Website Refresh Project

The University's external website is undergoing a refresh to update certain design elements, functionality and content, as part of a on-going project. 

This space will keep you up to date with what we're doing, why and what those changes mean for you.

[Coffee break]

Working on a major website project during a global pandemic

At the start of the year we planned the website refresh project according to a number of key deliverables we needed to achieve by the end of July 2020.

However, this plan could not possibly have factored in the global pandemic which has changed all our daily lives, as spring turned into summer.

We've taken a few minutes out for a virtual coffee break to reflect back over the last few months and share a few thoughts on how we have worked on a project of this scale during the pandemic.

<p>Screenshot of a development sketch.</p>

What's on today?

Recent project deliverables

Use gallery feature panels on staff profiles

You can now create and add an image gallery to your staff page, giving you the opportunity to show examples of your teaching and research to visitors to your profile.

Have a project to share? A new book published? Is your latest collection of work available to share? If so, you can feature this in four different types of image galleries.

<p>In development: an example of one of four different styles of gallery<br></p>

You can add images to different formats of gallery, from standard to grid and photo strip. Standard galleries allow links to YouTube videos which can be played on the page, too.

Any images you add to your staff profile will be stored in your own personal media library, content from which can only be used on your profile.

How to add a gallery to your staff profile

  • Go to the CMS Media Library and upload an image in the usual way, ticking the checkbox 'make image private (store in your personal media asset library)'. 
  • Return to your staff profile in the CMS and switch to the Gallery tab. Search for your uploaded images and choose a gallery type.
  • Tick box to display on profile.


  • You can allow up to three members of staff to edit your staff profile by choosing their names in the 'Shared With' tab on your staff profile page in the CMS. 
  • On publishing your changes, those staff members will have access to your profile and be able to make changes on your behalf.
  • This gives these delegated staff members the ability to create galleries, including uploading images, as well as being able to save and publish.


Staff profile enhancements

Staff profiles (formerly Personal Professional Pages or PPPs) can now be edited in the website Content Management System (CMS), with new editing tools replacing older systems.

These pages are available for every member of staff to keep biography, teaching, research and publications information up to date for their audiences.

<p>Screenshot of Professor Richard Thompson's staff profile.<br></p>

Develop your own landing page to highlight teaching and research expertise

A strong staff profile helps visitors associate a name with a face (and a title) and will increase engagement in your area of expertise by allowing the personality behind your teaching or research to shine through.

Rather than simply functioning as a contact page, a staff profile should be seen as an engaging landing page to showcase your expertise.

What's new?

  • Profiles can show the areas of expertise a member of staff can be contacted about, surfacing content from the single source of the directory.
  • More options to personalise your staff profile page and develop a landing page to highlight teaching and research expertise: e.g.
  • Ability to delegate up to three members of staff to edit your profile – includes uploading images and creating galleries.
  • Highlight key publications – feature your latest work or collect a series of publications which work well together to showcase your interests and research-rich expertise. Include up to six highlights from your publications in Elements.
  • Feature your work in galleries – add an image gallery, giving you the opportunity to show examples of your teaching, research and latest news to visitors to your profile.
  • Display research group memberships.
  • Social media fields have been added, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Orcid, to allow you link to your accounts from your profile.
  • Profiles can be edited at
  • Read our Developments to enhance your staff profile blog post.


Project life after phase one

Over the last few weeks, we have been taking the time to evaluate a very busy and productive phase one, which has included iterating on a number of existing features after further user testing.

<p>Development sketch showing hero image text placement iterations</p>

As part of this process, we have upgraded Ruby on Rails, the system which runs our website, to maximise our platform for moving into phase two of the project. We have also fine-tuned a number of CMS features and fixed some bugs. 

Within the back end itself, CMS users will notice an increased performance in article select boxes. This should improve the speed of loading feature panels such as montages. When selecting an article to link to, it will work just as before, simply type the first 3 letters of the article you want to link to into the search box.

Other updates include:

  • when applying a colour theme with a dark colour contrast and highlight, text always now appears in white
  • improvements to the text colour contrast of grey highlight boxes in the megamenu
  • improvements to the ‘more related news’ functionality of news lists

Further developments continue to take place to improve user and CMS functionality as we move our thinking towards the phase two project deliverables.


Iterate, iterate, iterate: the key to sustainable success

We have talked about our agile approach to website development and this continues to be at the heart of the project as we move into phase two. We will build upon and refine what we have delivered in phase one, as well as planning and delivering new elements.

<p>Post-it notes scoping the project following an agile methodology.</p>

The key to a successful agile methodology is working towards a MVP – a Minimum Viable Product. An MVP allows you to test your beliefs in the most affordable way. As a process, it requires both flexibility and discipline. It will help reduce risks and make the team more adaptable to change in a digitally sustainable way.

