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.

Subject area pages, 12 months on.

Improving user experience. Enhancing conversion rates.

Back in June 2016 we began looking at how we could improve the user experience for those exploring course and subject level information. Subject pages were used in some areas of the website as a way of grouping related course pages together. But they were being used inconsistently; the layouts and designs varied between colleges, some courses weren’t associated with a subject page at all, and none of the pages were responsive. 

This inconsistency was impacting on the student journey by making it harder for users to find and browse course information.

We also knew from a previous search engine optimisation (SEO) project that we needed more specific subject area content on our website to improve our search rankings. From a marketing campaign perspective, we knew that we also needed responsive subject areas to direct specific campaign traffic.

So we launched a project to create a standardised design for all subject pages across the university. With 50 subject areas that cover all of our courses, and a tight timescale in which to deliver so much new content, it was a challenge that would be delivered in conjunction with colleagues from across the marketing department.

Developing the page

Old subject area page - Forensic Science
Old subject area page – Forensic Science

The whole process started by working with the dedicated college marketing teams. We ran workshops to understand the type of content they would like to be able to host on these pages, discuss how they might look and how campaigns would be using them. It became clear quite early on that thes pages needed to make it easy for users to order a prospectus or book onto an open day – after all these are our key calls to action.

Having gathered our requirements, we spent some time sketching initial designs which were then interpreted as a wireframe concept (see below – I’m no designer!).

Wire frame of subject area page
Developing the subject area page – wire frame

Release and launch

Rolling out the new subject area pages was a significant task. It meant drafting in staff from the college marketing teams to implement the pages across all 50 subject areas.m – very much a team effort.

Part-way through the year we undertook some more work to make these pages more conversion focused – driving more users to book open days or order a prospectus. You can see the pink bar that was added which made the key calls to action more prominent.

New subject area page - Forensic Science
Responsive, conversion-focused. Just better.

The design met all the requirements we identified at the start of the project, but the impact on the user experience and how it engaged prospective students was going to be the real measure of success…


For the purposes of this review, I am going to continue to focus on the Forensic Science page, but the impact has been similar for all other subject areas.

Comparing the performance of the previous subject area page to the new one gives you some idea of how successful they have been for goal conversion (Open Day bookings and/or prospectus orders). 


2015-16 Old subject area page

2016-17 New subject area page

Prospectus orders



Open day bookings



We can also see that users are spending more time on our new subject pages. This shows that the new layout has improved the user experience of our site and helped to increase those all important conversions.

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.