Digital Marketing and Comms

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

A Week With The Digital Team

📥  Communication, Development


I'm Rob, an A-level work experience student who was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to join the digital team last week.

The past week has been a great experience, after being introduced to the self proclaimed king of the nerds and the rest of the team it was straight to work with Tom on the development of a replacement application for the old go.bath URL shortening service which is the first Padrino application to be shipped by the team.

Ship It

It was a great week working with the team, and I am very grateful for the skills that they have helped me to develop; from working amongst them in the twice weekly coding-practice sessions, to the weekly show and tell presentations and also being a part of the agile development practices.

Thank you very much for having me!

Thank You

A new home for Alumni

📥  Design, Marketing, New website

Kicking off in late February and consisting of 5 non-contiguous week-long sprints spread out to accommodate two rounds of user testing, as well as balancing demands for my time on other key projects - the new landing page for our Alumni went live on the last Monday in June.
A dragon roared, a shuttle launched, there was polite applause at the standup.

The intervening four months saw refinements in our approach to design, as well as technical developments in how we deliver our pages, all of which needed to be continuously folded into the project work for Alumni to ensure it stayed fresh and current. This was only possible due to close collaboration with Dan, our UX Designer, and the fact we now have all of our stylesheets stored in an SVN repository as uncompiled SCSS files.

The page itself is a much leaner, more task-focused version of its predecessor, and also a first appearance of a new look and feel for our landing pages (which can also be evidenced in the new Research landing page).

We used structured content and graphical templates to enable the Alumni marketing team to easily continue to keep the page up to date. The fact that the design is responsive and optimised for mobile and tablet devices means that there should be no barriers to access this information.

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 09.38.52

Alumni landing page on a smartphone

I think it looks great, and the feedback from the Alumni department (as well as others on campus) back this up. The acid test though is how the page performs. The overriding project goal was defined as reconstructing the page around key user tasks of:

  • donating money
  • donating time
  • attending events
  • becoming a member of, and logging into, Net Communities (our online Alumni community platform).

Analytics showed that the most popular page within Alumni was the Bathmail - so we needed to provide a clear route to this from the landing page.

We'd tested extensively to ensure we were on track to meet this goal, but to give us a very early indication of whether the new page was *actually* achieving any of this, we created a benchmark set of analytics on the existing page prior to launch, and compared this to the results for the new landing page after launch.

What this showed was a higher overall percentage of engagement with the page, specifically with increased clickthroughs for registration, donating, and events information. The addition of a Bathmail link was warmly received by users, and it was very satisfying to see usage of the embedded Alumni Flickr gallery replacing the previous incarnation's image carousel (which provided no onward path).

Next steps will be to monitor the performance of the page to ensure it continues to excel, to review the backlog of work that we couldn't complete in our 5 sprints to see if there's anything that can be picked up subsequently (especially around making it easier to publish and update content), and looking at how we can help improve on the rest of the Alumni pages.

Digital team sprint notes, July 14 - 18 2014

📥  Weeknotes

It was a conference-tastic sprint week as Ross, Rich and Charlotte headed north for the Institutional Web Managers Workshop in Newcastle, and Iris, Miles and Dan went west to UXBristol.

We'll all be reaping the benefits of these trips over the next few months as we're regaled with the lessons learned at Show and Tell sessions, and, judging by the tweets afterwards, other universities are already buzzing with the contents of Ross' presentation on using techniques learned from startups to run digital delivery projects, and Rich's talk about how to COPE (Create Once Publish Everywhere).

Back in Bath however, work continued apace as Dan tested our proposed new digital typefaces, and Iris, Charlotte, Steve and Rich updated our all-important undergraduate and postgraduate induction content.

Dan took a big step forward in making accessible to all by getting a laptop full of helpful software from the Assistive Technologies group and spending some time teaching Dragon Naturally Speaking how to understand us! This was off the back of running some user research on the accessibility changes we made to our staff landing page in the previous sprint. Although the research revealed there was more work to be done, we've now got a better baseline for measuring our improvements.

As the Commonwealth Games are about to begin, Miles and Iris published a new feature on improving elite sports performance showing how our research has prompted changes by UK Athletics in how they train our national athletes.

Slightly closer to home, Kelvin, Liam and Miles finished our second sprint on developing a prototype CMS, and are preparing to field test it with some publishers around campus to get feedback on the approach to workflow and governance that we're intending to take.

The transition of our Professional Services sites into our (existing) CMS has been going well, with great feedback from the Data Protection team on the content for their new site; now we just need some final details so that we can publish it!

