Digital Marketing & Communications

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

Topic: Show & Tell

Development Plan Report Number 1

📥  Design, Show & Tell

Last month, I made a trip to the Library to delve into the archives of the University. Together with colleagues in Imaging, Design and Printing Services (IDPS), the plan was to get a crash course on brand design.

The head archivist, Lizzie, had sourced boxes full of printed materials for us, ranging from prospectuses to annual reports, promotional posters and pamphlets.

As designers we were first drawn towards the prospectuses. Published annually, it provides a fascinating insight into the prominent design trends in the year of publication. Our 90s 'rave' period is probably one to forget.

As is often the case, our most interesting discovery came from a rather unexpected source.

Development Plan Report Number 1

In 1965 an unassuming document outlining plans for the new University in Bath was published. With a brown and cream two-tone cover and type set entirely in Helvetica (known at this time as Neue Haas Grotesk) Development Plan Report Number 1 wears its 1960s origins proudly on its sleeve.

The report itself is a beautifully typeset outline of the plans for the proposed University of Bath. It’s stuffed full of abstract, organic diagrams and line drawings that are almost cellular in their approach. Throughout the report living, studying and social spaces are referred to as organic entities, flexing and changing to suit the needs of their occupants.

Origins of the logo

The first real surprise adorned the back cover - A large black and white photograph of the Sulis head found in the local Roman baths.

The Sulis head

Bas-relief from the pediment of the Temple of Sul Minerva in Bath

The creative decision to position this particular image here has had long-lasting ramifications for our design direction. The Sulis head has been inextricably linked with the University from its conception.

Which is why it was such a delight to discover a small hand-rendered version of the icon on the inside front leaf. This subtle design element cements the relationship between the nascent University and the Sulis head icon.

Sulis head icon on the inside cover

Sulis head icon on the inside cover

The first diagram of the university

Having discovered the impact the report had made on the University's brand identity we dug deeper, looking for yet more insight. In the first section - Aims and Principles - we found 'The first diagram of the university' (the actual title of the image).


The first diagram of the University

This incredible diagram illustrates a number key design tenets repeated throughout the report - namely a campus that grows outwards from a central hub (the spine/nucleus), close integration of residential, academic and social spaces and restrained (but not constrained) campus structure.

The beauty of this diagram is how well it effectively communicates relationships between traditionally disparate spaces. The campus is visually described in anatomical terms - It feels like a living entity, exactly as intended.

University patterns

Development Plan Report Number 1 eveals that the University of Bath was conceived from the very beginning as something new, something different, an institution to challenge.

The plan discusses possible residential and social patterns at length. Two of these patterns are based on the structure of existing academic insitutions  - A traditional 'Redbrick' college and the 'Oxbridge' model. A third proposed pattern is considered new and unique to Bath.


Three patterns for University structure


In the Redbrick pattern there is little relationship between the academic activities of the departments and the social activities of the students. These elements remain isolated from each other.


With Oxbridge the pattern consists of a loose ‘community’ of independent colleges and scattered teaching departments. Colleges lose some of their academic significance to the departments and students live either within the college or in separate lodgings.


In the Bath pattern both study and socialising are closely linked in a concentrated urban setting. The university is conceived as a single varied community. There is no attempt made to separate or isolate the different facets of student life.

A parade of limited length

At the core of the proposed new campus is the parade. Designed to flex and grow as requirements change, the parade is never more than (about) 2000ft long - roughly 8 minutes walk from end-to-end at a leisurely pace.

Once again the thinking behind this concept it outlined in a series of beautiful abstracted images. Lacking in actual detail these illustrations still manage to convey a sense of movement and space between the edifices that make up the central area of the campus.

That the last illustration (the selected option) is still recognisable as the parade today is incredible.


Flow patterns through the parade at the heart of the University

A view of the future

It was clear from just the short time we had to spend with the Design Plan Report Number 1 that things hadn’t changed as much as we might have originally thought. The founding principles of the University still hold true today including the Sulis head representing the University at a core level.

The beautifully executed line drawings summon up an image of a sophisticated, unified campus blending all aspects of student life into a seamless experience.

We came away inspired, motivated and with renewed optimism that the University brand was not far off alignment.

