Faculty of Engineering & Design staff

Sharing experience and best practice across the Faculty of Engineering & Design

Tagged: website

Why I (mostly) like using the new CMS

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📥  Staff experiences, Staff insight

I've had a long hiatus from using the new CMS, but with our Faculty pages finally live, it feels like things are moving again and I've been reacquainting myself with the new system. I'm reminded every time I log into our old CMS what a better system we now have for those who update the website and those who read it. Here's why:

It forces you to write coherently

Before I even create a page in the new CMS I have to select a content type. This involves a good 10 minutes of working out what will fit my purpose. If I'm telling a story I'll probably select the case study content type, but I'll use a campaign if I'm writing persuasive content with lots of calls-to-action or a guide if I'm explaining something.

Once that's sorted I have to fill out a user need. I find this a really (really) tiresome job, but it's a good check to see if you are actually about to create a coherent page that someone will find useful. It's pretty tempting to stray into writing something you want to say and adding in content that is perhaps related but not directly relevant. When I scroll back up the page to check its user need, it helps me to refocus my writing on the intended audience: why am I doing this? Why is it important to someone?

It provides a structure to guide you

I'm not a fan of filling in boxes and until they introduced a preview button I really struggled to use the new CMS. I am often driven nuts by the word limits. For me the most annoying box of all is the one under the title, which is limited to 160 characters. I agonise over that box for about half the time the rest of the page will take. Then I turn around and show Becky and we agonise some more. The secret is, when you've got that sentence or two right, the rest of the page will follow. Getting it right in 160 characters means that you really know what your page is going to be about.

Screenshot of a page title and tag line

The 160 character tag line

I see now that other than the really useful things word limits ensure (not least how the pages are displayed in Google search results) they are actually helping me to write better. They force me to really get to the point and be concise. They are challenging me (quite literally, the page won't save if I've written too much) to take my time and really think things through. What I once raged against I see now is a support (still a frustrating one though) to guide my content and stop me settling for the quick win and a quiet life.

It demands better content

Pages need to have real substance now with information that delivers value or answers a question. Even the photos have to be better, a 16:9 ratio is unforgiving to non-professional shots. Using the new templates makes me realise how much we have been able to hide behind HTML styling in the old CMS. I was pretty horrified when I found out I wouldn't have access to the code in the new system (there's a part of me that would still like to have the option) but it really does make me focus on the quality of the content rather than spending 5 minutes faffing with a boxout. What I once saw as crushing the creativity of the content producer I now understand to be for the benefit of consistency.

Why you should find out more about it

Change can be a brutal process. I have often felt disheartened and confused during this CMS transition project. I still despair on a monthly basis, but when I look at a new page on a mobile I find my answer: the content and the design are so much better. I know the way to overcome many (not all) of my CMS frustrations is to learn more. Find out the rationale behind the compromise, the reason why my status quo has been challenged, what benefit a perceived sacrifice has been made for. I follow the Digital's team blog, 'watch' their release notes wiki page, attend their Show & Tell sessions, and most importantly click that 'suggest an improvement to this page button' and just find out why.

Once you know the thought behind the content strategy and the coding you will feel reassured as to the talent working on this new system and have faith in its ability to get better. I once used to ask myself "why is this happening on our watch?" Now I understand what an opportunity it is to question, to rethink, to reflect and improve. I wouldn't give up the past difficulties or the ones to come because it only makes us think more. With understanding it's impossible to return to before, there's only new ways, better ways.

 

Lost in transition

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📥  Uncategorised

Do you remember what you were doing on October 27 2016? I do. It was the day we launched our new Faculty of Engineering & Design web pages. This made us the first of the four faculties/school to publish its section on the new Bath website (sorry Science).

The ease with which our pages went live was testament to the months of preparation and hard work put in by Beth and me in our team, my fellow editors from other faculties and the digital team. Since then, we’ve taken every opportunity to spread the word about our new pages and encourage feedback. So far the response has been positive and it’s proven a good opportunity to discuss the thinking behind the new look.

