Why we are looking for Gold Standard case studies – and how to create them

Content marketing is the new rock ’n’ roll. Possibly. You’d probably have to speak to a marketing expert to confirm this.

What is certain is that creating engaging, compelling content about our students, our graduates, our researchers, our business partners, our university is hugely important. It consolidates and builds on our reputation, our profile.

This is why we are working on a series of case studies. We want these stories to be interesting to prospective students but also to current students, parents, business, the wider world. People who will share the story.

More than interesting

In fact, we want them to be more than interesting. We want to make it difficult for people not to read them. We are looking for a Gold Standard in our case studies.

This means giving them the best title, the best images, the best introduction. And we want to keep people on these pages so they can see all the great things we are doing, get to see all the links and promo blocks we have put in for them. But also so they get to know us, get to understand what we do, what we are good at. Get to like us, to respect us. And, if they do, they may well tell their friends about us. Share us. Spread the word.

Something I prepared earlier

We started this process by publishing a small handful of case studies. These case studies have a specific focus but also have a broad appeal.

For instance, our Business Studies case study is about a TV show that everybody watches or has at least heard of. And our Architecture students’ piece is about positive public reaction to their designs for Derby city centre and the Assembly Rooms. We also have a Forensic Science student working in a CSI unit – you know, like on the telly. And Paul Cummins’s poppies that marked the centenary of the First World War. Oh, and a Data Science case study about some research that could turn your laptop into a mini supercomputer. And we have links to these case studies from promo blocks on subject and course pages.

Joining in the fun

Since I first wrote this, our product teams have rolled their sleeves up and produced some excellent case studies. Some are finding it easier than others but there is no doubt that the stories are compelling, such as Gaming student lands dream job with Xbox, The student who redesigned our University and From the office to the ice wall: Dainora’s leap of faith.

And that is the crux of what we are trying to do. Compelling stories. You need an angle, a hook. Something you can pull out and say, in old Sun newspaper lingo: “Hey, Doris, look at this!” It needs to be a story worth telling. Because, if we produce great stories consistently and put them out there, people will keep coming back to us, sharing us. And so it builds

A how-to guide

If you haven’t got to grips with it yet, I have created a case study template. It is full of hints and tips.

These will help you get a handle on what is required for one of these case studies – and give you an idea on how to construct them. But also read the case studies other people have produced. If you rate them, let them know and ask them how they went about it.

Keep using your Q&A forms. Learn which questions work best and share these with your colleagues. Also remember that not every Q&A response will be worth a case study. Recognise that. If you’re not sure about it, try to sell it to the person sitting next to you. And also note that some of the case studies we have created are simply a repurposing of already-existing material from news articles and blogs. So keep your eyes peeled.

What Derby did for us

One thing that all these case studies need is for our students, graduates, business partners to tell us what we have done to help them become amazing. That’s the most important thing we can share, intertwined with the compelling story: how we at the University of Derby have added value to their lives by giving them skills, contacts, opportunities etc. We want people to see this and think: “That could be me.

Remind me why we’re doing this?

We’re doing this because case studies, gold-standard case studies, are a great way to engage with our audience. Take a look at this lovely Twitter-related spike …

And here are some visitors to our Forensic Science course page who may not have got there without our case study …

Some figures

The new approach is measurably better than the old approach. Here are some figures for our newest set of case studies:

Xbox: 100 page views and 4 min average view time (live for one month).

Student redesign: 130 page views and 4.5 min average view time (month and a half).

Ice wall: 16 page views and 3 min average view time (one week).

And here are some more figures which relate to case studies that were on the old site and have been reworked in the new format for the new site.

New site

Ed Hollands: 370 page views, 5 min average view time (five months)

Forensic Science: 350 page views, 3.5 min average view time (four months)

Paul Cummins: 180 page views, 4 min average view time (two months)

Old site

I have taken a snapshot of these figures over a similar period that the case study has been live on the new site – and have also added the total number of page views they received.

Ed Hollands: 107 page views, 3.5 min (total 189)

Forensic Science: 80 page views, 2 min (total 96)

Paul Cummins: 17 page views, 3.5 min (total 71)

And, yes, that last one is why I put Dainora’s ice wall case study figure up. She received almost the same number of views in one week as Paul, the star of the First World War centenary, did in two months. It is clear the new approach to case studies and how they are being used and shared is getting our message out there so much better.

The new website: 4 weeks in

With the new website being live for 4 weeks  now is the ideal opportunity to dig into the stats to see how things are going. Given the cyclical nature of university recruitment we have compared analytics data for the first weeks of the website going live to the same period last year.