Show & Tell, 27 March 2015

📥  Show & Tell

As our beta project starts producing visible results we're making a slight change to the Show & Tell format. Each session will have a presentation of the beta product to date, with a brief overview of the features shipped in the previous sprint.

Beta demo - Ross

In the first of our project updates Ross demonstrated the fledgling CMS Editor, showing how a user can log in and create or edit content.

He also introduced Pivotal (our project management tool of choice) and talked through the backlog for our current sprint giving an overview of how we are managing the work.

CMS usage - Phil

"Who is using our CMS?" A simple question from Rich Prowse, but actually gathering meaningful data proved to be tricky.

Phil took us on a journey down the rabbit hole and showed how we hooked into the CMS authentication components to produce a raw dataset, then used a combination of our training records and person lookup system to add useful context to that data.

We learned that logging interactions within our applications has the potential to be very valuable, that writing detailed documentation is actually useful, and Rich learned to not ask any more questions.

Moving parts - Tom N

I gave an overview of the many different aspects of our beta infrastructure. From version control repositories and continuous integration servers, to the machines the applications run on, and the databases they talk to - all have needed careful configuration for each of the environments we are running.

I went through the building blocks that are now in place to allow us to effectively develop the beta applications.

Events booking discovery - Liam

We have been investigating new ways to book University events and Liam gave us a run-down of the selection process which led us to Eventbrite.

Starting with how we currently book and promote events, the team gathered a range of requirements from our users and organised them into 'must', 'should' and 'could' categories. Our review candidates were prioritised by these requirements and Iris spent a week reviewing the most promising options. By the end, Eventbrite came out as the best option for our needs.

Meanwhile, Kelv spent some time looking at the various APIs and quickly discovered that Eventbrite also won in this field by a clear margin.

Eventbite API - Kelv

Finally, Kelv gave us a demonstration of his work with the Eventbrite API which is expected to form the basis of our eventual application. We want to be able to manage events through our own screens, but to save the event back to Eventbrite.

Kelv gave a quick overview of the important features of a good API and then showed us his discovery work, creating an event and pushing it to Eventbrite.

Why not join us for a future Show & Tell? You can see the forthcoming talks on our agenda page or if there is something specific you want discussed, get in contact and we'll see what we can do.


Show & Tell, 13 March 2015

📥  Show & Tell

All our developers were at Bath Ruby, so it was a decidedly content-heavy series of talks this week with the exception of Dan who went all Saul Bass on us whilst describing how media ohh, spoilers.

Social media audit – Miao

First up, Miao talked us through the International social media audit that she recently completed - the aim of which was to identify the most appropriate channels to use. There were two stages to the work, using Google Analytics to find the channels that provide the most traffic to our website, and auditing the top 5 channels. There were definitely some global trends in terms of which tools were most used, and it was interesting to note that a couple of countries are locked into channels that are unique to them.

Miao also discussed how cultural differences had an impact on elements such as design, usage and language perception - as well as how mobile devices played a vital role in people's interactions with these channels.

Miao concluded by sharing 2 next steps based on her discovery work that we plan to put in place to improve our service to the International market. Questions from the floor created discussion around acquisition traffic, exploring platforms that were dominant in certain countries, and relationships with our International student bloggers.

Beta update – Ross

As you may know, we've recently completed a trial of a new approach to our design and content delivery. We called this the Alpha stage. Ross presented us with comparisons on how the old (i.e. the current) site and the new Alpha approach, focusing on the differences in structure, organisation and governance. All of this discovery underpins the next stage, the Beta, and Ross guided us through the major distinctions of this proposed phase:

  • introducing a horizontal 'thematic' route
  • revamping content to be active in tone with clear calls to action
  • putting effort into curating as well as creating
  • moving to a modern, flexible adaptive design
  • developing a resilient tech stack
  • crafting a bespoke solution for publishing.

Business discovery findings – Hanna

How do universities communicate with business? In general not very well or clearly it seems. Hanna presented her findings after auditing the content we provide that is targeted at external businesses. She looked at how our business landing page compares to other top-level sections of the site, and to see how engaged users are with the links provided there. Although the overall views are a lot lower than other areas of the site, Hanna stated that as we are unsure of the scope this could be a normal (or even excellent) amount of traffic. You should share your stats with us so we can see.

