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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

Sharing the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team

User experience and analyst vacancies – helping the University become more user-centred

We’re recruiting two positions to our team: a user experience specialist to lead our research and dissemination activities, and a performance analyst to transform our approach to quantitative insight.

The two roles work together as sub-unit of our team, with the UX Specialist acting as line manager to the performance analyst.

UX Specialist – Key details of the position

  • Grade 7 – £34,304 – £40,927
  • 40 days annual leave, excellent pension and other benefits
  • Open-ended contract
  • Application deadline: Tuesday 14 September at 5pm

User Experience Specialist vacancy details and application process

Performance Analyst – Key details of the position

  • Grade 6 – £28,756 – £33,309
  • 40 days annual leave, excellent pension and other benefits
  • Open-ended contract
  • Application deadline: Tuesday 14 September at 5pm

Performance Analyst vacancy details and application process

Who we are and what we do

Our team was set up 2 years ago to overhaul how we approach provision of online services to prospective students.

This is a massive task in an organisation serving around 40,000 students, where much responsibility has been traditionally devolved to our 22 schools, 3 colleges and numerous support units. So enhancing experiences for students is also about enhancing experiences for the staff who support them.

We’re a multidisciplinary team and place great emphasis on collaboration and co-design. We’re currently recruiting for a few roles, so once everyone is in post, our team will look like this:

  • a content team focused on continuous improvement projects
  • a content operations team focused on service management work
  • a user experience team leading our discovery and appraisal work, and participating in the design process
  • a software developer  who helps us interact with some complex, business-critical University systems and extend the functionality of the University’s corporate content management system

I head up Prospective Student Web Content Team,  and have responsibility for selling the value of a human centred approach to our colleagues as well as setting our priorities through stakeholder management and governance processes. Essentially I play a product owner role for our student-facing digital services, and for the tools and support we supply to colleagues responsible for student recruitment.

Read more about the team, our priorities and processes – my December 2019 blog post introducing our work

About this blog and our team profiles

The team collaborates at a whiteboard to organise upcoming tasks

For us, user research and design is a team sport. These roles play the critical coordinating part.

Why these roles are so important

We follow a human centred design process and measure our progress against behavioural change. We can’t do either of these things effectively without the skills and leadership brought by these roles.

Read about the University’s Human Centred Design process (User Experience Service website)

In our team, everyone is responsible for the user experience. All members of the team, regardless of role, are trained in research and design techniques and endeavour to practice them day-to-day.

But while this shared responsibility is important, we need the expertise of a UX Specialist to set the bigger picture and to provide peer support so that standards are maintained.

And when we’re designing new online experiences to deliver better outcomes for both staff and students, we need to constantly keep an eye on how we will appraise success.

Our Performance Analyst not only provides insight from the big data sets we have already, but proactively contributes to the design process so the things we build in future are easier to measure on an ongoing basis. Again, our team has a good handle on website analytics , but this role’s specialism will take us to another level.

The performance analyst role is new, but you can see the kind of work our current UX Specialist Gayle Whittaker has been involved in through her blog posts.

Read blog posts by our current UX Specialist Gayle Whittaker

What’s it like to work in UX in a university?

If you’re considering one of these roles, but have never worked in higher education before, you might have questions. I encourage you to get in touch if you want to have a chat about any of this.

There’s no doubt that compared to some organisations, the University of Edinburgh is immature when it comes to UX practices. But that is changing. I’ve been working in human-centred roles here for over 15 years and have seen a lot of change. I set up the University’s UX Service and have successfully made the case to run this team using an agile, user-centred methodology. We are moving in the right direction both within our team and in the work of key partners like Website and Communications who manage the corporate Content Management Process and Student Portal.

You will have a champion in me. We, as a team, have built the respect of colleagues in central service areas through the quality and impact of our work over the two years we’ve been in existence, and we build trust and community across the institution with our academic partners through our commitment to collaboration and working in the open.

Here are just a few examples:

A while ago I wrote about the importance of team principles. I think this is a good summary of how we set out to work as a team.

Taking a principled approach – my blog about team culture

What’s good?

These are interesting times. We’re only a few steps into new territory so there are lots of opportunities to use your initiative, try new things and make a mark.

We may be relatively immature in terms of user experience culture, but this presents opportunities. The work we do tends to really make a difference across a range of business areas.

Because the organisation is broad, the diversity of work is too. We work with students and researchers at home and across the world, and with academic and support staff in a range of disciplines.

And with over 30,000 students and about 10,000 staff in the city our target research groups are often close at hand. Recruitment is always a challenge in our line of work but I like to think that here it’s a good bit easier to access our users than in other sectors.

As an academic business, we invest in staff development so the opportunities to learn are everywhere. From networking and collaborating with colleagues, to open access to online learning with LinkedIn Learning to conference attendance.

We have a strong grass roots interest in our discipline across the University’s communities of developers, editors, digital educators, marketers and so on. This has translated into a growing UX community of interest who meet regularly and are keen to learn more. Whenever we showcase our work – and we do at every opportunity – we draw a good crowd.

Education is a competitive market, but it’s not competitive like, say, the finance sector. Collaboration across institutions is feasible as is using your experiences and learning as a basis for presenting outside the University. We’re proud of our profile in the higher education sector and like to talk about what we’re doing.

Read about Lauren and Neil talking at Content Ed Conference 2021

And the University is a good employer. Pay is competitive and transparent (see our salary scales), holidays are generous, we’re flexible and accommodating in our working practices and the pension is good.

More information about working for the University of Edinburgh from our Human Resources website

What’s challenging?

There are always challenges. It wouldn’t be interesting otherwise, now would it?

We’ve got a fair way to go to catch up in terms of UX maturity compared to say, government, so some colleagues still are yet to appreciate the value of a human centred approach. Some of what we do can at times be seen as a nice-to-have addition, and we’re the team who “does the website”. So we can spend quite a bit of time explaining, promoting, demonstrating and explaining some more.

If you’ve worked in UX or service design over the past 10 years, this won’t be new to you. I want to work with people who have been meeting these challenges and have experiences to share. War stories – successes and failures – are important to keeping us moving forward.

We also have the challenge of the University’s culture itself. A 500-year old organisation with a world-wide reputation, filled with brilliant and innovative thinkers does not necessarily evolve easily or in a controlled, top-down way. But that’s what a university is at its heart; a collection of brilliant people generating new knowledge and disseminating.  So, despite how we might be perceived from the outside as a single organisation with a range of ‘products’ our offer to students can’t always be packaged up like a pension product or a sign up process. There’s a lot of nuance, basically.

But the patterns are there to be discovered, explained and worked on. We have massive initiatives happening around design of new services, large scale adoption of online learning at distance, blended learning and student administration  amongst others.

The UX function in our team has a critical role to play in this. We just have to keep showing what we can do and delivering measurable benefits.

Got a question?

I’m really happy to speak about these roles and answer any question. Drop me a message and we can arrange a chat.

Neil Allison’s staff profile

Neil Allison’s LinkedIn profile


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