Here’s what we found…

Site wide

Taking on an entire website rebuild was an ambitious target, but it gave us the opportunity to wipe the slate clean. Following the extensive research and discovery phase, we built a new structure focused around user needs. Mapping content into this structure enabled us to identify a large amount of redundant outdated content that could be archived.

The early indications on this approach are promising…

The number of unique page views have increased by 12.5%. This comes despite the new website having under half the number of pages as the old website. In addition, there has been a reduction in bounce rate of 25% and marginal improvements in the time users are spending on the site.

New website mock up

Mobile traffic continues to grow. Last year in the same period 53% of visitors were on desktop with 39% on mobile. We’ve seen this change to 47% on desktop and 46% on mobile. Add in the traffic on tablets and we can see more of our users are accessing the site on handheld devices than desktops.


A key part of the project was implementing a new search solution; Funnelback. Since launch the use of search across the website is up 51%. Looking at the graph below there is an initial spike, which is to be expected with a completely new site, however this has settled down and is now generally tracking above the curve.

Website search analytics

Part of this could be down to improving the visibility of search.

During research it was identified that the core aim for users visiting the website is to a find a course. With this in mind course search occupies the primary real estate on the homepage. There are also separate landing pages for a central, undergraduate and postgraduate course search within the website structure. Bounce rate on search result pages is also down by 15% which indicates that the results being returned are more relevant for users.

Landing pages

Looking at the undergraduate landing page, unique page views are up 45%, but bounce rate has increased from 13% to 23%. Although, as a general rule of thumb, this is still low it is moving in the wrong direction. The story for the postgraduate landing page is very similar.

Digging into heatmaps we’ve had running shows us where users are interacting in the page. Course and subject links have proved to be the most popular across all devices, as shown below in an example segment of one of the maps.

Example heatmap

Across the board the aim is to provide easily navigable content based on what the user wants. We’ll digest these results and look into what tweaks to the content we can make and test over the coming weeks.

What’s next…

More research and more testing!

There have been some promising initial indications but we won’t be resting on our laurels. The stats overwhelmingly reinforce the opinion that course and subject is key for the majority of users on our website. We want to explore the behaviour on course and subject pages to see what users are doing, what kind of content they are engaging with and what they are trying to do. The more we understand that, the better we can help them to get there.

The website has a number of different audiences which reflect in the University’s plans for growth in areas such as online, B2B and research. We’ll be looking into the type of content users in these audiences are looking for. When we have an improved knowledge of this we can plan a new structure and content for these areas.


FAQ’s about the new website

Now that we have reached the exciting time where we are publishing our new website, I wanted to ensure that I answer as many of the questions which we have received throughout the build process.

We will add to these as we get more questions in to the team.

How do I report a problem?

One of the challenges of building a new website, and migrating so much content (29302 at current count), is that there are many intricate pieces that we have to get right. From the page content, internal linking to the redirects file (which contains almost 15,000 records!), there are bound to be some things fall through the cracks.

If you find any, please let us know! The whole team are on hand to squash any bugs that are found as quickly as possible. The best way to do this is email all of the details (and any relevant screenshots) to support@derbyunidigitalteam.atlassian.net.

On to the questions…

Where can I find…

A lot of things will be moving round as part of the new website. To give you a head start, here are some of the things we know you’ll want to find.

Site search

This will be accessible from every page on the website, you will see a spy glass icon on the right at the top of the page, this is where you can start your search from.

UDo, library and Staff areas

Links to UDo, the library and Staff areas are now in the footer (as they were on all mobile responsive pages of the previous site) and this will be the same on every page of the website. You will also find other commonly used links in the footer as well.

Staff profiles

We know staff profiles are very important so they have had a complete structural overhaul. They now use a more intelligent taxonomy so that each member of staff will be linked to relevant subject areas, Research Centre’s, College’s and Departments. This means we can create dynamic staff lists for any area of the organisation and other really cool stuff.

Staff profiles can be accessed by searching for the staff members name and selecting ‘Staff profile’ as the result type. We will shortly be launching a specific staff search page which will give greater visibility.

Staff profile user guides and logins will be setup over the coming weeks.

Why does it look like this?

Before concept work began, an extensive Brand project was undertaken in conjunction with an external agency and the Executive team. The output of this was a new, bolder and more confident brand. This brand project has had some very key influences on the new website which you will begin to see:

    • The line device and use of a box to emphasise particular content – you will see this in use in particular search results and on course pages to emphasis key information.
    • The use of patterns with nine colour variations – where a photograph isn’t needed we can use a variety of patterns and colours in title areas.

