy.

    This whole process puts the focus on regularly releasing things into the wild, i.e. launching new features and content. It moves us far away from the traditional process of working on something large for months on end and then flicking the switch to launch.

    There are daily stand-up meetings with Pivotal Tracker up on the projector screen to keep the focus on priority stories and keep communication flowing. We also present the shiny new things we create to the rest of the Marketing team as part of the monthly Show and Tell.

    Smart stuff

    I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived, having never worked within a University before. What I found was lots of smart stuff has been put into place. The use of multiple testing environments (development, staging and production). Regular and effective user testing. A comprehensive content production process. Just a few of many examples I could use.

    There are some very impressive plans for the future of our team, the wider Marketing team, and the University. Our recent Scottish University of the Year award doesn’t mark the end of these plans, it’s just part of the beginning. Reading back, that previous sentence sounds a bit cheesy. However, it’s true!

    Before we know it, that exciting future will soon be the present. And on that note, I will conclude by saying that I can already see joining this team is one of the best moves of my career so far.

  • 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.

    Using the central web template for a School website had several advantages:

    1. From a navigational perspective, it allows for a coherent and clear user journey from the School site to other key areas such as the central course pages.
    2. It utilises the strength of the University of Dundee brand and presents a consistent message to visitors.
    3. As a web team, we now focus on maintaining and improving the central web template rather than diluting our efforts across many different designs. By moving a School website into this template we can make the most of these design and functionality features and get all the benefits of continuous improvement.

    Inevitably, there were a few challenges along the way. We felt there was a need to give focus to the top-level sections of the School site. One option would have been to put these links within the normal side column area for navigation but doing this places design restrictions on the rest of the website. To solve this problem, we have introduced a new horizontal navigation bar. This allows for full-width pages such as the Courses page and on pages such as School Research we can move to a more traditional two-column/side navigation layout whilst maintaining the top-level navigation throughout. Naturally this navigation is fully responsive and works on mobile, tablet and desktop.

    Significant enhancements have also been made to the staff profile template with these pages now benefiting from a new design and faster page load.

    Other improvements are in the pipeline and we know that there’s probably still scope to improve the relationship between the global navigation (Study, About, Student Life etc) and the School navigation to eliminate any ambiguity or uncertainty in the user journey. Needless to say, we will be testing the site with groups of external and internal users and will incorporate their feedback into any improvements we make.

    On the face of it, the School of Business is a relatively small website but for the web team it’s a big achievement and represents just one of the many ways we are working together more effectively to produce products and services that meet the needs of our users and the University. Exciting times lie ahead.