Digital Marketing & Communications

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

A brief overview of the technical platform for

📥  Alpha, Development

Our current CMS platform was introduced in 2007. It is a large, monolithic Java application which is hard to extend or customise. For the Alpha of a new CMS we wanted to base it on a popular web framework which would allow us to easily customise and extend a core platform, whilst also allowing us to use a broad range of third-party libraries.

We decided to base our Alpha on Rails, Contentful and Hugo. We used Rails to build a lightweight admin interface which changed our content in Contentful. Clicking 'publish' then sent a webhook notification to another Rails application we wrote which then used Hugo to regenerate the static HTML page. This general system design of loose coupling worked well and was a good introduction to the strengths and weaknesses of each of the tools we used.

We will keep Rails and Hugo as we move into the beta, but the libraries for interaction with Contentful were just too slow for us to use in real time. After we'd finished our Alpha a set of third-party libraries were released which might have helped, but nothing would be faster than connecting to a content store running here, and so that's what we'll do for the beta.

Deploying our Ruby on Rails applications

📥  Development, Tools

We are moving away from a Java based infrastructure to writing applications in Ruby on Rails. An important part of our former infrastructure was the ability to automatically deploy our software via the continuous integration server via a series of Ant tasks so we have been looking for a good way to do the same sort of thing with Rails code.

The established choice for Rails automated deployment seems to be Capistrano however there have been complaints about its speed and there seems to be a shift towards Mina which behaves differently under the hood.

Our intended development roadmap has us building a large number of small Rails projects all of which will need very similar deployment scripts so we also need a sensible way to manage the distribution of those scripts. We wrapped them in a gem which could simply be added to the project Gemfile and added a helper script which can set up a project and generate deployment new environments as needed.

We have made the gem public on our team github account with some instructions for use in the README and will be pushing updates as we add features and fix problems. If you find it useful, please let us know!


Digital roadmap update for March 2015

📥  Roadmap

Welcome to latest edition of the Digital roadmap update, accounting for progress made in February and our priority plans for March and beyond.

Progress made in February 2015

  • We reported on the findings from our Alpha prototype of a new, with the overall conclusion that the simplicity and the clear layout of the Alpha received positive feedback and it helped users complete their tasks easily.
  • To help us understand how much content we have on the current website and what kind of content it is, we developed a content inventory tool and it was subjected to successful trial-run with the Faculty of Engineering & Design.
  • The Prospectus editor app now includes course variants, reusable content, improved UI and has been subject to further testing by users.
  • We contributed to the first iteration of research editorial schedule being actively maintained by Research Marketing Manager, Press and Digital.
  • An audit of international social media activity was completed and the report is available on the wiki.
  • We benchmarked our site against peers with a strong international reputation and uploaded the report to the wiki.
  • We ran a thorough review of event management applications and prototyped the preferred candidate with positive results.
  • A nice new Open Days landing page was deployed that was the result of some great user research.

Plans for March 2015

  • Following the successful Alpha, we have had approval from the Digital Steering Group to proceed to the Beta phase. So our priorities for March are to get the build of the new underway and run an extensive audit of content with departments to work out departments what needs to come across to the new site.
  • A new Library landing page also made it into our plans after some positive user research results, and this is already live at
  • We’ll push on with our upgrade of the wiki and our Oracle databases.
  • We’ll progress the development of a content strategy for research.

The next version of the Digital roadmap is scheduled for w/c 13th April.


Show & Tell, 13 March 2015

📥  Show & Tell

All our developers were at Bath Ruby, so it was a decidedly content-heavy series of talks this week with the exception of Dan who went all Saul Bass on us whilst describing how media ohh, spoilers.

Social media audit – Miao

First up, Miao talked us through the International social media audit that she recently completed - the aim of which was to identify the most appropriate channels to use. There were two stages to the work, using Google Analytics to find the channels that provide the most traffic to our website, and auditing the top 5 channels. There were definitely some global trends in terms of which tools were most used, and it was interesting to note that a couple of countries are locked into channels that are unique to them.

Miao also discussed how cultural differences had an impact on elements such as design, usage and language perception - as well as how mobile devices played a vital role in people's interactions with these channels.

Miao concluded by sharing 2 next steps based on her discovery work that we plan to put in place to improve our service to the International market. Questions from the floor created discussion around acquisition traffic, exploring platforms that were dominant in certain countries, and relationships with our International student bloggers.

