Digital Marketing & Communications

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

Topic: Communication

Game theory and the happy office: reflections from a new Content Producer.

📥  Blogs, Communication, Team

Go back to Old Kent Road

Think of board games and you probably shudder at the memory of your elder brother gleefully bankrupting you with his massed ranks of hotels from Regent Street to Mayfair. But they're not all like that.  Forbidden Island is a different sort of game. A collaborative game. All moves are discussed and agreed between players in advance. Special powers are co-ordinated, treasure collected and everyone must be airlifted to safety before the eponymous island sinks. If you win, everyone wins. If you lose there’s a calm assessment of what went wrong. Individual strategy is possible only if you can convince the other players your approach is worth trying. It’s become a firm family favourite for us at least.

I was very happy to see a copy of Forbidden Island in the Digital office when I started a few weeks ago. I'm assured they do play it from time to time and it seems to me it's already had a definite positive influence on the way the team is organised and the way they collaborate on projects.

forbidden island game in progress


Careful with that axe

Before starting at Bath I was a solo freelancer working from home. Collaborating with yourself is a strange process. Without the input and interruption of colleagues I found I had to create time and space to step away from the pixels of doom and let my brain solve problems in the background. Slamming an axe into a pile of logs was my preferred distraction. It kept me warm twice over as well.

Before my freelance days I worked at the BBC, an institution famous for encouraging a culture of big brothers gleefully bankrupting colleagues with their massed ranks of new ideas. In hindsight I think it’s more to do with the size of the organisation and the ambition of the employees than a deliberate policy, but the endless duplication and competition is a little tiring.


The collaboration game

So it’s with relief I’ve found the Digital team at Bath is built around shared decision making and collaboration rather than duplication and competition. Solutions are discussed in advance to make sure the best plan is followed. Project management tool Trello is used to breakdown complex tasks and document the process like a giant digital worry jar. This also helps avoid single points of failure. If someone goes sick, they’ve usually left notes on what they were doing so anyone else can step in. Pair working is a way of life...



It takes a little longer at the start but it makes things calmer in the long run. And all the discussion and documentation build in the crucial time for background problem solving without the need to take an axe to anything.  Actually, I miss that part of the day if I'm honest. Cropping virtual images in Photoshop isn't quite as satisfying as splitting logs in the real world. Though burying the hatchet is definitely a good skill to have for this thoroughly pragmatic team.


How we learned to stop worrying and love the blog

📥  Blogs, Communication, Team

In the Before time...

There was a time, long ago, when the Digital team posted regularly on the blog.

Looking back to February 2015, we published 13 posts that month. Among other things, we blogged about typesetting, Github, and using Flow to manage editorial calendars.

And the blog was happy.

Then came the Age of Transition

Jump ahead to August 2016. We published two posts that month and only three in September.

The blog felt a little unloved. We had sidelined it, shunted it down the order of priorities in favour of the transition to the new Content Publisher.

But surely we could do better. The blog deserved it. We deserved it.

The Renaissance

Since the end of last year, we've been giving the blog some love. It started in October when Hanna and I decided to use a One Hour Upgrade to look at how we blog and how we could improve the process.

We started where we usually start, by creating a Trello board and mapping out a process, from coming up with ideas to publishing a post and sharing it on social media. For each stage of the process, we wrote a card to help team members follow the process.

At the top of the ideas column, we made a card listing different types of posts to give people some inspiration.

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 09.27.49


As it turned out, the team didn't need inspiring. Here's how the board looks today, with its loaded backlog of ideas, healthy 'Currently working on' column, and quickly expanding 'Done' column (WARNING: SPOILERS!!!).

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 11.05.48


We also made a card for the editorial process, which mostly involves an informal fortnightly meeting involving anyone in the Digital team who wants to be there. We keep these casual by wheeling our swivel chairs into the middle of the office and chatting through any ideas we've had, flagging up posts that need reviews, and solving any problems anyone has.

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 10.46.09


Although we set out the process like this, we try to keep it all fairly relaxed. Not everyone on our team loves writing as much as the Content folks, so we let people go at their own speed and use their own style.

