By Ben Stevens, on 21 January 2016
With attention spans supposedly getting shorter by the day, it might seem a strange time to launch UCL Antenna, our digital publication on Medium – a platform that specialises in in-depth, magazine-style features.
By Ben Stevens, on 21 January 2016
With attention spans supposedly getting shorter by the day, it might seem a strange time to launch UCL Antenna, our digital publication on Medium – a platform that specialises in in-depth, magazine-style features.
By Kilian Thayaparan, on 26 October 2015
UCL’s official Instagram channel has accumulated 11,000 followers – an increase of approximately 90% since this time last year.
The milestone comes as a result of a year of student-focused campaigns and initiatives – a response to the growing popularity of the photo-sharing platform, particularly among young adults.
The channel features news, events, competitions and a variety of images illustrating life across the UCL community. Popular posts have included a marriage proposal between two UCL alumni, the ever-popular Main Quad and a video showing 1950s life in a women’s UCL halls of residence.
A particular highlight over the last year was the #loveUCL competition 2014-15, which received almost 2,000 entries over the course of the academic year, and its success has led to a reworked version for 2015-16.
The best images are featured in myUCL, UCL’s weekly all-student e-newsletter, which has also been relaunched this term in line with student feedback, and now features even more student-generated content.
In addition, the channel has also been a core element of the recent #newtoUCL campaign, which set out to welcome new students joining the university and to provide useful information across our central social media channels at the start of term.
Follow UCL on Instagram and tag your photos of UCL life with #loveUCL, and we’ll aim to share them with the UCL community.
By Sasha Arms, on 21 October 2015
UCL runs hundreds of Twitter channels, run by faculties, departments, research centres, individual programmes, student societies, and everything in between.
It’s fairly unusual for an organisation, albeit a large one, to have so many Twitter handles. Many organisations have stringent, centrally managed social media policies, aiming to retain an element of control and consistency over social media communications. At UCL, we offer guidelines and other information via our social media website, but our colleagues across UCL running social media channels have overall responsibility. The array of voices across these social media channels build up a picture of the diversity of life at UCL.
The Communications and Marketing (CAM) office runs a few of UCL’s central Twitter channels. For a number of years, @uclnews has been UCL’s main Twitter channel, run by the Media Relations team. Other colleagues in CAM run @UCLEvents, @UCL_IntOffice and @pams_ucl.
The Twitter handle @ucl had previously been registered by a user unrelated to UCL. However, in October 2014, we were successful in a process to acquire @ucl.
Since UCL has so many Twitter channels targeting distinctive audiences, we decided to make @ucl the channel that brings together the highlights of life at UCL. Communicators and marketers like to define specific audiences for specific channels, and most of the time, this is best practice. In this case, however, most of UCL’s other Twitter channels were established before @ucl was acquired, with most accumulating a following of users with specific interests. UCL’s overall Twitter space was clearly lacking a handle that draws the ‘best bits’ together.
As a result, our early research shows that @ucl appeals to current students and staff, who use the channel to find out about and share top level announcements, opportunities and goings-on around campus. Alumni like to keep an eye on this information too, while prospective students get a flavour of life at UCL. Global spectators with an interest in research and innovation get a snapshot of UCL’s latest activity.
UCL is such a bustling and thriving place, there’s always more going on than we can tweet about, but the Twitter handle provides our rapidly growing following with an overview of what’s happening at UCL, much like the UCL homepage.
The biggest task we’re working on at the moment is to differentiate between @ucl and @uclnews, so that internal and external audiences know which channel to follow to meet their needs.
@ucl is aimed at external and internal audiences interested in what’s happening across the UCL community, with a focus on publically intelligible information.
@uclnews is aimed at anyone interested in UCL’s news and latest research.
Followers of @ucl can expect to see highlights of life at UCL, a snapshot of the latest activity from across the university, UCL achievements and top-level practical information for staff and students. The tone of the channel is warm and digestible to the educated layperson. It emphasises an array of voices from across UCL. Typical tweets include:
Congratulations to Sudanese artist Ibrahim el-Salahi, who has received an honorary doctorate from UCL @SladeSchool
Calling all students joining us in Sept: our new students website is full of useful & practical information http://bit.ly/1hKjzcQ #newtoUCL
Followers of @uclnews can expect to see UCL’s latest press releases, coverage of UCL in the media, UCL’s latest research and links to opinion pieces from UCL academics. The tone of the channel is authoritative and focused on key newsworthy information. Typical tweets include:
Catch @helenczerski, @apontzen & @LSmonster answering listeners’ science questions on @BBCRadio4 #InsideScience http://bbc.in/1jic6Cz
Tropical forests will still exist in 2100 – but they will be a sorry sight http://theconversation.com/tropical-forests-will-still-exist-in-2100-but-they-will-be-a-sorry-sight-46437 … (@SimonLLewis of @UCLgeography)
As you might expect, there is a close relationship between these channels, and we therefore retweet each other on occasions or post about the same story, when we believe information is appropriate and interesting to both sets of audiences.
