Development Website

Design principles for the new Jisc site

One of our first steps when we started on the new site was to jot down some guidelines and ambitions for our work. In no small part inspired by the Government Digital Service* these should help us make the right decision, and keep us from getting lost down blind-alleys:

  1. Always put people first
  2. Set the data free
  3. Never sit still
  4. Stay flexible
  5. Remain open and transparent
  6. Strive for elegance
  7. Excite through stories
  8. Curate and contextualise
  9. Are we helping you?
  10. Accessible by everyone, anywhere

1. Always put people first
The site is for those working in higher education, further education and the skills sectors. We should give visitors the information they’re looking for, and fight the urge to talk about ourselves too much (if at all).

Decisions and changes should be backed up by solid user research, and not based on our assumptions.

2. Are we helping you?
Rather than tell visitors we can help them, we should just get on and do it. If new content turns up that doesn’t help our audience – it doesn’t get on the site.

3. Set the data free
We’re surrounded by a community of talented and passionate people. We aren’t imaginative enough to think of all the ways our data might be used so we will try and keep it is as usable as possible.

4. Never sit still
It’s too easy to launch, breathe a sigh of relief, and then get swallowed up in the day-job. Keeping this site relevant; editorially, in features, in design, has to be the day-job.

5. Stay flexible
This is a bit double-edged. We need the freedom to try things out, to be willing to adapt and experiment (see number 3). Whilst doing so we’ll try not to go down too many bespoke-code cul-de-sacs. In the past we’ve found ourselves stuck with out of date systems for fear of breaking our JISC-only code.

6. Remain open and transparent
This covers quite a lot, from how we act as a team to the tools we’ll use to develop the site.

We’ve already gathered lots of input and feedback for this project. We hope to hear from lots more of you once things start to be shown publicly. We won’t always know, remember or catch the right experts as we go along, so if you have an opinion, or expertise to share, do let us know.

It’s also reflected in the system that will sit behind our new site. We’re moving to the Drupal content management system. An open platform with an enthusiastic and extensive developer base – something we’re very excited about.

7. Strive for elegance
This will have a big factor in our design decisions, starting with being clear what the site’s for and how it’s organised (about which – more very soon). It also includes our writing style. We’re making the radical assumption** that even academics (secretly) like clear prose.

8. Excite through stories
As an organisation we’ve collected many great stories over the years. We think these will be a powerful way to inspire people about what they can do with our help.

9. Curate and contextualise
We have the habit of publishing everything, the result being the current site is mildly labyrinthine. The aim is for the new site to be far more focussed. To bring strong curation to bear to deliver (just) the information the user wants.

10. Accessible by everyone, anywhere
No biggie then. As you’d hope, we’re aiming for a high level of accessibility with the new site. We’re also planning a responsive design to ensure it works well across lots of devices. Finally the content will need to stand up when viewed outside of the site, such as via Flipboard, or Google Reader.

So those are they. Now we just have to stick to them.

Anything we’ve missed?

* Yes this is a shameful GDS rip-off, and yes if GDS jumped off a cliff, or started using FrontPage, we’d definitely consider it.

If you’re interested in this approach Adactio have pulled together a collection of design principles (an authority? a bedrock?).

** backed up by user research – of course.

A Dieter Rams Braun T 41 Radio 1962 (courtesy of CC-BY-2.0). Well, as we were talking about design principles it seemed appropriate to reference the master.

By Richard West

Digital content and user experience manager in Jisc's group web team.


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