Reasons to be cheerful

Some people I've shown the new pages to have looked a bit shocked at how different the new design is to the old site. But there are good reasons for this.

Responsive design

All our new pages adapt to the size of the screen they are displayed on. If you've ever tried to look at our old pages on your mobile, you’ll recall the good old squint and pinch action required to change the view from silly to sensible size. A bit of delving into analytics shows that people are using different devices to view our pages more each year. In 2011, 3.66% of users were accessing our engineering pages from a mobile device. This figure has risen year on year to 17.82% for 2016. So making our web pages responsive reacts to the shift in how people use the internet. It puts our users and their experience first. It also neatly coincides with Google's work last year that saw new search algorithms rolled out to boost rankings for mobile-friendly sites.

Clean design

An uncluttered page makes for a better user experience. It's easier on the eye and allows visitors to scan for salient content. It also addresses the design preferences of our core audiences. User research by the Nielsen Norman Group suggests that young adults prefer minimalist and flat designs as they let them scan content quicker.

Accessibility

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, once said:

"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."

Our design and content choices are made with W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in mind. This means we're trying to make sure that everyone using our pages can get to all the information they need. This echoes something especially important to me: our values and duty as a university to promote inclusivity, equality and diversity.

Content driven

Finally, something I can take some credit for! With clean designs and an easy-to-use content publisher, we can focus on producing quality content that people want to read.

What's in the box?

So I’ve talked about what you see when you access our pages but not so much about what we (editors, authors, contributors) see when we input content. The new content publisher replaces OpenCMS as our content management system. If, like me, you've had the pleasure of using OpenCMS, you probably won't be too sad to say goodbye to it. You may miss me apologising to you for what I've often optimistically called its  'random quirks'. But maybe not too much.

My favourite bits

Structured content. There are 12 content types in the content publisher. Every time we create a page, we choose an appropriate template to match the content e.g. project, event, case study or announcement. The beauty of these templates is that they are straightforward and easy to use with a clear purpose that focuses on the user need. We also use markdown so there is minimal formatting needed.

No more broken code! The way the templates are built means that you can't accidentally break any HTML, which was a recurring problem for users in OpenCMS. The time I would have spent seeking out and fixing rogue divs can now be better spent working with subject matter experts (you lot) to craft engaging content.

A section of the announcement content type in the content publisher.

A section of the announcement content type in the content publisher.

Empowerment and education. Because the content publisher is easy to use, it's also easier to train people. This helps us devolve responsibilities and roll out access to more users. It also means we can focus on the important stuff; namely, good content! We can spend more time looking at how to write better content as well as share skills and best practice. We already have clearer guides on:

My hope is that this new approach to web content will ignite a positive culture shift to more collaborative working between requesters and creators.

But how did we get here?

In September 2015, Beth and I spent a week in Digital Basecamp working on transitioning Faculty content. We had already audited all our existing pages and chosen an action (e.g. major edit, split, merge, archive) for each page. At this stage, it was decided that recruitment content would remain out of scope until the new 'course search' app was built. This is why you can still see our old Graduate School pages.

We wrote user needs for all the content we wanted to transition and assigned them a content type. We used Trello to track the progress of the sprint. We created cards for each piece of content to transition and ranked it in terms of difficulty using the Fibonacci sequence. Each piece had to go through a series of editing, reviewing, fact-checking and proofing before it reached the 'ready for live' stage.

A trello board

Capture of the Trello board for Faculty of Engineering & Design transition on completion

During the sprint and in the following weeks, we transitioned the agreed existing Faculty content as well as creating some new. So we were ready to publish, right? Wrong. Transition came to a halt for reasons beyond our control and probably best not to dwell on now.

Skip to a year later and we were back in Digital Basecamp reviving the Trello board and dusting off our not-so-new content. The problem with time is that it keeps changing things. We couldn't simply publish the content that we'd created the year before because a lot of it was now out of date. We spent another week and a half reviewing, updating and creating content before I could rejoice in the fact that we were ready for final sign off. And that brings us back round to 27 October 2016 when I celebrated launching our new pages by making a plastic dragon roar.

