Digital Marketing & Communications

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

Caption my caption

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📥  Show & Tell, Style, content and design

caption

 

I'm glad to say that my cohorts here in Digital are – like me – sticklers for style. Of course we all dress well, but punctuation, grammar, and spelling rules are what we work by.

That's not to say there's never room for improvement, though. Iteration and incremental enhancement is key. To this end, the Image Use Guide has been updated to include a passage on best-practice caption writing.

'Why?' you may ask. Well, many of the images we were seeing published included captions that read like alt text. They did little to deliver information, and this is a missed chance at elevating engagement.

A student daining experience in a professional placement

The good: this caption adds context and info to a Placements page

Why captions are important

Almost every image on the website needs a caption. Simple as that. There are exceptions of course: hero images and background images which are a part of the page design don't need a caption. Similarly, caption writing for staff profiles and Location pages is tough. But be creative and you can add information like when a building was opened, how many Learning Commons it has, or its opening hours, for instance.

Captions need to be 'added extras' to the image. They need to tie the image to the content. Captions are entry points. Like crossheads, pull quotes, summaries and headlines. These all offer users a place at which to enter and engage with the content we offer.

Users look at imagery first, then the caption under the image. If the caption intrigues them by providing context and information, they will look back at the image and see something new. This is a positive loop.

Writing a caption that describes the image misses an engagement opportunity.

Writing a caption that describes the image misses an engagement opportunity.

Captions, not Alt Text

It's important to know the difference between image captions and alt text descriptions.

Alt text descriptions need to describe the image. This helps visually-impaired users with screen readers, and in instances where the image doesn't load.

"A caption should normally explain what readers cannot see for themselves in the picture (_President Karista appealing for the education bill at a teachers' conference in Washington on Wednesday_) and should omit the obvious (_A man licking an ice cream cone_)." – The New York Times Style Guide.

Captions need to elaborate and add to a piece of content. Captions must quickly tell the viewer what the picture itself cannot say – people, places, dates, significance.

The Content Publisher makes it easy to define a Caption and an Alt Text description, and gives an example as default.

Use the Alt Text field to describe the image. Use the Caption field to add a relevant captio

Remember the 'Five W's and an H'

Writing a caption is like writing a headline:

What
Why
Where
Who
When
How

Use these prompts to add information otherwise missing from the image and you can't go far wrong.

Bad captions baffle the user and present a barrier to engaging further with content.

Bad captions baffle the user and present a barrier to engaging further with content.

Some dos and don'ts for best-practice caption writing:

Try to:
- use present tense to describe the image and any action
- keep your captions active (where possible)
- think in headlines – punchy and pithy is good
- explain the unknown and/or unshown - what's happening in the image that the reader can't see or know
- provide answers your user might have about the image: use the 'Five W's and an H'

Try and avoid:
- giving readers information they get from just looking at an image
- beginning with an indefinite or definite article e.g. 'she' 'it' 'a', 'an' or 'the'
- writing 'above' or 'pictured'
- repeating information contained in the title or summary

Some images on the website don't require captions. These might include:

- background images used in the page design
- banner images used at the top of a page
- logos

Finally, don't rely on bots to generate captions for you. They might be able to identify an image for you, but they remain pretty hit and miss...

captionbot.ai might claim to be able to recognise and caption an image for you, but it's still not as reliable as a human eye.

captionbot.ai might claim to be able to recognise and caption an image for you, but it's still not as reliable as a human eye.

 

Game theory and the happy office: reflections from a new Content Producer.

📥  Blogs, Communication, Team

Go back to Old Kent Road

Think of board games and you probably shudder at the memory of your elder brother gleefully bankrupting you with his massed ranks of hotels from Regent Street to Mayfair. But they're not all like that.  Forbidden Island is a different sort of game. A collaborative game. All moves are discussed and agreed between players in advance. Special powers are co-ordinated, treasure collected and everyone must be airlifted to safety before the eponymous island sinks. If you win, everyone wins. If you lose there’s a calm assessment of what went wrong. Individual strategy is possible only if you can convince the other players your approach is worth trying. It’s become a firm family favourite for us at least.

