My colleague John Bourne recently wrote a post about our clearing application process covering the user experience improvements. In this post I’ll be delving into some of the technical work behind these.
First, an introduction; I am a front-end developer for the Digital Communications team here at the University of Bristol. This will hopefully be the first of many dives into some of the technical work we do.
Last year we identified that the process for updating clearing information was convoluted and vulnerable to mistakes. A manually coded HTML table was used to display current vacancy information for all the courses involved in the clearing process. This would have to be completely re-written and published after any change within a separate system maintained by our admissions team.
A-level results day is one of the most important days in the University calendar, and that applies to us in the digital team. One of the most important tasks for us is ensuring that any A-level students who enter clearing have all the information they need from our website to make a decision about whether (or not) they’d like to join us.
Deciding on which university you want to go to is a huge decision for anyone to make and the whole process means often these decisions have to be made in a hurry. To mitigate the stress, we have to make the user experience of our Clearing pages and systems as simple as we can.
We’ve been investing significantly in an intranet for University staff and postgraduate research students (PGRs). Previously our intranet content was scattered across our external website, seriously old internal content management systems, wikis and random crevices that only staff who’ve been at the University for decades would be able to find.
As we’ve just moved it out of beta and into live I thought it was a good opportunity to detail the design principles we’ve been using to inform its development.
It’s important to add we’re still at the early stages of a long journey. There’s a large roadmap of development ahead. But we believe that by sticking with these principles we can continue to build an intranet that will prove invaluable to all our staff and PGRs.
The third part of digital officer Charlotte Brewer’s series on content sprinting.
This post was actually writtena while ago. We planned to release it as part of our series on ‘Content Sprinting’. Then lockdown started.Hitting the publish button fell down the list of priorities. Despite lockdown, and despite everyone working from home and all the challenges that has brought, we’re actually still working in exactly the same way. We’re still sprinting. We’re still doing everything we did before. Everything in this blog post remains accurate. The only difference is that all our meetings and our conversations are via Skype. (more…)
When colleagues from across the University come to us for help with their website, the first thing we ask them is: what’s your problem?
That sounds a bit rude and abrupt. Let me explain.
In any digital project or product this is the single most important question that needs answering. If there’s no problem to solve then there’s no work needed.
What do we mean by problem? What we don’t mean is that your website looks ugly, that it doesn’t look good on a mobile device, it doesn’t have the right tone, or that it’s not structured in a way that mirrors your team’s structure.
These aren’t problems, they’re solutions looking for a problem. (more…)
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…)
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
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.
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 ouronline prospectus, but this information also appears in a variety of other places.
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.
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 content. Our newly–formed content team has now completed five sprints since we started this new way of working in October.(more…)