Justin also ran user story workshops with Imaging, Design & Print Services and Corporate Communications so we can better understand who their audiences are and how to structure the information on their sites so that it works a whole lot harder.

Last but by no means least, Rob Farr, a work experience student came in for the week and with Tom Trentham developed a new short URL management tool to help us create and edit URLs starting with To make things interesting, they did this in Padrino, a Ruby framework neither of them had used before. This was a great experience for him and for us, and we look forward to welcoming more students next year!


Show & Tell, July 18 2014

📥  Show & Tell

Another Friday, another enjoyable and educational Show & Tell. Tom did a great job of our first ever Show & Tell blog post, I cannot guarantee the same level of quality this time round.

That's definitely a reflection on my note-taking ability, and certainly not of the presentations - which were all excellent. So, without further ado...

Go.bath URL Shortening - Tom T and Special Guest

We have had Rob in on work placement for the last week, and he has been working with Tom on a week-long sprint to resurrect our custom URL shortening service. This service was not built by our team, and used a specific library that developed security issues meaning we had to mothball the application. However, with the additional resource provided by a keen and very competent Rob - we have been able to rebuild the service from scratch using Padrino and bake-in some additional goodness in the form of a change log and history for each custom URL created.

Next steps for this project are to look at geo-location and mobile browser information of visitors to these shortened URLs - though we may need another intern or placement student! (Interested?, contact our Web Support)

Getting Served (Why dynamic websites suck) - Phil

Whistle-stop tour of our current infrastructure for serving webpages from the King of the Nerds, highlighting how potentially fragile, certainly expensive, and definitely sub-optimimal it all is. The good news is that Phil also outlined his plans for making this much, much better. The even better news for the non-technical people in the room is he did all this using small words and extremely big graphics.

Slide showing a heart with an arrow pointing to two computers - symbolising a visitor to our website and the first line of our page serving infrastructure.

Slide showing a heart with an arrow pointing to two computers - symbolising a visitor to our website and the first line of our page-serving infrastructure!

Universal Analytics - Chris

Next up was Chris, who boldly set forth to explain everything about the new Universal Analytics offering from Google in 5 minutes. He did extremely well.

The main benefit was presented as having new user ID's that persist beyond a single session, meaning we can see when a user switched to a different device to complete a task, or when they come back to a page after a break. This is particularly informing during the application process. Universal analytics can also differentiate between multiple links to the same destination on one page, so it is possible now to gauge which link is preferred by visitors. Another benefit is the ability to create custom metrics do tailor the data we collect to be completely relevant.

Drawbacks? Well, mainly that once you move across to Universal Analytics you cannot revert to the old Google Analytics. Chris shared his plan for ensuring a smooth transition though, so we're in safe hands. It's also worth mentioning that you don't lose your historical GA data when shifting over - so there's literally nothing to lose if done right.

Responsive Testing in the Browser - Tom T

A second presentation from Tom today covered the improved developer tools available in the latest builds of both Chrome and Firefox. Whilst various iterations of these tools have been around for a while - and have been invaluable in the testing and bug-fixing stages of our web page deployment - they now provide very handy emulation for handheld and mobile devices, meaning we can in most cases replace an expansive device lab with a single box.

Try them out now by looking under Tools > Web Developer in Firefox, or View > Developer in Chrome.


Last up, Joey showcased a new section of our website from the School of Management that promotes entrepreneurship. With two new professors on staff, and a post-graduate course starting soon - there was a need to collate all relevant information in one place, including testimonials from alumni and videos from industry experts. With tight deadlines Joey had to make snap design decisions on what to include and how it was to be laid out. See the results for yourselves.

Getting to grips with Data Protection

📥  Communication

Data Protection isn’t the easiest subject to get your head round, but it’s essential that everyone at the University understand their responsibilities under the 1998 Act. The University recently updated its Data Protection policy, and the content on the current site needed to be replaced.

New content

Normally when updating a site we'd use the results of a user story session to validate our research, map out a content structure and help teams create new content, but in this case the Data Protection team had already rewritten the content (in MSWord) and had it signed off.

While the content was all factually correct, it had been written before user needs had been properly identified.

Tackling the information

Our challenge was to take the 43 pages of complex information and work out who would want the information, why and what they would do with it.

We knew that the content was going to need heavy editing and restructuring to meet user needs within a usable site architecture. But first we needed to understand exactly what we were writing about.

Understanding through user stories

We ran our user stories session as usual, but our focus shifted to really understanding the subject matter, the University’s responsibilities under the Act, and the actions audiences would want to take.

