Digital Marketing & Communications

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

Digital Team sprint notes, 16 September - 22 September 2014

📥  Weeknotes

Previously, on Digital…

  • Liam and Ross met with the Library team to review the prototype of a new /library landing page that is optimised for task completion, has a clearer layout and makes editing easier with a structured content format
  • Tom has been rewriting Group Manager, an application we use to manage access and permissions and which we are going to rely on all the more in months to come
  • Kelvin and Liam were upgrading our version of Foundation (the JS & SCSS framework that underpins the latest templates used to structure our website) to the latest stable release, bug fixing, rewriting and rebasing as they went
  • Dan and Tom started developing filter options to the blogs landing page to help users refine our long list of blogs to just those relevant to their interests
  • Charlotte, Rhian and Rich started work on the editorial calendar for online communications with registered students - identifying annual events and contacting stakeholders across the university to let us know of such events or key dates, so we can plan a schedule of messages
  • Justin completed a content inventory of the Office of Policy & Planning web content and passed this across to the project team for review, before starting an inventory and audit of Computing Services web content
  • Justin and Paul created a draft content structure for the new section for Imaging, Design and Print Services
  • Iris ran an inventory of the Computing Services section for custom features and code we need to be aware of (eg. help forms, Twitter widgets, accordions, etc).
  • The team spent a couple of hours on Friday on a 'Data Hunt' to identify sources of data about the University campus that might be hacked into useful services in the future.
Sticky notes on white boards

The inaugural @uniofbathdmc data hunt was bountiful

Next, on Digital…

  • Editorial calendar development continues
  • Running discovery work on content formats and site sections ahead of our CMS Alpha sprints in October
  • Transitioning the current CMS to supported, upgraded Java infrastructure
  • Developing our accessibility testing toolkit
  • Work on the Computing Services, Marketing & Communications and Transport pages continues.

A very warm welcome to our new students on campus. You may feel a little disorientated but you are not Lost.

Show and Tell , September 12 2014

📥  Communication, Show & Tell

On Friday 12th we had another bumper show and tell with attendance from our Director of Marketing no less.

Homepage Countdown

Miles, Tom Trentham and Dan talked us through their findings and rationale to their current proposal. Some of which are:

  1. Reduce the number of disconnected menus.
  2. Make it mobile friendly.
  3. Re-orderable "strata" of content to match changing priorities.

Library landing page rebuild

Kelv and Liam showed how the new Library landing page was looking and how it got made:

  • Re-use of existing assets from previous projects for maximum efficiency and consistency.
  • Months of research provided tons of data to inform our decisions.
  • We've made top tasks easier to find and mobile friendly.


Tom Natt continued his excellent series on online security. This chapter was on how Cross Site Scripting works:

  • A live demo.
  • Executes injected Javascript in the user's browser.
  • The most common exploit of all.

New CMS architecture - Wild speculation ahoy!

Phil introduced the thinking behind what we hope to achieve with our upcoming CMS rebuild:

  • A less fragile infrastructure.
  • Looking at Hugo to provide static publishing.
  • And Contentful to bootstrap content structuring.
  • "All wrapped in a bow".

The Legend of Hootsuite

Iris ran us through what Hootsuite is and what we're using it for.

  • Publishing, because you can schedule things and manage loads of accounts
  • Customer service, because you can monitor tweets to multiple accounts and assign them to the right people
  • Reputation management, because you can set up a zillion feeds and searches

Our next Show and Tell is on 26th September 2014. Come along!

Digital Team sprint notes, 9 September - 15 September 2014

📥  Communication, Weeknotes

With the new academic year only one week away, the campus is slowly returning to life after the summer break. As the weather begins to feel autumnal, the Digital team is looking forward to the new year - Rich has even planned his Christmas list!

What we did last week

  • Dan, Miles and Tom continued their work on the homepage alpha, with a focus on improving content, how the page responds to different screen sizes and developing the structured content editor
  • Charlotte and Iris completed merging first year undergraduate induction information
  • Rhian completed her work to improve information for staff about Tier 4 visa requirements, working closely with colleagues from Student Services and the Office of the University Secretary
  • Kelvin and Liam prepared to launch the new Library landing page, which will help make tasks easier to complete
  • Justin and Paul entered the home straight as they continued their work on the Professional Services project, which concludes in September
  • We held our regular fortnightly 'Show and Tell' where we learnt more about the new CMS architecture,  homepage alpha, Hootsuite, library landing page and how to avoid being hacked using cross-site scripting
  • Ross continued his roadshow talking about the Digital roadmap and met with the Vice-Chancellor and Heads of Department
  • Ross also tested the CMS alpha with Tim, our Director of Marketing & Communications.