Some blogs (like this one) start as a Show & Tell presentation. Some spend a while as notes, bouncing back and forth between team members until they coalesce (the notes, not the team members), like some primordial organism, into a fully formed post with whole sentences, paragraphs and meaning.

In December 2016, we published nine posts.

Now we be like:



Back on the road to Blogtopia

Now that we're getting back on track with our blogging, it's tempting to start looking at the analytics and working out what types of post get the most traffic and dwell time. But that's not what this is about, not yet at least.

For now, it's about having words up here that reflect the work we do. The whole team is now writing posts, like Tegan, the UX Designer who blogged about her first big ship and new Editor Rod analysing his first three weeks. We've started a 'Day in the life of...' series which describes what all the different facets of the Digital team get up to on any given day, and we're looking at other ways we can share what we do and how we do it.

Where we're going, we don't need roads

We had always planned on rotating the chair - not talking swivel this time - to give everyone a chance to run the fortnightly meeting and take shared ownership of the blog.

We'd also really like some more guest bloggers. We've already had School of Management Faculty Web Editor, Rayner Simpson writing an A-Team-homage of a post, but we'd like to encourage anyone who works with us or in the University's digital sphere to get in touch and propose a post for our blog.

Come on, you know you want to!

I’m an actor who’s lost the plot

📥  Communication

For the benefit of new colleagues who may, justifiably, have wondered why I was hired to work in a fast-moving digital environment, I’ll start this blog with an explanation.

Bear with me, gentle reader, while I engage in a bit of uncustomary trumpet-blowing in, rather appropriately, my first post. (I don’t have a bugle on me, needless to say, but in my experience one should always stash a trumpet in one’s bag lest there’s an emergency requirement in a passing brass band.)

There are actually things I’m quite good at and have even been paid to do over the years. No, really there are, and to hell with British self-deprecation. It’s overrated. Look, here’s a list of professional accomplishments I can parp about:

1.     Acting and singing on stage and screen. I was in four episodes of Doctor Who, I’ll have you know, with Bonnie and Sylvester, and have performed in some of Wales’ finest retirement homes.

2.     Belly dancing in jangly costumes in restaurants (before I had two children, obvs).

3.     Performing as a singing Bluecoat in Bognor Regis, where a series of octogenarian campers taught me to foxtrot. One suggested I did a high kick. You should have heard him scream.

4.     Copywriting and designing conceptual ads and marketing literature for London agencies, and entertaining clients over long, boozy lunches in posh restaurants. Brilliant. Oh, and running my own tiny ad agency in Bath (who wants to swing a cat, anyway?).

5.     Proofing and editing books with fascinating titles such as ‘Project Management for Small Businesses’ and ‘A guide to the Semicolon; with additional section on Colons’.

6.     Interviewing, photographing, feature-writing and flat-planning for a glossy mag that had a pic of me grinning inanely on the editor’s page.

7.     Writing a controversial, racy and fact-based novel under a pseudonym I’m not going to tell you. Ever.

8.     Penning an 800-line poem in iambic pentameter - beat that for optimism about the publishing industry’s notorious reluctance to embrace ‘new’ ideas. Still, Shakespeare cleaned up the market for lyrical verse in the 16th century and beyond; why shouldn’t I have a crack at breaking the internet via a string of rhyming couplets?

Unfortunately, it turns out that none of this experience is required in my new role as a Content Producer. (There was no point at all in bringing my sequinned bra and finger cymbals in on the first day, let alone learning Cleopatra’s most moving soliloquy. I’d even worked out a way of combining the two, dammit.)

oh la la

The first act

Though I can spout tirelessly about persuasive writing and the importance of a properly placed apostrophe (or absence thereof), my lack of technical nous is embarrassingly apparent from the start. Similarly, my unfamiliarity with collaborative online tools to manage content – content, mind, not copy – clearly takes some team members by surprise. ‘Why did she audition?’, I can hear them thinking, followed by ‘How did she get cast?’

