University blogrolls

Real people don’t say utilise; useless information delivered in an unnecessarily convoluted way

Posted on: 19 October 2012
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Filed under: Content, Uncategorized


I used to write copy for famous travel company and as a new starter had to attend an induction session. Aside from the essentials, like where’s the emergency exit and how long I get for lunch, during the session I was given several surprising pearls of wisdom. It was explained to me, in great detail, how to utilise a plaster, how to utilise a kettle and how to utilise a door.

Aside from the fact that before joining the company I’d managed to execute all of these tasks for myself without too many problems, it was the choice of language that really threw me.  Not use a kettle, utilise a kettle. A much more businesslike and serious form of kettle use. This woman really knows her stuff when it comes to kettles, plasters and doors, I thought. Shortly before utilising the latter and running through it screaming.

As a copywriter you spend most of your energy getting rid of copy; cutting, condensing and clarifying. You look for the simplest way of communicating, quickly. While words like utilise have their place, when you’ve got a perfectly good three-letter alternative why on earth wouldn’t you use it? Unless, that is, you want your brand to appear elitist, overly-technical and a bit up tight.

Take a look at these examples. Admittedly, they have been doctored to help illustrate my point, but the original copy wasn’t a million miles away from what you can see here:

Through a continuous programme of redevelopment, meetings and seminars targeted at looking at ways in which we can ensure improvement year on year, the board has taken steps to make targeted changes that we plan to implement to ensure that we not only support the company in moving forwards, but also that we use our continuous commitment to improvement to continuously improve year on year.

Come again?

After a difficult year, we’ve agreed on a course of action that will help increase sales and ensure improvement.

Got you.

Digital readers are no different to print readers. They want to access information without wading through detail and dense language. So next time you’re asked to write, update or supply copy, take it easy. You can’t say everything that every potential customer could ever want to know. Talk like a person talking to other people, instead of a corporate-borg programmed to impart impenetrable information. The world, and our website, will be a much happier place.




New academic staff profiles are here

Posted on: 11 October 2012
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Filed under: Content, Design, Uncategorized

After months of hard work, and an unexpected redesign project midway through the task, the new staff profiles will be rolled out throughout the website next week.

My last blog post announcing new profiles for 2012 has since been superseded and therefore needs updating.

The redesign project that’s been in process for the last six months has had knock on affects that have benefitted the staff profile project.

…continue reading the post New academic staff profiles are here

Team meetings!

Posted on: 7 September 2012
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Filed under: Business, Communication, Uncategorized

What’s the point of a team meeting?

The point for me is to gauge a sense of wellbeing and productivity in the team but also to ensure the smooth running of our operations and that can only happen with communication, so yes we do – in moderation.

When I worked at the BBC, it seemed that everything we did was attached to a meeting; I don’t know how we achieved anything in the normal working day. Working at an agency was different, you really only had a meeting if you required consultation on decisions, they were in the style of the ‘fast and furious’ and I liked that. In Copenhagen we held fortnightly breakfast meetings with coffee and Danish pastries. The company paid and everyone turned up and participated – it worked.

So where do you strike the balance between using a meeting to pass on information ensuring smooth operation and using it to take action?

The Business Efficiency Consultant (do I sense some irony in that title?) Andrew Jensen bases his advice on the need to be efficient down to the time and day you hold the meeting. There’s a lot to be said for that; most people like to get into their day first thing and having a meeting at the start of the day can side track even the most dedicated workaholic. He suggests meeting at 3pm on a Tuesday. I see the logic in the Tuesday; it’s not the start of the week but still the beginning and sets you up for what’s to come but 3pm in the afternoon is not mine and after a temperature check with the team, their preferred time of day to meet. It’s good for coffee and a Danish but not much else and I’m sure is when we are physically and mentally at our most weak and tired point in the day.

It’s here that Mr Jensen and I part good company; I have to have meetings, it’s part of management, communication, interaction all the ethereal things that can smooth the workings of an operation but it only works if everyone else really wants to be there.

Taking a different approach, we’ve all signed up to Google+ and are evangelising the beauty of cross communicating without the need of a meeting or an email. You can send links, screenshots and comment on what’s being viewed by those in your circle. It works because it’s reactionary without interrupting what you are working on, or at least in a non-intrusive manner and you feel like you’ve gained time, not lost it.