What we're doing this week

This week looks like it will be another packed five days:

  • Charlotte, Rhian and Rich will be work on the first iteration of our Editorial calendar for students
  • Dan and Tom T will be making filtering improvements to
  • Kelvin and Liam will be upgrading our Foundation install from 5.02 to the latest stable release
  • Tom N will be iterating on our content inventory tool
  • Iris will be joining the Pro Services crew to begin wrestling with Computing Services content.

And finally...

On Friday, we bid a fond farewell to Miles, who has been our Research & Business Web Editor. Over the last two years, Miles has played a key role in developing the Research section, including laying the foundation of a taxonomy for research, writing articles on subjects as diverse as rugby scrums to reducing the carbon footprint of cars and exploring new content formats such as narrative storytelling. Miles will be truly missed and we wish him every future success at the University of Bristol.

Digital Team sprint notes, 2 September - 8 September 2014

📥  Communication, Weeknotes

In contrast to much of August, a huge 93% of our team has been in over this past sprint and so the office is feeling much busier again as we gear up for our next Open Day this coming Saturday and the new student arrivals a week later!

To this end, Rhian and Charlotte have updated September’s editorial calendar for University messages to First Year students and prepped the content for delivery on both and Twitter.

Rhian, Charlotte and Iris got stuck into the first of two sprints on pages to help staff advise their students about visas and immigration.

Tom Natt has continued the revamp of our software infrastructure from Java to Ruby by working with Mina to set up automated software deployments from our continuous integration server, Bamboo.

In the last sprint, Chris put a trial of Google’s new Universal Analytics code into some of our older site templates. He has now added the code to our CMS templates to ensure it also works in those pages before we make the full switch.

Tom Trentham, Miles, Dan and Ross completed the first of two sprints to build the alpha of the new homepage. We settled on a structure and feature set that will constitute our MVP, explored the branding options available, and produced the content we need. We also made a start on the structured content editor that will control the media on the page. For the first time, we’re using Pivotal Tracker rather than Trello to host our sprint backlog.

Paul and Justin delivered the first draft of the new Intellectual Property & Legal Services section to the stakeholder for review (you can see the current site here).

Justin’s conducted a content audit of the Marketing and Communications web content and been planning a structure to house the next iteration of this section.

After months of discovery work, Kelv and Liam embarked on a two-week mission to design, build, and release a brand new landing page for our campus library in time for the students returning at the end of September. Having identified key tasks through talking to our students and staff and interrogating our analytics, this change will bring many improvements. We also benefited from expert insight from our newest recruit, Rhian, who is a veteran of a very well received library refresh campaign.

Chris solved problems for 34 different people this sprint across 38 total support requests.

Looking ahead to the new CMS and site templates, we have been reviewing the academic sections of to determine which content formats are needed by publishers. This process has helped us to identify common and edge cases, we will start designing features for these in an upcoming sprint in September.

Show & Tell, August 29 2014

📥  Show & Tell

Using a primary school analogy, my second experience of ‘Show & Tell’ felt like I had won some ‘Golden Time’ for good behaviour. I really enjoyed the session as we had four really interesting topics followed by some great questions from around the room.

Prospectus roles and permissions – Tom T

Tom T took us through the work he and Liam had done on roles and permissions in their discovery sprint for the prospectus app. They looked at the permissions needed in the app according to the different views on data and how people would view subsets of information. The result is that roles and permissions have now been identified with a split between digital and print and a table/matrix has been created of the roles and permissions and views combined. A basic demo app has been set up and there will be further iterations on future sprints.

Group Manager was used for this process and the role based information could be used for a general publishing app in the future.

Pivotal – Ross

PivotalTracker is a collaborative project management tool designed for agile development projects. It was initially designed by Pivotal for internal use for their projects but then released externally as a product for public use.

Ross gave us a brief overview of some interesting aspects of the tracker using GOV.UK as an example with a view to using it for our own future projects alongside Trello. He’s happy to talk people through it further at any time.

Key points:

  • The boards can be closed or public
  • Epics are massive areas of development that need to be broken down into stories
  • Epics are used as labels on stories
  • Every entry has its own ID. You can share just that ID/ card with other people as required
  • The Icebox is used for prospective work for the future
  • There are different labels for bugs, features, and chores
  • You can use a bar to split the backlog into handy sections
  • You can do a lot without even opening up a card
  • There are several different states: started, delivered, finished, reviewed, accepted/ rejected
  • You can view a full history and are able to find old stories because of the labelling and epics
  • The tracker does an automatic calculation of the possible velocity and the actual velocity of a project
  • You can allocate points within a scale to a task which helps with an estimate of velocity.

