Digital Marketing & Communications

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

Show & Tell, November 21 2014

📥  Communication, Design, Development, Marketing, New website, Show & Tell

Back in our spiritual home after the impromtu reshuffle that made our last Show & Tell session so special, we had a full roster of presenters and a diverse range of topics.

Ruby Idioms - Kelvin

Our developers are working more and more with Ruby — Rails in particular — and Kelvin has been challenged with providing instruction and direction to the team on the subtleties of how we should write Ruby differently from Java and PHP (other previous go-to production languages).

Far too much to cover in five minutes, we instead had a whistle-stop tour of the top ten seven things to be aware of, from not using unless statements with an else block, to replacing do...end blocks with curly braces if they are a single line.

A full rundown can be found in Kelv's github repo:

Less stuff - Dan

Still with me? Excellent. Next up was Dan, who talked us through taking a pragmatic approach to webfonts to provide a better user experience. A large part of the work was reducing the filesize of the font manifest file by 66% - theoretically providing a significantly improved loading time for those viewing the website on slow internet connections. The key was looking at the different weights of font being served by default, and making careful design choices that allowed us to provide maximum clarity and aesthetic with the minimum variety of styles and weights.

Dan then went on to propose a manifesto of using less as a starting point for design - tying in aspects of user-centered design, progressive enhancement, the mobile-first approach, and our existing delivery principles.

What do I do? - Katrina

Six months into her new post as Research Marketing Manager, guest speaker Katrina gave us the lowdown on what her job entails. It turns out that a fair amount of it is commercially sensitive, so I'll be skipping over that - no secrets for you.

Katrina spends a large amount of her time planning and coordinating large-scale campaigns to cement relations with University stakeholders. Currently we are tapping into the large amount of water-themed research that our academics are involved in and Katrina is putting the finishing touches to a six-month campaign relating to this.

When not devising ways to get our research the recognition it deserves, Katrina acts as a single point of contact between our academics and the various marketing teams that exist on campus at all different levels - from research teams, through departmental and faculty right up to the University Marketing and Comms. This aspect of her role has been extremely well-received on campus, as busy professors delight in having one single consistent person to deal with concerning their marketing.

The tale of BrowserStack - Tom

Continuing his series of talks concerning security, Tom Natt used the real world example of the recent attack on BrowserStack to illustrate what can happen when things go wrong.

Essentially, BrowserStack had an old computer that nobody used or maintained but was still connected to their network. A hacker discovered this and used the Shellshock vulnerability to take control and gain access to the API key for their AWS (Amazon Web Storage). From this they discovered the database password and attempted to download their entire customer database. This was when BrowserStack became aware of the hack and acted quickly to shut them down. It is still reckoned that 1% (approximately 5000 users) of the database was compromised.

We were about to use BrowserStack to assist us with some work, so this attack and the way that BrowserStack handled it (in terms of securing their system and managing their public profile) went a long way to reassuring us that they were still a suitable partner. Tom also made the point that having just been hacked, they were likely to be awake to the danger right now because of their recent experiences.

Alpha update - Ross

Our the last seven weeks the team has been working on several alphas (CMS, homepage, events, prospectus) and these have all been presented to members of our Digital Steering Group - which is comprised of almost all of our pro-vice-chancellors as well as the movers and shakers in senior management. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with very enthusiastic engagement with aspects of the homepage and the CMS in particular (our most 'mature' alphas). Our plan was always to get the new homepage and areas of the site controlled by the new CMS in front of staff and students as soon as possible, and with the full support of the DSG, we are looking to do this in December.

Digital Team sprint notes, 18 - 24 November 2014

📥  Sprint notes

We’ve slightly tweaked when we publish sprint notes, so that they are now going up first thing on Tuesday.

