Digital Marketing and Comms

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

Digital team week notes: April 14 - 18, 2014

📥  Weeknotes

It's been another busy week at Digital Towers, here's what the team's been up to:

Things that went live

Justin, Paul and Chris launched the new Finance & Procurement section, while Tom and Iris released the first iteration of our new public lectures pages.

User testing

Liam spent this week reviewing the effectiveness of our new Professional Services landing page, by analysing data from heat maps and analytics. He held user testing with graduates of the new Alumni & Friends landing page and began preparing for next week's Library user testing.

Retrospectives we held

The Agresso and Homepage sprint teams sat down to talk about what worked well and what didn't.

Things we're working on

Charlotte, Lara, Rich and Tom T continued working on the new Careers sprint while Paul worked on the new Estates section. The team also met with the International Student & Advice team to talk about how we can improve information for students who need to apply for a visa.

People we helped

Chris was as busy as ever, receiving 58 tickets through support, with 43 relevant to us and 40 of those successfully resolved.

Scheduling

Ross, Phil and Rich decided that analogue was the new digital and spent Monday setting up the team's schedule for the next two months, using postcards, sharpies and Blu-Tack.

Photos we took of Bath and Campus

A new way of delivering professional services

📥  Communication

The new Agresso website has been well-received by users, and has even been praised by other Universities. It couldn’t have been created without the collaboration of Digital Marketing & Communication and the Agresso team, and the (for us in the Agresso team) novel and effective way that the Digital team operate.

The goal

Agresso is the finance system the University uses. A new version was being launched on March 11 and this was the perfect time to update our web pages that provide guidance to staff on using this involved and technical system.

Previously information on Agresso could be found on three different sections of the University website, on an older template than that used as standard by bath.ac.uk. Our goal was to create a single website providing information for Agresso users, which can be referenced when the new version of Agresso was launched.

Sprinting for the finish

The Agile project management approached used by Digital was new to us, and proved to be a very effective way of working for this project.

In a short two-week sprint, the entire website was conceptualised, developed, constructed,tweaked and delivered – on time. I was pleasantly surprised that it was possible to implement such an extensive and complex project - more than 100 individual pages across multiple levels of navigation, laden with screenshots and videos -  in such a short space of time, but the Agile process enabled us to work efficiently, with clearly defined short-term tasks and visibility of what others in the team were doing.

The dream team

agresso-retro-sprint2

Members of the Agresso team and Digital Marketing & Communication

An advantage we had over some other departments was that Jennie and I were able to devote a large amount of our time over the sprint to the project.

Having specialists from both sides of the project – two members of Digital with in-depth knowledge of CMS and web standards, and two members of the Agresso team who knew their way around the Agresso software – devoting most of their time to the sprint covered all our bases.

A small, focused team, with specific tasks assigned each day to each person, made for a fast, efficient project run.

The daily stand-up meetings in our office meant that no issue went undiscussed, and enabled us to quickly update all parties on progress and assign new tasks as they arose.

It’s not all beer and skittles

During the process of developing the site, a number of issues threatened to derail the process. Foremost was the hundreds of screenshots we had, which the CMS does not handle as well as we might have wished. Resizing and recreating these took up large amounts of time.

We also encountered issues with content readiness – whilst some content was prepared in advance, other areas were still being written right up to the last day of the sprint.

The effectiveness of the short timeframe in focusing the work is unquestionable, but it also meant that idea or developments which arose too late in the sprint were not implemented, there being simply too little time left.

Lessons learned

Working with Digital has been eye-opening. Aside from the effectiveness of their project management, Jennie and I learned a huge amount about using the CMS - to the extent that we are now happily maintaining the site independently.

Having content written in advance was a considerable time-saver, even if it was in an awkward file format.

I’d recommend that any department having their pages updated try to dedicate at least one of their staff to the update process for the week or two weeks that it takes.

We’ve produced a suite of web pages that are accessible, well-designed and the envy of at least a couple of other universities. Whilst there are still improvements to be made, the knowledge we gained means we are now able to take ownership of these pages.

