Intranet design principles

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.

Screenshot of intranet

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Love the problem

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…)

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. 

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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…)