Digital Marketing & Communications

We've seen 1s and 0s you wouldn't believe

Digital team sprint notes, 19 August - 22 August 2014

📥  Weeknotes

Short sprint this one on account of the glorious August Bank Holiday weekend. And because of the extra University holiday, we're publishing this edition of the sprint notes a little earlier than usual.

What we did

Published induction timetables for the undergraduates and postgraduates starting in September 2014.

Made it easier for students to order a prospectus by improving the layout of the form and language used. So long USSR.

Started looking at how we can merge /new-ug and /first-year-ug to provide a clear user journey and remove redundant content. This involved writing and consolidating user stories, matching them to our existing content and identifying gaps or duplication.

Met with the International Student Advice Team to talk about the third [and in this project final] sprint to improve visa information for staff and students.

The Professional Services transition crew began building a new Intellectual Property & Legal Services section, and sent the crucial sub sections on the complexities of IP law to the IPLS team for their review prior to release. We supported the release of the new Security section. Met with Computing Services to outline content and feature auditing to take place in September. And the team sat down to plot out the last month of the transition project.

Prototyped (in Rails) the ability to manage user roles, views and permissions for all staff involved in creating our online and printed prospectuses.

Investigated ways of automating content updates in InDesign using XML - including creating custom tagged frame layouts and dabbling with XSLT. All in the name of a more streamlined and unified approach to publishing the digital and print versions of the prospectus.

Updated our image guidelines with visual examples. This means Dan's spent most of the week finding the worst images he can and then putting them on the website. He's been a very conflicted man.

There have been 80 tickets received in to Web Support with 60 being resolved this week. The main query (as per usual) was to update pages in the CMS. Thanks to Tom Natt for covering support whilst Chris was on his travels.

Next up

Another odd little sprint next because of the Bank Holiday - not complaining. Here's what's planned:

  • Continuing with the merger of new arrivals sections
  • Keeping on with IPLS, OPP and the remaining Professional Services transitions
  • Chipping away at the blogs backlog
  • Starting to roll out Universal Analytics across the domain
  • Progressing the set up of a performance dashboard for

That lot will keep us out of trouble.

Now, here's a little number to get you in the mood for the looong weekend...

Our epic 12 months

📥  Communication, Digital strategy

Twelve months ago I walked into the University of Bath for the first time as the head of the Digital team. It has been an epic year.

Since August 2013, we have set out to manage the University of Bath's digital communications in a completely different way to how it was done before.

We have stopped acting as a service provider doing one-off projects on an on-demand basis for 'clients'. And we reset ourselves to be a provider of digital products and services based on user needs, which are developed on a continuous and iterative basis.

Learning through doing

People who know the Government Digital Service and what they are doing with GOV.UK will recognise this approach. We've also learned a great deal from the examples set by other impressive digital enterprises, like Makeshift, Spotify and, a bit closer to home, FutureLearn.

What links these organisations, besides being digital, is their dogged fixation on delivery and the positively disruptive influence they've had on their industries.

The University of Bath Digital team wants to earn a reputation for creative problem-solving and delivery. As far as our business is concerned, we believe that our digital products and services can make us stand out in an increasingly competitive but  largely homogeneous market.

Change all the things

Since our 'pivot' moment, we have been turning out a lot of work. We figure that we have deployed [code] to a production environment at least once every day since August 19th, when this new approach began.

But what’s important about the 12 months we've just had is not so much what we've produced, as how we produced it.

As a  result of these changes the performance of our site has improved, user engagement has increased, we have better relationships with our colleagues and we feel like a happy and productive team.

For me, the most impressive thing is that with only a few new souls brought on board, all this change has been brought about by the same team that was in place prior to August 2013. I could not have asked for more from the Digital team on what was a very ambitious ask. They have done themselves proud.

Now for something properly epic

How do you follow up on an epic year? Have an even more epic 12 months.

For the past year we've been establishing a new working culture and drilling ourselves in new methods of delivery. The next 12 months is going to see us put these new found delivery skills to radically transform the design and features of and the way it’s managed behind the scenes.