Over the coming months, we’ll be working on embedding the understanding of these two channels and their complementary purposes through staff communications, and by working with UCL’s other Twitter channel managers to help us spread the word. Do follow @ucl to see these plans unfold, and give us your thoughts.
See also: this two page document explaining the difference between @ucl and @uclnews on Twitter (doc, 16kb).
By Sasha Arms, on 20 August 2015
The new website for the Communications and Marketing office (CAM) has launched this week at: www.ucl.ac.uk/cam
There have been aspirations in CAM for some time to update and improve the website, namely to be as useful as possible to the colleagues across UCL we support, as well as to reflect the breadth of work CAM does. We started the new website process in March 2015 and are pleased to unveil the new website this week.
1. A common piece of feedback CAM has received is that our colleagues across UCL do not necessarily know which team within CAM is responsible for specific areas of communications and marketing. CAM is comprised of five teams: Communications, Corporate Events, the International Office, Media Relations and Publications and Marketing Services (PAMS).
These teams look after everything from digital communications, branding implementation and public events, to the print and online prospectus, graduate marketing and international student recruitment. Understandably, therefore, it’s not always clear to people which team or individual is responsible for what.
2. Furthermore, from the feedback we’ve received, it’s clear that when our colleagues across UCL get in touch with us, they do so with a specific activity in mind. This principle formed the basis of our new website structure. Rather than having to work through team pages to find the one responsible for a particular activity, users can now view all the activities CAM is responsible for from the home page of the CAM website.
Activities are thus at the core of the website, and each activity page summarises the support available to UCL departments in relation to that activity, as well as the key contact(s) for the activity, relevant resources, and links to related activities.
3. Since relatively small teams in CAM aim to support the whole UCL community, our time can sometimes be spread quite thin. That’s why it’s also important for us to provide resources and toolkits to help more colleagues across the organisation. As well as having these available on relevant activity pages, we have a dedicated A to Z of resources on the new CAM site, giving users easy access to the range of resources the department has available. These resources will be added to as more are developed.
4. Finally, with the release of the new Indigo framework from Web and Mobile Services (WAMS), we were keen to implement a CAM website that took advantage of the new elements made possible by Indigo, such as responsive templates.
Once we had developed a first version of the new CAM website, which addressed these principle issues, we invited a sample of ten users from a range of UCL departments to take part in user testing sessions, aided by some user testing software called Camtasia. Users were asked to complete a series of tasks designed to test fundamental aspects of the website. They were also asked to think of real-life needs they might have in relation to communications and marketing, then see if they could fulfil their needs using the website.
We recorded some key themes from these user testing sessions, both positive and negative:
We responded to the negative aspects we recorded in the user testing sessions by:
After implementing the recommendations we compiled from the user testing sessions and further refining the new CAM website, we are pleased to launch the website this week. The website can be found on the same url as the old CAM site: www.ucl.ac.uk/cam
If you have any queries or feedback about the new CAM website, please contact us at email@example.com
By Nick Dawe, on 4 June 2015
(Note, this post continues on from UCL Maps: finding the way to a new website)
Based on our user stories, I could start developing a basic prototype. However, it was obvious from the outset that there were be some technical challenges to overcome. In particular, I needed to address how an effective university map website could:
As solutions to these were investigated, they were continually tested by UCL staff and students through task-driven testing sessions – which continually yielded useful results (even when it meant that we had to completely start again on some ideas!).
UCL Web and Mobile Services has produced a helpful framework known as Indigo, which can be used to build UCL-branded responsive websites quickly and easily. This was ideal for us to use, as it removed a lot of the headaches of having to design and develop the site’s layouts, allowing us to focus solely on the map and its user interface (UI).
From our initial research and recommendations, it was obvious that a lot of the extra information on the current Maps website was not used (apart from the links to downloading map PDFs). Therefore the new site would have a map that would take as much of the available window space as possible, with a small UI taking up just a fraction of this.
