Building a global experience language for Jisc

GEL

First up let me introduce myself as I’m new here. I’m Benjamin (not to be confused with Ben) and I have joined the team on secondment as user experience (UX) specialist. The main challenge in my new role is to lead on the creation of a global experience language (GEL) for Jisc – so that’s what I’m talking about.

Background

Jisc’s web presence has grown organically, along with the organisation and in a communications audit we identified 150 websites each with a different design, navigation system and tone of voice. While individual websites are often excellent, the user experience of our web estate as a whole is fragmented, confusing and inconsistent.

We run the risk that customers are not finding the products, services and advice they need. Where users do regularly engage with services it’s sometimes unclear these are provided by Jisc, and how complementary services in the same area can be accessed.

Customer and user experience consultants cxpartners were commissioned to conduct an independent assessment of the Jisc web estate and advise on how best to bring clarity and consistency to our digital offer. Core to their assessment were the principals that the default home for all our customer facing content should be jisc.ac.uk, however exceptions would be made where it is clear that the long-term user experience will be significantly diminished by bringing content or services onto the Jisc website. This led to the need to create two flavours of ‘In’ – full integration and service mode

In their own words:

“The content and functions of service mode sites are aimed at Jisc’s core audiences and so should be firmly brought ‘In’, however there is recognition of the complex UIs [user interfaces] and standalone nature of these services. Service mode sites should be made to feel consistent with other Jisc services using modules from a flexible global experience language.

A centrally managed and designed GEL will not only improve the user experience by creating consistency across the web estate but also save time, money and duplication of effort where individual teams are creating separate UIs for each of their sites and services.”

What do we mean by a global experience language?

Search for global experience language on the web and you’ll find the BBC’s GEL. I’m not sure if they coined the term, but their version is certainly the most visible and well developed example – and it’s an example that we can draw many parallels with.

The BBC have had to tackle a sprawling web estate that has grown in an organic way, that has been developed by geographically separated and structurally segmented teams. The BBC describe their GEL as “the glue that ties all BBC services together”, and that is something that we’re very much striving to achieve.

Defining the Jisc global experience language

At it’s essence the GEL will be a pattern library and style guide that will bring consistency to our digital output. But more than that, we want it to express the rationale behind these elements and how they can be combined to best effect. It’s about interaction, feeling and behaviour – a toolkit for everyone involved in building digital products for Jisc.

As Heidi Lightfoot says in her recent article Let’s Ditch the Brand Guidelines:

“We now judge the success of a brand not by its ability to manage its brand mark but in its ability to be recognised without its mark. Success comes in capturing the essence and spirit of a brand; which requires a broader range of assets delivered by ‘style guides’ rather than ‘guidelines’.”

And this is something we believe a GEL can help us achieve. And we also believe that this is something user experience design can help us achieve. Wikipedia defines user experience design as:

“The process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product.”

Through the GEL we want to make the experience of Jisc’s web estate clear, simple and fast. Where individual services become familiar, easy to use and consistent, helping the user understand our portfolio of services and the value of Jisc’s offer.

One of our key objectives is to where possible enhance the user experience of sites as they’re brought inline with the GEL. With only a small dedicated UX team we’re under no illusions that this is going to be a challenge, but as Leisa Reichelt says “there is no UX, there is only UX”. As an internal customer service team we’re UX evangelists, where we engage with other teams across the business we try to influence and educate in the practices of user experience design. As Lisa suggests in her post, just because some of us have UX in our job titles, doesn’t mean that we are the only ones that have to worry about it, its the responsibility of the whole business.

With the GEL we have an opportunity to showcase and surface the tools, techniques, resources that we use on a regular basis to the business as a whole. Our hope is to empower individual teams, to get them to start exploring and experimenting with these techniques, to start thinking of themselves as UX-ers, to start to build a UX culture across the business.

We know this is a tough challenge, and this is a long road, but all roads start somewhere and this is where ours begins.

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