Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford

An engaging website with scientific focuses

The Client

The Department of Earth Science focuses on the scientific understanding of the earth and other planets and embraces a wide range of topics. These topics include the evolution of the solar system, the earth, the nature of planetary interiors and the causes of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. This department at Oxford University has an excellent international reputation and has state-of-the-art laboratories and facilities.

The Brief

Earth Sciences were keen to have a new website so that they could maintain their profile as a highly regarded educational institution. They also wanted to attract the top students and researchers at all entry levels and raise the profile of research groups in the Earth Sciences department. On their old website it wasn’t effectively illustrating the great work that Earth Sciences have achieved, so they wanted their new website to deliver this information immediately. The new website also needed to maintain and develop funding streams, including targeting research councils, philanthropy and sponsorship.

The Solution

The solution was a WordPress website which consistently delivers a powerful impact to the user. At the start of this project we held a stakeholder workshop to establish the needs of the target audience. We spoke to students, faculty members and researchers to find out what they wanted from the new website. Following this workshop, we then conducted competitor research and analysed their current website, before formulating this research into a plan of action.

The next step was to look at the current sitemap and establish if it was meeting the client’s objectives. Working with the client, we restructured the navigation and made recommendations of what it should look like going forward. It was important that navigation was concise and clear so that each audience could find what information they needed.

Following the navigation restructure, we started the design process by tackling the homepage. As one of the main objectives was to illustrate the ground-breaking work in the Earth Sciences Department, we made sure that this was the focus on the homepage. We used research stories to make up the main banner image and this can be easily changed to promote alternative stories. The homepage also tackles the issue of engaging with different audiences. We designed blocks on the homepage which would quickly take researchers, postgraduates, undergraduates and those interested in applying to the department to the content that was relevant to them. The homepage also has a section dedicated to research groups which automatically randomizes the groups so that no one has preferential treatment. The research groups were one of the main challenges of this website as previously they all had separate sites, but on the new website they needed to exist together and not separately. The solution for this was to create their own section on the website, and they had their own navigation so that the user did not leave the Earth Sciences website. The research groups could then create their own identity within their section but it would still sit comfortably on the main Earth Sciences website. For example, the research groups can add pictures and their own Twitter feed to their section.

Speaking of researchers, it was also important that they were able to illustrate their hard work. Previously, their work was hard to find, so we created profile pages for the researchers which had links to their publications. During the research phrase we discovered that the researchers working in the Earth Science department was part of the reason why people wanted to join the department. Therefore it was important that these pages were engaging and easy to find. To enhance this section further we also included categorisation, so that people could tag themselves to research groups and news on the website. This system meant that the user could go to the News section and filter by researchers, alumni and earth resources so that they can tailor the experience to their needs.

Filtering and categories was a big part of the development phrase and it was important to us that all those involved in the Earth Sciences department could be tagged to the relevant content. To ensure that everyone’s content was added to the website we made the decision with the client to hand over login details to the department. This involved 200 people logging into the CMS before the website went live and adding their own content. This was a big decision for both parties but we were thrilled with the result. By allowing the department to upload their appropriate content to the website this empowered them and immediately made them feel close to the website. It also sped up the process dramatically as it meant that all of the content was uploaded within a week. Once the content was added, it was time for the website to go live!

Results

  • Increased staff engagement
  • Unified look and feel
  • Categorised content
  • Data analysis and reporting setup

What the client said

“Ceri has been great and it’s been a pleasure working with her. The feedback from academics has been great as they have commented that the website is really easy to use. We are overwhelmingly happy with the end result.” Claire Grainger, External Relations Officer, Department of Earth Sciences, Oxford University.