We’re starting to talk about content.

Why content?

For years universities have succeeded, almost by default. Young people wish to continue their education and going to university is the default choice.

Today though, as with many other industries, higher education is in the process of being disrupted by new, innovative ways of continuing education. From remote learning to open online courses, the traditional on-campus university faces more competition than ever to attract students to their campuses.

The way a university positions itself to staff, students and the outside world can be a big factor in how effective its student, staff and business recruitment campaigns are – and content plays a pivotal role in this.

What is a content strategy?

My favourite definition of content strategy is:

“planning for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable, on-brand content”.

It’s how our University talks as a whole, and how we can harness the intelligence, leadership and thinking of the entire University, including you, to create and contribute to the content we provide externally to our prospective customers.

What are we doing about it?

Two weeks ago, in early October, members of the project team ran a series of content strategy workshops to help us think through what content really means to the University, how we can become more effective and efficient at creation and publication of content and how we can empower the wider organisation to contribute.

The workshops we ran were:

  • Content strategy mapping – building a roadmap
  • Content modelling – modelling the various types of content we produce
  • Measuring content – how can we measure the effectiveness of our content
  • Workflows and governance – how can we empower the wider organisation to contribute
Project team using sticky notes to identify content and manage content maturity
Project team working on how to identify content and manage content maturity

One output of these workshops was a content compass – a statement which helps us make decisions on what content we produce and whether it’s doing its job.

Ours is still in draft but here is what we have as our current statement:

Our content must help users be confident in the University of Derby and our expertise, discover information relevant to their interests and get excited about working with us.

To do this we must provide content that is impactful, accurate and emotive.

This content will make users feel engaged, inspired and confident making them more likely to engage with us or invest in their future with us and share our content.

This will help us raise our profile and reputation, improve the quality of applicants and ultimately, meet our targets.

If you’re interested in further outputs of the content strategy workshops, they’ll be shared over the coming weeks and months, but you can contact me directly if you’d like to get an early look.

What happens next?

We’ve now got a 12-18 month roadmap to implement which will take us from where we are now in our content maturity to a much stronger position.

Here are some of the things you can expect to start seeing:

  • Brand and tone of voice guidelines
  • Content creation and copywriting training
  • Simplified and clear workflows for content creation
  • A toolkit for researching, writing and evaluating your content
  • Content ambassadors to support you and your teams.

As you can imagine we’ll need your support to make this succeed and we’re looking for people to be part of our content work group to help make our plan a reality. Keep an eye out for more information on how to get involved.

The website project team.

The project to overhaul our University website and transform it into an industry-leading phenomenon is now fully underway, so we thought it was time to introduce you to the project team taking on this challenge. 

There will be a number of technical and content people working on the project throughout the different phases, but let’s start with the core project team.

Rob Fowles, Digital Marketing Manager, is our Project Lead. This means that he has responsibility for overseeing the progress of the project, involved in making key decisions, ensures we stay on budget and is the main point of contact for stakeholders and our agency, Deeson. Rob also manages the Digital Marketing team within Marketing and will be juggling the project with his other priorities. 

Rob Fowles standing in front of a wall of post-it notes.
Rob working on the second Design Sprint in Canterbury in September

Sarah Little is our full-time Project Manager, responsible for the day-to-day running of the project, reporting on progress, producing internal and external comms, and keeping people, budgets and resources on track. Sarah has been in a number of roles in the Digital Marketing and Campaigns teams over the past two years so is well-placed to effectively manage and deliver the web project. 

Peter Briers, the Senior Web Developer within the Digital Marketing team, is seconded to the project for the majority of his time and is our technical guru. He’s responsible for scoping and delivering the back-end and front-end of the website, including managing the content management system, integrating software into the new site, and will work alongside Deeson to design and build the website. Peter joined the Digital Marketing team in November 2015 and has worked with Rob and Sarah during that time to design and implement significant improvements to our current website. 

Laura-Jane Gould, Head of Brand, is overseeing the project team and ensures it ties in with the University strategic priorities and ties into the Brand development project.

Throughout the project, we will also be getting support from the wider Marketing team and other University departments to feed into the research, design and testing phases so everyone feels part of our journey to create a brand-led, content-rich website.

Alongside our internal day to day resource, we have also appointed a Project Advisory Group of Directors and other senior members of staff from across the University. This group meets monthly and has been set up to provide guidance and contribute to strategic decision making that is going to required along the way.

We also have a team of UX, Design and Content specialists within our partner agency Deeson. They will be introducing themselves in a separate blog post over the next few weeks.

So, as you can see, a lot of resource has been allocated to the project to ensure it is a success and delivers a website fit to take the University forward in delivering on its strategic ambitions. If you have any questions or comments for the team, feel free to email us at webjobs@derby.ac.uk.

Design sprint one – course search

Design sprint one – course search

Research roundup

After an initial research phase carried out by multiple team members in different locations, the beginning of this sprint was the perfect opportunity to make sure that everyone had a good overview of all the research that had been going on to date. This featured lightning talks on project vision and business goals, user research summaries and an overview of key findings from stakeholder and student interviews. (You can read more on this here).

‘How might we’ activity

Whilst team members gave an overview of their research, the rest of the group were encouraged on post stick notes to document any ideas they had from this, by answering the question ‘how might we…?’. Rather than thinking of limiting solutions, we were all encouraged to phrase these ideas as opportunities we could solve. This encouraged us to not be limited by the existing site, technology or what other sites are doing.

These ideas were then discussed all together and moved into groups of similar themes. We then voted on for those we felt the most important to focus on across the sprint.


Success metrics

To problem solve effectively together, we needed to create a shared understanding of what success looks like for the project. We thought about the big goal and we could measure this:

GOAL: To increase student numbers year on year
SIGNALS: Potential students looking at course information, coming to visit the campus, potential students applying to Derby
METRIC: Course page views, website engagement, ordering a prospectus, booking an open day, direct applications on the site, choosing Derby as first choice

Empathy building

To help get further into the user’s mindset, we headed out into town to use the current University of Derby website on our phones, to try and find course information. With poor signal, small screens and awkward lighting, it was a challenge. After documenting observations, it encouraged us to come up with ideas that work for the user outside of the ideal viewing conditions and scenarios.

Comparable solution

Looking outside of the education sector, the team took some time to research other sites that might hold potential solutions for the new website. There was a strong theme of car brand sites that were effectively challenging the traditional complex menu layout, and also holiday search sites which did a good job of only showing the necessary filters first to show results quicker. Other examples looked at clearly laid out product comparison tables and page layouts that cleverly pulled out quick to view key information.

Crazy 8s sketching

Next up was fast paced sketch challenges. Each team member took a piece of A3 paper and divided it into 8 sections. With one minute for each, we produced rough sketches for 8 individual ideas for elements of the course search journey. The goal for these was to push beyond traditional ideas, and into more innovative and challenging ideas.

Solution sketching

After dot voting on the quick ideas above, we then moved on to a further set of sketches, but this time working on ideas we wanted to push in more detail, and to a more complete course search journey. The sketches began at a search on the homepage, all the way through to the course detail.

The solutions were then voted on, for those we liked the most, ready for prototyping. Before ending the day, we also highlighted any assumptions that had been made within these sketches, so that we can test later on.

Solution prototyping

The outcome of our design sprints will be working prototypes. For this first sprint we pulled together the ideas from the week and uploaded the course search journey into simple wireframes using Sketch and Invision. We’ll then take these for testing later in the month with students at University of Derby.