To be honest, I ask myself. But then again, I’ve somehow totted up 20+ years' copywriting, editing, designing and branding experience for SMEs and blue chips alike and, along the way, have learned a management technique or two. I’ve worked on student recruitment campaigns and award-winning websites for Mars, Tesco, BT and Nando's and, if I say so myself, am a dab hand at liaising with difficult people. In fact, I'm famed for being able to convince the most recalcitrant clients to opt for the best creative solution (though I’m quite sure there are no difficult people at this university). See, diplomacy too.

Still, the techie environment comes as a bit of a shock. While I’d never claimed to have software or systems architecture skills – hitherto I’ve just emailed my copy to a back-end bod and watched in awe as it magically appeared on-screen – I discover that everyone around me knows what they’re doing on several different platforms. This, it transpires, has nothing to do with stations.

It’s both a good and bad thing. I very much like working with clever, witty, educated and talented people but find myself unrehearsed and often baffled. Mind the gap.

Mysterious app names such as Trello and Slack are bandied around the workplace alongside references to Ruby on the Rails (she sounds nice), GitHub (a rehab centre for old, bad-tempered blokes?) and project management methodologies like Agile (covered in a business book I worked on - phew).

Fact is, I have loads to learn if I’m not to be cast as a perennial understudy. It’s a fabulous chance to develop, show my mettle and grasp the nettle. (I put on the kettle.) I’m sure the journey will be fun. Sort of.

Google’s search engine empire, I discover, has expanded into a synchronised storage hub in a Cloud with a capital C, and is terrifyingly comprehensive. I abhor big G’s quest for world domination through collating everyone’s personal data but am secretly rather impressed. What, I don’t have to hit ‘save’ every few paragraphs in Google Drive? We can all access and update each other’s work? My desktop won’t be cluttered with personal files because it’s all stored centrally? It must have taken them, well… ages.

Initially, however, co-new-starter Gabriel and I are told not to work on the stuff everyone else is doing but, instead, to concentrate on an online orientation course while we settle in. Thanks to this, I’m reminded of the benefits of diversity and perils of prejudice (though I think I was pretty well up on these before) and can readily alert everyone in my team about my holiday dates via the shared calendar. I also find out which type of fire extinguisher to use if a Mac, the office furniture or my head bursts into flames.

The second act

Two weeks in I’ve been bombarded with new tools and terminologies and feel like I’m watching one of those convoluted indie movies that starts at the end of the story and works its way backwards. As a bamboozled audience member who finds herself playing a key role, I pick up and assess tenuous clues one by one and try to make sense of the plot. The Guardian’s cryptic crossword is a walk in the park by comparison (average completion time of 8 hours and 23 minutes, since you ask).

I do have one card up my sleeve. Courtesy of two teenage daughters who are currently exploring myriad university websites and littering the kitchen table with prospectuses, I’m probably more au fait with our competitors’ activities than anyone else here. Hoorah!

One of my girls has made it clear that an en suite bathroom, duck pond and dance studio are mandatory requirements while the other, with customary pre-GCSE arrogance, won’t countenance anywhere that isn’t in the top 10 in every category of every rating. Hmmm. More interestingly, I note that they’re both easily lured from their set criteria by funky artwork and, to my delight, good writing. That helps a lot. I feel duty bound to explain that people like me have carefully phrased the powerful prose to draw them in. They roll their eyes.

I’m learning exponentially faster by being thrown into tasks I thought I couldn’t do – yet I can – and as someone who loves organisation, I’m already developing quite a soft spot for Trello and (good heavens!) spreadsheets. I’m also coming to terms with informal messaging through Slack. It’s faster than email and far more entertaining, though between you and me I haven’t the faintest idea what the developers are joking about on their channel, since most of it’s in code. Programming can be fun? Who knew?

Frankly, it’s still a bit scary, and the sheer quantity of questions I ask proves I’m trying (in both senses, I suspect). Thanks to everyone in Digital for their patience, and especially to those who assured me that they, too, felt like they’d been hit by a train when first confronted with all the integrated systems. Watch this space for updates on my technical advances.

Silly, really. If I hadn't dissed them earlier, Google might well have headhunted me in the future. I quite fancy living in California.

