Seven things I discovered at the Institutional Web Management Workshop 2017

Posted in: Agile, Content design, DMC team, User research

This summer, myself and colleagues from across the University took a trip over to Canterbury for the annual Institutional Web Management Workshop conference. We arrived hungry for innovation (and cake) and we left full of ideas (but still hungry for cake).

The Institutional Web Management Workshop logo

Having a crisis is good

There seems to be a bit of a crisis across the higher education sector at the moment. Brexit, new consumer legislation and even just basic technical infrastructures are in some cases struggling to keep up. It feels like the changes are accelerating and we’re all struggling to keep on top of them.

But the crisis isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is forcing a change and problems have to be dealt with. What we had before might have been ok, but it was never perfect and with higher fees come higher expectations.

Andrew Millar, Head of Web Services at the University of Dundee, made me think of this in his talk when he highlighted that their approach to digital content was broken. Not once, not twice, but thrice. In short:

  • we have more (and more) people creating more (and more) content and we need to provide better tools to enable them to do that
  • our ‘super’ web designs from the past aren’t cutting it anymore
  • the infrastructure we have still works, but it isn’t getting us where we need to go

He highlighted how it’s no longer about fixing one of these problems. We have to tackle them all, and a crisis is a good catalyst for that.

Google is coming

We need to be thinking about what is around the corner. Right now, we’re getting our content sorted for mobile and optimised for search, but we need to be aware of what is coming next.

Voice and home assistants are on the rise and we need to make sure that we are agile enough to adapt our content to take advantage of this (just in case they take over the world).

Do your user testing with no more than five people

The number 5 on a blue background | Photo by Ryan Johns ( on Unsplash (
Photo by Ryan Johns on Unsplash.

There was an interesting report by the Nielson Norman Group on why you only need to test with five users that I was unaware of. In the report, they highlight that it takes around 15 usability tests to highlight all the problems with your design. They advocate however, that testing with five users is more beneficial.

How so? Well by testing with five users, you should find that 85% of the problems will be highlighted. Any additional testing is likely to repeat those same issues (as well as some new ones).

The remaining issues can be highlighted through further testing, but only once you have iterated on the design. This enables you to gain more value from each test and put better resource into testing more designs, rather than storing it up for one mega test.

Group review your user testing

Alberto Gugliemi, Web Editor at the University of Birmingham, provided a thorough overview of a usability testing framework in his workshop. The framework he used had been adapted from the work of usability guru Steve Krug.

He introduced a debrief session after the user testing to help prioritise the digital team’s work after the tests. This involved getting staff together to:

  • watch the usability video (an edited version) and ask attendees to indicate the top three issues
  • compile the issues
  • plot the issues in a prioritisation matrix

Becky Garner has covered this in more detail in her blog post.

Adapt military strategy for digital governance

Spitfire plane flying | Photo by paul jespers ( on Unsplash (
Photo by paul jespers on Unsplash.

Gareth Edwards, Digital Manager and Strategist at University of Greenwich, provided a comprehensive summary of digital governance and the issues faced. He likened this to the dowding system used in the Battle of Britain.

He highlighted that in the battle, there was a clear chain of command but also empowerment across the military. Central teams were in charge of strategy, while local teams were empowered to employ tactics. He illustrated how the same techniques could be applied to digital governance, by:

  • controlling roles and strategy centrally
  • providing the right tools and information to local teams
  • trusting the people on the spot to make decisions

Most importantly, we need to provide the right information to the right people (not all the information).

Be ambitious

Matthew Castle and Ruth Mason from the University of Oxford summarised how they were taking a unique approach to managing the large volume of website requests they receive. They highlighted the vast number of projects that were going to local digital agencies rather than being built internally.

They have invested in supporting Oxford Mosaic, which provides a simple(ish) framework for staff to develop their own web presence online. The sites are also responsive, which provides some futureproofing.

They have made a selection of these sites available for viewing.

We’re doing well

Paul Boag spoke about some of the work he has been doing with a number of public and private sector organisations.

He might say this to everyone, but he said we (higher education) are doing well, really well at the moment, and that we need to stop being so modest (that’s nice). Digital is something everyone is adapting to, and even though it might not feel like it, we’re doing well.

He also spoke about why some digital teams work well and why others don’t. It’s good.

Posted in: Agile, Content design, DMC team, User research


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