Beta update – Ross

As you may know, we've recently completed a trial of a new approach to our design and content delivery. We called this the Alpha stage. Ross presented us with comparisons on how the old (i.e. the current) site and the new Alpha approach, focusing on the differences in structure, organisation and governance. All of this discovery underpins the next stage, the Beta, and Ross guided us through the major distinctions of this proposed phase:

  • introducing a horizontal 'thematic' route
  • revamping content to be active in tone with clear calls to action
  • putting effort into curating as well as creating
  • moving to a modern, flexible adaptive design
  • developing a resilient tech stack
  • crafting a bespoke solution for publishing.

Business discovery findings – Hanna

How do universities communicate with business? In general not very well or clearly it seems. Hanna presented her findings after auditing the content we provide that is targeted at external businesses. She looked at how our business landing page compares to other top-level sections of the site, and to see how engaged users are with the links provided there. Although the overall views are a lot lower than other areas of the site, Hanna stated that as we are unsure of the scope this could be a normal (or even excellent) amount of traffic. You should share your stats with us so we can see.

Using a list of common terms universities use to communicate with external businesses, Hanna identified more content targeted at businesses elsewhere on our website. The conclusion was that we should look to update our content to get rid of any duplication, restructure the business section and revisit the business landing page in particular to make it clearer and more task driven. Finally Hanna expressed a desire to get out from behind her desk and actually talk to the users of this content - find out who they are and what they want - as analytics can only give you one side of the story.

Agile content – Rich

Ahh, Richard.
Richard took us on a journey through the concept of agile content using scenes from The Wizard of Oz. In 2014 he attended the congility conference (aside; did you know Lanyrd was created by 2 University of Bath graduates? We rock.) and was so impressed with Marli Mesibov's talk that he gave us a condensed version. Spliced with scenes from The Wizard of Oz, did I mention that?

Marli stated in her manifesto that content online was created in a waterfall fashion, a hangover from the days of print when each item was signed off and then couldn't be changed. Rich began by declaring that creating content for a digital arena allows for more, and we need to move on from this old model. He spoke about the need to start building intuitive user experiences by continuing to place user stories at the heart of everything we do, because they define a requirement for a piece of content. Richard went on to point out that the way we operate as cross functional sprint teams reflects how Marli recommends that the content team is only a part of the content creation process - developers and designers should be fully involved as well.

Richard ended by highlighting how we are gaining the trust of our wider publishing community through the process of creating guidelines, style guides and strategies - and by creating a delivery process that everyone can contribute to and use, essentially making living guides.

Questions from floor covered how we've introduced paired writing as an approach to help with some perceived issues with the speed of content creation, as well as identifying departments in the university that had already adopted our approach and how it was going for them.

Richard left us with the message that taking an agile approach allows you to focus on fixing one thing, rather than being swamped by everything that needs doing.

Richard Prowse discussing Agile Content with scenes from The Wizard of Oz

We're off to see the Wizard!

Anatomy of a responsive website – Dan

Headlining this particular Show and Tell was Dan, who explored the anatomy of responsive design. We plan to use this approach extensively in the new design templates for Beta and beyond, and Dan explained how it allowed you to tailor the presentation (and the delivery) of content to specific devices by targeting their screen resolutions (we also consider print as another valid delivery platform and are giving serious consideration to how content is presented when printed out). Serendipitously (or maybe it was all planned?) Dan's talk elaborated on points made by both Miao and Ross - that of the importance of having adaptive content that is optimised for mobile devices. To achieve this, you need a minimum of three things: the viewport meta tag in your HTML, media queries in your stylesheets, and a fluid grid for your layout.

Dan went through each of these requirements individually, explaining how to implement them and making it all sound very easy and fun (which it kinda is).

You can see the entire presentation here – Anatomy of a responsive website – it's beautifully crafted as we've come to expect from Dan and I really recommend you view it.



We’ll come to you - subscribe to our blogs by email

📥  Blogs

With increasing numbers of University of Bath blogs appearing and posts about our latest goings-on being published more often, how can people keep track of what’s new?

Email subscription

We are running a pilot to enable people to subscribe to blogs by email. The sign-up widget appears in the blog’s sidebar and underneath the comments form on each post. All that’s needed is an email address.

The pilot will last for a month and during this time you can subscribe to the Digital, Opinion or Travel Updates blogs. Assuming all is well and there's take-up for the service, we’ll style the subscription widget and add it to the remaining 43 blogs.