We have also spent a significant amount of time and effort on making sure that the foundations of the website follow accessibility standards which we will continue to build on.

Where can i find key areas of the organisation?

Information about the organisation is structured in a similar way to the previous website and can be found using the footer links. This content will be located at https://www.derby.ac.uk/organisation (but not until monday 🙂  )

We now have a much better search functionality, so why not search for what you are looking for?

The search results aren’t what I expected to see

As with any new search appliance, it will take time for the results to be returned in the most optimal order. Please report any issues to our support address at the top of this blog post and we will investigate!

To T4 or not to T4, that is the question 

As the Web Project progresses well into the build phase I thought this would be a good opportunity to check back over one of the biggest decisions made in the process so far; our choice of Content Management System (CMS).

The consideration to change CMS came following a technical workshop undertaken as part of the research phase run by Deeson, the digital agency who are working with us to help us deliver the website. Throughout the tender process Deeson showed confidence in challenging our thoughts and preconceptions. It was for this reason that we chose them as the agency to work on the project, and it proved worthwhile when they emerged from the technical workshop with the suggestion of reviewing our CMS.

The aim of the technical session that they ran was to assess the technology and systems we currently use for the website. Being the platform our website runs on, our CMS, TerminalFour (T4) was at the centre of their focus.

After digesting all of the information that was thrown at them, and after spending a day locked away in a room in South Tower, Deeson came back to us with a number of risks and concerns. These concluded with a number of recommendations, one of which was that we consider switching our CMS provider.

The three key concerns that were raised around continuing to use T4 were the way our site was set up/built, the customer service support offered and the platform’s functionality and stability. The build of the website is down to us; however, the customer service support and functionality are something T4 are responsible for.

Here is how they have been addressed:

Customer service

T4 have recently drastically increased the size of their client support team. This coupled with a new approach to account management from them has seen a vast improvement in customer service and subsequently our working relationship. Issues and queries are both resolved far quicker. We’ve also been working with them to develop and test new functionality.


The current university website runs on T4 version 7.4. This version has been superseded and is now a legacy system; the user interface is outdated and bugs/quirks are no longer addressed. It has however been replaced by a new shiny version 8.

Some of you may have had a glance at version 8 in a webinar ran last year (if you missed it you can find the recording on YouTube). The main difference for you is a new and improved user interface.

TerminalFour version 8 interface
The new interface in version 8

Key areas of the product have been reworked for example; an improved direct edit feature for easier editing, analytics integration and workflows for content governance.

TerminalFour version 8 Google Analytics dashboard
You’ll now be able to get Google Analytics stats from your content within T4

T4 have also changed the way they operate to work in short sprint cycles. A platform of this scope will be constantly evolving and it will have bugs. But for us their change of approach means more regular product updates, quicker bug fixes and a more stable platform.

Site set up

We have been testing T4 version 8 for a while to fully explore the platform. The most favourable approach would be to rebuild our website in a fresh blank installation. Starting with a clean slate is a much bigger job, however it will give us the benefits of:

  • negating any issues from upgrading
  • setting up the product how we’d like it
  • restructuring the site both externally on the site and internally with T4 based on the extensive research Rob has previously mentioned.

To sum up…

We’re happy that the concerns identified have been addressed. We’ve made the decision to rebuild the website in T4 version 8, a decision that has been ratified by the Web Project Advisory Board.

As a piece of software T4 provides us with a solid base for managing content. But how that takes its form on the public facing website…well that’s down to us. It’s how we build on top of it to develop the functionality we want for an amazing website and T4 gives us the platform to do this.

The crux of it is that a CMS is only one part of what makes a website tick. You can have the best CMS in the world, but it needs to be set up properly, governed consistently and users trained to an appropriate level otherwise it will fall apart.

This will be taken into account during the project, with a fully revamped training programme and a new content governance model. Details of this will be circulated in the coming weeks, watch this space…

What to expect when you’re expecting…a new website

The redevelopment of the main website, www.derby.ac.uk, is well underway and we’re inching ever closer to the June launch date. While this is an incredibly exciting time there is still a lot of work to do before the launch and, unfortunately for us, it isn’t simply a case of flipping a switch and marveling at our handy-work. This is going to be the start of a continuous approach to managing and developing our web presence.

What should I expect to go live in June? What happens after the new website is live? Are you sorting out the site search issues?

If you’re asking these questions, read on!

What will be going live in June?

