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.
The need for change
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:
- 28.4% – clear navigation and links
- 37.5% – homepage reflects UCL’s strengths and pedigree
- 23% – experience on a mobile phone
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:
- Improve navigation
- Better showcase UCL’s strengths and charecteristics
- Improve the user experience across different devices
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.
1. Improve navigation
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:
- The ‘Find a degree’ section at the top of the page; in phase 2 this section will include a searchable degree finder
- The number of clicks through to the online prospectuses has been reduced from two to one
- A clearer and more prominent link through to UCL’s academic department websites
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%|
2. Articulate UCL’s strengths and characteristics.
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.
3. Improving the user experience across different devices
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).