How it works

Subscription management and emails are all handled by WordPress sends the subscriber an email asking them to confirm that they definitely want to subscribe and this provides a link to a subscription management page.

All 'New post published' email alerts include a link through to personal subscription management pages where subscribers can manage the blogs they follow and unsubscribe easily at any time.

The number of subscribers for each blog appears in the stats section of the blog dashboard.

Let us know your thoughts

It should be a really useful addition to our blogs, but if you experience any problems let us at

Digital team sprint notes, 10 - 16 March 2015

📥  Sprint notes

In this last sprint we:

  • carried out the inventory of each section of
  • reviewed existing international content on and completed site benchmarking against our peers
  • published a research feature about how our algae research could help reduce water scarcity in the Middle East
  • received 8 content maintenance requests and completed 4
  • received 60 tickets into web support and resolved 39 of them (the main query was to request a page change in the CMS)
  • attended the Bath Ruby conference.

In our next sprint we will:

  •  continue work on the CMS Beta, both the technical build and site transition.

Note that during the period in which we are focusing on the Beta, our sprints will last 2 rather than 1 week in length. So the next edition of sprint notes will be published on 31st March.


Show & Tell, 27 February 2015

📥  Show & Tell

Everything we do now is work preparing towards the next stages for our website so our Show & Tell sessions now have a deeply beta flavour.

Pushing code live - Kelvin

Kelvin gave us an overview of how we’ve changed and improved our processes for making code go live

The bad old days

In the past there was live editing with no preview or fallback. If lots of changes were made and there was a need to revert it couldn't be done.  It was hard to manage, it was a case of save and you’re done.

FTP made things a little better but there was no fall back and changes were made in one big go.

The recent past - Subversion (SVN)

There was a move to the code repository Subversion. This allowed us to keep a master copy, track changes and give a history. We could revert back to previous versions but deployment was still a bit laborious. The process for review wasn’t rock solid at this point either.


The switch from SVN to Git has made things much easier.

  • We have SSH key access which means that machines can log on to each other with a key.
  • Changes are put into repository, deploy scripts are triggered and changes pushed to servers.
  • There is a lot of work in the setup with accounts, permissions, keys and build scripts but once this work has been done it it is a simple process.
  • We also have a review system in place.

All our new apps use this system.

Content Types - Charlotte

Charlotte took us through how we will be mapping old content from the current content management system (CMS) to the new content types that have been devised in the new CMS and website.

She explained briefly how a master list of content types has now been created so that it can be added to every content inventory that we run on the current site. This will appear as a drop down selection within the inventory spreadsheet so that web editors and web contributors will be able to map, or categorise, their content against the new content types in preparation for the transition to the new CMS. Once all content is mapped, it can be transferred to the relevant structured content template in the new CMS.

User testing the Alpha - Ross

Ross told us how he and Takashi had user tested the homepage to find out whether the it achieved the goal of helping users get to what they want, as well as showing them content that we want them to be aware of.

The sessions were done by doorstepping users on campus. With Ross acting as interviewer and Takashi as observer, using a scripted interview of about 5 minutes long they were able to approach:

  • 15 students
  • 5 staff
  • 15 prospective students

A mix of undergraduate and postgraduate students were asked to take part in the sessions.

Results were recorded on a written template sheet and there was also an audio record of the tests.

Users were asked to

  1. Look at the current homepage
  2. Identify the page
  3. Replay a recent task
  4. Look at the alternative alpha homepage
  5. Identify the page
  6. Replay a recent task
  7. Compare the experiences.

There were some BIG positives

There was instant recognition and everybody was able to use the alpha homepage with no problems.

One prospective student said when comparing the 2 pages that 'the old page looked like secondary school and the new looked like a university.'

The simplicity and clear layout of the alpha homepage received positive feedback and it helped users complete their tasks easily.

Issues to be aware of

  • Current students and staff don't use the homepage!
  • They use Google to search and end up on relevant pages on the website. This means they bypass the homepage entirely.
  • Some people mentioned the ‘Hero’ slot on the alpha - the main picture and overlay text was ‘cold’ and ‘boring’. The overlay text also obscured the faces in the picture being used.
  • Staff were difficult to ambush and they come with their own agenda and set of ideas which can be difficult for unbiased feedback.