Using a list of common terms universities use to communicate with external businesses, Hanna identified more content targeted at businesses elsewhere on our website. The conclusion was that we should look to update our content to get rid of any duplication, restructure the business section and revisit the business landing page in particular to make it clearer and more task driven. Finally Hanna expressed a desire to get out from behind her desk and actually talk to the users of this content - find out who they are and what they want - as analytics can only give you one side of the story.

Agile content – Rich

Ahh, Richard.
Richard took us on a journey through the concept of agile content using scenes from The Wizard of Oz. In 2014 he attended the congility conference (aside; did you know Lanyrd was created by 2 University of Bath graduates? We rock.) and was so impressed with Marli Mesibov's talk that he gave us a condensed version. Spliced with scenes from The Wizard of Oz, did I mention that?

Marli stated in her manifesto that content online was created in a waterfall fashion, a hangover from the days of print when each item was signed off and then couldn't be changed. Rich began by declaring that creating content for a digital arena allows for more, and we need to move on from this old model. He spoke about the need to start building intuitive user experiences by continuing to place user stories at the heart of everything we do, because they define a requirement for a piece of content. Richard went on to point out that the way we operate as cross functional sprint teams reflects how Marli recommends that the content team is only a part of the content creation process - developers and designers should be fully involved as well.

Richard ended by highlighting how we are gaining the trust of our wider publishing community through the process of creating guidelines, style guides and strategies - and by creating a delivery process that everyone can contribute to and use, essentially making living guides.

Questions from floor covered how we've introduced paired writing as an approach to help with some perceived issues with the speed of content creation, as well as identifying departments in the university that had already adopted our approach and how it was going for them.

Richard left us with the message that taking an agile approach allows you to focus on fixing one thing, rather than being swamped by everything that needs doing.

Richard Prowse discussing Agile Content with scenes from The Wizard of Oz

We're off to see the Wizard!

Anatomy of a responsive website – Dan

Headlining this particular Show and Tell was Dan, who explored the anatomy of responsive design. We plan to use this approach extensively in the new design templates for Beta and beyond, and Dan explained how it allowed you to tailor the presentation (and the delivery) of content to specific devices by targeting their screen resolutions (we also consider print as another valid delivery platform and are giving serious consideration to how content is presented when printed out). Serendipitously (or maybe it was all planned?) Dan's talk elaborated on points made by both Miao and Ross - that of the importance of having adaptive content that is optimised for mobile devices. To achieve this, you need a minimum of three things: the viewport meta tag in your HTML, media queries in your stylesheets, and a fluid grid for your layout.

Dan went through each of these requirements individually, explaining how to implement them and making it all sound very easy and fun (which it kinda is).

You can see the entire presentation here – Anatomy of a responsive website – it's beautifully crafted as we've come to expect from Dan and I really recommend you view it.



Show & Tell, 27 February 2015

📥  Show & Tell

Everything we do now is work preparing towards the next stages for our website so our Show & Tell sessions now have a deeply beta flavour.

Pushing code live - Kelvin

Kelvin gave us an overview of how we’ve changed and improved our processes for making code go live

The bad old days

In the past there was live editing with no preview or fallback. If lots of changes were made and there was a need to revert it couldn't be done.  It was hard to manage, it was a case of save and you’re done.

FTP made things a little better but there was no fall back and changes were made in one big go.

The recent past - Subversion (SVN)

There was a move to the code repository Subversion. This allowed us to keep a master copy, track changes and give a history. We could revert back to previous versions but deployment was still a bit laborious. The process for review wasn’t rock solid at this point either.


The switch from SVN to Git has made things much easier.

  • We have SSH key access which means that machines can log on to each other with a key.
  • Changes are put into repository, deploy scripts are triggered and changes pushed to servers.
  • There is a lot of work in the setup with accounts, permissions, keys and build scripts but once this work has been done it it is a simple process.
  • We also have a review system in place.

All our new apps use this system.

Content Types - Charlotte

Charlotte took us through how we will be mapping old content from the current content management system (CMS) to the new content types that have been devised in the new CMS and website.

She explained briefly how a master list of content types has now been created so that it can be added to every content inventory that we run on the current site. This will appear as a drop down selection within the inventory spreadsheet so that web editors and web contributors will be able to map, or categorise, their content against the new content types in preparation for the transition to the new CMS. Once all content is mapped, it can be transferred to the relevant structured content template in the new CMS.

