Case Study: QAA

Website optimisation driven by UX and content strategy

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) is the UK's independent quality body that regulates and safeguards the standards of UK higher education, wherever it is delivered in the world. QAA’s team of highly-skilled reviewers visit institutions to identify ways students can be better supported, check standards are being met and investigate when they are not.

The challenge

We have been working alongside QAA for a number of years now. Together, we have tackled all kinds of UX conundrums; supporting usable design, clarifying language and helping to develop a digital footprint that would boost their appeal to international users, too.

We have collaborated on projects encompassing everything from Information Architecture (IA), to content strategy, design, user testing and, of course, accessibility. UX design, research and content have been the cornerstones of our expansive collaboration so far, specifically working on the development of their site’s IA, journeys, modularity of design and tone of voice.

In 2016, our initial usability testing on QAA's site, as well as on its sister website, Enhancement Themes (ET), revealed a wide range of challenging issues. It was clear that their most searched for content - useful to both domestic and overseas users - was hidden within the IA, often obscured by non-mobile friendly pages or portable document file (PDF) formats, and within paragraphs of text.

Navigation was poor, while the sites themselves fell short against the user experience QAA wanted to offer, an issue acutely apparent in the front-end look and feel.

By 2017, it was clear that design capacity was limited internally, which meant that many of the recommendations we had made the previous year had not been implemented in the timescales expected. We were therefore invited back to QAA HQ in Gloucester to revitalise the relaunch of  the website project and provide a deeper level of design support. Our brief presented three objectives:

  1. To create a bank of design templates and components with the provision of a fully responsive design specification across the sites
  2. To review the IA and ensure that the labels and levels of content could support the comprehension levels of all users
  3. To apply the insight we already had, but take on board the latest QAA proposition changes, including the business management aspects due to governmental policy shift

Results 

The investment in Nomensa's services has generated websites that are:

  • Fully responsive and accessible across devices; opening up the institution and its resources to users of all abilities - globally
  • Modular in build and easily maintained by QAA's internal teams; ensuring our delivered solutions were scalable, future-proofed and flexible enough to be sustainable long-term
  • Adaptable to the changing needs and requirements of the organisation and its users as a whole, including newly developed commercial services

Our collaborative efforts saw a comprehensive reappraisal of QAA's IA to ensure it would offer the coherence and longevity required, making the navigability and usability of their sites meaningful to all their diverse audiences.

Accompanying the architectural changes was a roll out of a new UI design that could be adapted and flex to the individual needs of QAAS and ET sites, too. These designs were based on new templates and a comprehensive suite of components, rejuvenating their branding and propelling the overall experience to the level the QAA project team aspired to.

As part of one IA research method, we used a tool called Treejack. This tested the revised IA to ensure it stood up against our hypotheses on what users were looking for, as well as confirmed whether it adhered to the association of terms across key user groups.

These findings were fed back into our designs, contributing to their validity even further; this was especially useful for the group of QAA sites, as they knew that the final IA structure would need to support new user journeys developed in the future.

We also helped to establish provisions for QAA to make their sites accessible (to WCAG AA level). This was achieved through the upskilling of the QAA team - not only throughout their involvement with the project's designs - but also through dedicated design and accessibility workshops that we will explain further shortly.

Considering content and social strategy

Elsewhere in the project, we undertook a number of readability tests to determine whether their content was written in language its audiences could understand. We found that they were writing to the level of the Harvard Law Review; far too high considering QAA's ambitions and their overseas audiences, for whom English might not be their native tongue.

Given that best practice is writing for a reading age of 11 to 12-year olds – and studies have shown that people prefer clear, straight-forward language – it was evident that QAA’s content strategy needed rethinking.

It seemed QAA was facing a similar dilemma to that of another client of ours, the Rail Safety and Standards Board, where user understanding was getting lost within paragraphs of rigid, dense text. We helped QAA respond to our reading level findings by creating a tone of voice (TOV) and a writing for the web guide.

This guide in part centred on the vocabulary used. Instead of being complex and jargon-filled, we advised that they use direct and easy-to-digest language when possible. This ensured that content was accessible and appealing to every reader, increasing the chance of revisits and an engaged audience.

As part of the content overhaul, we also established values QAA's audience associated most keenly with their website; these included attributes like being collaborative, innovative, transparent and accountable. These characteristics were then translated into diction and voice and were cemented into QAA’s identity via the content workshops run by our practitioners.

Integrated workstyle

In a continuation of our collaborative approach, one of our designers stayed on in Gloucester throughout the summer of 2017 to build a bank of components and templates that QAA’s team could easily replicate.

Moreover, this enabled us to give QAA the skills they needed to keep creating long after this leg of our partnership was over. This was further bolstered our accessibility, design and UX workshops.

As content and SEO are integral to the overall end user experience, we also ran a number of practical 'writing for the web' workshops in Gloucester (QAA team) and Glasgow (QAAS and ET team) that were geared at helping them turn detailed academic content into consumable copy.

We used real content from their website as a reference point for exercises and lessons. Meanwhile, we also upskilled QAA staff in the likes of SEO and metadata, and shared tips and guidance about keyword usage and placement with the end of boosting their rankings. To make it even easier to create with these lessons on the fly, we summed up our advice in a handy crib sheet.

We are tremendously excited about our continued collaboration with QAA. At the time of writing, their new sites are live, performing strongly and ever evolving as their teams get to grips with their new digital capability.

We look forward to supporting them on future creative challenges and consequently, helping to ensure the quality of UK higher education around the world is safeguarded.

To find out how Nomensa can help with your UX and content strategyget in touch. Call us on +44 (0)117 929 733 or email us on hello@nomensa.com.