We just finished working with colleagues in Marketing and Engineering to create a new set of web pages. This project was significant for us as it marked a shift in how we deal with common obstacles.
We started with an initial meeting to talk about how we would approach the project. These meetings usually include reviewing user needs and creating a site structure. We have identified our users as potential students, researchers and industry.
These web pages have several purposes. First, they complement the information already on the undergraduate and postgraduate course pages. We wanted to include the rich content that there simply isn’t room for on our course pages: comprehensive student stories, 360-degree views of the spaces they’ll be working in, and information about student societies they can join.
We also wanted to make the pages more useful for researchers. This included providing content on research groups, projects and case studies.
Finally, the engineering department’s facilities are among the best in Scotland and, as such, are attractive to the industry. We needed to display them on the site.
Everyone is always very excited at the start of a project and walk away with a to-do list. This project was no exception. We got some initial content right away and soon realized that the original site structure would need to be changed a bit.
As we were working closely with both marketing and engineering, with regular ‘stand up’ meetings to report on progress and discuss any obstacles in our way, we were able to make immediate site design changes. Previously, with less frequent communications, we might have continued down a path that didn’t quite work for everyone involved, and only changed it later when the job was done.
After about a week, the flow of incoming content started to slow down. This is typical and nobody’s fault – everyone has busy jobs and other priorities. This time however, to keep the flow of this project, we thought it would be useful to change tactics.
Pair writing is a brilliant approach to most content hurdles, and we generate great writing using it. But something about this project was different and needed a little more thought. Getting people to sit down and write a case study or project can be time consuming. Not to mention the changes.
Most people write differently than they speak. It’s digital versus native language. People will naturally talk more passionately about something they are involved in. If you ask them to sit down to write about it, their language changes and we lose their voice.
The most effective way to hear their stories was just to listen. We scheduled short 30-minute time slots with staff and recorded everything they said about their projects. When we transcribed these conversations, we had some really rich content.
The enthusiasm, description and tone are completely different and this is something we can give back to the user. It makes our content much more appealing to anyone who reads it.
We did the same with student stories. Students, understandably, are reluctant to sit down and write something for the website, and when they do, it tends to be what they think we want to hear. Instead of telling us details about their course or experience, it can often seem rather bland and generic.
When we met with students, we were able to record conversations in which we asked them questions to tease their experiences. This way we could share their unique personal stories and develop content that was truly interesting and appealing to future students.
A simple and cheap dictaphone has really revolutionized the way we can collect content. It’s definitely a technique we’ll be employing in future projects.
We will also continue the agile form of working and make sure we have regular, short sessions with everyone involved. This ensures that there are no crossed wires, obstacles to progress are addressed immediately and motivation remains high.
—Steph Mann and Claire Gregory