It’s a tribute to the effectiveness of the Digital Marketing & Communication team’s working practices that this substantial project was delivered to a tight deadline and with such an effective design structure.

Digital team week notes: April 7 - 11, 2014

📥  Weeknotes

Here's what the Digital team have been busying ourselves with this week:

Research
Recent work to improve the menu on /research revealed some more general propositional and structural issues with the research section's landing page.

This week Dan has been actioning those findings in a new improved prototype. Here's a spoiler of what we will be shipping soon to make the featured research more visible:

Screenshot of prototype of a new /research landing page

Prototype of a new /research landing page

Careers
This University does a great job of helping its graduates get into employment. Charlotte, Lara, Rich and Tom are in the 2nd of 3 consecutive sprints with the Careers team carrying out a refresh of their webpages.

This sprint has included a full content inventory, rationalisation of pages, planning new IA structure, audit of links in printed materials and CMS training.

Public lectures
Our public lectures listing page looks a bit squiffy. This week Iris and Tom Natt started its rehabilitation with a clear out of content, a new template and enabling the control of the contents through a structured template in our main CMS.

Future iterations will develop a new publishing application for events, iterations to the template based on performance data and user feedback, and the piloting of a booking application.

Typography
Dan has been looking in detail into how we source, implement and manage typographic elements across the University of Bath site. This has lead to further conversations with the dev and print teams about, amongst other things, the ‘colour' of body type, how to handle FOUT (flash of unstyled text when a web font fails to load) and whether Ceacilia is as elegant on screen as it is in print.

He and Liam will be selecting and implementing new typography in May.

Layouts
Dan and Liam begun documented thinking through the design elements that run through the site as whole looking at how different sections of the site require subtly different visual approaches and how to break out of the underlying grid, site-wide image ratios.

Alumni
Our 90,000 Alumni could soon be enjoying a useful new /alumni following work Liam and Tom Natt have been doing with the Alumni team to design and build a better presented, task-based landing page. User testing is taking place next week.

Support
Chris received 148 tickets into support. However, 83 of them were due to an autoreply loop which occurred with one of our suppliers. 59 genuine tickets were resolved this week, with the main query concerning the wiki (generally about permissions and where the space admin menu has gone).

Chris also published the monthly support report for March 2014, and started writing up our service catalogue which we are going to use to construct more defined service level targets.

PHP update
Kelv has been testing our systems that use PHP against an update candidate and automating this with Cucumber.

Show & Tell
Show & Tell this week included new /research prototype, new /alumni prototype, updates to our UG applicants page, longform pilot, the death of IE8 and accordions (not that kind, sadly).

The next Show & Tell is on April 25th and will be in the Council Chambers, not the usual 2South Conference Room venue.

Elsewhere on our blog
Kelv posted about why we've downgraded our support for IE8 and I wrote about updating our delivery principles.

The University of Bath's Digital Delivery Principles

📥  Communication

Principles, not techniques
Transforming the way in which the University of Bath approaches and manages its digital domain is bigger than just its Digital team. That said, it starts with us and we are the driving force.

Six months ago the Digital team began a process of radically overhauling how we deliver our products and services. We wanted to embody the changes in outlook and behaviours that we wanted others to adopt.

Over the last 6 months we’ve taken up new tools and new techniques to help us improve delivery, but the entire team are in agreement that the most useful change has been our adoption of a set of delivery principles.

Still from the movie 'Kiki's Delivery Service'

The way we deliver has changed

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Farewell IE 8. It's been emotional.

📥  Development, Tools

Dodo by Ballista at the English language Wikipedia

Perhaps the wrong kinds of emotions...

Aieeeee!

Web folk of the world feel anguish in supporting out of date versions of Internet Explorer, particularly when trying to use current features. For one site with users on IE 7, they famously offered to buy people brand new computers as a more cost effective means. And even though Windows XP (and with it IE 8) will be officially unsupported by Microsoft in a few days time, there is still a campaign to get its global usage below 10%.