A new map overlay also needed to be designed. While the old one certainly worked well, there were areas where its colour scheme didn’t have enough contrast against the Google Maps background, which could cause problems for some users. As a result, Rory Morrison, one of UCL Communications’s graphic designers, worked on a new version that could work best in this setup.
The initial design, as displayed on any device with a small viewport, presented the map and then the UI ‘stacked’ below. While the UI’s own design was still being worked out, a new problem for touch devices became apparent.
Google Maps overrides the default scrolling behaviour of its maps. So, if you scroll on the map itself, the page won’t move up or down as you’d expect, but will instead zoom in or out of the map. This effectively meant that ‘stacking’ the map and UI created a site that was particularly hard to use, because the user wouldn’t be able to scroll to the UI if it was below the viewport fold.
This was rather frustrating, as the best solution found was to display an additional link to the UI for touch devices, which displayed on top of the map. All other devices would still let users scroll through content (meaning that we could still simply use the same Indigo patterns without any modifications).
However, for touch devices, the UI link would need to be fixed to the bottom of the viewport. On occasions when additional information would have to be displayed (e.g. a location’s details), the map would then be hidden, with the information filling the screen.
(Note – screenshots below are based on the final website)
As previously mentioned, another aim was to integrate route finding tools, based on CASA’s popular routefinder website. After CASA kindly provided us with the original source code and data, I was then able to work on:
The technical details of this are out of the scope of this post, but another challenge was to then understand how best to integrate these tools with the main map UI.
Next… how a UI was designed that could make it easier for users to find locations.
By Nick Dawe, on 27 May 2015
This blog post is about the new UCL Maps website, which launched last month. If you have any queries about the site, leave a comment, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UCL can be a difficult place to navigate. Stretching from offices in the back-streets of Bloomsbury to halls of residence in Camden and Tottenham, members of the UCL community can understandably find it hard, and time-consuming, to work out how to get to a particular campus location.
The UCL Maps website has been run by UCL Communications for several years with the aim of helping with this. By hosting printable maps provided by the Geography Drawing Office, and housing a simple interactive Google map which shows key Bloomsbury locations, it has been used by large numbers of users (there were nearly 230,000 page views in the past year).
However, over the past few years it became increasingly obvious that the site had grown quite outdated. Users, experts in Information Services Division and our own investigations, had raised issues including:
While there were clearly problems with the existing website, there was also another question: how should an effective university map website operate? What kind of tools and functionality should it have, and conversely, what were the potential sources of distraction that could be stripped out, so that users could more easily achieve their goals?
We began to investigate this by collating past user feedback, and talking to existing users about what they wanted from the site. This was facilitated by running user-testing sessions based on interesting university map websites that appeared to have helpful user features.
I also used Google Analytics on the existing Maps website to track a range of ‘events’ on the site (that is, actions such as clicking on a particular location). Analysis of these events, plus insights of site usage provided by Crazy Egg’s heatmap and scrollmap tools, helped me to gain a better understanding of which features website visitors actually used.
Based on this research, as well as advice from experts elsewhere (notably UCL Web and Mobile Services), I was able to generate a list of user stories: key aims that our audiences needed to meet using the website. Some of these were reasonably easy to achieve, such as:
As a student, I want to find where out where a lecture theatre is so that I can attend my class.
As a new staff member I want to print out a copy of the whole campus so I can understand where the estate is based.
As a student who lives in Ifor Evans Hall, I want to know where cycle racks are available near the Main Quad, so that I can cycle into university.
However there was clearly a demand for integrated route finding capabilities, which fed into the creation of this user story:
As a new student, I want to know how to get from the Chadwick lecture theatre to the Darwin lecture theatre so that I can attend two consecutive lectures this morning.
The next task was to work out how to use these user stories to design and develop a site that would indeed help our visitors achieve their aims… which I’ll cover in the next post!
By John Anderson Burnett, on 8 May 2014
Six months ago UCL Communications launched a new UCL homepage; the result of over a year of research, planning, design and testing with Web and Mobile Services, Mark Boulton Design and a pan-UCL review group.
Here we take a quick look at how the homepage has performed against the project objectives:
Happily the six-month review showed significant gains against our objectives and helped us identify opportunities for refinements (Something we’ll take a look at towards the end of this blog post). Unless otherwise stated the statistics are aggregated from 393 survey responses from members of UCL’s main audience groups.
The homepage has seen a 35% increase in the proportion of respondents rating it easy or very easy to use and a 26% increase for clear navigation. The biggest increases were among prospective students, current students and academic staff.
