March 7, 2013

Being Beautiful

The phrase "beauty is only skin deep" apparently dates back to the early 17th century. And as we appear to rely increasingly on our bespoke typeface, colour graphics, glossy brochures and interactive web pages are we forever compounding this superficiality? In the alternative, should we not concentrate on content, purpose, and values? These of course matter, and as a department we have a revered reputation for high quality content, thoughtful analysis and evidence based and pragmatic decision making. But is this enough?

Almost 2,000 years before Thomas Overbury's observations on the superficiality of beauty, Aristotle said that "beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of reference". He may well be right. The potential students that we want to teach and the prospective staff that we want to appoint expect the University to be "beautiful"; they demand that our buildings, equipment and physical environment aren't just functional but are interesting, idiosyncratic, challenging and fun. The same applies, perhaps more so, to the virtual world.

Our Director of Corporate Affairs, Nick Agarwal presented to UEB this week on his plans for the University's website, particularly the home page.

Is such a topic worthy of UEB time?

He quickly dispelled this fear held by some, when we were reminded that the UoS website receives 24 million visitors per year. This is significant when you consider that the BBC receives 12 million per month. He shared a new-look home page, which is certainly more "beautiful" than our current offering which hasn't seen an upgrade since 2007. The site will ditch the "tell and do" approach and offer more stories about our research, utilise social media, as well as encourage easier navigation to the 50,000 web pages that currently sit underneath the homepage.

Nick also shares my strong desire to blend together the "staff" landing page with our current HR homepage. Again, does this really matter? I was surprised to hear that around 40% of all the traffic to the UoS website originates "on-campus". Our web pages are, or at least should be, a genuine and powerful tool to communicate and engage with our staff and others.

So, let's make them beautiful!

It's recognised that we are currently fetted by CMS and associated technologies, but watch this space for developments in this area. In the meantime let's focus on the content.

Repeating my plea at HR Exchange, every one of us has a responsibility to keep our web pages as accurate and as informative as possible. Let's also act quickly - if we have something useful to say, let's add to the site straight away. If we have changed a document, policy or form, let's amend the site on it's implementation date. If we are publicising an event, let's give plenty of notice and then remove the post after the event has happened. Simple things really.

"Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything"

I'm not entirely sure this always applies, but let's work together to present ourselves in the virtual world as being fast, accurate and of course beautiful!

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