The third act

Towards the end of week three the soft focus is beginning to clear and the film script’s subtly changed from ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘where?’ and ‘how’ to ‘them’, that’, ‘there’ and ‘like this’. In fact, I’ve now contributed to (and only slightly hindered) general content maintenance and several Sprints – bite-sized chunks of fast-paced action – to aid the complex Course Publisher transition.

Bit by bit and byte by byte we’re redesigning the University’s website, transferring all content into a contemporary framework and updating information as we go. It’s a Brobdingnagian task (that’s what dictionaries are for, innit?) and though not fully up to speed, I’m accelerating and am beginning to understand what motivates my character.

Besides, this complicated part of the transition is only a part of our team’s remit and, once it’s over, I’ll be back in my comfort zone, composing words that sell the university to students all over the world. And that’s something I can do with my eyes closed, though don’t worry, I won’t. (Note to self: I might.)

My personal soundtrack, too, has transmogrified from a cacophony of remorselessly dissonant death metal tracks to… well, Mozart would be pushing it, so I’ll plump for Radio 2.

Mind you, we’re committed to writing in plain English here, so I’d better revise the last sentence to say the noise in my head used to be loud and out of tune, but now I hear Barry Manilow all day.

And strangely, I think that’s a step forward.


Recording and making a photo story

📥  Communication

I’ve recently had a chance to indulge in my favourite kind of work - telling stories. As an editor, I don’t get to do too much hands-on content creation, so when an opportunity does present itself, I jump on it.

This happened at a meeting a few weeks back. One of our press officers was working on a big research project grant announcement and there was a consensus that we should do something more than just a press release for this one.

More than a press release

The project is about designing better shelters for refugees around the world. It’s an emotive subject but what’s more, the lead investigator is really passionate about the project. They had a load of great images from their pilot project trip to a refugee camp in Jordan, so an image gallery to support the press release seemed like the obvious thing to do at the very least.

But we wanted to do a bit more than that. I’ve been involved in digital storytelling projects in my past life and I thought that would be something which would really capture the passion and personal voice of the researcher.

Unfortunately, digital storytelling at its purest requires heavy involvement by the person telling the story in the production stage. And time isn’t a luxury many researchers have. But I still wanted to use his own voice and elements from storytelling to make something that would be a bit more personal than a press release.

The end result is something I can’t really comfortably call a ‘digital story’ so I’ve decided to call it a ‘photo story’ instead:

The things that didn’t go to plan

The process of creating this wasn’t as straightforward as one might imagine looking at the final product. There were two little hurdles to jump through.

Firstly, our starting point was a script put together by me and the press officer and edited lightly by the researcher. He felt it was the right tone and style for him and was happy to record it with us. But reading from a script is not as easy as you might think. It takes a surprising amount of time and practice to get it sounding natural and engaging. Something that’s nearly impossible to achieve when recording a script with someone doing it for the first time with less than an hour. So the audio that you can hear is patched together from an impromptu interview after two attempts to read from the script.

Then there’s the quality of the audio. We have a really nice USB condenser mic that captures tone and depth really well. I brought that along and plugged it into my laptop that had Audacity running, selected it as the input mic and off we went. But Audacity has a tiny little bug. If you have Audacity already running when plugging the mic in, it LOOKS like it’s using it but it actually isn’t. And because the interview had been organised in a rush and I’d forgot to bring headphones with me, I couldn’t easily tell that it wasn’t working. So the audio we have is recorded using the inbuilt mic of my Mac. Live and learn.

So with these two little obstacles, the post-production took a bit longer than I’d anticipated which, luckily, coincided with a delay in publishing the press release and we managed to get everything done in time. And despite everything, I’m really happy with the result. As is the press officer and, most importantly, the researcher himself.