Staff and student directory
As a group, Admin/Professional Services staff recognised a significant improvement against these factors. Some expressed concern, however, at the relocation of the staff and student directory to the staff gateway. This change was unintended and a consequence of technical limitations. Work is underway in Web and Mobile Services to improve UCL Search and restore the directory functionality to the UCL homepage.
The length of the page also concerned some respondents. The expansive and image-led style used in the news and events section is growing in popularity and takes inspiration from a variety of sources including news websites, such as the BBC and the Independent, other university websites such as Caltech, Harvard and Cambridge and social media sites like Pinterest.
Navigation elements of the site appear at the top to reduce the need for people to scroll in order to complete day-to-day tasks.
The homepage has seen a 12% increase in the proportion of respondents rating the site as good or very good at reflecting UCL’s strengths and pedigree. Scores for design and imagery also increased by 10% and 11% respectively.
The survey also asked respondents to select between opposing adjectives to assess changes in perceptions of the site. This exercise demonstrated that respondents rated the site more favourably for all the target areas, with increases for the following adjectives:
The biggest increases were among prospective students, alumni and academic staff.
News and events at UCL
The previous homepage had two slots to feature where UCL was appearing in the news. The new homepage is much more flexible and enables UCL’s Communications and Marketing team to feature different types of media, showcasing UCL’s impressive and diverse range of activity.
The new design routinely features eight different pieces of content, including national and international news stories, comment pieces, multimedia (video, audio and images) and social media elements.
This element of the page is primarily directed at external audiences such as prospective students and research collaborators.
The research showed that 79% of survey respondents reported that they scan the top two news pieces either always or most of the time, whereas 41% scanned the whole news and events grid always or most of the time.
The proportion of users rating the mobile experience as good or very good increased significantly, albeit from a low baseline:
The homepage was developed using responsive web design principles, so it adapts to display differently on different screen sizes and devices, such as mobiles and tablets.
Page load speed
Another central aim was to improve the page load speed. This benefits everyone, but is particularly important for people accessing content on their phones.
Measuring the performance one week after launch, the overall page load time had reduced by 22% from 2.8 seconds to 2.18, while on mobile devices it had reduced by 58% from 7.25 seconds to 3.04 seconds. This data is taken from Google Analytics.
Based on our evaluation and user feedback, we have identified the following refinements:
Staff and student directory
The biggest concern among respondents related to the staff and student directory. Work is underway to restore this functionality to the homepage. As a short-term measure the staff and student directory feature has been added to the staff gateway.
Length of page
Based on feedback from the survey, we shortened the news and events section. This section can be expanded or reduced in order to best showcase the activity of the university.
Audience gateway news feeds
Work is underway to include dynamic news feeds on the audience gateway pages. This will enable audiences to see filtered news that is relevant to them.
Illustrations for regular features
The homepage often includes regular features such as UCL in the media, the UCL Events blog and UCL Opinion. We commissioned a UCL Neuroscience PhD student, Matteo Farinella, to produce illustrations to help audiences identify this content and to differentiate UCL’s homepage from other universities.
Gateway link changes
Our evaluation revealed the links that audiences used most. Based on this, we reordered some of the groupings on the audience gateway pages. We also added a small number of new links.
UCL Communications will continue to evaluate and refine the homepage to improve its performance for UCL’s many different audiences. If you have suggestions or comments you can email is at digital-comms(at)ucl.ac.uk.
By Nick Dawe, on 14 April 2014
In November 2011, we decided to set up a page on the new Google+ social network, which was seemingly destined to take over the world of social media. Since its launch, there has been some debate over just how successful the network has been, and indeed we’ve found that our own experiences with it have also been difficult to evaluate.
By Nick Dawe, on 6 March 2014
There appear to be many ways to measure the effectiveness of social media work: from benchmarking our social metrics against other institutions, to looking at how we’ve increased our followers over the past year.
However, if we’re honest, we’ve never been completely happy with a lot of these approaches. While they can be useful, they don’t really tell us how social media has achieved anything tangible, or indeed useful for the university.
We’ve therefore decided to evaluate our work in a slightly different way this year. We’ve created an infographic report, which details how our social platforms have helped to achieve broader institutional aims over the past year. The report includes a range of ‘traditional’ quantitative metrics (e.g. likes, etc.), but also includes qualitative information such as short case studies and stories, which communicate, less abstractly, how all of this is actually helpful.
Overall, this is a bit of an experiment, and we’re still looking at ways of improving how we measure and communicate our effectiveness. We’d therefore value your feedback: have you found effective ways of using social media to meet your goals? How do you evaluate your activity?
