Creating a world-class digital experience for the most accessible university in the UK

University of Derby
Strategy, User Research, Design, UX
Working in partnership with the University of Derby to design and build a bold new website as the first step in an overarching digital transformation programme.

The brief.

The University of Derby was undertaking an ambitious and wide-ranging digital transformation programme with the aims of further growing student recruitment, diversifying income streams, and helping to support its ambition of becoming the most accessible university in the UK.

They needed a true digital partner to help them in the first step of this journey: developing a new website that would help the University stand out in the ultra-competitive higher education marketplace. The website had to appeal to a wide range of local and international audiences, from prospective students and their parents, to businesses that look to the University for research and consultancy projects.

The results.

We worked in close collaboration with the internal team at the University, and with the external branding agency, to build a daring new site. Our approach centred around bold imagery, highly-consumable content and a rigorous, in-depth programme of research which ensured that the needs of each target audience were catered for.

Launched in July 2018, the new website contributed to the University's most successful recruitment and clearing period to date. Sitemorse INDEX also rated the website as providing the best visitor experience out of more than 300 higher education sites in the UK for three consecutive quarters.

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Adopting an audience-centred approach.

Working in close collaboration with both the University's internal team and the external branding agency, Deeson segmented the brief into three key sections to reflect the audiences they needed to reach: prospective students looking for the perfect undergraduate or postgraduate course; incoming and existing students who need information on student life, from accommodation and finances, to clubs and information about the city; and research organisations and businesses looking to make use of the University's world-class research facilities and wider business services.

With the audiences appropriately segmented we undertook a rigorous and in-depth programme of research to determine the optimum user journeys for each target audience.

Interviews were carried out with prospective and present students, their parents, academics, and businesses to find out what information they look for at each stage of their journey. This detailed research was then used to carefully map out key user journeys, such as the student recruitment journey, and identify the site's role at each stage.

Implementing design thinking.

We moved rapidly into design solutions by guiding the University's internal team through a powerful collaborative design technique: a three-day design sprint. This intensive period of collaboration utilised the insights and user journeys from the research phase to generate and iterate over initial sketches and build clickable prototypes to test and refine with real students.

Testing was also carried out to ensure the site would be as accessible as possible. This included testing with someone who was partially sighted, checking colour accessibility for web, and creating content guidelines with accessibility in mind. Throughout the design process, we worked closely with the branding agency to help them adapt the brand treatments for use on digital channels.

Optimising website architecture and content.

Traditionally, University websites tend to be very extensive, which can make the user experience challenging. Deeson and the University of Derby's team set out to optimise the site structure and content to help users find important content quickly and easily. Through a number of content strategy workshops we found ways to reduce the overall number of pages and developed strategy, governance, and workflows for content generation which would ensure consistent, high-quality content in the future.

The new website was developed and launched in an impressive nine months, which included auditing 10,000 pages of content and reducing these to 3,000 at launch.

True partnership and collaboration between the University's internal web team, Deeson and the branding agency, utilising the expertise of everyone involved in the project, helped the University launch a site that has set new standards in the industry.

The project was delivered as a true partnership and we've built a great working relationship as a result. We've really benefited from the rigorous nature of project scoping and delivery that Deeson use and it has delivered great results so far.

Robert Fowles Digital Marketing Manager, University of Derby