New sustainability website
We launched a new sustainability section of the website on Thursday, 28 January 2021. This new section replaces many pages previously scattered across the University website. It brings together information about sustainability at the University in a single place and is aimed at both external and internal audiences.
The Environment Team approached us mid-2019 with a request to rearchitect their website. The issue was that their web pages were held in multiple locations throughout T4v7 and T4v8. Users reported that the site was difficult to navigate and pages were bloated with content (much of it out of date and difficult to maintain).
The Environment Team wanted a single place for users, both internal and external, to find all information about sustainability at St Andrews.
Working with the Environment Team
The Environment Team were excellent to work with. They whole-heartedly embraced digital best practice, including the need for concise, scannable and objective content. They undertook many courses from the digital visa training programme to make sure that they understood the principles of user-centred design and could maintain the website going forward.
The first thing we did was meet to agree on an information architecture (IA). With a clear outline for their site in place, the Environment Team were able to build the web pages and write the content to an extremely high standard on their own.
We met once a month to review the site’s progress, discuss any issues, and go over any questions. The monthly meeting was very effective because it allowed us to catch issues early and keep the site on track. It was also a good training opportunity as we were able to discuss why certain ideas might not work (for example, a certain feature may not be accessible).
External vs internal
At first, it seemed necessary to keep information for current students and staff separate from external content by password protecting it and hosting it in the T4v7 system. This included highly detailed information such as recycling points in the town, bike or car-share schemes, winter holiday shutdown information for halls, etc. It was information that would be overwhelming and unnecessary for an external audience.
However, after further discussion, we discovered that most of the information for internal audiences could be removed or reduced. Some of it was information that users were better finding elsewhere (for example, recycling points could be found on the Fife Council website, and their information was more up to date). Some of it was information that, according to our analytics data and survey responses, internal audiences were simply uninterested in (for example, electricity and gas performance monitoring for each hall of residence).
Therefore, we agreed to take a blended approach where we provided simplified and consolidated information largely aimed for an external audience, but with some information about getting involved for an internal audience.
A great example of this blended approach is the information about the Interhall Environment Competition on the new energy and water page:
- For prospective students, it provides high-level information about the competition, which may be helpful for those who want to apply to universities with opportunities for student involvement in sustainability.
- For external business, it provides information about how to work with engagement and behaviour change to meet new energy-efficient technology.
- For current students, it has quick details about how to get involved.
The new site has a number of improvements over the old version:
- Consolidated information. We reduced the sustainability website from 104 pages down to only 12! This makes it a lot easier for the Environment Team to maintain and for the user to navigate.
- Concise text. The content on each page is concise and written in plain English, making it much more user friendly.
- Accessible design. Because the content is largely for an external audience, we were able to build it in T4v8 using DPL patterns. This means the new site is accessible and mobile friendly.
- Holistic approach. The Environment Team plan to use their social media platforms and blog to showcase successes, stories and events. This means the website can provide largely static information while other platforms can provide engaging and time-sensitive content.
We built the new sustainability site using a ‘skateboard’ approach (where we start with the bare minimum needed to meet user needs). The next step is to look into analytics data and conduct user testing to make sure that the site is meeting user needs. If we identify any gaps or issues, we can adjust and build on the website as necessary.
For now, though, the new sustainability site is a huge improvement over the previous web pages and more clearly demonstrates the University’s commitment to sustainability.