Observations of a Digital Editor (a three-week analysis)

📥  Communication

I’ve been with the Digital Marketing and Communications team for a few weeks now, and these are the things that I can say with certainty:

  • I’ve seen both Star Wars and Star Trek imagery around the office, which means that there’s either an uneasy peace between factions or a cordial ceasefire
  • Justin’s ability to kill fruit flies is both impressive and disturbing
  • Dan’s penchant for producing a fly-kill scoreboard would be infinitely more disturbing, but his Game of Thrones coffee mug overrules this concern and makes him ok in my book

This is clearly a good time to come into the team. With the bulk of student recruitment content going live on my first day (and thus the dragon roared, as is its wont), there’s a tangible sense of achievement and the conquering of a mountain in the office. It makes for a feel-good atmosphere, which has naturally helped me to settle in.

The Content Publisher and me

In my time here, I will have a few key things to achieve:

1. Update our internationally targeted content to ensure we’re delivering messages prospective and current students want and need

2. Keep this consistent with the overall transition project

3. Do this sufficiently well to ensure that Miao doesn’t look at the website when she returns from maternity leave and wonder why it’s fluorescent green, in Comic Sans and based around a gif of a dachshund dressed as a reindeer

To reassure Miao and others, none of these issues appear on my first creation, the new international landing page.

This was created using the Content Publisher, which I can recommend for its ease of use. Thanks to the Content Publisher our content is much more focused and streamlined compared with that on the OpenCMS site, and I’m looking forward to carrying on in this vein for all things international. The Content Publisher also allows us to be flexible with our content when required, which means we can be more time-sensitive with our messages going forward.

Agility training

Digital practises the Agile methodology, which in grossly oversimplified terms means that we work on projects in two-week ‘sprints’, reviewing and reworking our content collaboratively as we go.

I’d heard about Agile previously but not been involved in an organisation using it, so there are definitely a few teething issues there for me to work on. Being used to working on about four billion things needing my attention at once, I’m finding Agile more focused, and the departmental methodology is one that encourages collaboration.

This may, of course, all be a case of the team ushering me in slowly. Once they read this post I’ll probably be sent forty billion content maintenance requests.

Digital Marketing in China workshop

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) focusing on how UK universities can develop their messages for prospective students from China.

This was eye-opening in many ways. In particular, the purposes and structure of videos shared on Chinese social media platforms are often atypical to what we see in the West. This raises a number of questions regarding the content we currently have, and what we may wish to create and promote in the future.

In summary

To avoid turning this blog post into a long-winded dalliance through my tangential ruminations, simply put there’s plenty for me to think about. You have me until Miao returns in December. Feel free to swing by and say hello. (more…)


Editorial style never goes out of fashion

📥  Communication, Style, content and design

Keeping it stylish

We editors like to keep ourselves in style. I'm not saying we're obsessed with the sartorial (although we do enjoy a nice cable-knit jumper), just that we like to make sure we're following and updating our Editorial style guide. These are the guidelines that help us, and other content creators, keep the website's content clear and consistent.

Clarity for us means making our content accessible to all (including those using screen readers and translation tools) and writing in plain English by avoiding jargon and idioms in our marketing, PR and informative content. This isn't 'dumbing down', it's writing so that everyone can understand it without losing the meaning.

Consistency is about giving the user a smooth journey through the site. The importance of this (or a warm wool jumper) should not be underestimated. If you visit a website and every page has a different colour scheme and layout, you'll probably be a bit confused. You might even think you've accidently jumped to a different site. In the same way, inconsistent writing styles can have a jarring effect on the user and make their experience confusing. Imagine thinking you're in cable knit only to look down and see a string vest. Not pleasant.

Having a consistent writing style also helps us create our online identity. When we consistently use the same words, and specifically the same meanings for words, users can recognise us more easily in a crowded internet. Our writing style is our identity, like a jumper you'd wear all the time that everyone agrees is 'very you'.

What we're wearing this season

The problem with our cable-knit jumper is that it's a bit bulky. A tad cumbersome. Also, it makes our neck itch, but that's nothing to do with the style guide. The jumper needs reknitting into one that's easier to wear, lighter, with detachable arms perhaps. And now I'm stretching it. The metaphor, not the jumper.

The Editorial style guide is similarly unwieldy. It's currently one page, arranged in sections like 'General style preferences' and 'University references'. As full of useful information as it is, you really have to know where to look to find what you want. In many cases, you have to search the page for a specific word, hoping it pulls up the right results.