Next steps

  1. Share with Digital
  2. Write up of findings
  3. Build the beta!

Prospectus Alpha model - Tom T

Tom ran through the issues he had met when trying to model the Prospectus alpha. He has been working on modelling how information could be entered into a prospectus app for it to be displayed online, or used in part for a hard copy prospectus.

For the purpose of his presentation Tom used the terminology ‘course’ to mean what the University of Bath refers to as ‘programme’ because we have discovered that prospective students (our users in this case) do not use the term ‘programme’.

The modelling of the prospectus is actually very complex as there are lots of different parts. We also have to take into consideration the Key Information Set (KIS) quandary. The external requirement to display one widget per course means that we need to have one page on the site per course.

The prospectus app will be a single source of truth - if there is information that is shared across different courses the aim is to only have to enter the information once and share it across courses rather than to have to enter the same information over again.

As such 6 bits of shared information have been identified.

  • Subjects
  • Professional recognition
  • Providers
  • Contacts
  • Placements
  • Study aboard opportunities

Tom also showed us the life cycle of a course entry and how might it work. At various points in the content creation process it may be created /reviewed/ published/ archived (not deleted) which raises the complexity of the app.

We have found during the Prospectus sprint that the terminology being used across departments is interchangeable. We need to define an agreed and set terminology in a future sprint.

Always look back. But don't be scared - Justin

Justin told us how he had worked with Computing Services to improve the user experience of the reset password process. As part of a larger project to look at the computing services section of the website he looked at the data to find what the most popular tasks on were and found that the 'reset password' task was the top result.

A quick win was to refocus the page content so that there was a benefit to the user. There were  6 related questions on the original page none of which  answered  the user need of  resetting a password. The content was refocused and streamlined so that users visiting the page could identify quickly and easily what they needed to do and carry out the task. Related pages  were also tidied up and in some cases made accessible where they hadn't been before.

The results of this piece of work were:

  • Several teams were helped out.
  • User focused content was put in context.
  • Task driven service information was prioritised.
  • Content on the site was reduced.

The next Show & Tell will be on Friday 13 March 2015.


Digital team sprint notes, 2 March - 9 March 2015

📥  Sprint notes

In this last sprint we:

  • shipped a story about our researchers’ work exposing how tobacco companies use misleading evidence to argue against standardised packaging
  • completed 3 weeks of discovery work looking into event booking systems, including evaluating multiple apps, building a prototype using the frontrunner and doing user testing/interviews with event organisers around the University
  • completed updates to the accommodation section
  • received 88 tickets into web support and resolved 61 of them - 13% needed more information before resolving
  • received 9 content maintenance tasks and completed 6 of them

In our next sprint we will:

  • continue work on the CMS beta, both the technical build and site migration
  • look at site benchmarking, reviewing the existing international content on
  • begin the work to migrate our databases to a newer version of the software


Goodbye Alpha

📥  Alpha, Beta

On Friday 27th we finished the testing of The ‘Alpha’ was a project to trial an experimental design, infrastructure and editorial approach for a new University of Bath website.

The point of the Alpha

The Alpha went live in January 2015. During the Alpha we redirected on-campus users to the trial version of the site whenever they wanted to view the homepage or About section, with publishers using an experimental content management system when they needed to update those pages.

Between January and the end of February we actively monitored the Alpha site’s performance, gathered user feedback (through surveys and interviews) and developed the content and features much as though the Alpha was the ‘business as usual’ site. Now that the Alpha is closed the redirects are turned off and it’s back to the old pages and CMS (for the time being).

From the Alpha exercise we have learned a great deal about what our publishers and end-users need from a website that does a better job of representing the University of Bath. Over the next couple weeks we will be writing up the learning from the Alpha. The report will be submitted to the Digital Steering Group and made available to colleagues across the University.

Digital team sprint notes, 24 February - 2 March 2015

📥  Sprint notes

In this last sprint we:

  • officially closed
  • completed sprint 0 for the development of the beta version of the new
  • supported the set up of a new Travel Updates blog to provide helpful advice on getting to and from campus
  • updated the Opinion blog so we can republish posts from The Conversation, and wrote guidelines on how to do this
  • updated our Founders Day pages in preparation for this year's celebrations
  • removed AddThis sharing functionality from pages where it was not rendering properly
  • received 50 tickets into web support and resolved 37 of them
  • received 10 content maintenance tasks and completed 7 of them.

In our next sprint we will:

  • continue work on the CMS beta
  • complete updates to the accommodation section
  • deliver a draft content strategy framework for /students
  • complete discovery on event booking.