Monday, 23 June 2014

Fancy working with us?

If you're excited by the kind of work we do and looking for a change then we have a new vacancy that might interest you.

The Marketing and Communications Coordinator post is the first is what we hope will be a number of new positions based on the 'hub and spoke' model. These positions will work with a department or service to identify marketing objectives and with central Digital Marketing and Communications to deliver the appropriate solutions. This combined approach will mean you'll work in our offices some of the time and, in this case, with the Accommodation Services team too.

Learn more about this role on the University website and give me a call if you'd like to have a chat about it.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Making it easier to embed YouTube videos in your web content

We've just made some changes that will make it easier to add YouTube videos to pages in the CMS. You can now add videos to any content type that allows you to insert links, including standard page content, tabbed content, news and events.

To add a video, all you need to do is paste in a link to a YouTube video and assign a class to it of 'youtube-video-embed'. Your published page will then include the embedded video. The screenshots below show the steps in detail.

1. Paste in a link to a YouTube video

2. Use 'Insert/edit link' to set the class of the video to 'youtube-video-embed'

3. Done!

If you preview your page you'll now see your video embedded in your page. It will automatically resize to fill the width of your page.

A page preview showing the embedded video

As an added bonus, if you use this in a column that's too narrow for the embedded video to comfortably fit - for example in a three column layout or in a right hand column - then the video will be replaced with a thumbnail image instead. Clicking the thumbnail will take you to the full size video on YouTube.

A video in a narrow column automatically replaced with a thumbnail image

The old methods of embedding videos will still work. Full details can be found in the Web CMS Guide Wiki.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Hello from a newbie

I've recently joined the team as Digital Editor for Recruitment. My main responsibility is to look after the content for the study section of the University website in collaboration with colleagues across the University. One of my first big tasks is to do a content audit of the study section. I'm a big fan (sadly)of content audits so I'm looking forward to getting started on this.

Prior to joining York I worked at the University of Bradford for three years as a web content editor, and before that I worked at Leeds Metropolitan University. As you can tell I love working in higher education. In terms of digital my interests lie in Content Strategy, IA and user experience. I'm really excited to have joined the team at York and I'm looking forward to working on some interesting content projects.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Improving reliability of CMS publish

We've recently made a few changes to the way the Web CMS publishes updates to the website.

Publish speed

A few months ago we upgraded to a new release of Site Manager and were able to change how we output files as part of the publish. This change meant we shaved about 30 minutes off the publish duration and a full publish cycle now takes around 90 minutes. We hope to make further improvements later this year.

Publish reliability

Regular website contributors will know that occasionally the publish will fail and updates won't go live as part of the normal schedule. Last week we made a change which should significantly reduce the frequency of this happening. Changes should go live on schedule more consistently as a result.

Deletions and failed publishes

The most likely cause of a publish failure now is a deliberate failsafe built into our process which is worth a reminder.

If we detect a large number of deletions from the website as part of a publish, we don't publish any changes from that publish cycle until we've had chance to check whether something has gone wrong. One of the most common accidental causes of large numbers of deletions is renaming an output URI or Media Library category; this changes the URI of all pages or files in that branch of the site and thus deletes all the old ones.

If you're deliberately deleting a large number of pages or files (ie. 100+), it's always worth letting us know in advance and we can work around the automated failsafe.

Checking when publish last happened

If you're wondering why a change you made hasn't gone live, you can check when the most recent successful publish completed on the main Site Manager dashboard.

If you're sure your change should be live and yet you are still seeing an old version, make sure your browser is loading the latest copy by bypassing the cache. If it still doesn't show up, give us a shout and we'll help figure out what's happened.

Monday, 9 December 2013

New homepage and design: reflecting on the work so far

Having launched the new homepage and design for core pages of the website a few weeks ago, we held a team retrospective to reflect on the process and outcomes of the work so far. This helps us build on the things that went well and refine our process for the future. Below are the four categories of our retrospective and selected highlights from our thinking.

High points

  1. It actually happened!
    It's been a long time coming, so we're really happy to finally launch something new.
  2. Having a comprehensive preview available on a test server
    From early on in the process we were publishing the work-in-progress homepage and new design for core page on a test server. This made it so much easier to discuss the changes with the wide range of stakeholders who were involved.
  3. Trying some new tools
    We used Usabilla and CrazyEgg in anger for the first time with this project. Both proved really useful, the former for gathering up useful feedback before launch and the latter for visualising usage of the new homepage in a really compelling way.

Things that went well

  1. CMS implementation
    Despite its faults, and we know that lately a lot of you have been feeling the pain of slow previews and unreliable publishes (previews should be better now; publishes should get better later this week), the way we'd implemented the original design in Site Manager made it relatively easy to switch to a new look.
  2. Developing a process to manage the homepage
    In conjunction with redesigning the homepage, we've redesigned the process by which features and promotions are added to that page. York staff can find information about how we manage promotions on the homepage on the wiki.