User testing the Alpha - Ross

Ross told us how he and Takashi had user tested the homepage to find out whether the it achieved the goal of helping users get to what they want, as well as showing them content that we want them to be aware of.

The sessions were done by doorstepping users on campus. With Ross acting as interviewer and Takashi as observer, using a scripted interview of about 5 minutes long they were able to approach:

  • 15 students
  • 5 staff
  • 15 prospective students

A mix of undergraduate and postgraduate students were asked to take part in the sessions.

Results were recorded on a written template sheet and there was also an audio record of the tests.

Users were asked to

  1. Look at the current homepage
  2. Identify the page
  3. Replay a recent task
  4. Look at the alternative alpha homepage
  5. Identify the page
  6. Replay a recent task
  7. Compare the experiences.

There were some BIG positives

There was instant recognition and everybody was able to use the alpha homepage with no problems.

One prospective student said when comparing the 2 pages that 'the old page looked like secondary school and the new looked like a university.'

The simplicity and clear layout of the alpha homepage received positive feedback and it helped users complete their tasks easily.

Issues to be aware of

  • Current students and staff don't use the homepage!
  • They use Google to search and end up on relevant pages on the website. This means they bypass the homepage entirely.
  • Some people mentioned the ‘Hero’ slot on the alpha - the main picture and overlay text was ‘cold’ and ‘boring’. The overlay text also obscured the faces in the picture being used.
  • Staff were difficult to ambush and they come with their own agenda and set of ideas which can be difficult for unbiased feedback.

Next steps

  1. Share with Digital
  2. Write up of findings
  3. Build the beta!

Prospectus Alpha model - Tom T

Tom ran through the issues he had met when trying to model the Prospectus alpha. He has been working on modelling how information could be entered into a prospectus app for it to be displayed online, or used in part for a hard copy prospectus.

For the purpose of his presentation Tom used the terminology ‘course’ to mean what the University of Bath refers to as ‘programme’ because we have discovered that prospective students (our users in this case) do not use the term ‘programme’.

The modelling of the prospectus is actually very complex as there are lots of different parts. We also have to take into consideration the Key Information Set (KIS) quandary. The external requirement to display one widget per course means that we need to have one page on the site per course.

The prospectus app will be a single source of truth - if there is information that is shared across different courses the aim is to only have to enter the information once and share it across courses rather than to have to enter the same information over again.

As such 6 bits of shared information have been identified.

  • Subjects
  • Professional recognition
  • Providers
  • Contacts
  • Placements
  • Study aboard opportunities

Tom also showed us the life cycle of a course entry and how might it work. At various points in the content creation process it may be created /reviewed/ published/ archived (not deleted) which raises the complexity of the app.

We have found during the Prospectus sprint that the terminology being used across departments is interchangeable. We need to define an agreed and set terminology in a future sprint.

Always look back. But don't be scared - Justin

Justin told us how he had worked with Computing Services to improve the user experience of the reset password process. As part of a larger project to look at the computing services section of the website he looked at the data to find what the most popular tasks on were and found that the 'reset password' task was the top result.

A quick win was to refocus the page content so that there was a benefit to the user. There were  6 related questions on the original page none of which  answered  the user need of  resetting a password. The content was refocused and streamlined so that users visiting the page could identify quickly and easily what they needed to do and carry out the task. Related pages  were also tidied up and in some cases made accessible where they hadn't been before.

The results of this piece of work were:

  • Several teams were helped out.
  • User focused content was put in context.
  • Task driven service information was prioritised.
  • Content on the site was reduced.

The next Show & Tell will be on Friday 13 March 2015.


Show & Tell, 13 February 2015

📥  Show & Tell

It was a big crowd for our 5-minute talks today and, whilst Dan was drawing the pictures below, we covered a wide range of topics, from industrial-scale printing and webinars to an overview of git and shipping a new website section. Tom and Charlotte kicked us off:

Performing content inventories

Our site is really big and so it can be really scary to think about listing out and analysing all the resources in it by hand. Tom has created a PHP application which automates the extraction of data from the CMS and the filesystem and then pairs it with data from Google Analytics, ready for pasting into Google Sheets.

A drawing of a cake

All the data gets mixed together and bakes a lovely data cake

Being able to have all this data in a single location for each of our sites is essential for helping us plan our migration to the new CMS.