From a maintenance point of view, this structure makes it difficult to add or amend the content. We have to fit it into one of the existing sections or create a new one, making it harder for users to work out where they should look for answers. Some things need more detailed explanations, which we can't add now without them clogging up the page.

Style gurus

We're fans of the Guardian and Observer style guide and the style guide as examples of good practice. Both are arranged alphabetically, rather than in thematic sections, so it's easier to guess what word to search for. Both provide short comments on points of style, but for some longer explanations, the style guide links to other guides.

Next season's styles

Based on these style guides, our plan is to rearrange our style guide into an A-Z of everything. Users will be able to search a single page for a point of style, but there will be aliases to make everything easier to find. For example, if you search 'lower case', you'll be told to see 'Capitalisation'. If you look for 'dot dot dot', you'll be pointed towards 'Ellipsis'.

In most cases, we'll give you a brief explanation of the point of style, how to use it, and examples of house style. Some things need a little (or a lot) more detail. For these, we'll link out to other Guide pages. These will cover things like:

  • apostrophes
  • inclusive language
  • academic terms
  • words to avoid

These points are all covered in the current style guide, but by giving them their own Guide pages we'll be able to go into them in much more detail. We'll be able to expand our explanations of inclusive language, for example, and give a much fuller list of words to avoid, a useful piece of content in the campaign for clarity.

We'll also link to our other writing guides, like 'Writing for the web' and 'Creating and writing blog posts'.

Keeping ahead of the trends

We'll continue to add to the style guide and improve it. The English language, like fashion, is constantly evolving. New words are always being invented and old words are always being misused, which means we always have plenty to add to the list of words to avoid. Here are a few of my current 'favourites':

  • toolkit
  • utilise
  • initiate
  • leverage
  • whilst

Style for everyone

Cable-knit jumpers are not for everyone, but the Editorial style guide certainly is. Anyone writing marketing, PR or informative content for the website should refer to it, not just the Digital Content team. It's also useful for people writing on the blog or even in print. Achieving consistency across all University communications is a big challenge, but having a single style guide to follow is a good step towards this.

The important thing is for everyone to keep the style guide in mind and use it as they write. This can be hard to do, even as an editor responsible for maintaining it. It takes a critical eye and an awareness of the types of things that you might need to check. Things like house style for quotation marks, bullet points or commas, whether 'biannual' means twice a year or every two years, how to write about currency, how to write the plural of 'master's degree', whether we hyphenate 'full-time', whether 'instalment' has one 'l' or two...

These are the things I dream about.


If you have any suggestions to improve the style guide, you can email


Exploring new ways of writing about our research

📥  Communication

One of the most common content types we currently use for our research content is a press release. Or a news item, which is what we call them after slightly repurposing them for the website. In the past three months, we’ve published roughly 40 research-related news items.

The thing about press releases is that they are tied quite heavily to two very specific points in the research lifecycle - winning a research grant and publishing a paper. Similarly, case studies, of which we’ve published six in the past three months, are tied to a particular point in the research project - to complete the classic case study structure, the results of the research have to be in.

Softer, narrative content

The new content we’re suggesting moves away from all these time-related restrictions. It places the emphasis away from published papers and research results. The story becomes about the researcher, their journey, personality and aspirations. The style of writing is softer, more narrative.

This is a result of a Digital research content strategy we launched in late 2015. It sets out how we want to develop the way we communicate about our research online to reach new audiences and make most of all the cool research that’s happening at Bath.

We recently published two of these kinds of stories. One of them is about an ambitious Syrian researcher who’s on the brink of finishing his PhD with a promising career ahead of him, potentially in a leading international architecture company. The other one is about how one of our senior researchers came to be the host of the UK’s beloved annual Royal Institution public lecture series.

The first one was written by me, the latter one by our Research Marketing Manager Andy Dunne. We edited each other’s articles and various team members were involved in polishing and proofing. Publishing each one felt like a genuine team effort!

Off to a good start

The early analytics of the new kind of content look very promising. Looking at the pageviews of our research content in last three months, the story about the Syrian researcher is comfortably the most popular piece of editorial content we’ve published. The news item that comes closest has over a third less pageviews.

