The University of Southampton
Digital Team Blog

More than words: content designers can help lead strategic rethinks of website content

Content designers can worry: how much do we have to offer major projects to change the website? A lot, I’m now clear, after a project to re-think how the University publishes news content.

The first step: working out what we need to know

The Digital User Experience team was tasked with finding out how news content helps visitors and our university, and if improvements could be made. At the start of the discovery, I was tasked with supporting our excellent user researchers preparing to talk to visitors to news content.

We discussed asking these people about actions news content prompts them to take. I wondered if that was expecting too much of news content. Instead, to ensure we weren’t overlooking any impacts, I suggested asking: “Can you remember university news that made an impression on you? What did it make you think or do?”

Our user researchers thought this was a good question. I had a vote of confidence, and our team could cast our net wide as we sought out the value of news.

Content designers instinctively take a step back and question content

What is ‘news’ for you? This was a question I asked digital peers in other universities as we embarked on our quest for a rationale for news content.

While I enjoyed reviewing different approaches in our competitor review, speaking to peers was even more eye-opening. We content designers excel at searching questions. They helped me to find out whether news content’s right to valuable site space had been questioned — and how it had proved its worth.

We were learning about opportunities to add more value, as well as the problems with news content.

Discovery: what content success looks like for the University

One thing I know I brought to the agile discovery ‘party’ as a content designer was my experience in engaging colleagues at the University.

The best content is co-designed with stakeholders who are open-minded about how University goals are met. So helping colleagues to take a step back with me always feels valuable. They seemed to welcome a space to think about their hopes for news content in workshops.

And we were starting to get an idea of what successful news content might look like. First, however, we needed to see what success looked like from the ‘other side’ of the screen.

Discovery: sharing findings with university colleagues helped them imagine new possibilities

What were people searching for when they came? Where else on our site had they been? And what did they do when they arrived, and next? I loved delving into the data on search intent, behaviour, including scrolling and clicking, and users’ journeys to, and away from, news content.

I could see that stakeholders’ need for ‘news’ to help people connect with us was not always being met. Sometimes content is used in ways we never intended. Many lower value visits were quick checks of medical news by people self-diagnosing! At its best, ‘news’ is not a cul de sac, but a door.

Presenting such surprising findings to stakeholders helped us all go on a journey together. A discovery is our collective opportunity to completely re-think content to make it more valuable. The culmination was a 3-day workshop to bring everything we found out together.

By the final workshop, I was in my environment

I was the only content designer for the majority of the synthesis workshop. The content design project lead had shown me, again and again, how we add value.

She had gained a deep understanding of existing processes and emerging strategy, and also the possibilities different technologies offer to help improve these. For the final workshop, she would not be there to ask any questions or connect any dots. I had not needed to worry.

By this point, the little voice asking myself why I was in the meeting, and not busily making some source information accessible, had largely gone.

I felt comfortable asking a performance colleague why we were reporting a percentage when the total numbers were so small. I was at ease asking user researchers to tell me more about an interviewee using news to “look for inspiration”.

More than asking questions however, I made a contribution to designing solutions.

Finally, thinking about solutions for the website

In the final discovery workshop I was excited to get stuck into designing possible solutions based on the evidence before us. As content designers, this is what we do.

This time, however, I was helping to design a new process for publishing news content. I was quick, as ever, to take us a step back to an earlier stage than initially sketched. “Where do the ideas for news come from?”

I was also critiquing, when it was after time to go home, interaction designs for ‘news’. I was unsure there was evidence for signposting ‘latest news’, given content designers elsewhere signposted the most important ‘news’ content by other criteria.

After all, deciding what is important for the University and visitors to our site is our job, and one that I relish.

Share this post Facebook Google+ Twitter Weibo