Nearly 60% of the postgraduates for some of our humanities courses come from outside the UK and so to help increase our conversion rates from "prospective student" to "actual student", Matt's faculty have started running course-specific webinars. These allow the academic and administrative staff to present highly-targeted information directly to people who are interested, and to be able to answer any questions they may have.

A drawing of a globe and a clock

Getting the timing of your webinar right is crucial

Presentations need regular points of audience interaction, from interactive Q&As to using low-barrier polls like asking where the participants where they're from. This ensures that interest is maintained throughout.

So far all the webinars have had oversight from the central team but they hope that as they set up guidelines and build up more experience the relevant staff will be able to run the webinars themselves.

Printing the prospectus

This year we're printing about 60,000 prospectuses.



Show & Tell, 30 January 2015

📥  Show & Tell

A packed Show & Tell this week as we decamped to a more glamorous location than usual - The Chancellors’ building on the East side of Campus. Apologies to those who couldn’t find us in time to attend - you missed a doozy!

Tom Natt – CMS infrastructure

Tom talked us through the thinking and practicalities behind the infrastructure of the new University of Bath CMS.

The new setup involves a number of discrete applications handling tasks such as editing and publishing content. This content is then ‘fed’ through a static site generator which builds a robust, stable, and blazingly fast site.

This is a non-traditional set-up most elegantly described as ‘Small pieces, loosely coupled’.

The main benefit of this approach is that we are no longer beholden to the vagaries of database uptime. As the pages are compiled into static HTML/CSS/Javascript the site will continue to function without an active database.

A slideshow presentation displayed on a wall in front of a large audience

Tom giving an overview of our elegant new CMS infrastructure

Kelvin Gan – How to code

Kelvin took us on a wild ride in the first of his show ’n’ tell sessions on how to code.

This inaugural session covered $variables. Kelvin explained that variables are reusable 'buckets' that hold values - a string of characters, a single digit etc. If you find yourself repeating a value regularly (eg: margin-top: 20px;) then placing it in a variable will help simplify your code. An added benefit is that with your variable in place then changing multiple instances of a single value becomes trivial.

In fact, the most complex thing about variables is coming up with the right name…

An illustration of a bucket and an employee name badge

Variables are buckets for information. Naming them is hard!

Graham Hackney – CRM: Benefits for Bath

Graham wrapped up his 2-part series on our potential new CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) with a run down of the potential benefits for the University.

  • Coordination of our outgoing comms
  • A significant technical and functional upgrade to our existing software
  • An increased understanding of our target market
  • Enhanced conversion of the top students by making it easier to identify them earlier in the induction process
  • A greater understanding between departments, faculties and groups across campus
An illustration of outline figures. The central figure is a gold statue lit from behind

A new CRM will make identifying top students easier

Marie Salter – MOOC big data

Marie shared some insights into the performance of our MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) over the past 12 months and highlighted some of the emerging patterns we can see from the data captured.

Although we can’t share the exact figures it’s clear from the stats shown that MOOCs are an increasingly popular and efficient way of learning.

A slideshow presentation projected on to a big screen

Marie provides some up-to-date stats on the success of our MOOCs

Liam McMurray – Break conference

A mammoth session from Mr McMurray as he attempted to summarise an entire 2-day conference in a 5 minute presentation.

Break took place in Belfast back in November 2014. It pitches itself as a design-led conference that eschews technical information for a more inspirational approach.

There were a wide variety of speakers and topics over the 2 days but, as time was short, Liam focused on the talk from Sarah Richards, formerly of GDS and now at Citizens Advice Bureau.

Sarah shared some of her insights into working on and how these are being applied in her new role at CAB. To summarise:

  • Make it simpler - Start with user needs and cull everything else
  • Make it clearer - Speak in plain English
  • Make it faster - If you can answer a question before the user actually gets to your site then all the better

Take a look at Sarah’s slides from the Break conference

Take a look at Liam’s slides on the Break conference

A slideshow presentation projected on a big screen

Liam shrugs off the pressure of summarising an entire conference in 5 minutes


Show and Tell, 16 January 2015

📥  Show & Tell

It was a big crowd for our first show and tell of the year and that wasn't just because we've had two new starters in our team!