Our recent work to upgrade our Research website to Foundation 5 was the latest encounter with IE 8 problems. For one thing, Zurb (the creators of Foundation), do not support IE 8. Foundation 5 comes with jQuery 2.0 and that doesn't support IE 8. Up until working on the Research site we got away with it, but this site in particular made more use of JavaScript than our other sites built in Foundation - including this very blog that you are on, Dear Reader.

What do the stats say?

We did try to make our code work in IE 8, but we found that the core Foundation scripts were throwing errors which caused our other JavaScript to not execute. It looked like a huge amount of time and effort to solve, so we did the sensible thing and looked at our IE 8 usage stats. It was my task to get the figures.

I looked at the recent trends and found that in the first quarter of 2014 overall IE 8 usage of our total traffic from outside the university accounted for 4.13%. I also wanted to check the conventional wisdom that it's mainly China stuck on Windows XP that push those numbers up. The numbers for visits from China on IE 8 came in at a surprisingly low 0.41%.

IE 8 is going the way of the dodo

The trend is definitely downward as for the first week of Q1 the share was 5.07% down to 4.52% by last week of Q1 whilst the previous year's Q1 share was 7.73%.

With these figures we were able to take the executive decision to demote IE 8 to "degraded support" status. OK, so it's not really the end of IE 8 for us but it should mean we spend less time doing work that doesn't have much of a benefit.

And with that discovery, there was much hollering and high-five-ing in The Digital Cave.

Win!

Here are the stats in a friendlier table:

IE 8 browser share of all external traffic to www.bath.ac.uk

Period % of total visits
Q1 2013 7.73%
Q1 2014 4.13%
From China Q1 2014 0.41%
1st week Q1 2014 5.07%
Last week Q1 2014 4.52%

Digital team week notes: Mar 31 - Apr 4, 2014

📥  Communication, Weeknotes

It was the week of the great pollution cloud sweeping across the UK causing all sorts of disruption.  So we kept the doors and windows shut at Digital Towers and had a productive few days.

I'm sure I cleaned my car yesterday.

I'm sure I cleaned my car yesterday.

Landing pages
In a strange coincidence there were two teams working on two separate landing pages (DON'T call them home pages).  With Liam and Dan sitting next to each other it looked like a battle of the designs at times, but there was no such animosity in reality.  We're a team, and they also had help from Tom N and Miles.  I'm sure you'll be seeing the results soon on the Alumni and Research sections.

New applicants section
Lara, Charlotte and Rich finished working on a new section dedicated to supporting undergraduate applicants.  As part of this, Lara and Charlotte made a large number of updates to accommodation pages, including creating a new page for the lovely new accommodation block.

Research site upgrade
For the last couple of weeks, Kelvin and Tom T have been upgrading the Research site from Foundation 4 to Foundation 5.  This was completed and shipped, and as normal for us we had a celebratory Schwartz for lunch today.

Is the lettuce one of my 7-a-day?

Is the lettuce one of my 7-a-day?

Professional Services
Justin, Paul and Iris continued the work on the pilot sites, getting the Finance and Procurement site to the stage where it is ready to be handed over to the F&P team who will update it now.

IE8 no more
Possibly the most valuable work this week was done by Kelvin, who dug deep into Google Analytics and unearthed the precious stats to prove that we should stop supporting IE8.  At which news the developers and designers erupted into spontaneous applause (Actually, I might be remembering that wrong).  He'll probably be posting about that shortly.

Prototyping and research
We also carried out some R&D on 2 fronts.  Dan looked into a new implementation of flexible, usable and accessible content 'accordions', while Miles and Iris prototyped new longform content types in WordPress and Creatavist.

Support desk
Chris helped resolve 72 queries about all things digital this week, with CMS training requests proving very popular.

Meeting all the people
Sometimes you just have to get out there and talk to people.  And this week we certainly did that.

  • Lara, Tom and Charlotte met with the Careers team to discuss starting discovery work on improving and migrating their student-facing sections.
  • Rich met with the Faculty Web Editors to discuss how to improve the navigation of Graduate School sites, and also met the Head of Student Services to discuss how we can improve collaboration and support for the service.
  • Ross met with Holburne Museum to discuss our support of its website and how we might help them enhance their digital presence based on user needs.  He also met with the Bath-based product team behind schoolsguide.co.uk to share product management experiences in the education sector.
  • And lastly, Ross chaired a panel discussion where Jez Cope, Susanna MartinAurelien Mondon and Ross Mounce talked campus colleagues through their experiences of using social media to facilitate and promote their research.

