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History of the Study at St Andrews website project

The first project of the digital communications team is a relaunch of the website for prospective students. This project began about a year ago, long before the digital communications team was formed.

Lean sessions

Lean session

In early 2013, members of the Admissions unit worked with Lean to come up with proposed ideas for a new Admissions website.

The Lean group, as it became known, consisted of one member of each team in Admissions, plus a representative from the School of Computer Science, plus a student ambassador, plus me. This was a great mix of people. Admissions supplied the knowledge of the business and our target audiences, while I was able to advise on what solutions would be suitable for the web.

A big part of my role from the early stages was helping people think about the website from the user’s point of view. User-centred design is still a radical idea for some people.

To this day, I hear of people in the University creating websites so that they are easy for us to update, at the expense of the user experience. But it is vitally important to put the user at the centre of every decision that we make.

The Lean sessions were hugely helpful. They allowed us to come up with creative ideas for the new website. For maximum creativity, we thought about our ideal scenario, free from any technical, political or budgetary constraints.

Progress over the summer

Shortly afterwards, I was seconded from the web team to work more closely with Admissions and Corporate Communications. From that point on, the Admissions website was my main priority. Since then, I have been working closely with the various stakeholders and content owners across the University.

I separated the project into phases to help us meet the Lean group’s recommendations by strategically prioritising different elements of the work. We are about to complete the first phase, which is to have new content, new content management processes, and a new design.

Web Advisory Committee

There are regular meetings of the Web Advisory Committee (WAC). The WAC serves two main purposes:

  • To update stakeholders on the progress of the project.
  • To make decisions.

The WAC consists of stakeholders from across the University including Admissions, Registry, the web team, Publications and English Language Teaching.

I also produce a regular newsletter, which is used to update colleagues on our progress. The newsletter also features the articles and resources that I write about on this blog.

For the majority of last year, the WAC met fortnightly for 90 minutes. These meetings were largely useful for gathering feedback in the early stages of the project.

But it was still coming down to me to implement everything for the website — driving the project, producing all of the content, creating the design and coding. At the same time, I was overseeing changes that were being made to the existing website.

The creation of the digital communications team

It was too much work for one person, hence the creation of the digital communications team.

The first step was to hire a copywriter for three months. This was a huge weight off my shoulders. Content is always the biggest risk to a web project overrunning, but I was so busy pushing the project forward as a whole that I had little time to dedicate to actually getting any of the content done.

Since then, we have hired a web designer (Lewis Wake) and a web content editor (Carley Hollis). Each of us has complementary skills, and we are able to work together closely on all aspects of the website. Excitingly, we have an office to ourselves in 113 North Street. This makes for a great space for us to work creatively and collaboratively.

Content

A key aim of this project is to ensure that the information is consistent across all channels. Up until now, information has sometimes differed from channel to channel. We have created new content management processes and an external website style guide to be used in addition to the existing Publications house style.

Up until now, dozens of people have had access to update the Admissions webpages. This has inevitably led to inconsistencies, variable quality, and duplicate information. Most of all, the structure of the website has become unwieldy.

From the launch of the new website, there will be much tighter editorial control. The digital communications team will have oversight over all content and information architecture decisions.

Design

Prospectus screenshot
We looked at recent print publications for inspiration.

When the University website was launched a few years ago, it shared similarities with the designs used for print materials. Over time, the print designs have evolved, and the website design has become outdated.

The new website design is intended to be more closely aligned to the print designs once again. At the same time, we are implementing a responsive design. This means that the design can adapt to various different devices. This is important as almost a fifth of all visits to the Admissions website are now on a mobile or tablet device.

We are using the Bootstrap framework, which was already being used by the web team and the software developers based in IT Services. It has a lot of the responsive functionality built into it, and using the framework should make it easier to roll out the design to other parts of the website, web apps and so on.

Next steps

We are currently building the website and migrating content into our content management system, TerminalFour Site Manager. We are working closely with the web team to make sure that everything is in order for going live.

The deadline for the launch of phase one of the Study at St Andrews website is the beginning of March. We will have a test version of the website up and running for a period of time before this, to allow internal stakeholders to provide feedback on functionality and the accuracy of the content. It will also give us the time to test the design and fix any bugs.

If you have any questions about the new website, email us:
digitalcommunications@st-andrews.ac.uk

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2 thoughts on "History of the Study at St Andrews website project"

  1. I should thank Fin for the photo. He sent across a few more as well. A good reminder of the original sessions! I also still have all the rolled up sheets of paper and sticky notes next to my desk.

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