I was very happy to see a copy of Forbidden Island in the Digital office when I started a few weeks ago. I'm assured they do play it from time to time and it seems to me it's already had a definite positive influence on the way the team is organised and the way they collaborate on projects.

forbidden island game in progress

 

Careful with that axe

Before starting at Bath I was a solo freelancer working from home. Collaborating with yourself is a strange process. Without the input and interruption of colleagues I found I had to create time and space to step away from the pixels of doom and let my brain solve problems in the background. Slamming an axe into a pile of logs was my preferred distraction. It kept me warm twice over as well.

Before my freelance days I worked at the BBC, an institution famous for encouraging a culture of big brothers gleefully bankrupting colleagues with their massed ranks of new ideas. In hindsight I think it’s more to do with the size of the organisation and the ambition of the employees than a deliberate policy, but the endless duplication and competition is a little tiring.

 

The collaboration game

So it’s with relief I’ve found the Digital team at Bath is built around shared decision making and collaboration rather than duplication and competition. Solutions are discussed in advance to make sure the best plan is followed. Project management tool Trello is used to breakdown complex tasks and document the process like a giant digital worry jar. This also helps avoid single points of failure. If someone goes sick, they’ve usually left notes on what they were doing so anyone else can step in. Pair working is a way of life...

pear-working

 

It takes a little longer at the start but it makes things calmer in the long run. And all the discussion and documentation build in the crucial time for background problem solving without the need to take an axe to anything.  Actually, I miss that part of the day if I'm honest. Cropping virtual images in Photoshop isn't quite as satisfying as splitting logs in the real world. Though burying the hatchet is definitely a good skill to have for this thoroughly pragmatic team.

 

How we learned to stop worrying and love the blog

📥  Blogs, Communication, Team

In the Before time...

There was a time, long ago, when the Digital team posted regularly on the blog.

Looking back to February 2015, we published 13 posts that month. Among other things, we blogged about typesetting, Github, and using Flow to manage editorial calendars.

And the blog was happy.

Then came the Age of Transition

Jump ahead to August 2016. We published two posts that month and only three in September.

The blog felt a little unloved. We had sidelined it, shunted it down the order of priorities in favour of the transition to the new Content Publisher.

But surely we could do better. The blog deserved it. We deserved it.

The Renaissance

Since the end of last year, we've been giving the blog some love. It started in October when Hanna and I decided to use a One Hour Upgrade to look at how we blog and how we could improve the process.

We started where we usually start, by creating a Trello board and mapping out a process, from coming up with ideas to publishing a post and sharing it on social media. For each stage of the process, we wrote a card to help team members follow the process.

At the top of the ideas column, we made a card listing different types of posts to give people some inspiration.

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 09.27.49

 

As it turned out, the team didn't need inspiring. Here's how the board looks today, with its loaded backlog of ideas, healthy 'Currently working on' column, and quickly expanding 'Done' column (WARNING: SPOILERS!!!).

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 11.05.48

 

We also made a card for the editorial process, which mostly involves an informal fortnightly meeting involving anyone in the Digital team who wants to be there. We keep these casual by wheeling our swivel chairs into the middle of the office and chatting through any ideas we've had, flagging up posts that need reviews, and solving any problems anyone has.

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 10.46.09

 

Although we set out the process like this, we try to keep it all fairly relaxed. Not everyone on our team loves writing as much as the Content folks, so we let people go at their own speed and use their own style.

Some blogs (like this one) start as a Show & Tell presentation. Some spend a while as notes, bouncing back and forth between team members until they coalesce (the notes, not the team members), like some primordial organism, into a fully formed post with whole sentences, paragraphs and meaning.

In December 2016, we published nine posts.

Now we be like:

giphy-downsized

 

Back on the road to Blogtopia

Now that we're getting back on track with our blogging, it's tempting to start looking at the analytics and working out what types of post get the most traffic and dwell time. But that's not what this is about, not yet at least.

For now, it's about having words up here that reflect the work we do. The whole team is now writing posts, like Tegan, the UX Designer who blogged about her first big ship and new Editor Rod analysing his first three weeks. We've started a 'Day in the life of...' series which describes what all the different facets of the Digital team get up to on any given day, and we're looking at other ways we can share what we do and how we do it.

Where we're going, we don't need roads

We had always planned on rotating the chair - not talking swivel this time - to give everyone a chance to run the fortnightly meeting and take shared ownership of the blog.