All in all it looks a really useful tool that we could use effectively.

What is going on in the world of social media? And what are universities doing about it? - Charlotte

Charlotte has done some research into social media and provided some insight into what universities are doing with it in order to engage with students and potential students. She concentrated on use of emerging channels rather than traditional channels.

16-18 year olds are increasingly using channels such as WeChat, Vine, Flickr and YouTube as they are moving away from Facebook.

Key points to note from studies on universities in the UK are:

  • 1/5 of students think that universities do not use social media enough in recruitment and many did not even know that their prospective universities had social media accounts
  • They think that information on social media is “untrustworthy” and “irrelevant” and also said that “They do not talk about the things we need to know”
  • Less than 1 in 5 were influenced by Twitter profiles
  • Less than 1 in 4 were influenced by Facebook profiles.

So whilst social media is growing and changing and could be a great way to engage with target audiences, it is also a difficult line to tread.

American universities in particular are generally more successful in engaging with young people via the channels they use whilst British universities are still showing some resistance to using it as more than a means to push out a message. There is plenty of potential to improve the way we engage with potential students.

Homepage prototype – Liam

Keen to point out that Dan did a lot of the investigation work on the homepage prototype; Liam showed and told us about the three releases up to this date. The prototype was done in Foundation in GitHub as it enables users to mark things as releases and this proved a real learning experience for our two intrepid designers.

Before creating anything, some discussion was had on what a homepage of a website should be and what it should do.

It’s probably important to understand at this point a simple prototype has been produced, it has not been through a design phase and no user experience work has been carried out as yet.

Release one

A basic outline of where things may go on the site. This version was based on research on the five main user tasks that people carry out when they come to the site and takes into account some of web users’ habitual behaviours.

Release two

Content has been added to the prototype to put elements in better context when looking at the page. At the end of the sprint this version was presented to the product owner and some good feedback was given at this stage.

Release three

The layout has been honed a little after the feedback from release two and rearranged for a more traditional layout.

The design will be responsive and that is a great improvement on the current website. It will also be flexible in that it is a modular design so that elements of the page could be moved around according to priorities at particular times throughout the year.

Further iterations may look at further options/elements for the homepage such as navigation drop down menus.

You can see what's coming up at the next sessions on the Show & Tell wiki page. The next session will be on 12 September 2014.

Show & Tell, August 15 2014

📥  Communication, Show & Tell

Our Show and Tell had another full billing of five talks. Here's what the team presented.

Professional Services: Challenges and Lessons - Paul

Paul showed us before and after shots of a couple of sites that we had relaunched. These were our Freedom of Information and the Central Stores sites.

There were a multitude of challenges that included dealing with a ten year old Perl script powering inventory.

As well as improving from their original the experiences taught us:

  • be flexible and adaptable
  • no project is the same
  • improve your processes, learn from each project and document this
  • carry out feature review within discovery phases
  • if you need devs, get them on board early

Visas part 2 - Charlotte

Charlotte talked us through the second phases of Visa sprints. This time with information for our current students.

This included information in working visas while studying or after graduating. We also inform on how to extend your visa, visas for traveling abroad and visas for your family.

In the old site the information was dense and of legal importance spread across a lot of pages. These were consolidated into a smaller number of pages. On these pages the information is now presented into smaller chunks by use of accordions. We felt that it was much easier to become lost in the massive number of pages so the accordions here are a good use case. The information is now also grouped together better. The site is now better presented and accessible.

This was helped by closer collaboration with the Visa Advice team. We were able to use Trello as part of our workflow and this seemed to work well.

Injection and broken authentication - Tom Natt

Tom gave his second in a series of talks on security. This instalment explaining how injection attacks work, and how session hijacking can happen.

Tom also gave some good tips on how to defend against these problems including:

  • validate all input
  • whitelist input (say what you'll only accept, not the other way round - that's too much!)
  • get someone else to do it for you!
  • if you only close the tab or window of your browser, the session may still live on
  • lock your computer

Live Chat: Chatting with applicants and offer holders - Matt Alexander

We're very pleased to have Matt, someone from outside the Digital Team, do a talk at our Show and Tell. Here's what I heard Matt tell us on running live chat sessions.

We wanted to do a non-cheesy version of live chats. It had to be high quality like our Open Days. It gives applicants the opportunity to speak to real people. This was especially for the international audiences.

The hard bits were working out the best time to run these with timezones in mind. We also had to think about whether the appropriate technology was available in certain countries.

We also designated clear roles in this. The Marketing team focused on the publicity and organising of the event. Meanwhile the academic departments provided the content.