The great stories the Data Protection team generated enabled us to get right into their content and the mindset of their audiences. It was hard going, but we got it done, and to make it easier to review, we built the new site while we were at it.

Initial feedback has been positive, but we're looking forward to detailed comments later this month.

Digital team sprint notes, July 8 - 14 2014

📥  Weeknotes

Here's our summary of what the Digital team has been up to in the most recent sprint, and what is coming up next.

Last sprint


  • Student Services Centre page is now live
  • We created a schedule for updates to pages related to induction. We emailed page owners around the University asking them to review and many have already got back to us highlighting what needs to be changed.

Site search

  • We addressed the problem of older news articles appearing high up in search results, taking precedence over more recent articles. We made changes to news articles so that they had date information associated with them that Funnelback (our search application) would recognise. Then we changed the way Funnelback treats date information when ranking pages to increase the significance of the date.

Professional Services transition

  • We sent our reworked content about data protection to the Data Protection team for review
  • Began work on the Marketing & Communications webpages with a user story workshop.

Staff landing page

  • Having received some feedback about problems with /staff from users of assistive technology, we've been working to address that feedback with some specific improvements to the behaviour of the multi-level navigation on that page. This is important work, so we have a post specifically on this coming out soon
  • Fixing a deeply irritating (and long-standing) Internet Explorer bug that will also improve the experience for touch screen users
  • Added a link to the Jobs tool in the staff tools menu.


  • Embarked on a 2 week discovery sprint to test out our ideas for a new method of editing and publishing content on, using structured content built with Padrino and ERB, Github Flow and Heroku. The results of this work will be used to demo and gather feedback from publishers to inform our potential future CMS.

Online tour

  • Wrapped up the online tour discovery sprint and produced a report outlining challenges, opportunities and general thoughts on a way forward for University to explore virtualised campus tours.

Pattern library

  • Continued working on the initial stages of a Github-hosted University of Bath pattern library.

Next sprint

Lots to look forward to including:

  • Pushing an updated Careers section live
  • Releasing a new app to make the generation and tracking of go.bath short URLs easier
  • Continuing the updates to Induction materials
  • Continuing to work through the remaining Professional Services transitions
  • Continuing with demoing the structured content and editorial workflow that we think will be the foundation of a new CMS
  • Starting two sprints on production of content inventory tools to help with analysis and transition of content in our existing CMS
  • Creating a demo of potential new typefaces using existing pages in the V3 template.

Giving our research landing page some structure


📥  Content, Design

Sound the trumpets! We recently shipped another iteration of our Research landing page. We're always keeping an eye on the performance of our pages to identify where there's room for improvement. In the past, this has led to updates to the meganav used across the section. This time, it was the landing page that needed some love.

Our previous version of the research landing page.

Our previous version of the research landing page


We used Google Analytics and Crazy Egg to see how users were interacting with the page. We discovered many users left the page through the three boxes of links near the top - leaving our featured research unseen at the bottom. The featured research area of the page was a mixture of quotes, links, images and videos. The relationship between the different elements wasn't always clear, making for a confusing visual hierarchy. Updating the features was also a fiddly process. Most of the content was hard-coded into the page. A lack of consistency in titles, image sizes and descriptions meant features could not be swapped interchangeably. The page needed some work inside and out. Our mission was to revise the layout, structure and content of the landing page.

Here's what we came up with.

New and improved!

A responsive page, built with structured content in mind


Digital team sprint notes, July 1-7 2014

📥  Weeknotes

Since our sprints run from Tuesday to Monday, it didn't make a lot of sense to be writing up our weeknotes on Friday when we still had a whole day of sprinting to go. So we're doing them on Mondays now. Welcome to the new, more appropriately-timed sprint notes.

Induction junction

Summer is a busy time for anyone working on's student-facing content, as thousands of new undergraduates will be joining us in September. They've got a lot to learn before lectures even start, so it's up to us to get that information across in a clear and welcoming way.

Rich, Iris, Charlotte and Steve have now completed an inventory of the undergraduate induction content. We'll be continuing this work in the coming weeks, along with some work on postgraduate induction.

New and improved landing pages

On Monday, Liam and Kelvin launched the new Alumni landing page. After months of design, development, user testing and review, it's exciting to release it into the wild.

A new look for

Our new Alumni landing page has graduated. We're very proud.

Liam also updated our MOOCs landing page to Foundation 5.

Charlotte created a new landing page for the Roper Student Services Centre, which should go live soon.

Professional Services

Justin and Paul continued their mission to improve our Professional Services sites and began building a new section for Data Protection.

They also held a user story session with the Office of Policy and Planning to kick off work on a new department site.