We'd also really like some more guest bloggers. We've already had School of Management Faculty Web Editor, Rayner Simpson writing an A-Team-homage of a post, but we'd like to encourage anyone who works with us or in the University's digital sphere to get in touch and propose a post for our blog.

Come on, you know you want to!

A day in the life of a content editor

📥  Team

This is part of our 'Day in the Life' series for the different roles in the Digital team. If you've ever wondered what our team gets up to on an average day, or what it's like to work in a particular digital discipline, read on.

My day starts with checking our shared editorial calendar. This is a place where people who are creating content across the University share information about what they’re working on so we can coordinate publicity activities on different channels. We used to do this all by email but that meant things could get stuck in people’s individual inboxes or not reach the right person at all. Although not perfect, the editorial calendar has made all our lives easier!

Today there are three new things to promote on the external homepage and our research collection so I’m briefing a Content Producer about prioritising and placing them. After they’ve done their magic, the updates come back to me, or another editor, for a review before we push them live.

I then quickly check my emails to see if there’s anything that needs dealing with urgently or moving to our shared taskboard. Then it’s time for daily standup. In the Content team, we usually have two - one for just the Content team to see where we are with tasks and make a plan for the day. We then have the full team standup where everyone tells about the most important thing they did yesterday, the most important thing they’ve got to do today and if they have any blockers for doing that work.

After standup, I make a coffee.

Today is a Friday which means it’s our content maintenance day. We normally work on specific projects in sprints, but Fridays are a day off sprint dedicated to making business-as-usual changes and updates to our web content. We try to do it all on Fridays but sometimes there are “business critical” things that are fast-tracked and need to be dealt with as soon as possible.

As an Editor, I usually focus on reviewing tasks completed by Content Producers. Today, I’m reviewing small changes to the titles and summaries of our own guidance material. I push the pages live as I go. I make small amends to make sure everything is consistent and in plain English and feed these back to the person who did the original work. After that, it’s more reviews and publishing.

After lunch, I deal with a phone enquiry from a stakeholder. They’ve come across a page on our website that is relevant to their service but they haven’t been involved in creating or publishing. This is not an uncommon occurrence. We have a tonne of content that transcends a single service which, in the past, has resulted in duplicated pages. In our transition project, we’re doing a lot of consolidating and it’s sometimes impossible to include absolutely everyone in the signoff process. So I’m spending a bit of time investigating who has been involved in creating and signing off the page in question so I can resolve the query.

I’m then pulled off content maintenance duties to complete a task spilling out of a sprint I was recently working on. I have to present findings from our user research and discovery to senior management so I need to put together a presentation and book a time to meet with them. This task, punctured with short interruptions to answer questions either in person on Slack, takes me to the end of the day.

And that’s it. Just another day in the life of a Digital Editor at the University of Bath.

 

I’m an actor who’s lost the plot

📥  Communication

For the benefit of new colleagues who may, justifiably, have wondered why I was hired to work in a fast-moving digital environment, I’ll start this blog with an explanation.

Bear with me, gentle reader, while I engage in a bit of uncustomary trumpet-blowing in, rather appropriately, my first post. (I don’t have a bugle on me, needless to say, but in my experience one should always stash a trumpet in one’s bag lest there’s an emergency requirement in a passing brass band.)

There are actually things I’m quite good at and have even been paid to do over the years. No, really there are, and to hell with British self-deprecation. It’s overrated. Look, here’s a list of professional accomplishments I can parp about:

1.     Acting and singing on stage and screen. I was in four episodes of Doctor Who, I’ll have you know, with Bonnie and Sylvester, and have performed in some of Wales’ finest retirement homes.

2.     Belly dancing in jangly costumes in restaurants (before I had two children, obvs).

3.     Performing as a singing Bluecoat in Bognor Regis, where a series of octogenarian campers taught me to foxtrot. One suggested I did a high kick. You should have heard him scream.

4.     Copywriting and designing conceptual ads and marketing literature for London agencies, and entertaining clients over long, boozy lunches in posh restaurants. Brilliant. Oh, and running my own tiny ad agency in Bath (who wants to swing a cat, anyway?).

5.     Proofing and editing books with fascinating titles such as ‘Project Management for Small Businesses’ and ‘A guide to the Semicolon; with additional section on Colons’.

6.     Interviewing, photographing, feature-writing and flat-planning for a glossy mag that had a pic of me grinning inanely on the editor’s page.