Previous sprint

In the sprint we just completed, the Digital team:

  • Demoed the Alpha site and CMS to the Digital Steering Group (DSG), and received positive encouragement about progress and our ability to put this iteration out to test with staff and students. In preparation for the launch, we tidied up the templates and enabled featured images on pages
  • Finished second of two Homepage Alpha sprints; this one focusing on the responsive behaviour and platform/OS testing. The prototype homepage was also part of the demo we gave to DSG
  • Tested our alpha events app with 6 colleagues who regularly publish events on We appreciated their time and their feedback, which was positive and gave us ideas for further development. On the basis of the initial feedback, we improved the order of fields and improved the field types
  • Completed our review of 30 peer sites to benchmark our student experience IA, content and usability. Fascinating stuff that we look forward to reviewing and reporting on soon
  • Ran an inventory on content about travelling to and from the University, as the first of a series of sprints to improve the information we provide to visitors and staff who use transport to get here
  • Helped /rdso become /ris in name and in web addresses
  • Finalised content for the first release of the new web section for the Department of Marketing & Communications
  • Received 99 support requests and resolved 106, as well as completing 8 content maintenance tasks
  • Ran our 2nd One Hour Upgrade session
  • Upgraded our Rails apps to 4.1.8.

Next sprint

In the sprint we started today, the Digital team will:

  • Start a discovery sprint to understand user journeys related to Open Days
  • Create a workflow and design pages to allow us to archive blogs in a useful way
  • Deploy our new go.bath short url app
  • Deploy the new Marketing & Communications and Image Design and Print Services (IDPS) site sections
  • Continue work to build new OPP pages and improve our transport pages
  • Work on the automatic deployment of Ruby applications to different environments.

One Hour Upgrade 2

📥  Agile, Communication, One Hour Upgrade, Sprint, Team

We held our 2nd One Hour Upgrade, following a productive first foray.

Product of our latest one hour upgrade, we now have a team Instagram account.

Here's what we got done in the time:

In truth, we only had a 30 minutes delivery time after we had been through the initial story review and prioritisation. So that's not bad going.

Looking forward to the next One Hour Upgrade some time in early 2015.

Show & Tell, November 7 2014

📥  Communication, Show & Tell

After a false start because of an unexpected change of room, we soon rallied round and managed a good showing in the Digital Team office. We also welcomed visitors from Goldsmiths and Hanna who will be joining the team in January next year.

University of Bath questions – Ross

Ross took us through his findings from using Google Instant which shows results as you type. People ask questions of search engines rather than just putting key words into search these days and Google Instant tries to predict and auto complete searches. This can be hilarious but  also very interesting as it can provide an insight into what people are thinking and asking about us as the results are based on real searches. If you want to try it for yourself to see what happens, try using private browsing for the best results as Google does look at location and what you have previously searched for when it makes its recommendations.

You can find out more information about search engines in general on Search Engine Land  and if you have a bit of spare time check out @GooglePoetics on Twitter which takes the  four suggestions that the Google search box provides when you start typing a query and treats them as a poem.

Security misconfiguration – Tom N

Tom Natt gave us presentation number 5 in his series of 10 presentations about security.

He told us that the technical stack that is used is made up of different elements. If one element is vulnerable then all elements are vulnerable.

Our defence

  • Make sure that the latest security updates are installed.
  • Remove any unnecessary features and plugins.
  • Make sure any default accounts that have been set up have their passwords changed.
  • Make sure security settings are set to appropriate values.

Prospectus reboot – Maree

Maree was our guest presenter this week. Wearing her ‘Student Marketing hat’ and she took us through the changes she has been making to the Prospectus.

She explained that the changes aim to make a better user experience for prospective students by making it more ‘student user friendly’, cutting down some of the general repetition and making it easier to read and a bit more appealing in general.

Testing the changes with focus groups over the next few weeks  will enable Maree to get some feedback to see if any further changes need to be made.

Research review – Iris

A year ago the new research section launched on the website and Iris recently did a piece of work to see how it has been doing. She gave us a brief update.

As part of her review Iris drafted a content strategy statement as there had not been one set for the original section.

She discovered that the number of page views and length of time on the pages had increased but the average session time had decreased. Internal traffic has increased more than external traffic with the news section helping to engage staff and internal visitors whilst external visitors spend more time on the case studies.

In summary the following recommendations have been made:

  • Define a better content strategy statement.
  • Find out who the audience is.
  • Make the most of the increased traffic.
  • Recycle existing content.
  • Continue reviewing progress.

Five rules for better images – Liam

Liam explained in simple terms five rules for better images.

  1. Simplify the scene
    • Keep the subject clear.
    • Only provide the viewer with necessary information.
  2. Fill the frame
    • Focus on the subject.
    • Draw the viewer in.
    • Use elements to frame the subject.
  3. Mind the middle
    • Centre based subjects are boring!
    • Off-centre creates dynamism, but needs balance.
    • Use the rule of thirds, but don’t be bound.
  4. Leading lines
    • Lines create a natural path for the eye to follow.
    • Diagonal lines impart a bolder feel.
  5. Space to move
    • Portaits, we like to look where they are looking.
    • Leave space in front of moving subjects for them to move into.