Transport discovery and advice - Paul

Paul used a rare Friday in the office to make a starring role in the line-up. He kicked things off with a talk about his work on our transport advice. He had carried out a content audit, inventory, analysis and a benchmarking exercise (phew) in order to find out what our current provision is like
and how we can improve it. His benchmarking involved looking at 20 websites, including other universities, and companies that dealt with large volumes of visitors such as the 02 Arena. From this extensive research and discovery project, he was able to make a series of findings and recommendations.

Crucially, information should be centred, in one place and not spread out through the site. People shouldn't have to journey throughout the website, taking wrong turnings in order to find out how to get here. However, despite providing central information, a balance needs to be struck. Information should be concise. We'll provide a postcode, GPS information for sat navs and then signpost users to useful information on public transport rather than replicating information ourselves. Instead of creating our own content on bus timetables and cycle routes for example, we should link to the pages curated by those in charge of those services. We also won't hide the important information in lots of extra content, that may or may not be relevant.

This means we can be sure the information is accurate and up-to-date and our visitors know what they are doing and that they can visit us, without worrying about every single detail.

Go Live - Tom N

Tom N treated us to a display of how we launched our homepage alpha. Yes that's right. In case you haven't heard, months of hard work boiled down to a few tense moments as we 'hit the button'. Our alpha homepage is live! However one does not simply hit the button as Tom pointed out. LOTS of preparation was needed and lots of hard work happened, so that it could be that simple when the moment came. Thanks to all of this hard work, going live involved the changing of a few characters in the code that had been slaved over for months. If for any reason we need to go back, we can. All we need to do is revert those characters again. Hopefully though, we won't need to do that and we can enjoy watching our alpha venture out into the world to be received by others.

Customer Relationship Management: maximising the impact - Graham (a warmly welcomed guest speaker)

Graham took us on a metaphorical journey to help us understand how to maximise the effectiveness of our communications. There are some key, key parts to this. Timed to perfection - Any messages need to be timely and accurate.

  • Focused on the target audience - This means you need to know them. How old are they? What is their year of entry? Our messages need to be focused on our audience, why does this message matter to them?
  • Functional and relevant messaging - If your messages aren't functional or relevant then it could damage your relationship with your audience.
  • Reliable - This is about trust. If we send out a number saying it can help, and it turns out to be the wrong team, or the wrong number altogether, the person who tried that number will have a negative opinion on that message and of us.
  • Coherent - Any and all messages should be confusion-free. Your audience must be able to understand what you are saying.
  • Informative and expected - You can't assume. You must ask and be prepared for them to change all the time.

This journey was part one of two, so we're looking forward to the next leg.

Pattern Library - Liam

Websites are made out of chunks, but how do we organise them? This was the topic of Liam's presentation.
Examples of these chunks are:

  • the search bar
  • accordions
  • drop-down menus

These are 'patterns', items that can appear on multiple pages. In order to get an overview of all these chunks, Liam created a pattern library. This library contains these chunks and the code that makes them work. This library also draws from the style guide and includes how dates should be formatted. In the future this library will be built on and typography will be included. Already it is an excellent resource that will aid page building and help make design decisions.

How and why we make our design decisions? - Dan

Dan followed on from Liam with a talk about design decisions and how the process is changing with the increasing advent of technology and the 'internet of things'.

The old way - designers made a page, outwards in. They knew the size of the page - the size of an average desktop / laptop screen. The page was rigid, it had elements on it in a fixed location on the page.

However this was when computers were the only way people viewed webpages. But what happens when pages are viewed on mobiles, tablets, watches or even fridges? Fixed pages will not provide a good experience.

The new way -  We should design inwards out. Small discreet elements of functionality which can then be placed anywhere on the page, depending on screen size. Line heights can also change depending on the device used to view the page.

Cool name? There are many many different design methodologies capturing this area:

  • Atomic design
  • BEM

Dan and Liam are using a mix of these ideas and theories and will be coming up with their own name soon!

That was it for this Show and Tell, we're looking forward to the next one already!


Page designing or Tetris? - Photo kindly supplied by Kelv


Show & Tell, 5 December 2014

📥  Show & Tell

Our last Show & Tell of 2014 was held in the Council Chamber, for extra fanciness. This session enjoyed a sprinkle of festive magic, with two Christmas-themed presentations and some exciting live demos.

