Jisc 4.0 (I think)

Jisc (no longer the Joint Information Systems Committe…just Jisc) launched their new website today. The organisation has been going through a programme of pretty extensive (traumatic?) change over the last 18 months or so with much of that coming to a head in the last few months. I’m not going to touch on that – I’m close to people on both sides of the equation still and I am Switzerland for the most part on this topic.

This though is the first Jisc website in a long time that doesn’t have my fingerprints on it somewhere (and is all the better for it by the looks of it) so I’m feeling nostalgic.

I was originally hired by JISC (old school for life!) to be their first Web Editor and to be one of the first new hires in Robert H-Cs brand new Comms & Marketing team at the time. The site itself was a bit of a travesty with dodgy usability from day one, some accessibility issues and a bespoke ColdFusion CMS that to this day makes me shudder at the thought of it.

I spent the next 5 years being responsible for what became a web team rather than just me. I oversaw one complete relaunch, a redesign and when I moved on left behind the beginnings of a programme of work that led to another redesign. I even ended up returning to the fold a couple of years later and becoming a user. We were early converts to user led design and decision making but to be honest I certainly never felt like we quite cracked it under my watch – there was definitely a mis-step with the technology at one point and finding a way to usefully display all the programmes and projects always seemed out of reach.

Nu Jisc has a different remit though and has embraced that opportunity to create a much fresher site that feels like it has been given some room to breath and has escaped some of the issues that dragged down previous versions.

There is a lot about the site to be proud of I think. It gets the typography and readability spot on – it feels like a much nicer experience to use. Less crowded but not dumbed down. The new top level navigation is quite a big change but I think it works – it reminds me of the earliest JISC site I encountered to be honest.

The responsive elements appear to work beautifully – I have viewed the site on a Nexus4, iPad 3, a laptop and a large monitor and it held together nicely everywhere.

The smart search looks wonderful and is a very clever idea – I haven’t really kicked the tires on it yet though (and was disappointed that ‘jukes’ = 0 results :( ) The proof will be in how well it copes with the great archive of weirdly named projects.

The image attribution tool is also very cool and also important. I don’t think I have seen anywhere else where its done as well so that deserves some respect. I remember Lawrie was always pushing for a better solution around this so I’d be interested to know how he feels about it.

I’m not quite convinced by the huge carousel – I think they are a bit of a usability black hole and am trying to phase them out of projects I’m involved in. Also maybe as a side-effect of that the homepage weighs in at a chunky 2MBs (thanks Phil)! **update – to be fair it isn’t a carousel – just a huge great ‘hero’ image so I’ll let them off :) though the arrow seems to suggest carousel more than link to me**

The attempt to run two platforms and the failure of them to sync today leaving alot of broken links was unfortunate and I imagine led to a very stressed team but these things happen and the team deserves credit for trying not to ‘boil the ocean’ with the site on day one and this will sort itself out.

Its built in Drupal which I find a terrifying CMS but also have alot of respect for as it really can be very powerful (if complex) and importantly it is open source. I think the design, front-end dev and user research was led by the team at CX (where I have my share of friends) who are top-flight and having them involved to such an extent seems to have helped make the right decisions (or more importantly get sign off for those decisions). It was all overseen by the Jisc web team – led by Ben (who has the honour of being the first person I ever interviewed and hired!) and I can honestly say I think it is a great job in what I know weren’t easy circumstances. I’ll raise a glass to you this evening :)

Oh yea…I really don’t like the new logo. Sorry.

2 thoughts on “Jisc 4.0 (I think)

  1. Blimey. Another one :)

    I was involved in the 2000 and uh (looks at personal archive) 3 one. That was … interesting. My role, hired by JISC ASSIST, was to shove content from the previous JISC website into the new one; the main problem with this is that the CMS was being developed in parallel, which gave me my first grey hairs. And discovering a bunch of inconsistencies, some major, in and across the earlier JISC websites. Internal politics complicated it, including several people (some still there, some gone) demanding their pet project (sometimes, literally) be on the home page. Not helpful. Happy days. Anyway, relieved to see that some of the old programmes and projects content is still in there, though with other historical stuff it’s less prominent.

    This new version is startlingly different. Overall, prefer the look to any previous iteration; it seems as ‘clean’ as one can get. Still getting used to the significant shift in content and (possibly) audience. It seems to be less aimed at academia – and the loss of the big orange “GET FREE MONEY HERE” button is noticeable – and perhaps more at justifying to the government / civil service the ongoing rationale for the continuation of JISC (basically, the continuation of funding of the JISC). Having said that, when I searched on ‘games’ from new Shiny JISC it works, but searching from an internal page I got an error message, a link to http://sitecore.jisc.ac.uk/ and a sort of mash-up of old and new styles and content with the big orange button, and a link to ‘Why does this look different?’ which throws up a ‘The page /website/migration you have requested has not been found’ error. So, this site isn’t quite finished yet.

    But back to Shiny JISC … bet the “We are the UK’s expert on digital technologies for education and research” big home page text caused some discussion, and was mildly disappointed to hover the mouse over it, xkcd-style, and not discover ALT text saying “Especially after you shoved BECTA off a very high cliff, so don’t close us down either.” Please don’t ever give me admin access to this website, as the temptation would turn me back to drink.

    (Oh I’ll never get used to calling it Jisc, as JISC was a straightforward acronym. Keeping it old school. Keeping it realz).

  2. The linkages between the 2 platforms seem close to being ironed out – that was always going to be difficult – its not only trying to link two sites but two versions of the organisation really.

    Internal politics are always the big issue in these projects and I doubt very much that this project escaped them!

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