7.     Writing a controversial, racy and fact-based novel under a pseudonym I’m not going to tell you. Ever.

8.     Penning an 800-line poem in iambic pentameter - beat that for optimism about the publishing industry’s notorious reluctance to embrace ‘new’ ideas. Still, Shakespeare cleaned up the market for lyrical verse in the 16th century and beyond; why shouldn’t I have a crack at breaking the internet via a string of rhyming couplets?

Unfortunately, it turns out that none of this experience is required in my new role as a Content Producer. (There was no point at all in bringing my sequinned bra and finger cymbals in on the first day, let alone learning Cleopatra’s most moving soliloquy. I’d even worked out a way of combining the two, dammit.)

oh la la

The first act

Though I can spout tirelessly about persuasive writing and the importance of a properly placed apostrophe (or absence thereof), my lack of technical nous is embarrassingly apparent from the start. Similarly, my unfamiliarity with collaborative online tools to manage content – content, mind, not copy – clearly takes some team members by surprise. ‘Why did she audition?’, I can hear them thinking, followed by ‘How did she get cast?’

To be honest, I ask myself. But then again, I’ve somehow totted up 20+ years' copywriting, editing, designing and branding experience for SMEs and blue chips alike and, along the way, have learned a management technique or two. I’ve worked on student recruitment campaigns and award-winning websites for Mars, Tesco, BT and Nando's and, if I say so myself, am a dab hand at liaising with difficult people. In fact, I'm famed for being able to convince the most recalcitrant clients to opt for the best creative solution (though I’m quite sure there are no difficult people at this university). See, diplomacy too.

Still, the techie environment comes as a bit of a shock. While I’d never claimed to have software or systems architecture skills – hitherto I’ve just emailed my copy to a back-end bod and watched in awe as it magically appeared on-screen – I discover that everyone around me knows what they’re doing on several different platforms. This, it transpires, has nothing to do with stations.

It’s both a good and bad thing. I very much like working with clever, witty, educated and talented people but find myself unrehearsed and often baffled. Mind the gap.

Mysterious app names such as Trello and Slack are bandied around the workplace alongside references to Ruby on the Rails (she sounds nice), GitHub (a rehab centre for old, bad-tempered blokes?) and project management methodologies like Agile (covered in a business book I worked on - phew).

Fact is, I have loads to learn if I’m not to be cast as a perennial understudy. It’s a fabulous chance to develop, show my mettle and grasp the nettle. (I put on the kettle.) I’m sure the journey will be fun. Sort of.

Google’s search engine empire, I discover, has expanded into a synchronised storage hub in a Cloud with a capital C, and is terrifyingly comprehensive. I abhor big G’s quest for world domination through collating everyone’s personal data but am secretly rather impressed. What, I don’t have to hit ‘save’ every few paragraphs in Google Drive? We can all access and update each other’s work? My desktop won’t be cluttered with personal files because it’s all stored centrally? It must have taken them, well… ages.

Initially, however, co-new-starter Gabriel and I are told not to work on the stuff everyone else is doing but, instead, to concentrate on an online orientation course while we settle in. Thanks to this, I’m reminded of the benefits of diversity and perils of prejudice (though I think I was pretty well up on these before) and can readily alert everyone in my team about my holiday dates via the shared calendar. I also find out which type of fire extinguisher to use if a Mac, the office furniture or my head bursts into flames.

The second act

Two weeks in I’ve been bombarded with new tools and terminologies and feel like I’m watching one of those convoluted indie movies that starts at the end of the story and works its way backwards. As a bamboozled audience member who finds herself playing a key role, I pick up and assess tenuous clues one by one and try to make sense of the plot. The Guardian’s cryptic crossword is a walk in the park by comparison (average completion time of 8 hours and 23 minutes, since you ask).

I do have one card up my sleeve. Courtesy of two teenage daughters who are currently exploring myriad university websites and littering the kitchen table with prospectuses, I’m probably more au fait with our competitors’ activities than anyone else here. Hoorah!

One of my girls has made it clear that an en suite bathroom, duck pond and dance studio are mandatory requirements while the other, with customary pre-GCSE arrogance, won’t countenance anywhere that isn’t in the top 10 in every category of every rating. Hmmm. More interestingly, I note that they’re both easily lured from their set criteria by funky artwork and, to my delight, good writing. That helps a lot. I feel duty bound to explain that people like me have carefully phrased the powerful prose to draw them in. They roll their eyes.