Spend time looking for relevant images. Rules can be broken but if you have to break them, break one not two or three at the same time.

The next Show & Tell session will be on 21 November 2014.


Digital Team sprint notes, 11 November - 17 November 2014

📥  Sprint notes

Winter is here - the mornings are gloomy and the nights are drawing in. Still our frenetic pace of development is keeping the DMC team nice and warm.

This sprint

Liam took the rain with him as he attended the inaugural Break conference in Belfast. Eminent speakers such as Jane ni Dhulchaointigh, the inventor of Sugru, and Sarah Richards, formerly of GDS and GOV.UK, have left him with a head full of inspiration. We look forward to a concise summary of his copious notes.

Charlotte and Rhian developed and launched a swathe of user tests to help us understand how students use the University website. Even at this early stage the response has been great. We’ll be blogging about the results soon.

Liam, Tom, Ross, Iris and Phil have been digging deep into our events in the second in a series of sprints to make event publishing across the site easier.

The CMS Alpha project forged ahead with a final sprint focused on transitioning real content into the new app. Kelvin and Phil have been looking at making the new CMS available to campus-based users.

Tom N and Dan have been honing the usability and accessibility of the Homepage Alpha, with one eye on that hallowed WCAG AAA rating (AAA is the highest possible rating in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). Meanwhile Ross has been sprucing up the content for the new iteration of the Homepage.

Paul has updated the fees for postgraduates on the Study pages. This was no small undertaking…

Support & content maintenance

As always, support and maintenance have been busy this week. The support team wrapped up 38 of the 55 tickets submitted over the last 7 days whilst the content team have also been furiously active, striking off a hefty 12 content maintenance tasks.

Next sprint

Lots coming up this week. Here are the highlights:

  • the Events Alpha team will be testing the new application with real, live users
  • more Homepage Alpha sprinting focused on honing the responsive behaviour
  • we'll be continuing with the work to transition Professional Services content in the CMS
  • there's further work on the automatic deployment of Ruby applications to different environments
  • the content team will be working to consolidate our transport information.

One more thing

Even though Rich seems to think it is Christmas already, the bulk of the DMC disagree. There have been mince pies on the cake table already though…

Cake table

Live spy-cam footage from the DMC cake table

Digital Team sprint notes, 4 November - 10 November 2014

📥  Sprint notes

It's my penulatimate sprint notes before I head north for the holidays, as a result this week's update has a (sort of) festive feel.

Last week:

Iris, Liam Ross and Tom T started prototyping a new events section for In the first of three sprints they reviewed the findings from discovery and used this insight to build a new way of creating an event. They plan to test with a small number of publishers as part of a future sprint.

We also completed our final scheduled sprint on the CMS Alpha. During this sprint we designed the front-end templates, built the features that allow editing of content items, and deployed the Alpha onto our test environment for review by staff and students.

We had a surprise and very welcome visit from our new Web Editor for Research & Business. We look forward to her joining us in the New Year and introducing her to colleagues around campus.

We were pleased to host Ellen and Liz from Goldsmiths digital team, who spent the day shadowing Ross and exchanging digital transformation notes. They joined us for team standup, Show & Tell and for New Work Triage, as well as exploring how we do roadmapping and content maintenance.

Charlotte and Rhian began researching online card-sorting tools. They looked at search terms being used by students and explored the best way to gather student feedback. The data we gather as a result of this research will be used to inform recommendations on the future of the student section.

This week:

  • Charlotte and Rhian will continue their student user research
  • Dan and Tom N will begin work on the Homepage Alpha
  • Iris, Liam and Tom T continue working on the event section sprint
  • Kelvin will be ensuring that we can automatically deploy our Ruby applications to a number of environments.

With Christmas Day only 44 days away, here's a little something to get you in the holiday spirit.

Digital Team sprint notes, 28 October - 3 November 2014

📥  Sprint notes

It was Halloween on Friday, and in keeping with the fantastical nature of the time of year, Iris spent the last sprint time-travelling. When not looking backwards at the analytics for our research-based press releases and blog posts she was gazing into the future and identifying which of our exciting research projects can be written about next.