Diagram of Santa's North Pole operation

Santa's operation, as depicted by Tom's minimum viable flowchart.

Linting - Kelvin

Following on from his last talk on Ruby idioms, Kelvin introduced us to the concept of how to lint your code and why you should do it.

Linting is not just a lake in Indonesia or picking bits of fluff out of the laundry - it's running a program across your code to flag up any errors and notify you if you've broken the code conventions. Linting politely lets you know when you've done something wrong, and teaches you the right way to do it - or, in Kelvin's words, it's "the Clippy of the dev world".

Our dev team use the marvellously-named Rubocop to lint Ruby. Kelv demoed the SublimeText plugin for Rubocop so we could see some real live linting in action.

Why good content is important - Rich

Rich is partial to a film-based Show and Tell. This week we learned why good content is important, and also a lot about the plot of Arthur Christmas.

Content is like a promise to our users - when we show someone a link, we're telling them that there will be good, useful content on the end of it. If they can't find what they're looking for, the users will lose faith in the magic of (Christmas) and the world will be a dark, sad place.

We need to be less like Steve Christmas, who has an almost industrial approach and reduces the users to metrics. Instead our role model should be Arthur Christmas, who is empathetic to the users and sees them all as individuals, not just numbers.

Gwen represents the users. I haven't seen Arthur Christmas, so I'm not entirely sure who she is, but she seems like a nice kid and we should all try to help her, right?

usabiliTEST - Charlotte

Charlotte told us about her experiences with usabiliTEST, an online card sorting tool that allows users to prioritise cards or sort them into different boxes. You can specify the boxes you want them to sort the cards into (like "Finance" and "Student Life") or you can let them define the boxes themselves.

While researching improvements for our student landing page, Charlotte and Rhian wanted to understand how students think - what do they want, and what terms do they use to find it? They used usabiliTEST to ask students to prioritise the links and other information they wanted to see and group it into different categories. The tests they set up were completed by almost 100 students, providing a valuable insight into what's important to our users.

Charlotte also gave us a demo of usabiliTEST to show us how to set up a test, along with the different ways to organise the data you get from the results.

OpenStreetMap - Chris

OpenStreetMap is an open data community mapping tool. We use it on to display campus maps - it's a useful resource for marking out buildings and other campus information, and can be quicker to update than Google Maps.

Chris talked about the advantages of OpenStreetMap and how it's updated, using the BaleHaus as an example. The BaleHaus was moved from its original location when the Chancellors' Building was constructed, which meant the map had to be updated.

Updates can be made by marking them out on the map or importing GPX files with location information. Gathering this location information took a little more manual work than usual - Chris downloaded a phone app to track his movements and then walked in circles around the building a few times.

Dodgy GPS signal strength does mean this data has to be double-checked and refined on the map later, but it's a good way to provide accurate information about our campus (and get some fresh air at the same time).

Hacking Santa - Tom N

Every week Tom puts the fear into the rest of us with terrifying stories of security exploits. This week he talked about the problem-solving progress of hacking.

An example of a problem: what if you want a new bike for Christmas, but you're almost certainly on the naughty list? Time to hack Santa.

Tom walked us through identifying the possible points of vulnerability in Santa's operation (surveillance data, elfin workforce) and then how you might be able to exploit those vulnerabilities (altering the data, bribing elves). We are all now getting coal in our stockings.

Show & Tell is back in 2015

2015: the setting for Back to the Future 2, and also our next Show & Tell. We're always happy to have guests, so we hope to see you on Friday 16 January.

Troy and Abed animated GIF

Cookie cheers!


Show & Tell, November 21 2014

📥  Communication, Design, Development, Show & Tell

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

Ruby Idioms - Kelvin

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

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

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

Less stuff - Dan

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

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

What do I do? - Katrina

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

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

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

The tale of BrowserStack - Tom

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

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

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

Alpha update - Ross

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


Show & Tell, November 7 2014

📥  Communication, Show & Tell

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

University of Bath questions – Ross

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

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

Security misconfiguration – Tom N

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

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

Our defence

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

Prospectus reboot – Maree

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

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

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

Research review – Iris

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

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

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

In summary the following recommendations have been made:

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

Five rules for better images – Liam

Liam explained in simple terms five rules for better images.

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

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

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