Room for improvement

  1. Too many things, too little time
    The biggest challenge, by far, was finding time to do the work. We're a very small team of just four people: one manager, one full-time on training and support, two of us trying to do project work but constantly pulled in different directions (eg. CMS preview and publish issues, unplanned project requests). We reckon we get to spend, at best, the equivalent of 1 FTE on planned project work. Given that the recent redesign is just one of several projects ongoing, it's easy to see why we struggle to make quick progress.
  2. Finishing what we start
    We sometimes found that we'd start some aspect of the work with gusto, but then other things would come up (see point above) and we might not quite finish what we'd started.

New ideas

  1. Reporting on where our time goes
    There are no easy fixes to the problem of just having way too many things to do, but we think a good start might be to reflect on exactly where time is being spent. We track a lot of our time already (using the excellent Tick time tracker) and we track our support calls too, so we have data. We're going to trial having monthly reviews of exactly what we spent time on and hopefully identifying actions we can take to make more time for the most important projects.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Creating a new favicon for

Alongside the launch of our new website design earlier this month, you may have noticed that our favicon has changed too.

It's a small thing (literally), but it's there at the top of the browser window for everyone looking at our website, and appears every time someone bookmarks one of our pages, so it feels like an important thing to get right.

Our existing icon used the 'Y' taken from 'York' in our full logo, which was starting to look dated and was also a violation of our very own visual identity rules (tut tut).

The old 'Y' favicon

As we're now using the University shield as our identifier across our social media channels, it seemed like a good opportunity to bring everything together by using the same icon here too.

Creating the icon

I created the icon at two sizes, 16 x 16 for normal resolution screens and 32 x 32 for retina screens. There are many other possible resolutions for everything from iOS home screen links to Facebook share thumbnails, but I'll come back to those another day.

It turns out that a 16 x 16 canvas doesn't give you much room for subtle details, and at that size the stripes in the shield are very close together and make it look like solid black. To get around this I simplified the shield slightly by removing half of the horizontal stripes in Illustrator, giving the shield the same overall feel as its full-size counterpart.

This was saved as a PNG from Illustrator and uploaded to a tool called X-Icon Editor, which lets you make edits to your icon and preview how it is going to look in the context of a browser toolbar. Once I was happy with the result, I exported my new icon (containing both image resolutions in a single file) and replaced the old one with it.

The new favicon (with lots of other icon friends)
One small step....

Thursday, 21 November 2013

(Almost) 20 years of the University of York homepage

Last week we launched a new homepage and refreshed the design of core pages of the site. In the next week or so we’re planning blog posts that will give a behind-the-scenes insight into the recent changes and reflect on feedback and site usage since launch. But we thought we’d start with a longer-term look back at the homepage to see how far we've come.

1994: launch

The very earliest version of the homepage went live in 1994, just three years after Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and at a time when the total number of websites in the world could be counted in the thousands.

One of the earliest versions of the University homepage,  this capture from 1997

It seems unlikely that anyone at the time really expected the web to become as ubiquitous as it now is, but it was a big enough deal for a reporter from Radio York and a photographer to cover the event.

Members of Computing Service (now IT Services) launching the new website (quite why the photo is black and white, we're not sure - it wasn't that long ago!)

1997: design

The original 1994 homepage was pretty straightforward; text and links, top to bottom. By 1997 things had moved on a bit and the homepage had its first proper ‘design’. The colours and buttons look a bit primitive by today’s standards, but back then this would have been pretty advaned.

Homepage circa 1997. New in this version: news on the homepage and search to help track down information amongst the growing number of pages

2002: modernising

In November 2002, it was out with the blue and in with a cleaner and more recognisably modern style, plus photos on the homepage for the first time.

Homepage circa 2002. Information for prospective students is now the first link on the page; by now it was clear that the web was a key part of the decision-making process of university applicants.

2006: going green

In early 2006 the homepage was updated to a style that many of us have been used to ever since. More imagery, more colour and a stronger expression of an identity were key here.

Homepage launched April 2006

2008: focus on key audiences

This update was designed to help key audiences get to what they needed faster, in particular prospective students who now get 9 links to choose from (up from 1, in third place in a list, on the previous version).

Homepage launched April 2008

2010: menu bar

We introduced a horizontal menu in 2010 to provide a more standard way of getting to core audience- or topic-focussed sections of the site. We also introduced our first carousel at this point (see our recent post for some reflections on carousels) and added a subtle link to a listing of our social media accounts.

Homepage launched late 2010

2013: course search

Early in 2013 we added course search to the homepage to save prospective students having to click through to the study area to find it (better late than never, some may say!) The site handles up to 20,000 course searches per week, so putting it front and centre makes sense.

Homepage launched early 2013

2013: redesign

While we’ve evolved the homepage a few times since going green in 2006, it had been over seven years since the site had a major redesign. The green had served us well, but it was time for a change.

We’ll cover some of the details of the new design in another post, but hopefully we’re hitting the right buttons: attractive and modern; clear navigation (this is the first time we've had global navigation across the core site; an important step towards us running one website rather than a loosely connected collection of sites); prominent course search; and plenty of space to tell the story of what makes York unique.

The (near) future: responsive

As big a step forward as we feel this week’s changes are, there is much more to come next year. High on the list is making the site responsive so that the user’s view of the page is tailored to the device they’re using, whether that’s a desktop PC, tablet or mobile.

Watch this space...