As always, we had cake to fuel our activity and keep us focussed.  This one was a gift from a very nice colleague in the Academic Learning Centre.

Fuelling our websites this week.

Fuelling our websites this week.

An outside view

📥  Agile, Communication, Team

At the start of the year we were visited by a colleague from another university who was interested in finding out how and why we run out agile processes. He promptly wrote up what he learned and has been waiting patiently for me to post it to the blog. Here it is!


My name is Kevin Mears, I'm a senior Web Developer at the University of South Wales. Why am I writing on the Bath digital department blog? It's not some elaborate hack but part of my deal with Phil Wilson, the Web Development Manager, who allowed me to visit and pick their brains on condition I wrote a blog post. So here it is.

The idea to visit came about after catching up and chatting at a few web conferences and realising that we share common problems and concerns, but have different ways of tackling them. I've been a big fan of the communication on this very blog and the work they've done developing in the open.

With my university having recently undergone the major change of merging it seems a good time to rethink and examine what we do, how we are set up and how we can do it better.

The opportunity to go and observe in the wild was too good to miss, even if I did feel a little like Stanley Windrush in I'm All right jack.

The Digital team morning standup

The day started with a quick fire round of introductions and then the team standup at 9:45. If you're really interested in standups as a concept this article is very thorough. The standup went pretty quickly for a group of 12. I liked that it shows you can a have formal process, with a simple format that is also quick and informative. The next checkbox for Agile development was a retrospective.

The retro was a look back on a piece of work that some of the team had been involved in to organise and improve the templates on the CMS system. The act of writing down on post it notes, the good and bad things about the previous sprint provided a simple but effective method for everyone in the meeting to quickly pick over the bones of the work and decide on the next course of action. Important in this process was for a member of the team to volunteer to run the retro, by setting timings and keeping discussions focused - espcially when some interloper was interrupting.

Some of the highlights that were mentioned were

  • Dealing with debt, which I think is a common ongoing issue with in-house teams where it can be easy for workarounds and less than ideal solutions to stick around. Everyone should at least read about what is is
  • Workshop format proved useful when collecting information about the templates and getting team members in an extensive sorting exercise to quickly get a picture of the problem was valuable.
  • Identified the process and the system as something suitable for a Show and Tell (more on them later)
  • Some code was produced that made the process possible and can be reused in future.

The next stop for me and my clipboard (not really) was to have a chat with Liam (Web Designer) about the kind of design work that comes into the team and how he goes about implementing work - we even managed to talk about front end frameworks without it descending into a religious discussion about this versus that. And we somehow ended up talking about google spreadsheets.

After lunch, complete with some kind of technology from the future - you take a hunk of plastic to your table when your order your food and when it's ready it lights up and vibrates. You then have to wave it the air so that your food can be brought over. I enjoyed it.

I then got an overall picture from Ross how the things that the team are trying to do have been declared in the Bath digital strategy.

I liked the level of interest and support that is evident from the relevant steering group that enables the team to get on with the operational level of work. Seems a sensible approach to have committed and talented people in roles and then let them get on with delivering the strategy that's been agreed (and put in the open).It was great to get a more overall view of where all the activity fits and a sense of a wider vision that ties it all together with a compelling narrative.

One aspect of the day that it wasn't possible for me to join in, but was explained is the intriguingly named Triage. This is where work that has come is assessed and then actioned. The team uses Trello. There are lists for Work recieved, Work queried, Agreed and queued and Stopped. Triage is the process of examining the work and deciding what needs to get done (or not) and when. The boards are then available for everyone on the team to pick up - the emphasis being on managable chunks of work that get done, building momentum for the projects and the team.

