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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

Sharing the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team

ContentEd 2022: team reflections

Our content team members attended – and some even spoke at – the ContentEd conference in November. In this post, we recap what our favourite sessions were and what we took away from the conference.

Flo, Content Designer

What was your favourite session?

People are not idiots (or how to design better experiences) (Dana Rock)*

I really loved Dana’s talk on breaking down some of the assumptions that we make about our users and how they interact with web content.

In this line of work, it’s easy to get frustrated with users when they miss (or misunderstand) the point – earlier this year, I felt a little defensive when student testers didn’t respond as well as I hoped to some pages I’d built.

But Dana’s talk was a humbling reminder that, as content creators, we are responsible for far more than just getting words on a page in a way that makes sense to us.

To make really good content, Dana says, we have to remember these four rules:

  1. Design to meet people on the journey they are already on
  2. Design for feeling (“How we feel affects what we think, do and remember”)
  3. Design for familiarity (because interfaces that feel familiar help people focus on important tasks)
  4. Design for the future (“Do you want to make a lasting impact?”)

Beyond the content of their talk, Dana is a fantastic speaker who uses storytelling, humour and the element of surprise to keep their audience engaged (shoutout to the overstuffed walrus). It made the session so enjoyable, and the material impossible to forget.

*Honourable mention must also go to Freya for her fantastic talk on writing content for non-native English speakers.

What was your biggest takeaway from the conference?

There’s so much to learn! I only joined the team in March 2022, and this is my first role as a content designer. It’s exciting (and yes, a little daunting) to be in an environment where you’re surrounded by people with so much experience and wisdom to share. Taking detailed notes is a must.

Lauren, Senior Content Designer

What was your favourite session?

Content: a tool for – or barrier to – your EDI efforts in admissions (Day Kibilds)

I absolutely loved Day’s keynote on how our usual practices towards admissions content can exclude people from diverse backgrounds.

Day talked about how, as much as we can try to make our content readable and accessible, the nature of admissions content means it will always be a challenge for students from backgrounds who have no prior knowledge of the higher ed experience.

Day’s answer to this challenge? Ask those students to send us whatever grades and qualifications they have. It should be on university staff to match up those qualifications to our requirements and let the students know if they meet them, or what they might have to do next.

This talk made me rethink how we approach writing entry requirements content for widening participation students. As much as we want students to self-serve using our website content, is this always the best (or even right) approach for all students?

It’s a challenge, because as Day said, providing 1 to 1 support may not be scalable. But I think there’s a balance to meet. Self-service has to exist to a point. However, in more bespoke cases, we should be taking the cognitive load off students unfamiliar with the higher ed application process and help them navigate this where we can.

What was your biggest takeaway from the conference?

My biggest takeaway wasn’t a theme or something I learned in a talk. Rather, as this was my first conference as a manager with my team there, I really relished getting to experience their first in-person professional conference with them.

I know how much my career has benefited from being able to network and learn at conferences, so it was great to see our content designers get to experience this as well.

I especially enjoyed being able to watch Freya make her conference debut at ContentEd, giving a breakout session on writing content for non-native English speakers. She crafted such a well-thought-out talk, delivered it impeccably, and it sparked great discussions afterwards. Very much a proud boss moment!

Louis, Content Design Support Assistant

What was your favourite session?

Design for cognitive bias: using mental shortcuts for good instead of evil (David Dylan Thomas)

My favourite session of the conference was David Dylan Thomas’ Design for Cognitive Bias Keynote talk. The section of the talk about cognitive fluency was my personal highlight.

Cognitive fluency is the experience of the ease or difficulty of completing a task. It refers to the feeling people associate with the process rather than the process itself.

Easy to read = Easy to do

The example David used was the process of making pancakes. He displayed 3 different ways of laying out the information needed to make pancakes to demonstrate the perceived ease or difficulty of completing this task.

  • Example 1: Dense instructional information on how to make pancakes. This layout made the process appear complicated. As someone looking to make pancakes, I would be put off the process, if I had the additional effort of navigating this clunky text.
  • Example 2: A step-by-step process accompanied by images of each stage. This layout made the whole process feel more achievable. Having a step-by-step process to follow makes following the task easier.
  • Example 3: A step-by-step process accompanied by a video of the process. To quote David “Now I’m definitely making pancakes!”. The process of making pancakes now appears to be straightforward.

What was your biggest takeaway from the conference?

My biggest takeaway from David’s talk was how much the structure of information impacts the success of a user’s interaction with content.

Poorly structured content can be a barrier which puts people off reading important information, and could potentially lead to unnecessary enquires and the user feeling frustrated.

Nicole, Content Design Support Assistant

What was your favourite session?

I think there are two sessions worth mentioning.

Create more inclusive experiences by supporting neurodiversity and cognitive accessibility (Amy Grace Wells)

Amy Graces Wells gave a talk on creating more accessible content for neurodiverse people. In it, she said, “There’s no need to say more than what your users need to know.” This is a simple statement on the surface, but it is something I have kept in mind since the conference. Just because we can give our users all the information doesn’t mean we should.

In fact, overloading our users with information can actually create a negative experience. This is especially true for users who are neurodiverse, but I think applying this principle is beneficial to all users of our content.

The principles behind our design (Ayala Gordon)

This related to another session given by Ayala Gordon from the University of Southampton where she talked about the importance of including accessibility as a design principle in content teams.

Ayala pointed to research which shows 67% of accessibility issues with content originate in the design process. She described how her team have had success in overcoming these challenges by setting out clear design principles and how they can be implemented.

This includes involving users with varying accessibility needs throughout the research and testing process, and using evidence to inform what content users need and when they need it.

What was your biggest takeaway from the conference?

This was my first professional conference and I found it inspiring to be around and learn from other content professionals in higher education.

My biggest takeaway comes from both of the sessions I just mentioned.

Both of these presentations drove home the point that, if we design for the users who will face the most challenges when interacting with our content, we actually end up making the experience better for all our users.

Heike, Content Designer

What was your favourite session?

Content strategy foundations: Discover your audience needs (Robert Perry)

This session was part of a series of four foundation track presentations for creating and implementing a content strategy offered by Pickle Jar Communications.

During his inspirational talk Robert reminded us that we need to differentiate between what we know about our users and what we think we know. The success of a content strategy and the production of useful outputs depends on the work we put in to gain this awareness.

We need to know about and identify gaps looking at facts, assumptions and mysteries (these can be used for research questions) for:

  • Access – channels and platforms our users prefer to use and where to post our content for the biggest impact
  • Information – what questions do they need us to answer
  • Emotion – what really motivates our users and drives the decisions they make
  • Influence – barriers and distractions that might take them away from our content

Testing, which looks at already produced content, cannot replace research. Possible methods for the research (he mentioned 25 during his talk) depend on the types of insights we want to get (for example, understanding behaviours or obtaining quantitative data) and can range from surveys and focus groups over interviews to user testing.

The slides of all four foundation track presentations were made available to delegates and form a useful toolkit for the content design work.

What was your biggest takeaway from the conference?

Conferences provide a great opportunity to network and build professional relationships. Being able to learn from others’ experiences and knowledge is so valuable. Active listening is key, as there are also so many sources for further development (and some of them are free of charge).

Learn more about ContentEd

If you’re interested in learning more about the sessions mentioned in this post, check out the ContentEd website.

ContentEd website

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