Our impression is that the majority of attendants converted to studying with us. We need to look into the data in detail to garner more insights.

Gambling with UX - Miles

Miles was reporting on a talk he attended at UX Bristol by Alastair Somerville called Exploring Habits & Interaction through the casino experience.

The highlights of this talk showed that the UX of a website can look to the casino experience on how to draw in users and engage more. It mentioned an interaction cycle that begins with the Trigger, leading to Action, providing a Variable Reward and garnering a sense of Investment which then loops back.

There were also marvellous examples of the psychology and UX in use where the dazzling and spectacular frontage of casinos provide the "nudge" to entice people. Then there are the grandeur of the casino halls that provide "gravity". Then the "angle" such as providing free drinks and free chips and finally reducing "friction", reducing the barriers to your tasks. Some casinos go so far as to provide adult nappies so you don't leave your slot machine for any sort of break.

All principles that can potentially be applied to the UX of a website.

Digital Team sprint notes, 26 August - 1 September 2014

📥  Weeknotes

Well, another short week this week due to the lovely extra day that we get off here after the Bank Holiday. So, what did we do?

What we did this week

After looking at how the content for new and first year undergraduates could be merged, Charlotte, Iris and Rhian worked on (and cried over) actually starting to merge it. This will mean that there will be one place for all our induction content such as allocation of first year accommodation, what to bring with you, sport clubs and what to do when you get to your second year.

Kelvin and Liam reviewed the backlog and have started planning a two-week sprint for building a new landing page for our library.

Miles has been wrapping things up in preparation for when he leaves. This included creating draft structure content formats, event categorisation and making a start on his handover notes. If you want to step into his shoes then there is still time to apply for our Web Editor (Research & Business) role.

Justin and Paul are getting on swimmingly with the Professional Services sections and they worked through the new section structure and content for Intellectual Property & Legal Services. Hopefully we can look forward to a shiny new section for them soon.

This week has marked a month since the Digital roadmap was introduced so Ross updated the document to reflect our progress. He presented this to the Digital Steering group, the Director of Computing Services and the Marketing team in HSS.

We have come one step closer to implementing Universal Analytics on our site by adding a test property to some of our pages alongside the existing Google Analytics code. We can then confirm it is tracking as expected before we switch over completely and it will be reviewed after a couple of weeks.

What's coming up

We actually have a full week this week and, amongst other things, we will be:

  • creating information for staff about visas
  • looking at building a new landing page for the library
  • working on the new Marketing and Communications pages
  • continuing the roll out of Universal Analytics

Some statistics

  • The Content team completed 28 content maintenance tasks in August
  • There were 31 tickets sent into Web Support this week with a majority of them asking for changes to pages in the CMS.

On this day

In 1532, Lady Anne Boleyn was made Marquess of Pembroke. Less than 4 years later King Henry VIII had her investigated for high treason and she was found guilty of adultery and was executed on 19th May 1536.

Perhaps he went on a site like this to find a new wife...

Digital team sprint notes, 19 August - 22 August 2014

📥  Weeknotes

Short sprint this one on account of the glorious August Bank Holiday weekend. And because of the extra University holiday, we're publishing this edition of the sprint notes a little earlier than usual.

What we did

Published induction timetables for the undergraduates and postgraduates starting in September 2014.

Made it easier for students to order a prospectus by improving the layout of the form and language used. So long USSR.

Started looking at how we can merge /new-ug and /first-year-ug to provide a clear user journey and remove redundant content. This involved writing and consolidating user stories, matching them to our existing content and identifying gaps or duplication.

Met with the International Student Advice Team to talk about the third [and in this project final] sprint to improve visa information for staff and students.

The Professional Services transition crew began building a new Intellectual Property & Legal Services section, and sent the crucial sub sections on the complexities of IP law to the IPLS team for their review prior to release. We supported the release of the new Security section. Met with Computing Services to outline content and feature auditing to take place in September. And the team sat down to plot out the last month of the transition project.

Prototyped (in Rails) the ability to manage user roles, views and permissions for all staff involved in creating our online and printed prospectuses.

Investigated ways of automating content updates in InDesign using XML - including creating custom tagged frame layouts and dabbling with XSLT. All in the name of a more streamlined and unified approach to publishing the digital and print versions of the prospectus.

Updated our image guidelines with visual examples. This means Dan's spent most of the week finding the worst images he can and then putting them on the website. He's been a very conflicted man.

There have been 80 tickets received in to Web Support with 60 being resolved this week. The main query (as per usual) was to update pages in the CMS. Thanks to Tom Natt for covering support whilst Chris was on his travels.