I’m learning exponentially faster by being thrown into tasks I thought I couldn’t do – yet I can – and as someone who loves organisation, I’m already developing quite a soft spot for Trello and (good heavens!) spreadsheets. I’m also coming to terms with informal messaging through Slack. It’s faster than email and far more entertaining, though between you and me I haven’t the faintest idea what the developers are joking about on their channel, since most of it’s in code. Programming can be fun? Who knew?

Frankly, it’s still a bit scary, and the sheer quantity of questions I ask proves I’m trying (in both senses, I suspect). Thanks to everyone in Digital for their patience, and especially to those who assured me that they, too, felt like they’d been hit by a train when first confronted with all the integrated systems. Watch this space for updates on my technical advances.

Silly, really. If I hadn't dissed them earlier, Google might well have headhunted me in the future. I quite fancy living in California.

The third act

Towards the end of week three the soft focus is beginning to clear and the film script’s subtly changed from ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘where?’ and ‘how’ to ‘them’, that’, ‘there’ and ‘like this’. In fact, I’ve now contributed to (and only slightly hindered) general content maintenance and several Sprints – bite-sized chunks of fast-paced action – to aid the complex Course Publisher transition.

Bit by bit and byte by byte we’re redesigning the University’s website, transferring all content into a contemporary framework and updating information as we go. It’s a Brobdingnagian task (that’s what dictionaries are for, innit?) and though not fully up to speed, I’m accelerating and am beginning to understand what motivates my character.

Besides, this complicated part of the transition is only a part of our team’s remit and, once it’s over, I’ll be back in my comfort zone, composing words that sell the university to students all over the world. And that’s something I can do with my eyes closed, though don’t worry, I won’t. (Note to self: I might.)

My personal soundtrack, too, has transmogrified from a cacophony of remorselessly dissonant death metal tracks to… well, Mozart would be pushing it, so I’ll plump for Radio 2.

Mind you, we’re committed to writing in plain English here, so I’d better revise the last sentence to say the noise in my head used to be loud and out of tune, but now I hear Barry Manilow all day.

And strangely, I think that’s a step forward.

 

Recording and making a photo story

📥  Communication

I’ve recently had a chance to indulge in my favourite kind of work - telling stories. As an editor, I don’t get to do too much hands-on content creation, so when an opportunity does present itself, I jump on it.

This happened at a meeting a few weeks back. One of our press officers was working on a big research project grant announcement and there was a consensus that we should do something more than just a press release for this one.

More than a press release

The project is about designing better shelters for refugees around the world. It’s an emotive subject but what’s more, the lead investigator is really passionate about the project. They had a load of great images from their pilot project trip to a refugee camp in Jordan, so an image gallery to support the press release seemed like the obvious thing to do at the very least.

But we wanted to do a bit more than that. I’ve been involved in digital storytelling projects in my past life and I thought that would be something which would really capture the passion and personal voice of the researcher.

Unfortunately, digital storytelling at its purest requires heavy involvement by the person telling the story in the production stage. And time isn’t a luxury many researchers have. But I still wanted to use his own voice and elements from storytelling to make something that would be a bit more personal than a press release.

The end result is something I can’t really comfortably call a ‘digital story’ so I’ve decided to call it a ‘photo story’ instead:

The things that didn’t go to plan

The process of creating this wasn’t as straightforward as one might imagine looking at the final product. There were two little hurdles to jump through.

Firstly, our starting point was a script put together by me and the press officer and edited lightly by the researcher. He felt it was the right tone and style for him and was happy to record it with us. But reading from a script is not as easy as you might think. It takes a surprising amount of time and practice to get it sounding natural and engaging. Something that’s nearly impossible to achieve when recording a script with someone doing it for the first time with less than an hour. So the audio that you can hear is patched together from an impromptu interview after two attempts to read from the script.

Then there’s the quality of the audio. We have a really nice USB condenser mic that captures tone and depth really well. I brought that along and plugged it into my laptop that had Audacity running, selected it as the input mic and off we went. But Audacity has a tiny little bug. If you have Audacity already running when plugging the mic in, it LOOKS like it’s using it but it actually isn’t. And because the interview had been organised in a rush and I’d forgot to bring headphones with me, I couldn’t easily tell that it wasn’t working. So the audio we have is recorded using the inbuilt mic of my Mac. Live and learn.

