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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

Sharing the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team

Why working in the open is so important

We recently embarked on a series of collaborative design sprints. We host open research playbacks so colleagues can watch videos of students interacting with our work-in-progress. This is a load of extra work, a nice-to-have luxury, right? Actually I think it’s essential, and here’s why.

I learned a very long time ago that the great “ta-da” reveal moment towards the end of a project is risky. It typically doesn’t end well. More often than not, people aren’t wowed by what you’ve produced (especially when it’s a website project using the standard design elements of a corporate content management system).

More frequently you get:

  • “This isn’t what I was expecting. why didn’t you [insert alternative approach you ruled out]?”
  • “That’s great but can we just [insert changes that undermine the rationale for what you’re presenting]?”
  • Or possibly worst of all, indifference.

I was reading an article recently by experience design expert Jared Spool who summed this problem up really nicely.

If we’ve done a great job at our designs, they won’t look special. They’ll look clean and simple, as if they’d been there all along.

Jared Spool

In his article Jared compares developing and delivering a great solution to what would happen if we judged a film by watching the concluding scenes. Imagine judging Star Wars on the big medal ceremony at the end, having not seen the trials and adventures the group had been through.

Scene from Star Wars film conclusion, the heroes receive medals

If all you knew of Star Wars was the concluding scene when our heroes receive medals, how would you rate the rest of the film? Jared Spool draws parallels with stakeholders only seeing the end result of a design process, rather than the whole ‘story’.


Read Jared Spool’s article: To Show the Value of UX, We Must Show the Work of UX


A great design won’t look like it took a lot of work. That’s not helpful if we want our peers and stakeholders to value [the design process we’ve been though].


What’s this got to do with us?

How many IT and service projects have you encountered where really all you ever know is that something new is coming and it’s going to be great? It happens again and again, and not just at the University. It’s common in many organisations for stakeholder engagement to be little more than a public relations exercise.

Working in the open

We need to be as transparent as we possibly can when designing services that impact a lot of people.

We need to design with colleagues, not for them.

I realised a very long time ago that in a devolved organisation such as ours, working in the open is so important and merits investing time and effort. It can’t be something that is a nice to have that gets dropped when time and resources get tight. So this is something I prioritised throughout my 14 years working in Website and Communications in the Content Management System Service and in the User Experience Service.

My approach has evolved over the years, but the underlying principle of working in the open remains constant.

‘Making usability agile’ – a post I wrote about our open invite review sessions when developing EdWeb

An index of blog posts for showcase sessions I ran to share the work of the UX Service

Design sprints keeping our work in plain sight

Our current work on design sprints to inform the future state of the degree finders is just the latest example of working in the open.

  • Interviewing stakeholders and involving colleagues in our sprint workshops
  • Inviting anyone interested to review our user interviews and test videos with us after every sprint
  • Blogging about what we’re doing and learning as we go

Yes, you can say that a blog post like this is a public relations exercise I suppose. But the thing I’m proudly sharing is not how fantastic the future state of the degree finder is going be. I’m proudly sharing that we’re sharing.

(I’m also sure that what we produce will be great though, because I trust the process of iterative design, testing and collaboration will deliver what students and staff need).

Get involved – learn more about our design sprint process and how this can involve you

The principles I set out for the Prospective Student Web Content team, including working in the open

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