Next up

Another odd little sprint next because of the Bank Holiday - not complaining. Here's what's planned:

  • Continuing with the merger of new arrivals sections
  • Keeping on with IPLS, OPP and the remaining Professional Services transitions
  • Chipping away at the blogs backlog
  • Starting to roll out Universal Analytics across the domain
  • Progressing the set up of a performance dashboard for

That lot will keep us out of trouble.

Now, here's a little number to get you in the mood for the looong weekend...

Our epic 12 months

📥  Communication, Digital strategy

Twelve months ago I walked into the University of Bath for the first time as the head of the Digital team. It has been an epic year.

Since August 2013, we have set out to manage the University of Bath's digital communications in a completely different way to how it was done before.

We have stopped acting as a service provider doing one-off projects on an on-demand basis for 'clients'. And we reset ourselves to be a provider of digital products and services based on user needs, which are developed on a continuous and iterative basis.

Learning through doing

People who know the Government Digital Service and what they are doing with GOV.UK will recognise this approach. We've also learned a great deal from the examples set by other impressive digital enterprises, like Makeshift, Spotify and, a bit closer to home, FutureLearn.

What links these organisations, besides being digital, is their dogged fixation on delivery and the positively disruptive influence they've had on their industries.

The University of Bath Digital team wants to earn a reputation for creative problem-solving and delivery. As far as our business is concerned, we believe that our digital products and services can make us stand out in an increasingly competitive but  largely homogeneous market.

Change all the things

Since our 'pivot' moment, we have been turning out a lot of work. We figure that we have deployed [code] to a production environment at least once every day since August 19th, when this new approach began.

But what’s important about the 12 months we've just had is not so much what we've produced, as how we produced it.

As a  result of these changes the performance of our site has improved, user engagement has increased, we have better relationships with our colleagues and we feel like a happy and productive team.

For me, the most impressive thing is that with only a few new souls brought on board, all this change has been brought about by the same team that was in place prior to August 2013. I could not have asked for more from the Digital team on what was a very ambitious ask. They have done themselves proud.

Now for something properly epic

How do you follow up on an epic year? Have an even more epic 12 months.

For the past year we've been establishing a new working culture and drilling ourselves in new methods of delivery. The next 12 months is going to see us put these new found delivery skills to radically transform the design and features of and the way it’s managed behind the scenes.

The projects we will undertake will:

1. Devolve publishing
Introducing structured content templates and workflow will encourage higher quality publishing by a wider pool of publishers and reduce the requirement for specialist training

2. Make tasks easier
Designing specialist pages and a browseable taxonomy will make it easier for people to use the service information, tools and transactions the University provides, reducing dependency on other channels and enhancing the utility of

3. Support engagement
Developing digital content and features that open up the University’s research impact, educational successes and campus community will draw in practitioners and the public and establish long term relationships.

Expect a visit

The finer detail of how and when this will happen is plotted out on a delivery roadmap that we have produced and will be taking round to campus colleagues in the weeks to come.

For the University to really make the most of digital, the delivery of digital must become more distributed across the organisation. That doesn't mean we'll do less centrally; it means that more digital work will be undertaken by more people across the University.

It's going to be a challenge no doubt, and that is what is inspiring us. We hope that it inspires you too.

Digital team sprint notes, 12 August - 18 August 2014

📥  Weeknotes

What we did

Liam, Tom Trentham and Tom Natt started the discovery process for the next prospectus app, which we hope will unite our print and online prospectuses in glorious content continuity. This included Liam plotting out user roles, views and permissions for all staff involved in creating our online and printed prospectuses - enough people to hold a sizeable five-a-side tournament.

Paul's proposal for the new Intellectual Property & Legal Services section was approved by the department, and he began building the section.

Justin completed a qualitative assessment of the new section for Security Services, which should go live shortly.

Charlotte and Iris had a busy week dealing with A-level results day and preparing for Adjustment and Clearing. They also set up a Twitter account to communicate with new undergraduates, which will be managed with Hootsuite.

Kelvin made some changes to how we deal with the Unistats Key Information Set, which appears across our course pages.

Rhian spent her first week being introduced to the University, our team's way of working and, most importantly, the office Great British Bake Off sweepstake. (Go Norman!)

What's coming up

Over the next four days, we'll be:

  • Evaluating the new undergraduates and first year undergraduates sections to identify and merge any redundant content
  • Expanding our image style guide to include examples of good images
  • Continuing the discovery process for the prospectus app
  • Building new sections for Intellectual Property & Legal Services and Computing Services.

And, of course, we'll be crossing our fingers for sunshine on the bank holiday weekend.

Nothing like the great British summer.

Nothing like the great British summer.