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Happy 1st birthday, Jisc website

We launched the current Jisc website on this day last year. My, how the time has flown. This is a little reminisce about the highlights and challenges of last year, plus a look forward to the next.

Highlights

Keeping it pure(ish)

You know the score: you agonise over redesigning a website around user needs only to have it slowly but steadily eroded as powerful internal forces act upon it over time.

We were determined to protect our infant site and I think we’ve done a pretty good job. Yes, we have made changes and compromises but we are beginning to move people away from coming to us with solutions (‘add this page’, ‘change that label’) to articulating their problems. We’ve used evidence (analytics, user testing results) as well as trusting our ‘gut’ more to make our case and design the best solutions.

Choice images

I’m very proud of our use of imagery. We practice what we preach as an organisation in promoting the good use of open and creative commons licensing. We’ve trawled the web for beautiful, appropriate images that add meaning and mood to our web pages and we’ve fully acknowledged their generous and talented creators with our image attribution feature.

Constant tweaking

We’ve kept up a good pace of development over the past year. There have been no big changes but we’ve been subtly and continually improving the site in response to user behaviour,  feedback, obvious problems and shifting priorities – or just tackling things we didn’t get to do for launch.

Unlike the fanfare of big projects, this is the kind of development that few people notice or acknowledge unless we shout about it. But the big projects rarely get it all right first time and it’s the cumulative effect of these little tweaks that really improve the user experience in the long term.

Still pretty

Nothing ages a site like visual design. So I’m pleased that the Jisc design still looks fresh (well, to my eyes anyway) after a year in the wild. In fact we are currently looking at ways to extend the design concept with the new R&D section which will be launching later this year.

Challenges

Mired in R&D

We launched last year with some high-level pages and a modest visual makeover of the R&D section but very quickly users found themselves in the deep, confusing and untransformed content of old. We wanted this to be a very temporary measure – we’d already started the project to transform the R&D section and we hoped it wouldn’t be too long before the changes were live.

But for all kinds of reasons the R&D project has taken a lot longer than I hoped and it pains me that, 1 year on, we still haven’t launched the new section.

Flat out

Our commitment to maintain the quality of the website and deliver on our objectives means we are all working flat out, have been for a while, and will continue to do so. Although we are able to add in resource on a project basis, I’m beginning to realise how small our operational team is. I’m always interested to hear about the size and composition of comparable teams (so if you feel like sharing :-))

Looking forward

R&D section launch

The R&D project is motoring happily along now. It’s really exciting what we’ll be doing with this section and a real change from what we currently have. I’ll write a separate post about it soon. The launch is expected towards the end of this year.

Unified web project

The site will really be put to the test soon as we start to bring in some of our many (80+) satellite websites. You’ll be able to read lots more about that here as we get going.

Taking you wayback…

If ever I’m feeling melancholy about the challenges of my job, I travel back in time to what was on my screen on 11 June 2013. The site has come a huge way in a year and we’re committed to keep that up.

By Ben Whitehouse

I'm head of web at Jisc. My team manages jisc.ac.uk and other web services. I'm responsible for ensuring the overall user experience of the Jisc web estate is simple, clear and consistent

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