The projects we will undertake will:

1. Devolve publishing
Introducing structured content templates and workflow will encourage higher quality publishing by a wider pool of publishers and reduce the requirement for specialist training

2. Make tasks easier
Designing specialist pages and a browseable taxonomy will make it easier for people to use the service information, tools and transactions the University provides, reducing dependency on other channels and enhancing the utility of

3. Support engagement
Developing digital content and features that open up the University’s research impact, educational successes and campus community will draw in practitioners and the public and establish long term relationships.

Expect a visit

The finer detail of how and when this will happen is plotted out on a delivery roadmap that we have produced and will be taking round to campus colleagues in the weeks to come.

For the University to really make the most of digital, the delivery of digital must become more distributed across the organisation. That doesn't mean we'll do less centrally; it means that more digital work will be undertaken by more people across the University.

It's going to be a challenge no doubt, and that is what is inspiring us. We hope that it inspires you too.

Digital team sprint notes, 12 August - 18 August 2014

📥  Weeknotes

What we did

Liam, Tom Trentham and Tom Natt started the discovery process for the next prospectus app, which we hope will unite our print and online prospectuses in glorious content continuity. This included Liam plotting out user roles, views and permissions for all staff involved in creating our online and printed prospectuses - enough people to hold a sizeable five-a-side tournament.

Paul's proposal for the new Intellectual Property & Legal Services section was approved by the department, and he began building the section.

Justin completed a qualitative assessment of the new section for Security Services, which should go live shortly.

Charlotte and Iris had a busy week dealing with A-level results day and preparing for Adjustment and Clearing. They also set up a Twitter account to communicate with new undergraduates, which will be managed with Hootsuite.

Kelvin made some changes to how we deal with the Unistats Key Information Set, which appears across our course pages.

Rhian spent her first week being introduced to the University, our team's way of working and, most importantly, the office Great British Bake Off sweepstake. (Go Norman!)

What's coming up

Over the next four days, we'll be:

  • Evaluating the new undergraduates and first year undergraduates sections to identify and merge any redundant content
  • Expanding our image style guide to include examples of good images
  • Continuing the discovery process for the prospectus app
  • Building new sections for Intellectual Property & Legal Services and Computing Services.

And, of course, we'll be crossing our fingers for sunshine on the bank holiday weekend.

Nothing like the great British summer.

Nothing like the great British summer.

Digital team sprint notes, August 5 - August 11 2014

📥  Communication

Over this last sprint we've been thinking ever more about the beginning of the new academic year which begins next month.

This means that Rich, Iris and Charlotte have been publishing changes to our induction section, our pages for first-year students and on information for our postgraduate offer-holders.

Charlotte has also been writing content and generally pulled together the booking information for our next Open Day on Saturday 13 September.

At the back-end of our services, Tom Trentham and Kelv wrote up a process for how we provision the development and staging servers for Ruby applications as well as working out how we can use Vagrant for sharing Ruby dev boxes and investigating a new deployment tool.

Justin and Paul launched the updated Data Protection section as part of the Professional Services project. They worked closely with the Data Protection team to work out the balance between user needs and legal requirements in order to change the section structure and all of the content too.

Alongside this Justin and Paul started the sprint for the delivery of the new Intellectual Property & Legal Services section as well as continuing their work on the Computing Services and Office of Policy and Planning sections.

Not content with working on only three sections in a single week, Paul also ran the Web Awareness and Writing course for the first time!

Dan and Liam prototyped many ideas for a new University homepage, including how to promote research effectively and zooming in on timely aspects of the student-focused editorial calendar, all the while using our shiny new GitHub Enterprise install for the first time. There were hijinks a-plenty, which led to documenting some of the source control processes we'll use for future design and development work.

Last but not least, today we welcomed Rhian Griggs to the department as Web Editor for Student Recruitment & Experience! If you see her around, say hi!

Show & Tell, August 1 2014

📥  Show & Tell

The first Show & Tell of August was action-packed, with five (count 'em) fast and furious presentations on everything from live demos of our new development workflow model, to the process behind the streamlining and increased user-focus of many of our Professional Services sites. (more…)

Monitoring and alerting

📥  Communication, Development, Tools

Almost all of the services the University provides are run on servers based on campus and which are managed by the Computing Services department.