Caching in

Tom investigated using CloudFlare as a content delivery network and shared his results at Show and Tell.

Sharing our research

Miles drafted features about the University's research into packaging design and chain conveyors for transporting grain. We're hoping to publish these soon, so keep an eye on our research section.

Digital definitions

Ross completed a first draft for a glossary of terms used by the Digital team, explaining how our team works and what's important to us. We plan to put this on the wiki for the benefit of colleagues who are new to working on digital projects. It was reviewed by the team and will be published in a few weeks.

Streamlining our design

Dan started looking into a base University of Bath pattern library hosted on Github pages. He also investigated using boilerplate pages in Mixture to speed up our prototyping.

Liam wrote some new mixins to improve our SCSS. Sass-y! (I'm sorry.)

Tour de campus

Dan and Charlotte did some discovery work, investigating the assets and content currently available that could be re-purposed in an online tour.

Ready, set, go!

Starting from tomorrow, we'll be:

  • continuing work on the Data Protection section
  • improving the induction content for new undergraduates starting in September
  • upgrading our Google Analytics to Universal Analytics
  • doing some discovery work for a possible new publishing app
  • making some improvements to the /staff landing page
  • looking into search aging

Join us

Do you have what it takes to write these sprint notes (and do loads of other cool stuff too)?

We're currently recruiting for a Web Editor (Research & Business) and Web Editor (Student Recruitment & Experience). Come work with us! We've got lots of cake and you get to make a dinosaur roar every time you ship something.



Show & Tell, July 4 2014

📥  Show & Tell

A few days ago, Ross posted about our fortnightly Show & Tell meetings and mentioned that we're going to try to write about each meeting here on this blog. You can probably guess what this post is about!

This week we had five speakers, all with their own selection of interesting facts (and terrible jokes).

Social media audit - Charlotte, Iris

It turns out that we have over 300 social media accounts of various flavours. Charlotte and Iris explained how they turned cyber-sleuth and tracked these down and what they found. A follow-up presentation was promised when Takashi has finished analysing their data.

Charlotte and Iris at Show & Tell

Charlotte and Iris at Show & Tell, photo courtesy of Ross Ferguson

Research landing page - Miles

In the beginning there was a research landing page. That one didn't have any research on it. We replaced it some time ago with one designed around the needs of the people looking at it. In recent days, that page has evolved again into the new research landing page which not only puts the research output of the university front and centre, it is also much easier to maintain behind the scenes. Miles took us through the history of these pages and demonstrated the new release. There is a blog post coming all about this work.

Cache in the attic - Tom N

I have been investigating CloudFlare as a potential CDN for use at the university. In this presentation I explained what a CDN actually is, why we should care about caching and how all this could fit in here.

Open Day user testing - Dan

The University of Bath is known for the quality of its Open Days (ranked #1 in the Higher Expectations Survey). At the most recent one, Dan and Kelv were out asking potential applicants about their experiences using our Open Day website - gathering data which we can use to make the site better for next time. In this talk, Dan shared his experiences of talking to students and some of their findings.

Extremely Dashing - Phil

We have a screen in our office which has been sadly blank for several months. Finally, Phil grew weary of staring at the black rectangle and put together some lovely data visualisations using Dashing. This was his demo of that. Now the screen on the wall is lit up with ... a Linux login prompt. Still; progress?

You can see what's coming up at the next sessions on the Show & Tell wiki page. The next session will be on the 18th July in WH 1LT.

Concatenate, minify, embed, serve.

📥  Development, Tools

Building a modern website which also performs well is hard. The amount of JavaScript and CSS we add to our pages is going up, but we still need to keep them loading quickly.

Tools like Grunt and Gulp help us manage these expectations by automating some of the hard work, and so it was that the development team spent Thursday in Bath's co-working hub, The Guild, learning about how to make best use of these tools from University of Bath alumni Jack Franklin and Ollie Jennings.

In the past we've used a similar tool for automating some of the hard work of managing and deploying back-end applications, so we were really interested in getting an in-depth look at tools designed for doing the same thing for the front-end bits of our sites.

Grunt and Gulp are both JavaScript-based build tools. They do pretty much the same job as one another, but with a different approach to task processing (Grunt is a synchronous build tool, Gulp is asynchronous), and using a different syntax.

Using either of the two it is trivial to convert SASS to CSS, concatenate your JS and CSS, minify them and then automatically add all your JS and CSS to your HTML in specific locations.

The session learning about the two tools was excellent, with everyone in the team learning lots, and it's likely that we'll soon start working with Grunt on packaging up and delivering our front-end assets!