A Django site.
October 27, 2010
» There’s an app for that ..

More details soon..

January 22, 2010
» Designing a Course Details Page

Have been looking at improving some of the previous ideas I've had for our course details pages. They are a crucial part of our site, so I wanted to have a good think about the way they should work.

August 24, 2009
» Cartoons on the Homepage

Screenshot of old site

What we used to get away with

First of series of trips down memory lane with the aim of rediscovering some of the lessons of our history.

A review of the web presence of the University has just been completed and that process of examination has made me reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of our current site and the way that we are doing things. To that end, i thought it’d be useful to take a look at the way we used to do things and see where we’ve improved, how the web world has changed and what lesson our particular history tells us. It might also be an educational journey for those who don’t remember some of the things we’ve done.

My five year old could do better

As critiques of University web pages I’ll bet that not many have had that particular sentence thrown at them. It all came about when we decided that the existing style of home page that we had at that time was not really appealing to our target audience, so we resolved to produce something more in line with a younger audience. Looking back through at older versions of wired.com and my sketchy memory it seems that the web at that time was louder, bolder and brighter.

Web guru Jeffery Zeldman’s site from then was very different. The language of the time was the limited color palette, bold, often pixelated graphics and blocks of color. We were all using tables for layout back then. It’s funny looking back through the archives of pages I remember, and illuminating that the general excitement and enthusiasm of the time seems to come across. It was in that context that we decided to be bold and create some character illustrations that would be different from the stock images other places used at the time.

I’d produced some illustrations for various parts of the site and I’d love to be able to say we did some in depth user testing, allied to extensive market research but that would be a lie. In fact we spoke to the representative from marketing at the time and outlined our plans to take the site in this very bold new direction and to his/her credit they went with the idea.

So how far have we come?

What strikes me during this meander down memory lane is the lack of links – eight in total, linking to broad categories of information. The absence of a search button reveals that we were very much in the business of guessing what users might want and laying out browsable options for them. In the intervening years the web has changed very much to a searchable medium, where users expect a quick interaction will deliver the info that they require.

The intense demands for space on the modern day homepage make it feel that we need to revisit our search and really explore how it’s being used and how we can improve it. Perhaps the desire to be up front and on the homepage stems from anxiety about all the stakeholders’ information being discovered. The decision to put things in these broad categories was , i remember taken with marketing. The overall site was smaller which probably explains how it was possible to collect things in these areas.

The size of our site has grown dramatically, reflected in the 60+ links currently on our homepage. As a team we will need to really examine the function and purpose of the different parts of the site, and reassess the role of the homepage in that process. Should the home page function like a table of contents, or a brochure, or a billboard, or a directory, or a storefront. All the analogies are relevant but if we try to do all of them in one place then we will end up failing at them all.

January 29, 2008
» No politics here - just milk labels

Once again I find myself musing about bilingual packaging. This time Daioni milk has caught my attention. Is there something about dairy products or the dairy industry that particularly lends itself to being branded as “Welsh” or do I just spend more time staring at dairy packaging than other packaging? With the Exception of Halon Môn, all my examples of bilingual packaging are dairy products.

Anyway the Daioni label actually contains almost no Welsh, in fact I guess we could debate whether or not it should even be considered bilingual. But what did strike me was their website – fully bilingual. After several examples of the use of Welsh in branding NOT being extended to the website, it was refreshing to find an example where the opposite is true.

The website is actually quite nice too – I am a sucker for pictures of cute animals and that whole “these are the people (and cows) who make your milk” personal touch thing. Of course it isn’t perfect, would you like “Saesneg” or “Welsh”? And I’d suggest that the cross language links would be better leading you to the same page in the chose language rather than the homepage. But , come on – cute animals, who can resist?

As an aside, I see that the feed to BlogCymru is once again working, which means that my ruminations on milk labels and cute animals will shortly be appearing amidst some very earnest discussion about Welsh politics. No politics here – just milk labels.

January 17, 2008
» Rhif deg

In these times of the phony non-election campaign it is good to learn that the Downing Street website is now available in Welsh. This reveals to us all manner of interesting information, for example a page in Welsh about Tony Blair appears in the breadcrumb navigation as “You are here: home > Welsh homepage > Welsh PMs in history > Welsh Tony Blair”. Who would have thought that so many previous Prime Ministers were Welsh.

Of course, once they remove the news story from the Number 10 homepage the Welsh homepage will be rather harder to find. A search on “Cymraeg” doesn’t actually return the Welsh homepage, but it does return this page Welsh guide to Government which might come as a bit of a disappointment to anyone who thought they might actually get some information about Government in Welsh. The Welsh homepage is, somewhat un-obviously linked via the “other languages” button which is in the “Newsroom” section, listed after latest news, media centre, email updates, photo galleries and webchats. Just as well that they are “keen to make it more accessible to people in the UK and around the world”, just imagine if they were reluctant.

Yes of course I’m being grumpy and critical and I should be celebrating the fact that they have at least started and that they have started with Welsh. It’s a Monday, I haven’t had a cup of coffee yet and I have a cold. It’s my blog and I’ll be unsatisfied if I so choose! Anyway it’s Mike’s fault he sent me the link to the story.

November 9, 2007
» Bilingual website wins award

Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price has won the British Computer Society’s best MP website award, as reported in a piece on the BBCs website. It is not entirely clear what the criteria used were, though they are reported as “design, engagement, accessibility” with the best overall considered to be an outstanding example of the very best incorporation of all three qualities.

What encourages me about this is that Adam’s website is bilingual, showing that it is entirely possible to have an excellent site and make a bilingual provision – the two are not mutually exclusive as many people who resist making a bilingual provision might like us to believe.

However it is interesting to note that his blog, whilst featuring entries in both Welsh and English is not bilingual (not every story is available in both languages). This pattern of presenting relatively static content bilingually and more volatile content monolingually (usually in English) has certainly been a characteristic of Welsh political party websites, though Plaid has adopted a fully bilingual approach since the launch of their redesigned and rebranded website. Similar attitudes towards volatile content can also be seen on some commercial sites, Outlook Expeditions for example state “Due to the dynamic nature of this website we apologise we are unable to produce a Welsh translation. ” They do however offer to send a copy of their bilingual brochure (again static content). Once again we see the Welsh language being minorised not only in terms of content availability, but also in terms of a language of consumption (after translation) rather than original creation.

Thanks to Beverley for pointing this story out to me.