Open University

Agency: Jaywing

The Open University turned to Jaywing to create a digital strategy for delivering a website that offered a “market-leading enquirer experience”. The new website received approximately 800,000 visits to course pages in the first month after launch. Jaywing discuss the work

Brief

With over 260,000 students, the Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK. For over 40 years it has used the latest technology to deliver the very best teaching. As a distance learning provider, competition is set to increase and this means it’s more important than ever to attract students and make it easy for them to choose the OU, driving them to conversion.

In 2012 an independent report identified that the existing website did not meet the OU’s goal of delivering “a market-leading enquirer experience that gets potential students efficiently and effectively onto the right course for them”. The site was problematic for both enquirers and the OU. To address underlying issues with the customer journey, content and technical platform, a complete overhaul was required.

Jaywing was appointed to review the report, as well as to develop a strategy for addressing the issues and to work collaboratively with the OU’s in-house digital team to deliver a website that met the university’s aspiration of providing “a market-leading enquirer experience”.

Strategy

The project needed to address the inefficiencies of the incumbent site and make the process of registration a more efficient, revenue-generating customer experience. This included helping enquirers determine the most appropriate level of study and give them the confidence to fit their chosen programme into their lives. It was crucial to create a straightforward process for students to apply to the OU, enrol on a course and pay (or obtain funding).

Our job was to provide all the tools the OU would need to produce a new, device-responsive website with a superior enquirer experience.

Execution

In January 2013, we embarked on an 18-month Enquirer Experience Programme (EEP), in collaboration with the OU’s senior stakeholders and resident business experts. We consulted on user experience, digital design and front end (FE) development, to deliver new site architecture and taxonomy, customer journeys, content strategy, flat digital design style and a WCAG level 2.0 plus accessible FE component library.

Under the first tranche of the project, from January 2013 to January 2014, we delivered a digital best practice report and fully documented both business and user requirements. From this, the site architecture, taxonomy and labelling was clearly defined, driven by user card-sorting and Treejack remote architecture tests. We also delivered a completely new content strategy as well as a prototype user interface, driven by iterative evaluation and optimised through user-lab tests. We developed a new responsive, mobile-first, digital design style through the use of style-tiles.

Tranche two ran from July 2013 to April 2014, during which time the EEP user interface component library was developed. This new library delivered a new, fully realised user interface design and experience, along with inline release notes to aid the process of integration with OU systems. The fully responsive, CMS agnostic, HTML interface component library works across all the OU’s current multiple administration systems, including Drupal and Kentico, and any new future systems. In addition, it features atomic design development principles advocated by web-visionary Brad Frost, and version control management to support iterative development (ie multiple versions).

The library is WCAG Level 2.0 accessible, allowing users with disabilities to access site content readily. We also provided on-site support to the OU for the integration phase; this included providing technical direction for CMS strategy and quality assurance testing of integrated elements. We also supported content development, including photography selection for key pages (eg OU home; top courses), copywriting, tone of voice, promotional imagery and iconography.

Result

A project of this size inherently features many challenges which, as a team, we were able to successfully overcome. Key challenges included the sheer scope of content, which ran to over 6,000 pages; the ability to deliver a technical solution that catered for a vast web real-estate, estimated at 200+ sites, each with varying technical requirements (ie CMS, PHP, .net); and being able to design a user experience and content that accounts for the complexity (ie qualification, modularity and payment options) of the OU academic framework.

Our team quickly adopted the methodologies, unique business-language and processes applied by the OU’s programme management team, meaning we were able to integrate rapidly in-team. We made sure that our project activity ran alongside and interfaced with numerous internal OU work streams, which involved multiple departments and technologies. Throughout the project we worked collaboratively with the OU to design the website user experience while, at the same time, developing the technical platform (eg CMS, web services).

Since its launch in April 2014, the site has been a huge success. Analytics results show considerable efficiencies in the enquirer journey, from the website homepage through to the course page content, which was the main goal the enquirer experience.

There were approximately 800,000 visits to course pages in the first month after launch, with 62 per cent of visitors progressing through the site to qualification description pages, representing an uplift of 21 per cent year-on-year and beating the 51 per cent target by 22 per cent.

User feedback on the new site has been extremely positive. The site has been described as:

• very easy to navigate
• user friendly
• compact, don’t have to do much digging
• it makes me feel confident
• inviting me back into education

This is evidence that the new site achieved its goal of helping enquirers to find the right course, and make them confident that they can fit their chosen study programme into their lives. Ultimately, it delivered a straightforward and seamless application process.

Our work with the Open University is now ongoing as we continue to test, evaluate and optimise the site.