I'm not going to lie; at times, transitioning this section has felt more like a marathon than a sprint. But it has been worth it. I've learnt a lot about content over the past two years: how to audit content, how to better structure and write content, and how to think about its value to our audience. These are things I want and hope to share with others.

So what next?

Although signing off the Faculty section felt momentous, we still have a way to go before we can burn OpenCMS. Four departments, a new course search app for undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and a multitude of research centres are all banging down my door. At the front of this queue is Electronic & Electrical Engineering content. We are going to spend a week in April working with Ann and Cassie to transition the department content for elec-eng. I'm confident that the work we've already put in on this and the lessons we've learnt along the way will make for a smooth transition sprint.

If you have any questions about transition, please email fed-web@bath.ac.uk. If you've seen the new faculty content and want to feedback, you'll find a 'suggest an improvement' link on the bottom right of all pages.

 

 

 

 

 

Transitioning person profiles to the new content management system (CMS)

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📥  New initiative, Staff insight

The hard facts

There are 199 published person profile web pages across our four Departments' website sections. These are mostly academic or academic-related with a smattering of Research Officers/Associates, Emeritus Professors and visiting staff. By Department, this looks like:

  • Architecture & Civil Engineering: 75
  • Chemical Engineering: 28
  • Electronic & Electrical Engineering: 30
  • Mechanical Engineering: 66

That’s a lot of profiles to transition! And we are working with Department office staff to do just this.

We have been running the 'first wave' of the project during January and February. This focuses on transitioning person profiles for academic members of staff (Professors, Readers, Senior Lecturers and Lecturers).  We’ll review progress in March before moving on to the 'second wave' (academic-related, research and visiting staff).

Not just a copy, paste and publish job

The new CMS is all about taking a more structured approach to how we think, write and present our content. This has benefits for both CMS users and website visitors. As editors, authors and contributors to the site, we can use structured templates to produce good content easier and faster. This structured approach helps us focus on what content our site users need and so helps them find the information they want easier and faster. Everybody’s happy!

What you can include in your new profile

A person profile page in the new CMS consists of a series of fields (some required) with set character limits.

Screenshot of the person profile template in CMS beta

Screenshot of the person profile template in CMS beta

Role summary (required)

This describes your role and research area. It is limited to 160 characters so that it will appear in full on search engine result pages (SERPs).

SERP for Gary Hawley

Search engine results page (SERP) for 'Gary Hawley'. The description is over 160 characters and gets cut off.

Role (1000 characters)

The duties and responsibilities of your current role.

Role-related posts (1000 characters)

A bullet-point list of your current role-related positions. For example, current institute memberships, chairs or editorial roles.

Career achievements (1500 characters)

The major achievements of your career. For example, this could include awards, previous academic and/or non-academic positions.

Education (1000 characters)

Your higher education background and qualifications.

Teaching units

A bullet-point list of the undergraduate and postgraduate units you teach on, with links to the unit catalogue.

Research interests (1000 characters)

A bullet-point list of your key research areas.

Current research projects (1000 characters)

A bullet-point list of your research project titles with links

The profile template also includes:

  • your contact details
  • your availability to supervise student research projects
  • a link to your publications in Opus
  • an option to include supporting external links (e.g. personal websites or social media)

What we're doing and how you can help

The Department office staff are creating the new person profile pages in the new CMS. They're using content from the existing person profiles but are leaving fields blank where information is missing or out of date.

The Faculty Web Content Editor (me) and the Marketing & Web Administrator (Beth) are reviewing the new profile pages as they're created. We'll make any necessary edits in line with the University's editorial style guide and person profile style guide.

We'll contact you with a link to preview your draft profile when we have transitioned the content across. We'll ask you check that all the facts on the page are correct and give you the opportunity to fill in any blank fields.

We will review the pages a final time with input from Digital. We will publish the person profile pages in line with the go live date for each Department's content.

If you have any questions about the CMS transition or your person profile, please email us at fed-web@bath.ac.uk.