Following an agile methodology and working in an iterative way towards MVPs is a successful model to help with our digital sustainability. Thinking sustainably is an important ethos of our website refresh project. We can produce and development a platform desirable for our audiences and contribute to making Plymouth a green university through our iterative approach.

But it's not just about what our external users see. Much thought goes into the tools behind the scenes to make sure we're not inadvertently creating onerous tasks to update these new features. This allows us to release useful products in an efficient manner, saving time, costs, energy and lowering our digital footprint as we maintain content long term.


The anatomy of our new homepage

Homepages used to be viewed as a concise reflection of an entire website and the main entrance way into other pages. It was the front door to the shop, guiding us to the appropriate aisles, so we could buy what we wanted.

Today, entering through this front door is no longer needed. The way our minds and search engines work, means we can often bypass the front door and be taken straight to the item on the shelf we want to learn more about.

So now a homepage may or may not be the first page a user visits, but it is certainly always a take-off point to other pages. It needs to be easy to understand and navigate, allowing your different audiences to quickly find the information they are searching for.

<p>Screenshot of the new homepage hero image design.<br></p>

The most important page on your website is the one page most relevant to the user’s current requirements. A homepage should not bombard a user with information. It needs to take the user where they want to go in a matter of seconds.

Dropdown megamenus, like the one we have recently introduced to our website, include links to the main top-level sections of a website – the essence of what the organisation is – in a clear, structured way.

What our homepage says about us

Over the last few months redesigning our homepage, through a range of discussions and analysis, we knew we wanted it to:

  • be a window into the University and life at Plymouth – a first impression which defines the DNA of the institution
  • quickly take our users to the parts of the site they need to get to
  • highlight our mission statement and values
  • showcase our research-rich reputation
  • promote a range of interesting and pioneering content across audiences.

It's still important to remember though, that every page is responsible for creating a first impression and communicating the goals of our website.

Blog post

Discover what makes a good homepage and how to efficiently help users get to where they need to go.


Embed 360 media in feature panels

360 media can now be shown in Text and Image and Case Study feature panels in the CMS.

This is a great way to include relevant virtual tour imagery on courses and other relevant pages. Our location, teaching facilities, labs, studios and workshops and accommodation options can be shown on the pages where audiences are already seeking helpful information.

Users across devices will have the option to observe the image or choose to activate 360 scrolling by selecting 'Load 360 view' or custom text.


New top-level website navigation

We have introduced a new streamlined navigation menu as part of the wider development work for the homepage of the website. This is a replacement to the previous website navigation bar for desktop and mobile devices. Our new design includes a drop-down menu which shows users important parts of the website in one click.

<p>Megamenu demo.</p>

What's new?

  • Replacement navigation bar for desktop, tablet and mobile.
  • Drop-down menu – entire website in one click.
  • Tools for the content team to edit all menu items in the Content Management System (CMS).
  • Ability to highlight important calls to action at the very top menu level, e.g. ‘Collaborate’ under ‘Business’.

And this is just the start of a content review process...

Moving forwards, there will be further auditing of content and a refresh of other sections of the website.

We will continue to review analytics and engage in conversations with relevant stakeholders during future phases.

Blog post

Find out more about the megamenu.


What's changing with course pages?

During the life of the project, course page templates will be reviewed to ensure key facts that sell the course are prominent and users can follow easy calls to action (CTA) to apply. Related information important to applicants will also be made more visible, for example accommodation and location information.

<p>Screenshot of a current course page.</p>

In this first phase, a major update was to amend key CTAs, including applying via UCAS, signing up to a Virtual Open Day/Plymouth On Demand (POD) and prominent information to help prospective students to find what they need during the coronavirus pandemic.

What's new?

  • Function to pin flagship courses to top of course lists.
  • New default CTA buttons added for Plymouth on Demand and Unibuddy across undergraduate courses and POD subject area pages.
  • Clearer call to action (CTA) buttons added – helps users perform valuable actions such as registering for Plymouth On Demand and applying via UCAS.

Blog post

Find out more about our updated course page design and new features in development.


Refreshing the homepage

A major deliverable is to develop features and modifications for a new homepage design.

Every webpage on our site is built by adding different content modules to a standard page template in our CMS – we call these feature panels.

Following a smart approach based on clever iterations of current content modules, we have improved existing feature panels to refresh appearance and functionality, in a timely and cost-effective manner.

A staging site and the power of our current CMS ensures we can development, test and deploy updated feature panel elements in the least disruptive way to our end users and stakeholders.

<p>Screenshot showing demo of how updated news list function.</p>

Staging: developing a new version of News List functionality in pre-production

What's new for the homepage?

A number of existing feature panels have the option for CMS super users to select a different design for homepage inclusion.

  • Text and Image feature panels
  • Case Study feature panels
  • Article Groups feature panels
  • News and Events List feature panels – with option to show thumbnail images
  • Gallery feature panels.