In June we are working to deliver the new website look and feel. This will incorporate the new brand and the assets that have been developed as part of this. Considering we have in the region of 12-15,000 (yes, that’s fifteen thousand…) pages of content to migrate we will be working in a very agile way. Obviously this doesn’t give us a lot of time, so what we won’t be able to do is rewrite and restructure the whole site by the launch day.

Homepage hero image including search
Example of homepage hero including the site search entry point

The priority for June is to migrate a significant proportion of the current content from our current website to our new website, translating this raw content into new components and top level structures. To do this we will be enlisting an ensemble of students to help migrate the content.

Throughout this process we will be using quality assurance processes to review and approve every page as the content gets migrated. So while the content will not have been rewritten, there will be a process by which we can catch any errors as we go.

While we’re pretty good at what we do, the sheer volume of pages that will go live in one day may result in some bugs here and there. To tackle this we have set up a reporting tool which will mean that all members of staff will be able to report bugs for us to fix. Details on this process will be made available around the launch date.

So what happens next? Content redevelopment!

Once the first phase of the website goes live (and we’ve had a quick weekend off – I’m sure we are going to need it!) we will move into a more intensive period of content redevelopment. Over the next 12-18 months a member of my team will be leading a round of successive projects to rewrite and restructure many areas by working with the teams and departments most relevant to each section.

University of Derby Online will be the first project we undertake as it will be technically complex due to the move from it’s existing platform on to TerminalFour.

Through this process we will be looking to re-identify the content owners for each of these areas and get commitment from these key TerminalFour users across the University to audit the pages to an agreed schedule. It’s no good having a shiny new website if the content on it is outdated, poorly written or factually incorrect. As an institution we are rightly accountable for the content on our domains and sub-domains, and we need to manage them with this in the front of our minds.

At this stage we do not have a specific schedule or fully prioritised list of the content review process, but we will be in touch with the relevant teams as we move through this. If you have any specific areas you would like to ensure are put into the schedule, please email digitalmarketing@derby.ac.uk.

Say hello to our new site search (or ‘Insight Engine’) – Funnelback

Our existing site search solutions (there are two different solutions in place) are being retired in favour of something much more advance suitable for our business. The new site search functionality will enable us to do a whole host of cool things:

  • Categorise search results in as many ways as we want, using these categories within specific search results.
  • We can trigger custom results to be included if specific search terms are used. If a user searches for a course name, we can insert a custom result encouraging them to book an open day.
  • Create custom search entry points throughout the site, presetting certain filters/options that are more aligned with the context of the users search usage.
  • Search multiple search collections with just one search.
  • Complete customisation over weighting of results. For example we could look to increase the weighting of international-related search results to traffic browsing from outside the UK.

Visual of search results
How our new site search appliance might look.

While the system offers us a huge amount of customisation, it relies on a lot of work to maintain some of the more technical features so we will be rolling these out over an extended period of time.

So it really is exciting, but busy, times!

While there is still a huge mountain to climb over the next few months, it’s shaping up to be an amazing website that the whole University will benefit from. We’re excited, so we hope that you are too!

January update: the story so far…

To date almost 400 people have been directly engaged in the research and prototyping phases of the website redevelopment project. This has involved a cross section of stakeholders including undergraduate prospects, postgraduate students, teachers, businesses and members of our executive and senior management team.

Input from users has been the driving force behind the activities undertaken and the decisions made in the project so far.

  • 4 design sprints
  • 8 workshops
  • 40 internal participants
  • 50+ interviews
  • 280 test participants

The reason for such an intensive research phase is to make sure that the decisions we make are driven by the audiences that use our website.

Testing, testing

Once we had a bunch of research (slight understatement!), we started developing ideas of what we thought we needed to change. These ideas were born from the research and workshops carried out – but we had to test our ideas and assumptions with website users.

One of the key areas we thoroughly tested was the development of the information architecture of the new website.

Enter Wikipedia…

“Information architecture (IA) is the structural design of shared information environments; the art and science of organizing and labelling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability; and an emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.”

We have used a number of techniques during this process.

We ran a card sorting exercise with website users initially. This process asked participants to sort website content into logical groups from their point of view – where they would expect to find the content, what they would expect to see in the same area and what they would expect that section of the website to be called.

This informed the next stage – tree testing. This process allowed us to explore how easy, or difficult, it was for users to find the right content. Testing the existing website structure against the proposed new structure gave us some tangible data to inform our next steps.

We will explore the results in more depth in a further post. Suffice to say this process has resulted in a structure that sees a far higher success rate with users finding the right content in the right places.

One of the interesting dynamics that has been added in to the mix has been the Brand development project that has been running in parallel to this project. As a result of this we now have a modern and flexible range of assets and visual devices that will enable us to create a vibrant, confident and exciting website.