So with these two little obstacles, the post-production took a bit longer than I’d anticipated which, luckily, coincided with a delay in publishing the press release and we managed to get everything done in time. And despite everything, I’m really happy with the result. As is the press officer and, most importantly, the researcher himself.

Making code reviews awesome with free GitHub integrations

📥  Development, Tools

Back in March, we made our editorial Slackbot open source. We mostly did this out of the goodness of our hearts, and because of a sincere desire to give back to the open-source community. But there was a slightly more selfish reason: open-source repositories on Github get free access to a lot of goodies, and I wanted to test them out.

GitHub has well over 100 available integrations in its directory alone, and there are many more tools which can connect to your GitHub account and interact with your commits, pull requests (PRs) and other processes.

Many of these are free to use for public repositories. Some are free for private ones as well – but usually you're more likely to pay some sort of subscription. So it's worth testing them out on something open-source first.

Hakiri

Hakiri is a tool which checks your Ruby applications for security vulnerabilities.

I set up Hakiri to scan my code every time I created a pull request and notify me of the result through GitHub. You can also set up notifications over email or Slack.

Setting up integration through Hakiri's website was a breeze. It immediately gave me a helpful nudge to update some older gems. It also provided some very thorough information about what the security risks were and how to fix them.

I found Hakiri enormously useful and will definitely use it more in the future.

Screenshot of Hakiri

Hakiri notifies you about security risks – in this case, a vulnerability in one of our dependencies. Luckily it was a quick fix!

Hound

Hound checks and enforces your code style every time you create a new PR.

It runs its checks based on your Rubocop config and makes line-by-line comments on your PR for individual issues. If your code has a lot of issues, this could potentially generate a lot of comments, but that alone could potentially discourage style violations.

If everything's fine, Hound will let you know that the code meets your standards with a friendly "Woof!"

We usually use linters with our code editors to automatically flag style violations as we work, so Hound didn't flag very many style violations. But it's still a useful tool and could catch issues in code before a reviewer gets to them, which could save everyone time.

A screenshot of Hound commenting on a GitHub pull request

Hound commenting on a commit

Travis CI

Travis CI is a popular continuous integration tool. We already use Bamboo for this sort of thing, but it can't hurt to check out some competitors.

I configured Travis CI to run the build every time I pushed a commit. Travis CI then reports back through the PR and its own web interface to let us know if the build ran successfully and if all the tests passed. This means really quick, automated feedback on whether the latest version of your code actually works.

Bamboo unfortunately doesn't offer this level of GitHub integration. Atlassian, if you're listening... might be time for a feature update?

Screenshot of a successful build in Travis CI

A successful build in Travis CI. (PR #5 for the tests? I know, I know. Always write your tests first, kids.)

Code Climate

Code Climate provides an automated code review for your PRs.

It checks for issues like style violations, duplicated code and other examples of bad practice. Then it provides you with a GPA (like 3.6) and a file-by-file breakdown of all the problems it found.

It can also provide an estimate of what percentage of your code is covered by your tests – a useful way to find out if there are any gaps you should fill in.

Overall, it's a nice extra check to spot problems in your code and improve its overall quality.

Screenshot of Code Climate

An overview of the code quality. 3.61 is a B+... not bad, but still room for improvement

In conclusion

None of these tools can totally replace an actual code review from another developer. However, they can definitely enhance the review and save you and your reviewer from a lot of monotonous tasks, like running the test suite yourself or checking individual gems for security vulnerabilities.

And if you can catch these problems before your code reaches another person, then you can fix them too, making for a much faster and smoother review – sounds good, right?

Screenshot of automated checks passing in GitHub

Hitting merge with a little help from my robot friends

We use GitHub Enterprise for most of our repositories, which unfortunately does limit some of the integrations we can use. But if you use GitHub, you should definitely look into using some of these tools – I know we will.

 

One Hour Upgrade - April 2017 edition

📥  One Hour Upgrade

Although flat-out with sprint work, the team managed to squeeze in a quick One Hour Upgrade before the Easter break.

As it had been less than a month since the last upgrade, I was expecting fewer stories for consideration. As it turns out, I needn't have been concerned - a massive 16 fresh stories were added to the backlog, of which 8 were voted on to the ‘To do’ board.