Other updates include:

  • multiple style options for title and summary and option for a hero image CTA (homepage only)
  • option to have opaque hero title blocks for text over hero image (homepage only)
  • five new page theme colours added (homepage only)
  • option to make pull quotes part of a page's theme colour (homepage only)
  • higher quality full-width hero images (sitewide)
  • a new Hero Images tab in the CMS, where up to 5 images, with or without links, can be added (homepage only)
  • option to view available hero images on a page as a user – images cycle through after each page refresh (homepage only)
  • several presentation options for imagery and text with links (homepage only)
  • removal of grey gap between feature panels and text sections (sitewide)
  • fullscreen playback on embedded Youtube videos (sitewide)
  • changes to CTA format (sitewide).
  • social media integration (sitewide)
  • new accreditations design (homepage only)

Blog post

Find out more about our updated homepage design and our modular way of developing new features for the website.


Clearer call to action buttons added

As a website user
I want to see clear CTAs on pages
so that I can quickly take action

Watch: A vlog demonstrating the evolution of CTAs on our website

A vlog showing evolution of CTAs on our website

We have updated the visual style of call to action (CTAs) across articles, school and course pages. 

This will help users perform valuable actions such as registering for open days, applying via UCAS and collaborating with our researchers.

CTAs are important because they signpost or encourage the user to take the next step. They should be direct and use active language. [Content Design London Readability Guidelines]

The clearer CTA design quickly helps users identify these are buttons they can interact with. Improvements have been made to the layout and visual language, as well as aligning them with the University's current brand identity.

What's new?

  • Updated CTA style implemented across articles, school and course pages on 29 June 2020.
  • Red 'Apply now' button linking to UCAS is the first CTA on course pages.
  • New blue colour for all other CTA buttons.
  • New icon font set including COVID-19 icon added.
  • See an example of the new CTAs in action: BSc (Hons) Marine Biology course page.


Plymouth On Demand: the virtual alternative to open days

<p>Plymouth on Demand grid of faces</p>

At the heart of Plymouth On Demand is our academic-generated content

A huge content creation and curation exercise has taken place, with staff making Zoom recordings of their open day talks, workshops and demonstrations.

These recordings have been presented in an 'on demand' playlist, allowing prospective students to find out more whenever they like about their subjects of interest without needing to sign up and wait for a specific open day date. Enquiry data is then captured through sign-ups for live Q&As and further talks.

Thank you to those who have pulled out all the stops to create this new content.

What's new?

  • Plymouth On Demand platform launched on 15 May 2020:
  • Read our Behind Plymouth On Demand blog post.
  • Content continues to be refined and added.
  • Embedded YouTube videos now play full screen if user selects this option.
  • Working on Plymouth On Demand content for prospective postgraduates.
  • A poll is asking users what is the most useful content we can provide.
  • To contribute content please contact


Enquiry form and Unibuddy

This form is critical as a means of capturing enquiry data and starting to build conversations with prospective students who would normally be able to attend an open day on campus. 

A large piece of analysis, testing and integration work has been undertaken to allow a new form builder to be used, not just for this enquiry form, but for all web forms. This gives us the ability to create and amend forms without technical development for each one, becoming much more responsive to audience needs and creating simple, quick ways for website users to get in touch with us. 

The forms can link automatically to Salesforce, our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system for tracking applicant enquiries, sending communications and monitoring student recruitment numbers.

What's new?

  • The new enquiry form can be found at, as well as on undergraduate course pages and application advice pages. 
  • The form is another new way for prospective students to interact with the University.
  • The Unibuddy platform found at has been integrated into our site and is also accessible through undergraduate course pages.
  • Unibuddy gives prospective students real-time access to real people at the University.


Media directory of expertise

Work to compile a directory of expertise has been ongoing for some time, with the Media and Communications Team holding a list of media-trained staff available to talk to the media on certain topics. 

This work has, until now, been presented as a 'manual' collection of web pages, without the ability to search or reuse content across different parts of the website where it could be useful to users. 

The purpose of the directory remains to encourage members of the media to contact the Media and Communications team so that requests for interviews can be logged and coordinated.

What's new?

  • Searching for academic expertise has been made more accessible.
  • A directory of expertise for the media has been created within the website Content Management System (CMS), enabling the Media and Communications team to update a searchable collection of expertise attached to staff profiles.
  • Staff profiles can now show the areas of expertise a member of staff can be contacted about, surfacing the content from the single source of the directory: e.g.
  • A search function has been created allowing the media to search for names or areas of expertise, and providing results from the same directory.
  • Our media experts directory page at now has an A–Z listing of staff underneath the search box.
  • Contact for updates to, or inclusion in the directory.


Interested to find out more? Have an idea to share?

If you have any questions to ask or suggestions to share, please do get in touch with us at