Google + didn’t exist all those years ago when I was a student. On my very first day at University, during my first lecture, I walked out. The Professor was trying to cram 800 years of European history into one hour: ridiculous. As a responsible adult, I feel less able to just “walk out”. But if the meeting is not achieving anything then why have it and who has the guts to say so?  In a world of wasteful meetings we are going to adopt the Privy Council model and hold ‘stand up meetings’. Let’s see how it goes, I’m not expecting anyone to walk, a Danish and coffee is optional though.

New staff profile templates for 2012

Posted on: 3 February 2012
Filed under: Development, Redesign, Research

The recent restructure of the University of Westminster website allowed us to capitalise on the opportunity to restructure, not only the presentation of courses throughout the website but many areas that are indirectly linked.

Staff profiles throughout the University have never had a consistent template. The issue pre-dated the current website and was mainly due to the old website being split into separate schools. The consolidation of those separate websites in 2009 left us with a mixture of staff profile templates in the new website.

It didn’t seem too bad at the time because each school ended up with their own section. Therefore, you would never viewed  a Law professor in the same area as a member of staff in the Business School.

…continue reading the post New staff profile templates for 2012

It’s all in the design

Posted on: 16 January 2012
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Filed under: Communication, Design, Identity, Redesign, Responsive design

Since being at the helm of the University’s website,  we’ve done a lot of tweaking of the existing design.

We’re now at the point where we need to make some real change to how we communicate with our target audiences visually. It’s an obvious conclusion to make but hard to implement without certain building blocks.

…continue reading the post It’s all in the design

New information architecture for research

Posted on: 20 December 2011
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Filed under: Design, Programming & Development, Redesign, Research

Most schools manage their research offering differently, which is why we’ve taken a broad view that should appease everyone. Following the website restructure and launch on 31 October, the research centres can now be found in one area.

This is the first step in producing a unique website for every research centre/group. But we must have a uniform approach to how they are structured in the website.

Apart from the differences in terminology between Area/Discipline/Group/Cluster, Centre and Institute, the research that occurs in the University occurs at the ‘Centre’ level.

…continue reading the post New information architecture for research

Panda in the wild upsetting the herd

Posted on: 7 October 2011
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Filed under: Business, Content, Google, Music, Search, Web Metrics, Writing for the web

Search engines are a funny thing. They are relied upon by millions of users, yet can upset a marketing campaign or even destroy a business with just the slightest change in code.

The biggest player in this market, and you get no prizes for guessing correctly, is Google. But their recent search algorithm update – codename Panda (no, really) is causing a bit of a stir.

…continue reading the post Panda in the wild upsetting the herd

Bringing QR codes to student portals

Posted on: 6 September 2011
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Filed under: Advertising, Education, Marketing

Quick Response (QR) codes are starting to crop up everywhere.  At Westminster we’ve been using them in our prospectuses and print publications for a little while now but a quick flick through the broadsheets will show one page adverts made up of a QR code. According to 3GVision, in Q4 of 2010, the UK was the seventh largest user of mobile barcodes in the world.

So how can we make the best use of them in the Higher Education sector and are they here to last?

…continue reading the post Bringing QR codes to student portals

Adobe’s new Muse Edges in on Flash

Posted on: 16 August 2011
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Filed under: Android, Design, Development

The biggest story of last year was the Apple vs Adobe clash concerning Apple’s refusal to support Flash in iOS and therefore the iPad. Adobe responded with a satirical advertising campaign called We [heart] Apple but since then the arguments have died down.

As we all move towards mobile devices including tablets, the need for Flash is beginning to wane. Why should we create Flash websites if we must also create an html version? In addition, why should we create Flash elements for websites if we need to create a static substitute? The introduction of HTML5 and CSS3 with the inclusion of jQuery has also contributed to the demise of Flash.

Arne Bech produced some Flash vs HTML5 advert examples to see if the user could tell the difference between them. View the advert examples here and see if you can.

…continue reading the post Adobe’s new Muse Edges in on Flash

Getting to grips with grammar

Posted on: 22 July 2011
Filed under: Communication, Content, Education, Writing for the web

A recent article on the BBC News website suggested poor spelling could result in reducing online sales by half.

A website owner interviewed said: “Sales figures suggest misspellings put off consumers who could have concerns about a website’s credibility”.

He has a good point but we must not forget that it is not just poor spelling that can let us down.

Grammar and awareness of other factors eg brand names, can have an important effect on how users not only view websites but how these views can spread to other, potential, users.

…continue reading the post Getting to grips with grammar