Although many of these servers are now virtual, we're not yet at the point where the failure of one server prompts another to be automatically created to replace it, or where it is easy to do that replacement by hand at short notice.

This means that we sometimes have unplanned downtime.

Five months ago we expanded our usage of the off-site monitoring system Pingdom to check not just the availability of our homepage but also nine of our most popular pages and services.

It checks the web addresses of those pages and services every five minutes (or every minute in the case of and if it detects a problem it emails our support desk and sends me a text message.

When we've found out what the problem is, we put a brief explanation up on our web status Tumblr and again when the problem is resolved. This supplements the information published by Computing Services on their Twitter feed but also allows us to provide more specific information when we need to.

This is early days in exposing our service availability, and we'd like to get to a point where we can summarise recent data in a way similar to GitHub's status page but we probably need a bit more research on what our users would like to see first. There's also lots more fundamental work we can do in ensuring that visitors to our services don't simply get a 404 or blank screen when something isn't available!

So, what information do you think we should be making available, and how should we be doing it?

Update: I forgot to mention that Pingdom lets us make our service availability public, and you can browse that data in detail.

Digital team sprint notes, July 29 - August 01 2014

📥  Weeknotes

Digital Towers has been a fairly empty place this week. But those team members not gallivanting on far-flung sandy shores (or shivering under rain-sodden canvas) have been working hard on a whole host of different sprints.

Our latest sprints

  • Paul met with the Data Protection team to confirm the last few amends to their new site
  • Justin met with Steve Milnes, the new Digital Content Editor for Accommodation and Hospitality, to talk through final elements of the new website for Security Services
  • Miles and Tom Natt worked on consolidating content formats in the Research section. Features are no more - long live the case study!
  • Kelvin and Tom Trentham continued their work honing our implementation of Foundation 5 and Bamboo deployment plans
  • Chris resolved a tonne of support tickets and made people happy as always

Sprints starting this week

  • Liam and Dan are pushing on with a responsive prototype for the new homepage
  • Charlotte will be looking at the information surrounding our Open Days booking process
  • Kelvin and Tom T will be making and breaking Ruby test environments
  • Chris is delving deep into Google universal analytics discovery
  • On the professional services front Paul is tackling IP & Legal while Justin deals with Marketing & Communications
  • Iris will be updating our induction content
  • Miles has a sprint on event type taxonomy to look forward to

Other business

  • Iris plans to shake off her jet-lag with the help from Charlotte's tasty holiday gift to the office - 'unofficial' Iron Brew tablet
A packet of Iron Bru flavoured tablet from Scotland

Seems legit. Om nom nom.

Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts. The rain is coming…

New blogs, stats for bloggers and drafting in WordPress

📥  Blogs, Development

We are continuing to develop as new bloggers join the network, as the number of posts increases, and as more readers start landing on and following our blogs.

Chris and Tom T spent last week setting up some new features and tidying things up across the network. Here are the highlights:

New blogs

We've welcomed 5 active blogs onto the network since we upgraded in March, including:

As well as demonstrating the range of activity going on here at the University, they also swell the number of bloggers. To make it easier to keep in touch with the owners of blogs ('blog admins') we've set up a new mailing list, which we'll be using to share occassional, relevant information about analytics and features for .

Those wanting to start a blog and join our illustrious ranks of bloggers should email with the following info:

  • what the blog is about
  • what you want it to be called
  • which categories you want to associate it with
  • who will be posting to it.

There's an earlier post with more detailed information about starting a blog.

Access to stats for bloggers

Blog admins can now find out how many visits their blog receives, and which posts and pages are most popular.

To access 'site stats' for your blog, log into your blog's dashboard (just like you would if you were going to make a new post), click on 'Jetpack' in the sidebar and then click on 'Site Stats'.

From the stats dashboard, you can explore:

  • views by days, weeks, months or all time
  • where traffic came from
  • which posts got the most views
  • what search terms were used to find the blog
  • what links readers clicked on.

All useful stuff that can help bloggers work out what to post about and when.

There is also a box on your first dashboard screen (when you login) that provides a summary of the blog's stats.

Stats are available in WordPress from July 28th onwards. Traffic and engagement metrics for each of our blogs are also captured through Google Analytics, so if you are looking for older or more detailed analytics, drop us a request via

Keep in mind that if you are a contributor to a blog rather than its owner, you will need to ask the blog admin for a readout.