We finished the fourth of five one-week sprints on our CMS alpha by building the editing interface for more of our content types and preparing the content to go into them.

Our stalwarts working on Services, Justin and Paul, have been progressing the Marketing and Communications and Intellectual Property sections, whilst others have been simplifying the information we provide about how to find us.

We completed a lot of work to help our colleagues around the University - the content team completed nearly twice as many updates as last month (62 versus 34). We also received a third more general support tickets than normal, 45 compared to an average of 32, helping to make this the busiest month for support in the last two years.

We're starting to think about the University's 50th anniversary (we were founded in 1966) and so we drafted a brief to select the supplier who will help us build the celebration website.

The team working on the Prospectus alpha finished their final sprint today; they've been demoing the app to some of our more frequent editors and improving the interface by breaking the information input screens into more useable, labelled sections and fieldsets. They've also been adding a content change audit trail so we can see who changed what and when they did it.

That's all the fireworks from Digital this sprint, hold tight for next week's sprintnotes where we'll talk about finishing the CMS alpha, user research and another alpha!

Digital team sprint notes, 21 October - 27 October 2014

📥  Sprint notes

I hold my hands up. It's my fault. Our sprint notes are a day late *hangs head*.

What we did

  • It was our third CMS Alpha sprint. We focussed on making the structured content forms in the publishing application.
  • We met with colleagues in HR to discuss the process of transitioning content to the CMS. Looks like we might have a volunteer trailblazer!
  • It was also the third sprint on the alpha of a prospectus publishing app. Here again the focus was on making the structured content form used to create course entries. The team demoed the app and captured feedback from the Student Recruitment Marketing team and the Faculty Web Editors.
  • Audited the content relating to ‘student experience’, including Accommodation, Study and the Academic Skills Centre. We wanted to find out what how these ‘student experience’ sections are being used and how often they are being updated.
  • Audited the content in /research since its launch a year ago to understand which research categories and content types generate the most traffic and engagement.
  • The Content team met up to review and prioritise the editorial style guide backlog.
  • Participated in a workshop run by Process Improvement with the Internal Communications team to work through the process of developing and publishing content on
  • We were kindly invited along to the Learning & Teaching Enhancement team meeting at which we gave a walk-through demo of the digital roadmap.

What's coming up next

  • Final sprint on Prospectus Alpha.
  • Fourth sprint on CMS Alpha feature development.
  • Work on the IP & Legal Services and Marketing & Communications Department content.
  • Development of research case studies.
  • Development of the online communications plan for our 50th Anniversary.

See you at the proper time next week.

Show & Tell, October 24 2014

📥  CMS, Content, Design, Development, Show & Tell

We celebrated 11 months of Show & Tell last week with another Show & Tell. On the agenda this week: editorial calendars, rebasing, analytics and some exciting new alphas.

Flow - Charlotte

Last month, Rhian talked about how she and Charlotte had searched for an editorial calendar tool that did everything they needed, but didn't come packed with superfluous features. After initially turning to Google Spreadsheets, they've now spent two weeks trialling Flow, and Charlotte updated us on their first impressions.

They particularly liked how Flow offers:

  • a clear calendar view, with the option to drill down into the details
  • quick scheduling and tagging of items
  • dragging and dropping items between dates
  • the option to look at individual calendars, or an overview of everything.

Overall, we like Flow and we might use it for more editorial calendars in the future.

Ace of Rebase - Tom N

We've been using GitHub more and more for our version control. Mostly this has been a happy and prosperous time, but one aspect of Git has been repeatedly responsible for screams of horror in the office: rebasing. To provide some context for the screams, Tom talked us through what rebasing is, why you should do it and what can go wrong.

Git allows multiple people to work on a project simultaneously and engage in jolly cooperation. One master copy of the project exists, with everyone working on different features in their own individual branches, which are copied from the master. You can then merge these branches back into the master copy and combine everyone's work.

But what if other people have merged their branches into the master copy before you? Your branch is now out of date. You may know the feature you've been working on will still play nice with the new master, but if you try to merge it back in normally, you might overwrite work that people have done since.

This is where rebasing comes in. Essentially you need to change history and pretend your branch started with the current master, not the one you actually started with several versions ago. You can then add your work to the project without wiping out anything else that's been done since you started it.