The article about our researcher hosting the Christmas Lectures is in the fourth spot after an old case study about some of our most well-known research (consistently one of our most popular pieces of editorial research content), and a news item about a clinical trial of our smart bandage prototype. That one was published in late November while our feature article was published on the 21 December, so I’m expecting the feature to rack up some more views in the coming weeks.

Why I like it

From a very practical point of view, the best thing about this new kind of content is its longevity. While news items act as a useful reference back to a specific point in time, the feature-style content stays topical for much longer. It’s a far more natural type of content for reusing without edits - whenever a relevant news story arises or a new research paper is published by the academic, it can simply be tweeted or pinned to the landing page of a department as it is.

A nice additional bonus in the process has been seeing how well this content fits into the new templates of Compared to the old templates, the user experience as a publisher has also been top notch! It’s been super easy to upload and publish these.

On a personal note, I really enjoyed the process of interviewing and writing. As an Editor, it’s rare I get to be involved at that stage - my job’s more planning, delegating and subediting. Getting to meet the researcher, listen to them passionately talk about their work and trying to capture that passion in the copy is a process I sometimes miss from my journalism days.


The neverstarting story

📥  Beta, Communication, Development, Team

Do you ever have a piece of work that never quite makes it to the top of the to-do list? Something that needs doing but is not really crucial enough to be prioritised that highly. It lingers in the background, knocking on the door of your subconscious every time you think of the project.

We had something like that. A story in our backlog which so very nearly made it into sprints, but never actually did. This happened so many times over 5 months that it became known as the 'cursed' story.

Then one day it acquired a different nickname. The original product owner was so fed up of it not being done that he wrote this comment on it.

PO comment

And the 'champagne story' was born.

But the comment didn't seem to help because nearly a year passed before it finally made it into a sprint. The story itself seemed to become more daunting the longer it was unstarted. It was essentially about republishing related content when an item gets published. Important but not groundbreaking stuff.

In the end the story got reduced in scope and then finally made it into the backlog for a sprint. It just so happened that I was the person who picked up the story and actually got the feature done. After all the delays and near misses, the feature itself was quite straightforward to implement.

So you are probably thinking that there was much rejoicing at this being done and I went home happily clutching a newly acquired bottle of champagne? Well, not quite. You see, the product owner had since moved on from our team, so there was a question over whether the champagne would arrive. The team put out a few gentle reminders.


The message was out there and we waited. At the same time this was happening, it was my turn to bake for our GBBO sweepsbake. And that is when I had an idea.

What if I baked a cake in the shape of a champagne bottle to celebrate the story being done? And what if I delivered it anonymously to the office? I wondered what would happen.




It was a fun day. I sat back and watched as people in the office were trying to work out who had made this cake. There were some top detective skills put into practice but somehow I managed to get away with it until the following day when I owned up to being the secret baker.

All in all, I enjoyed finishing the story and baking an interesting cake for the team. I learnt a lot about my colleagues and how much fun they are to work with.

Keep shipping! (and baking)

And it's goodbye from him

📥  Communication

After more than a decade, tomorrow is my last day working in the Digital team.

The team's had different names, and I've had different roles, but my mission has always been the same: improve the University's online presence through applied use of technology. While trying to live up to this, I've been privileged to work not just with the developers, but also our editors, product support and designers.


With our recent work on the Content Publisher I'm happy that the platform and technology for doing that are now better than they've ever been. The team can now continue to build and innovate on top of a solid foundation to provide the University with the web publishing platform that it needs, evolving as user expectations increase over time.


Only a few years ago we had no dedicated support channels - instead we rotated the responsibility for looking after our users around the team. I can hardly remember those dark days any more - we've since introduced standards, reporting and guidance to be proud of. We've still got high ambitions in improving our service here, but with a user satisfaction rating of 96% it seems safe to say we're on the right path.


A much harder problem has been managing the content on For a long time there was no governance on how, why or when content was added to the site and so we've found find ourselves with a challenge.

