City University London Web Team

Category Archives: Website

IWMW 2013 – Bath

Accessibility, Responsive Design, Website.

Returning back to London from another IWMW there are many memories and lots to describe to my fellow colleagues and those who couldn’t attend.  The main organiser Brian Kelly (a legend of the institutional web)  again made me feel the romantic and the passion of working within a University’s web team and in general for the educational sector. (more…)

New student section and responsive design

Development, Usability, Website , .

Just in time for the start of the year, we released a responsive version of the design for the new student section.

It’s a first step into switching the entire site to a responsive design and over the next few months, we’ll look into rolling it out to other sections. We will also be improving the design and functionality as we go along.

CSS media queries target different screen sizes and adapt the design to the size of the user’s screen. We opted for an approach favouring fluid transitions: rather than using fixed breakpoints set by specific hardware device sizes, the elements are rearranged to fit any screen size.

We introduced Bootstrap with the release of this new design, to handle the grid, scaffolding and responsive functionality. We also took this opportunity to switch this section to HTML5. A change that has previously been made elsewhere on the site and that we will continue to apply across different sections.

If you want to learn more about responsive design, A List Apart published an interesting article on this design process.

Iterating the global navigation of a university website

Information Archiecture, Upgrades, Usability, Website.

I’m pleased to announce that we’ve released a new version of our global navigation for the University website. We will be rolling-out bespoke versions to Moodle, Library Services and the Intranets, shortly.

These changes make it easier for our two major types of user — loosely internal and global — to find information and complete tasks in a simple, predicable, efficient and consistent manner.


The City Homepage: Travelling through time

Development, Upgrades, Website.

Web Team will be launching a new homepage this afternoon, prior to the commencement of the website redevelopment project. This represents the last significant piece of development for the current version of our website.

To whet your appetite we thought we’d take you on a whistle-stop tour of our (historic!) homepages courtesy of the WayBack Machine at the Internet Archive. (more…)

IWMW 2009 – Steve’s reflections

Development, Website , , , , .

This afternoon web team returned from sunny Colchester, we have been attending the Institutional Web Management Workshop. We all heard useful stuff and came away with lots to think about (particularly as we embark on the website redevelopment). I’ll take a couple of paragraphs to share the things I am thinking about.

Machine readable content

This was something more than one session touched on. The idea is that you don’t just think about the humans that will be interacting with your content, but you also provide ways for computers to interact programmatically with it.

This can be as simple as providing RSS feeds for website searches, or any list of things on your site (e.g. courses?). Or as complicated as providing a full blown API ( anyone?) with a RESTful interface.

This was covered in some detail by Mike Ellis of Eduserve and Tony Hirst from Open University, and again by the BBC guys. The idea is that this will allow other people to re-purpose your content in ways you wouldn’t even consider, and even encourage people to do interesting things. One interesting example was Tony’s own mashup map of MPs travel expenditure, where he took data from the guardian, munged it and put it on a Google map.

Amazon Web Services

Mike Richwalsky gave us a compelling demonstration of AWS, including the serving of static content from S3 and the ultimate in virtual servers EC2.

S3 is a service where you can upload content to the Amazon infrastructure and have it served superfast from their data centres. It operates on a PAYG pricing scheme, you only pay for the bandwidth and storage you use. Mike is using it to serve flash video up at his University website. And I was impressed with the quality and speed in comparison with our offerings, might be something to consider as we decide how to take the video stuff forward.

EC2 is a service where you can create on-demand computing power, bringing virtual servers up and down on a whim through your browser. Again only paying for how much bandwidth/uptime you use.

In all it was a worthwhile couple of days where we could take time out to consider the bigger picture ad rub shoulders with others in a similar situation to ourselves. I look forward to implementing some of the things we’ve seen in the coming months.

Becoming a user-centric institution

Development, General, Website , , , , , .

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve managed to get away from sunny Northampton Square to attend two excellent events for HEI ‘web professionals’. A couple of weeks ago I took part in the inaugural session of a networking meet-up for London university web people, organised by the excellent University of the Arts team. UCL’s Jeremy Speller has already blogged about this so I won’t go into too much detail, but it was fascinating to find that we’re all facing the same problems, and were eager to talk about the same issues, namely:

  • management of content (quality, quantity, CMS selection)
  • use of outsourced vs. internal resources
  • organisational issues, bureaucracy, politics
  • appropriate usage of emerging technologies (notably Twitter), and best practice use of social media tools for student engagement

Unsurprisingly, the same issues cropped up frequently during the excellent two-day EdWeb 2009 workshop hosted by the gents at Headscape, about which I plan to blog over the coming days.The first session, entitled ‘Becoming a user-centric institution’, was particularly pertinent for City University because of the plethora of major digital projects that we are committed to, namely website redevelopment, Portal and CRM.

User testing should be a no-brainer, but Paul Boag argued (justifiably) that the HEI sector has a terrible track record for developing websites and applications with user needs as the number one priority, and we see evidence of this everywhere. Oftentimes, ‘user acceptance testing’ is no more than a process to verify that an application or process ‘works’;

we think that most users can complete the form, and the back-end business processes are all working, so everything’s fine….

What’s missing here is a focus on user objectives rather than business objectives, and an appreciation that user testing provides a valuable opportunity to enhance the user experience; to quote usability guru Jared Spool, “its real forte is in telling you where the interface causes frustration”.

Aside from the specifics of how to conduct a user testing session, the main thrust of this session was that none of the ‘traditional’ excuses for avoiding user testing (no time, no money, no understanding of the benefits, no expertise, etc) are relevant or insurmountable, and that a we should be adopting a ‘little and often’ approach to user testing throughout the development cycle i.e.:

  • during requirements gathering (test the existing site or application)
  • when developing Information Architecture, taxonomy
  • design stage
  • build stage
  • post-launch

This makes a great deal of sense, and I think we all came away with a renewed desire to educate our institutions on the benefits of user-centered design.

Towards a new website

Development, Website.

The University has commissioned an agency to develop a roadmap for the delivery of a new website.  The purpose of the roadmap is to ensure the development of the website is firmly grounded in the strategic goals of the University and student recruitment targets, will meet the needs and expectations of our stakeholders, and is properly funded and resourced.  The roadmap will act as a compelling business case, therefore, to secure the funds required to deliver the new site.

The inputs into the roadmap will include stakeholder workshops with students, academics, marketers, recruitment and admissions teams, analysis of our current site and of those our competitors,  the School Plans and University strategy and relevant outputs from the Portfolio Review.  The Project team and agency are engaging closely with colleagues across the University including the Portal Project team to ensure as joined up an approach as possible across activities.  Information about the Project will be posted on the Project’s section of the University website (link is internal audience only).

Safe as houses

Website , , .
Security notice in firefox

Security notice in Firefox

The security of had an upgrade today.

Our forms are now entirely served over SSL, which means that every time someone fills in a form the information they send to our systems won’t be at risk of interception by a third party.

Also pages that are served from our secure server ( will no longer give a “This page contains both secure and nonsecure items” message.

Now you can fill in our forms and view our city internal only pages with confidence that you are safe as houses*.

*assuming you keep your antivirus up to date, your system regularly scanned for malware, and use a decent operating system

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.

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