It was about time for me to leave, but Tom Natt was kind enough to outline the team's approach to Show and Tells. They are held every 2 weeks with 4 or 5 people from the team volunteering to talk briefly on something of interest - the example from the retro I attended would be for someone to talk about the script that Tom wrote to make tracking down and managing templates easier. To keep it short and sweet, there's typically a 1 slide maximum rule and people have to keep it brief for everyone to fit into the 1 hour slot. Tom also talked about his efforts over the years to reach out to other developers in various outposts around the university. A pretty thankless task but something that struck a chord with me as something that we could definitely try to replicate at USW.

Lastly I grabbed Miles, (Web Content Editor) to thank him for his help over twitter before Christmas when I was dipping my toe in the content audit waters, and he provided some great examples and resources to set me off in the right direction.

As is usual with so much activity and process to take in, I'm sure I could spend a week and still have tons of questions to ask, but I am so glad I made the effort to get over and see how others do things.


Phew! It was great having Kevin in for the day, since it's always interesting to hear how other groups like our are working. Luckily for him he arrived during a very busy week and got the raw Digital department experience rather than a nicely prepared (but very safe and arms-length) overview. We don't have everything quite right yet, and our processes are changing as we review them; why don't you come down and find out for yourself? Just drop us a line in the comments below or send me an email. Even better if, like Kevin, you deliver an awesome hand-drawn picture of the team like this!

A hand-drawn image of the Digital team members

Defining editorial style for the University of Bath

📥  Content, Design

An important aspect of the Digital team's function is helping the University's web publishers to deliver a consistently high standard of content across bath.ac.uk.

After plenty of research and several animated discussions, we’ve updated our style guides and put them online to help staff across the University to produce great content for our users.

What’s a style guide?

A style guide lays the foundations for clear and consistent communications across an organisation. It sets out the basics of writing concisely and without jargon, removing doubt and empowering writers as they create content.

Setting our own style standards also removes the need to rely on external resources (such as the excellent Economist guide) for common style questions, and allows us to support the specific daily needs of our organisation.

We’ve developed three initial guides:

Editorial style guide – a set of pointers about how to write for the web, plus house spellings, help with punctuation and grammar, and much more.

Image guide – guidance about choosing, preparing and uploading appropriate images to bring our web content to life.

Blogging style guide – advice for the University of Bath’s blogging community to help them keep their posts in shape and their readers happy.

Instead of opting for an A-Z list, we’ve categorised the entries in each guide to help users quickly find the answers they need.

Who cares about style?
Our users do, so we do too. After all, we want them to engage with and enjoy our content. By sticking to a shared style, we aim to give our audience the best possible experience of interacting with the University website.

What’s next?

There’s always more to say about style, so we’ll be improving and adding to our guides over the coming months.

Got a style question? Spotted an error? Email us at web-support@bath.ac.uk

 

Digital team week notes: Mar 24 - Mar 28, 2014

📥  Weeknotes

It's been another busy week here at Digital towers. Here's what we've been up to:

Things we've launched

Things we're working on

  • Lara, Charlotte and Rich started work to move undergraduate applicant content into a single location, to help students with the process of accepting their offer, applying for accommodation and funding.
  • Miles began drafting a new feature on the rehabilitation of servicemen returning from Afghanistan and the role paralympic sport plays in that.
  • Liam began working with our colleagues in Alumni, wireframing a new landing page for the alumni section
  • Justin, Iris and Paul began to wrap up work on the Professional Services pilot sections.
  • Kelvin and Tom T continued their sprint, moving the research section from Foundation 4 to 5.

Things we did as a team

  • The team reviewed our approach to work and discussed our priorities for the next 6 months.

Things we've fixed

  • This week Dan and Phil fixed a bug where text in tabs was overrunning in Internet Explorer.
  • Lara agreed to re-home Stuart and Chloe from the Bath Cats & Dogs home. Leaving two felines extremely happy.

Things that Rich broke

  • The CMS, sorry Chris!

Digital team week notes: Mar 17 - Mar 21, 2014

📥  Weeknotes

Last week, there was a publishing freeze on our blogs while we migrated to our new WordPress platform (done!). So instead of a weeknotes post as per usual, we tweeted our weeknotes, like so:

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