The way we've approached this is to help each department change how it thinks about its web content, and where possible to be guided by our Delivery Principles.

This is no minor undertaking. Michael Slaby, Obama's 2008 chief technology officer, said it better than I could:

It's just change management. It's not complicated; it's just hard.

It's not only hard, but it needs to be continuous - large organisations have a tendency towards inertia that the internet and its users don't. The passion and energy of the people in Digital to take this on this challenge has been critical to our successes. It's something which I've also been amazed to watch them impart to others. The thousand new pages we've published in the last 12 months, and the thousand which are in various states of review and fact-checking right now wouldn't have been possible without the support and energy of all those departments we've been working with so far.


When most organisations come to revamp their website, the primary focus is on look and feel. What colours does it use? What's the logo? For us it's been something more, a complete change in how we think about the site. A break from organisation-out thinking to be user-in. Most people coming to don't know or care about which group is a sub department of which faculty, what they care about is being able to find the right information quickly, and being able to understand it easily. Our research so far has shown that our new templates, navigation and content guidance are doing this. They'll also continue to evolve as more departments come into Content Publisher and I look forward to watching the changes in the future.


We've had a number of people join the team in the last few weeks and I've been pleased to see them start to discover some of the things that kept me here so long - a variety of projects and products, an opportunity to expand your skills in many direction, a commitment to quality and an amazing team spirit.

I can only hope to find myself in another team with such a selection of hard-working, dedicated and passionate people in my next role. Thank you all.

Hello world: my first two months in Digital

📥  Communication

It's a little bit strange to be writing a post like this after saying goodbye to three of our team. Liam, Kelv and Tom were (... but they're not dead, so are?) amazing people to work with for the last two and a bit months, and while I haven't known them as long as the rest of the team here, I miss them.

There's something in that sentiment that speaks volumes about my first two months here: everyone has done so much to help me get up to speed and feel welcome that it already feels like I've been here for an age (though not aeons like Tom Natt).

Where I come from

Before the University, I worked for Apple just down the hill as part of their business to business team. I can't say anything bad about Apple--it's a great place to work, and I wouldn't be here now without my experiences there. But as great as it was, I was always searching for something more to push me, something that would open up more creative possibilities.

My education isn't in the STEM world, or services--I'm trained as an actor. I have left this behind for the most part, but the root drive to be creative has never left.

Joining Digital

Over the last couple of years I've been inching my way towards software development. At first it seemed too good to be true--work that was challenging, equal parts logic and creativity, embraced learning constantly, and lead to financial solvency (!). I was worried that I'd find I hated it, that the combination of logic and creativity was a myth, that learning would cease after a while.

The more I exposed myself to it, the more convinced I became that it was the *right move* for me. A way to feel excited about even the small things I do day to day.

I'm not a developer--I'm not there yet. But Digital is an opportunity for me to learn alongside developers while supporting them and the Product Owner with what I'm already great at: service management. As the Digital Supporter most of my time is spent on the latter, but more and more I'm handling technical tickets and requests myself.

Being part of Digital

Right now I'm working on building an app that will pull together our service management statistics for us from the last month. Right now it's a mostly manual process.

Our service ticket tool has an API that exposes all the data we need though, so the idea is to use that to request all of our data there, compile it into a human friendly spreadsheet, create some handy charts, and have it emailed directly to our stakeholders automatically every month.

It's not much yet, but I have a pretty good idea of how all the different pieces work together, which is a huge victory in and of itself.

I still can't quite believe how lucky I am to work somewhere that encourages this kind of learning and development into what is technically a different job role, and to have colleagues both still present and departed, who are willing to help me as I teach myself.

It has been a great first two months. I look forward to each and every month to come.


My first two months in numbers

  • 1 Show and Tell
  • 1 accepted pull request for our blog styling
  • 1 deleted blog (not related to the PR...)
  • 1 restored blog (directly related to the deleted blog...)
  • 2 apple pies baked (even though I'm a heathen American and don't watch Bake Off, I was in the Bake Off pool)
  • 10 board games played
  • 960 support tickets resolved
  • 14 new friends made (d'aww)