(With thanks to Dan Sinclair for infographic design)
By John Anderson Burnett, on 26 September 2013
The current homepage was introduced in 2009. To put that in context Barack Obama had just been elected President of the United States, everyone was worried about swine flu and the iPad was just a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye.
An initial survey of >300 respondents found that – while the homepage was still rated highly for quality of content and aesthetics – our website users felt that there was a need to bring the homepage up to date. The percentages below show the proportion of people who rated the following attributes excellent or good:
In addition, this research found that prospective students constituted two-thirds of traceable traffic to the homepage and were considered by UCL staff to be the most important audience.
The homepage project was born with the following principal aims:
The project team included colleagues from the Communications & Marketing office, Web and Mobile Services and Mark Boulton Design – a web design agency. Additional input came from an ongoing review group, including representatives from across UCL and the external audiences that the homepage serves, as well as a range of staff who helped test various aspects of the page.
To address complex navigational issues the revised homepage incorporates several new features:
a) Audience gateway pages for prospective students, current students and staff. These provide intuitive groups of links to serve users’ principal tasks, based on survey findings and focus groups. (NB the image below only shows the top of the page)
b) Global masthead. This navigational aid appears above the UCL banner. Readers may be familiar with the BBC masthead that is consistent thoughout the BBC’s website. The UCL masthead includes links to the audience gateway pages and the UCL search feature, which is currently being improved. In time this masthead will be rolled out to other sites to improve orientation and navigation across the UCL web estate.
c) Prominent primary navigation on the homepage itself. These links serve users’ principal tasks as identified through considerable user research. Prospective students are prioritised, followed by current students and staff. UCL’s research and collaborations are featured prominently and clear pathways have been provided to UCL’s faculties and departments, maps and buildings, alumni and About UCL sites. (NB this image only shows the top of the page)
The new homepage includes additional changes designed to improve the experience for prospective students:
Initial research comparing the new design with the old has shown a significant improvement in scores related to navigation. The project team will continue to measure performance against these parameters in order to continually improve the design.
|Ease of use||32%||71%|
With nearly 40,000 page views a day the UCL homepage has a very important role in communicating the institution’s strengths and ethos. Improving the navigation has been an important part of this to reflect UCL’s utilitarian principles.
Another development is the inclusion of a news and events ‘grid’ to showcase better the university’s outstanding and wide-ranging activity. The grid contains a combination of elements that can be used in a flexible format. The portrait view to the left gives an impression of what the grid will look like.
As well as news features and an events calendar the grid can include content from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud and Flickr and UCL blogs. Additionally, the grid can include a featured quote from, for example, institutional partners, the wider research and policy community and employers of UCL graduates to reflect the impact and relevance of the institution, as well as the high regard in which UCL is held.
In phase 2 the audience gateway pages will include streamlined news sections, which will provide tailored content to each group.
In response to the research, the new homepage design features more and larger images. While not all content requires images, those elements that do will need images that are high quality and high resolution to support the new responsive design (see below). The Communications team is working to build a small stock of institutional images to support this, and a bank is available from UCL ImageStore, but content providers are asked to try to ensure that they have strong, distinctive images to support the content they submit to be featured on the homepage.
The UCL homepage and audience gateway pages have been built according to responsive web design principles. This means that the page adapts to display differently on different types of device. The page you see on your smart phone will look a bit different to the page you see on your desktop. The structure and order of content displayed on different devices has been informed by research into the different tasks that users carry out on different devices. Currently up to 10% of new visitors access the homepage on a mobile or tablet. More generally the project team have built the homepage and gateway pages to be as inclusive as possible for people with disabilities or with limited bandwidth.
You can get an impression of the desktop experience from the screenshots above. The images below are representative of the smart phone experience.
Top of page
Staff gateway page
UCL News post
The new homepage will be launched on 2nd October. On behalf of the homepage project team thank you to everyone who has helped to shape this new design.
Launch does not signal the end of this project. The project team has established performance measures and will regularly review the homepage and gateway pages, supported by the homepage review group. Quantitative analysis will be combined with a comprehensive survey three months after launch to assess performance and identify opportunities to improve. We would be interested in any comments or questions you have that would help us to improve the site. Either post them below or you can email me at john.burnett(@)ucl.ac.uk.
Web and Mobile Services are working to improve the UCL search feature. This will power the degree finder search but will also provide an enhanced experience for searching the UCL website, staff and student directories and online research repository (UCL Discovery).