Overriding imported formatting

We've set it so that when you paste from another source, like Word, the WordPress editor strips out all the markup that comes across hidden in the paste.

The paste will retain the line breaks but no other formatting. This will prevent weird formatting being accidentally brought into blog posts that WordPress and the page templates don't recognise, and which can make the posts hard to read or even look just plain broken.

Our big tip is to compose in WordPress itself rather than using something like Word. WordPress provides all the formatting options you should need in a familiar toolbar format, and it autosaves regularly so there's no need to fear suddenly losing work mid-draft.

Next on the roadmap

Over the course of the next 12 months we'll be adding new features and iterating the design of regularly in response to user feedback and requests from bloggers.

The next sprint - in September - will provide the ability to filter blogs by thematic category and by recency on the landing page, which will help readers find specific blogs and discover more of what's to offer across our network.

If there are features you'd like us to consider, email

A more accessible landing page for staff

📥  Design, Development

In a large organisation such as ours the range of input and navigation methods covers a wide spectrum ranging from mouse/pointer and touch screens to screen readers and voice recognition. We have a duty to ensure all users can access our information no matter how they navigate the site. Our delivery principles reinforce our commitment to put users needs first and foremost.

I've just completed a sprint to resolve a number of accessibility issues on our internal staff landing page - a high traffic page used by university staff on a daily basis. Some of our colleagues had raised issues regarding their ability to efficiently navigate the multi-tiered menu that provides access to key online tools and services for staff.

University of Bath staff page

Some visitors to the staff landing page had problems whilst accessing submenus

The issues

  • Accessing the Javascript-powered flyout submenus was at best erratic and at worst completely impossible using only keyboard input
  • Contextual feedback for assistive technologies was absent. Users unable to see the visual indicators were not aware the links had related submenus
  • 'Clickable' links were not explicitly declared as such
  • Some links were only used as 'hooks' for the Javascript functionality. These links were navigational dead ends for users unable to access the submenus

Our solutions

  • Increased the 'touchable' link area to encompass the image and the title. A small win for touchscreen device users :-)
  • Added relevant ARIA roles via HTML and Javascript. These provide additional information to visitors using assistive technologies regarding the role and status of elements on the page
  • Rewrote the Javascript functionality to ensure the menu is fully navigable via keyboard

But does it work for everyone?

Not quite yet. But we are working on it…

Although these changes are a positive step towards unlocking our content for all our users the solutions implemented above only really deal with those who navigate via keyboard, mouse or touch.

We're now actively looking at ways to give our users with voice recognition software the best possible experience on the University of Bath website. Simplifying navigation options and avoiding jargon will go a long way to helping those using only their voice to get around.

Digital team sprint notes, July 22 - 28 2014

📥  Weeknotes

This week sprint notes is a littler shorter than usual, as members of the team take a well earned summer break. For those left behind its been a busy few days:

  • On Tuesday Ross met with the Digital Steering Group (DSG) which approved our first digital roadmap. This communicates how our products and services will develop over the next 12 months. We'll post more details shortly, as well as sharing the roadmap with colleagues around campus.
  • We began testing features for a candidate CMS with our Faculty Web Editors, to get their feedback and also to talk to them about what features they'd like to see and in what priority
  • Chris and Tom Trentham continued to iterate on our new blogging platform, including adding Jetpack which will allow users to track the performance of their blogs
  • Tom Natt continued his work on our new content inventory tool, which will make it easier for authors to audit content across the CMS and filesystem
  • Justin completed writing up the results of the user story workshops, with the Office of Policy & Planning and Department of Marketing & Communications, as part of the Professional Services transition
  • Ross and Rich sat on recruitment panels, interviewing for two new roles in Marketing & Communications
  • We also continued preparations for online induction.

This week:

  • Dan and Liam will continue work on the homepage prototype
  • Miles and Tom Natt will consolidate our Research section content formats
  • Kelvin will upgrade a key part of our version control infrastructure
  • Ross and Rich will welcome four candidates on to campus and interview them for the post of Web Editor, Student Recruitment & Experience.