Website design concepts

Research, check. User testing, check. New brand, check.

Now it’s time for some concepts. At this stage they are just visuals intended to represent how different components can be used to build pages. These concepts are now being built into a HTML/CSS front-end.

Homepage concept

First lets look at how the homepage will look. You will notice some key features and functionality here:

  • Search is front and centre – we are putting a great deal of work into the search functionality as it is so critical to the user journey. We’re working on the technical side of this at the moment, more details will be revealed soon!
  • The whole page will be in line with the new brand with a clean yet bold design.
  • The priority actions are very prominent, searching for a course and booking an open day are two of our top tasks that users wish to complete. Content relevant to other stakeholders will also be accessible from here.

Concept of the homepage showing search function, open days and striking imagery
Homepage concept

Landing page concept

Across the website we will have a lot of options as to how we use elements on different page types. We will be developing rules about what should be used where to ensure consistency, but we are very excited about the flexibility that the new brand brings, and how this has been imagined in the website concepts.

  • Big powerful imagery can be used in page heroes. At the same time there are a number of patterns which could be used in place of this image where needed. We don’t have to use an image for image’s sake.
  • Key call to actions will be displayed, depending on the subject matter of the content or the section it appears in. In this example a business call to action is being used.
  • Various on-page elements will indicate where the user is in the site structure.
  • Continuation of the bold yet clean look and feel.

Landing page concept

Course pages

Last but definitely not least, we come to the course pages. These are arguably the most important content type on our website, as a result these are getting a significantly brighter and bolder look.

  • Clear call to actions throughout the page, most notably for open days and submitting an application.
  • Striking imagery at the top of the page with the optional use of patterns to make the area more interesting.
  • Re-imagined approach to displaying the key course information.
  • All sections of the page clearly accessible from the outset to improve the user experience.

Course page concept
Course page concept

While this has been a very quick run through, I wanted to ensure everyone can see that there is significant forward momentum on this project. We have some tough timescales to meet but to give you an idea of some of the actions in progress, here’s what we’re working on now (or will be soon!):

  • Continuing with the front-end build
  • Building this in the new version of TerminalFour on a completley new server
  • Drawing up a plan for, and delivering, the content migration
  • Formalising and launching a new content strategy
  • Implementation of a new site governance system
  • Procurement of an enterprise search solution.

Needless to say this project is keeping the team quite busy.

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.

The project blueprint.

On Monday we kicked off with the first major session for the website redevelopment project. Deeson delivers a project blueprint session as part of all major website projects. The goal is to get under the skin of the organisation and explore the strategic aims of both the organisation and the project.

Where are we heading? What is the organisation’s vision and strategy?

Before the session, Deeson interviewed some the Senior level stakeholders. These interviews focused on what the project needs to achieve for the organisation. Including, results that the website would need to deliver and any potential challenges.

When looking at the University’s vision and strategy, much of our discussions focused on our top level ambitions. For example, our drive to be a £200m institution by 2020. We also discussed the development of the Industrial Gateway concept with the aim to make collaborative working with businesses easier.

Who are our key audiences?

Next, we moved on to the most important element we need to focus on: who are our key internal and external audiences?

This session served as an overview of who uses our website and has provided the foundations for determining how to communicate with each user group. Starting at this point provides a basis for further research and insight generation, ensuring we deliver what our target customers want and need.

Additionally, we discussed what each user group would use our website for, drawing comparisons with car showrooms – University of Derby test-drive anyone?

Group work – Blueprint session

So what are we trying to achieve?

With our key audiences determined and our strategy blueprint outlined we then moved on to nail down what our website needed to deliver to support theses objectives. We established that we need to work towards delivering:

  • A website that wins hearts and minds through speaking to our prospects in a way that excites and engages them about the learning experience at the University of Derby.
  • Helps us to continue to secure top academic talent and tell their stories in a way that supports student recruitment and enhances the student experience.
  • Have the best, most effective website that we can have!

It’s fair to say that the session had been intense, exhausting but hugely confidence inspiring. Moving forward, the outputs of the session will now inform to add detail to the delivery plan. It will also inform the rounds of user research that will follow.

What’s next?

From here we start to delve into the detail. We will be running a workshop that will dive into the technology and resource available to deliver the new website. Alongside this, another workshop will dig deeper into our core audiences with colleagues from across the University.

To follow on from this there will be a session run by Deeson’s Creative Director, Andrew. The ‘The Art of the Possible’ session will aim to open our eyes to what we could deliver as part of this project.