UX writing: making our microcopy clear, concise and useful

UX manager Miles Taylor on the benefits UX writing can bring to the usability of forms, instructions and error messages.

Major upgrades are afoot to a raft of University systems that support student recruitment and the students themselves once they arrive here.

At the coal (inter)face of each are forms that facilitate tasks and activities students need to complete. Things like booking on an open day, uploading documents to support their application, providing their accommodation preferences or accessing support.

Improving our forms’ usability

Typically, the Digital Communications team has been brought in right at the end of the development process to ‘sign-off’ on accessibility. But we’ve noticed so many more issues with the way we display form than just poor accessibility. (More about our accessibility testing in another post.)

While internal stakeholders have been consulted, users haven’t always had much of a look-in. Research hasn’t always been conducted or designs tested, beyond the purely aesthetic. As a result, several of these forms have been overly long, complex and confusing to complete.

We’ve been working with project teams on each of these systems to offer advice and guidance on form design best practice to improve layout and flow.

And we’ve introduced them to the importance of UX writing to improve the clarity, consistency and usefulness of their forms’ instructions, labels, buttons and error messages.

In preparation, I put a workshop together for our Content Team. Here’s the guidance I stole synthesised from several excellent blog posts on the subject. (more…)

Content sprinting – part two

The second part of digital officer Charlotte Brewer’s series on content sprinting. 

In my last blog post about the sprint way of working, introduced it as a concept and looked at how we did sprint planning. In this post, I’ll show what it’s like to do the work as part of the content team in a sprint.

Do the work 

Once the sprint planning meeting is over, we get stuck into the list of tasks.   

Each task is a specific, distinct thing that we need to do to complete the goal of the sprint. For our students’ Top Tasks sprint, these included:  

  • Draft a template invitation email 
  • Book rooms  
  • Contact an International Officer to get list of international students  
  • Email these students an invitation to a focus group 
  • Contact the Mature Student Adviser to get list of mature students  
  • Email these students an invitation to a focus group 
  • Collate a list of URLs across the website that answers students’ FAQs (spoiler: there is a lot of duplication) 

Once we finish one task, we move onto the next task. Some of these are small enough for one of us to easily complete it. Others are bigger and need us all to work on it at once. Some tasks are straightforward, while some become blocked. This is where daily stand-ups come in.   

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Untangling our duplicate content

Senior digital product manager John Bourne looks at some of the problems in how we showcase our courses to prospective students 

At Bristol we spend a lot of time and effort gathering and publishing information about our courses. Most of this is done centrally through our online prospectus, but this information also appears in a variety of other places. 

The University of Bristol homepage with course finder

Duplicated content across our site causes maintenance problems for staff. More importantly it means prospective students don’t really know where to find the most useful information to meet their needs.

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Content sprinting – part one

It’s not only software that benefits from being delivered in sprints. Digital officer Charlotte Brewer discusses the practicalities of “content sprinting”. 

Sprinting – an act or short spell of running at full speed. That’s the traditional definition. Since the times of the Ancient Greeks, the sprint has been seen as the pinnacle of the athletic world. And in the last decade or so, it’s also become popular in the world of work.  

Software teams have been taking up ‘Agile’ practices that quickly deliver lots of small but functional improvements. Sprinting is fundamental to this. Like the sporting version, sprinting involves a lot of effort over a short space of time.   

In the Digital Comms team, we’ve started to adopt this approach in the way we deliver new contentOur newlyformed content team hanow completed five sprints since we started this new way of working in October.  (more…)

Content scrum in practice

Deputy head of digital comms Alex Pardoe on how our newly-formed content team has transformed the way we deliver content. 

This post is about the new way of working for the Digital Officers. Where previously we assigned project work to individual staff members through the project framework, now we’re assigning projects to the newly-formed “content team” and they’re using a modified version of Agile Scrum to get them not just done, but done-done. 

Scrum for content? 

Scrum has been used for years in software development, and we liked it for its simplicity and open-ended application. We felt it could work well for discovery and content design work as a team activity. Jeff Sutherland’s wife, Arline, adopted Scrum practices to improve communication and productivity in local churches. It’s not just for coding. 

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The rise of conversational content and how it will affect content creators

Digital officer Geraint Northam attended a couple of conferences over the summer where conversational content was discussed. For him, it’s a fascinating area with potentially huge implications for the type of content we’ll be creating in the future, particularly within the higher education sector. 

Conversational content tries to mimic the natural way humans talk to each other, to help solve various tasks. You may have come across this type of content when using text ‘chatbots’ – artificial intelligence software.  

Conversational content is very different to the more traditional content (text, images, video) that we’re used to working with. 

(more…)

A new framework for digital projects

We introduced a new project management framework and governance function a year ago. It’s transformed our ability to respond effectively and flexibly to priority business needs. In the first of two posts, deputy head of digital comms Alex Pardoe explains how. 

Where we were 

When I started in this role in early in 2017the team was really struggling to cope with the competing demands from across the University. These sort of things: 

  • Work requests could arrive from anywhere: email, phone calls, Yammer comments, meeting minutes, post-it notes on desks, chats in kitchen area, chats in the pub etc. 
  • Objectives undefined/entirely absent – why are we going to do this work? 
  • Scope of work undefined – what are we going to do, when do we know we’ve done it… and do they agree?   
  • No one talked about cost. 
  • And many, many more… 

(more…)

18 things we learned about content design

Jeremy Torrance, head of digital comms, reflects on our recent two-day content design workshop.

If you’re producing content for websites and you haven’t heard of content design you really should take a long hard look in the mirror. Content design – creating content that’s focused on what the user needs to know rather than what publishers want to tell them – is a skill every content producer needs to have.

It’s not easy and does require something of a change in mindset. So to get our content folk on the path to enlightenment we brought in Hinrich von Haaren from Content Design London for a content design workshop.

After the session I asked all the attendees to share one or two things they learned from it. Here they are.

User needs

  1. Does your content strictly cover a user need? If not, bin it.
  2. Business needs and user needs do not need to be in conflict with one another. It’s tempting to start a project with the business needs in mind, but you won’t necessarily reach those objectives and targets if you can’t engage and help the user. By putting the user needs at the core of the project you are more likely to meet your business needs as well.
  3. During content planning, explore the acceptance criteria which underpin user needs. (more…)

User testing on the cheap 

User testing is the cornerstone of every successful project. And, say digital officers Charlotte Brewer and Geraint Northam, it needn’t break the bank. 

User testing tends to be thought of as a lot of work. Planning, finding volunteers, making sure they turn up, preparing and managing the session, reporting and summarising it afterwards – all take significant time and effort. 

It’s worth it. As a digital team we want to find problems, solve them, and improve the user experience. This then allows the University to meet its business objectives. 

But does it have to be so time-consuming? We’ve started to embrace ‘user testing on the cheap’ – quick, small tests done often.  (more…)

Modernising the staff experience

Launching the University’s first intranet has thrown up some interesting challenges, says Intranet manager Steve Wright.

Two weeks ago, we released a beta version of a new intranet for staff and postgraduate researchers. We’ve designed with mobile devices in mind, applied content design best practice, and met accessibility standards.

So far, so commonplace you might say. But it’s been an unusual project for quite a few reasons.

First, it’s totally new. Surprisingly (and it was a big surprise to me when I started here in July 2018), the University hasn’t had a global intranet before. Internal-facing content and information has historically been stored at the local level: on faculty, school or division sites.  (more…)