Once again, pairing on stories was popular - 5 of the 8 stories were tackled by dynamic duos. There were a couple of cross-team partnerships in the mix but we could always do with more.

What was started

  • Tegan and Iris spiced up the deploy screen, adding more at-a-glance info and a fresh new design
  • Justin K spent his hour improving our Trello-based induction board for new developers
  • Rhodri and John worked through the summary paragraphs on our guides, improving consistency and relevance
  • Tom T began the hunt for a good HTML 5 video player for our Wowza live streams

What we got done

  • Dan’s attempt at a simple 'pens and pads' order turned into a clean out of the stationery cupboard. Turns out we have enough post-its to last for a while
  • Hanna and Rhian put together a proof-of-concept screencast for Content Publisher training

What we learned

  • We need to find a way to encourage more cross-team pair-ups for One Hour Upgrade
  • Our current video streaming services are still reliant on Flash
  • We have a lot more stationery than originally thought. We definitely don’t need any more Sharpies

What’s next?

Our next One Hour Upgrade is scheduled for 12 May 2017.

Observations of a Digital Editor (a three-week analysis)

📥  Communication

I’ve been with the Digital Marketing and Communications team for a few weeks now, and these are the things that I can say with certainty:

  • I’ve seen both Star Wars and Star Trek imagery around the office, which means that there’s either an uneasy peace between factions or a cordial ceasefire
  • Justin’s ability to kill fruit flies is both impressive and disturbing
  • Dan’s penchant for producing a fly-kill scoreboard would be infinitely more disturbing, but his Game of Thrones coffee mug overrules this concern and makes him ok in my book

This is clearly a good time to come into the team. With the bulk of student recruitment content going live on my first day (and thus the dragon roared, as is its wont), there’s a tangible sense of achievement and the conquering of a mountain in the office. It makes for a feel-good atmosphere, which has naturally helped me to settle in.

The Content Publisher and me

In my time here, I will have a few key things to achieve:

1. Update our internationally targeted content to ensure we’re delivering messages prospective and current students want and need

2. Keep this consistent with the overall transition project

3. Do this sufficiently well to ensure that Miao doesn’t look at the website when she returns from maternity leave and wonder why it’s fluorescent green, in Comic Sans and based around a gif of a dachshund dressed as a reindeer

To reassure Miao and others, none of these issues appear on my first creation, the new international landing page.

This was created using the Content Publisher, which I can recommend for its ease of use. Thanks to the Content Publisher our content is much more focused and streamlined compared with that on the OpenCMS site, and I’m looking forward to carrying on in this vein for all things international. The Content Publisher also allows us to be flexible with our content when required, which means we can be more time-sensitive with our messages going forward.

Agility training

Digital practises the Agile methodology, which in grossly oversimplified terms means that we work on projects in two-week ‘sprints’, reviewing and reworking our content collaboratively as we go.

I’d heard about Agile previously but not been involved in an organisation using it, so there are definitely a few teething issues there for me to work on. Being used to working on about four billion things needing my attention at once, I’m finding Agile more focused, and the departmental methodology is one that encourages collaboration.

This may, of course, all be a case of the team ushering me in slowly. Once they read this post I’ll probably be sent forty billion content maintenance requests.

Digital Marketing in China workshop

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) focusing on how UK universities can develop their messages for prospective students from China.

This was eye-opening in many ways. In particular, the purposes and structure of videos shared on Chinese social media platforms are often atypical to what we see in the West. This raises a number of questions regarding the content we currently have, and what we may wish to create and promote in the future.

In summary

To avoid turning this blog post into a long-winded dalliance through my tangential ruminations, simply put there’s plenty for me to think about. You have me until Miao returns in December. Feel free to swing by and say hello. (more…)

 

Visual regression testing with Wraith

📥  Design, Development, Tools

Last week I talked about how we chose Wraith as our visual regression testing tool.

After lots of discovery and preparation, we were now ready to get our first real tests up and running.

Screenshot of tests in Wraith

Example of a failed test in Wraith. Differences are highlighted in blue – in this case, I've modified the summary slightly.

In this post, I'll go through how we run our tests locally and as part of our continuous integration process. But go make a cup of tea first, because this will be a long one...

(more…)