Sprint stories: Navigation guide

Posted in: Accessibility, Content design

Thanks to a variety of reasons, navigating our campus can be tricky. Here’s how we set out to create a guide to help new students and seasoned staff alike get where they need to be.  


Preparing to write the navigation guide 

We’re the first to admit that the unique architectural concept of the University of Bath can make for some head-scratching moments, particularly for new students trying to find their way (in more ways than one).  

For a start, there’s the way the campus was designed to radiate out from an elevated pedestrian thoroughfare called the Parade. This means that the effective ‘ground floor’ and entry point to many of our buildings is Level 2, with the actual ground floor on Level 1. And that’s just the beginning of the potential confusion: don’t even get us started on what Level 0 is and why it’s the ground floor for buildings in the south of the campus.     

Then there are our building names. They’re made up of their compass position in relation to the Library, and a number hinting at how far from the Library the building is in that direction (10 West, for example, is further from the Library than 6 West). In addition, the building number also indicates whether the building is on the same side of the Parade as the Library or not. If the number is odd, it is (3 West, for example); if it’s even, it’s not. Simple!   

Add to this a room numbering system that looks for all the world like it’s based on a decimal system (4.16 for example) but which isn’t, and it’s easy to see why, in lieu of a large and costly project to rename everything, there was a need for a simple, clear guide to navigating these eccentricities.  

As with all our projects, good preparation was vital before we wrote a word of the navigation guide. These are the tasks we completed to shape the final guide, to ensure it was accurate and that it spoke to actual user needs.    


User story session 

First of all, we conducted a user story session. If you’ve not heard of user stories before, here’s a bit of background information: 

In a user story session, the Content team gathers around a table with a bunch of Post-Its and Sharpies, sets a timer, and writes as many needs an audience for the proposed content might have in relation to it. We do this by completing a trio of phrases: 


I need… 

So I can…  

Doing this is how we: 

  • Identify where our current content is succeeding and where improvement is needed 
  • Identify what successful new content would encompass 
  • Create a hierarchy of needs, from the most general (‘As a new student I need to know how to navigate campus so I can find everything I will need in the next 3 years’) to the more granular (‘As a new international student I need to have clear instructions on where the SU and support teams are so I can be provided with clear information in a new country’) 

The Navigation guide session was a fruitful one, uncovering 39 user needs. This helped us to begin structuring the guide. It also raised questions about the campus that we realised we didn’t yet know the answer to.  


Checking welcome week pages for location requirements for new students  

Every new student at Bath receives a link to Welcome Week timetable that outlines the introductory sessions they’ll need to attend. Usefully for our navigation guide, these timetables (some 80+ covering undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral courses) naturally list the locations of these sessions.  

By tallying the occurrences of campus locations over these Welcome Week timetables we were able to identify the buildings that new students were most likely to need to navigate to during their early days at the University.  

Using this information, we then created test routes for our next task (Checking navigation for campus buildings and rooms) that would surface navigation issues that would be of most relevance to the most students; navigation issues we would then tackle in our navigation guide.    


Checking navigation for campus buildings and rooms 

As University staff, we, on the Content team, are familiar with the campus. Well, mostly. As such, we needed to find a way to replicate the experience of being new to the University and trying to navigate to specific buildings.   

To do this we took the most popular buildings from the Welcome Week location requirements task and created a series of test routes. We then attempted to navigate these using just one of the tools available to current students: 

  • Google Maps 
  • University location pages 
  • The PDF campus map 
  • Physical signage around the campus

We took notes and photos of our navigation experiences then met up to discuss our successes and challenges. It was a fascinating exercise for everyone, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each navigation tool, underlining existing issues and revealing new issues we would need to cover in the navigation guide, and helping us to address user needs with greater understanding and empathy.   


Meeting with Campus Infrastructure 

With our campus encompassing 20,000 rooms in numerous and unique buildings, we really wanted to talk with representatives of the Campus Infrastructure department. Their insights into the layout of the campus would be invaluable when it came to giving the most accurate information to users of the guide. We asked them about: 

  • building and room names and numbers 
  • whether there's a standard naming convention for buildings and rooms 
  • which buildings break this convention and why

Their answers were not only illuminating, but reinforced just how challenging it is to maintain infrastructure signage, let alone contemplate overhauling a system that’s been in place and evolving organically (if a little eccentrically) since 1966.    


Writing the navigation guide 

Writing the guide was, as with all our sprint projects, a collaborative and iterative process. Firstly, Content Writers Amy and Paul collated the discovery work and distilled it into a draft guide. This was then reviewed by Content Designers, Matt and John, who fed back with suggestions and amends that helped to further focus the guide and enhance its clarity.   

By the end of the process, we had a draft guide that logically and clearly explained how to navigate our campus, demystifying building and level-naming conventions and equipping users with a variety of tools to find their way around during those early days at the University.  


Finishing up the navigation guide sprint 

However, before publishing the guide we needed to user-test it.      

User testing the navigation guide  

We didn’t have to look far for two ideal people to user-test the new guide. Daniel had recently joined our team as a developer so wasn’t as familiar with the campus as the Content team. Jade, meanwhile, had joined our colleagues in Comms for a month on an internship. They were both up for the challenge. 

We set Daniel and Jade the same task each: to navigate to three campus destinations (comprising a building and a room within it), each route starting from a different point around the campus. We asked them to use our navigation guide as and when they needed. Daniel and Jade were accompanied by a member of the Content team who documented their progress but didn’t participate in the wayfinding themselves.   

The feedback was broadly positive; however, Daniel and Jade gave us some very useful feedback that enabled us to refine the guide yet further. We were finally ready to publish Navigating the University campus.   


Writing this blog post 

The final part of our sprint was to write a blog outlining the sprint and how we tackled it, and, well, you’re reading it. So, now you know how we planned, researched, wrote and tested our new navigation guide. We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing what went into creating the guide.  

Would you like to help us make our campus navigation guide even better? If you find yourself at the University and use the guide to get where you want to go, consider letting us know how it went. Like the campus itself, Navigating the University campus is designed to evolve and improve over time.  

Posted in: Accessibility, Content design


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  • This is really interesting, thanks for posting. I wish that guide existed when I came for my interview 🙂