Boromir: "One does not simply Git rebase it!"

Boromir, who destroyed the fellowship of the sprint team after overwriting the repository.

Rebasing is fiddly stuff - when it's done right, it's great, but get it wrong and you could lose a lot of work on a project. Tom's top tip for avoiding extreme pain and suffering was to use interactive mode when you rebase, or everything goes boom. analysis - Takashi

Are we putting the right amount of effort into the right places? Takashi recently did a top level analysis of to compare the size of our various sections with how much attention they get from our users. He presented his findings, which included:

  • our study section gets the most traffic
  • the Computing Services section is our biggest in terms of size and number of files
  • many CMS users have edited less than ten pages in the last six months, but some have edited over 500
  • the rate of users accessing from Google is rising, while traffic from Facebook is dropping
  • visits from social media tend to be shorter and less engaging.

Takashi also wowed the room with some good-looking treemaps and fielded some questions about his information visualisation secrets (Google Spreadsheets).

Prospectus alpha - Rhian and Liam

Rhian, Liam and Tom T have spent several weeks working on a new app to collect and update the information in our prospectus.

We want our prospective students to get a consistent experience, so we need to integrate the content we put on the web and print versions of our prospectus.

Rhian and Liam gave us a demo of the shiny new Ruby app and showed us how adding a new course would work. User testing has already given the team some very useful feedback, so they'll be testing it with more of the app's future users as they continue to work on it.

Future iterations will tackle workflow and version control, and we hope the new app will be an improvement for the people who create the prospectus and the people who read it.

CMS alpha - Dan

The CMS alpha is the biggest project we're working on at the moment, and Dan's been handling the user interface (UI) for the editing app.

The UI for the CMS needs to be:

  • clear
  • concise
  • consistent
  • accessible.

After setting out these requirements, Dan gave us all a demo of the UI he's been working on and showed us what editing different content types will look like.

Ros from Monsters Inc with "FORMS" in big letters

Sometimes you've just gotta have them.

The new UI looks much more straightforward and user-friendly than our current CMS, and it also confirms to Level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Standards.

Work on the alpha continues this week. If you want to find out more, have a look at Ross's blog post about our plans for the CMS.

How we look after content on

📥  Agile, Content

We’re changing the way we manage content maintenance on to make it easier for you to submit a task and keep track of its progress as we work on it. This change affects all the people we work with who look after recruitment, student, research and business content.

How the ‘process’ used to work

In the past, content contributors could email Web Editors directly or send a request through our support system, which meant it was difficult for the team to work out what needed to be completed first. Staff told us they found this confusing as it wasn’t clear who to email (and we agree).

The new content maintenance process

Our fifth delivery principle is that we “keep things simple and consistent”. Over the last six months, the team has been trialling a new content maintenance process using Trello, a collaboration tool that helps organise projects and tasks.

From today, we'll be opening up the board to staff and asking you to submit all content maintenance tasks to Using the content maintenance board means you’ll be able to see the tasks you’ve asked us to work on, where they are in the queue, and what we’re working on right now and what’s coming next.

By working in the open and sharing with you what we’re working on, you’ll be able to scrutinise our work, making us a better team and helping us to improve the service we deliver to you. You'll receive an invite to Trello when we add your task to the board for the first time.

How the board works

We work on content maintenance on Fridays unless the task has a specific deadline.

When you email us we'll add your task as a new card to the ‘Received’ column and work out what needs to be done. If we need more information, we’ll contact you and move it to ‘Queried’. Only when we have enough information to progress your task will we moved the card to ‘Agreed and Queued’.

Cards wait in the ‘Agreed and Queued' column until we are ready to work on them. Team members always take the top card unless it's already assigned to a specific person. It’s the job of the team member to progress a task until it's complete. When completed, we'll put the card in ‘Done' and email you.

Any tasks we are not able to progress will be moved to ’Stopped’. Before we do we'll try to contact you. After a month the card will be archived and you'll have to submit a new request.

You can also subscribe to cards if you'd like to be automatically updated on the progress of your task.

Making things even better

We think we can make the process of keeping content up-to-date even easier. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to iterate and release updates to the process.

In January we will be changing the way we prioritise tasks. This will take into account the urgency of the request and its impact. You'll also be asked to begin commenting and answering questions on cards, which means fewer emails in your inbox.