CASE STUDY

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

Overview

Oxford University Press (OUP) is the world’s largest university press with the widest global presence. As their website declares: “Our products cover an extremely broad academic and educational spectrum, and we aim to make our content available to our users in whichever format suits them best. We publish for all audiences–from pre-school to secondary level schoolchildren; students to academics; general readers to researchers; individuals to institutions.”

OUP partnered with Silverchair over a multi-year build to re-envision and re-deploy their content, products, and services on our platform. They sought a fresh and cohesive design across the hundreds of sites and numerous content types they serve.

OUP’s publishing clients required a robust templating system to handle a multitude of research and data types, the ability to quickly create product bundles out of existing and new content, and the ability to create and edit local site pages.

Project Kickoff

Silverchair’s design team initially consisted of a lead designer from each OUP and Silverchair, as well as a few designers occasionally assisting during busy portions of the project.

Due to the time difference, teams flew between Charlottesville and the UK during project kickoff, and later had multiple online meetings every week to facilitate ongoing team cohesion.

Project strategy began with extensive requirements gathering and working through an experience map. This allowed the team to identify long term project goals and build a roadmap of work, identify areas for innovation, and understand the existing site’s strengths and weaknesses.

OUP’s academic offerings serve a wide variety of users, including authors, practitioners, librarians, researchers, and students. While specific tools exist on the platform catering to these users’ individual needs, a unified experience with high legibility and a robust search engine was the project’s goal.

Architecture rework involved a rethinking of OUP’s existing site structure. Their sites and products were slightly disjointed, with a lack of hierarchy and brand clarity. Publishers under OUP’s flag placed individual branding as a high priority.

The Silverchair team sketched out architecture maps linking together OUP’s global presence with their children sites (products, societies, and journals). Major user pathways to content included categorical browsing through subject taxonomy, browsing through journals and sites to their content, and through site search.

Design

Some takes from initial wireframing sessions across the site.

Silverchair took a conservative approach to visual and experience design across the site’s pages. OUP’s general branding and aesthetics coupled with the wide range of age and device experience provided that a simple, robust design would prove most effective.

Initial design revolved around sketches of primary pages including issues browse (table of contents), article content, and search results. The team found a three-column approach that broke down in mobile views to most effectively display content information and relevant publisher links at the same time.

Constant user-testing drove design adjustments as the team honed in on final, high-fidelity mockups for core pages. A round of in-person testing and continued remote testing for further design phases shaped out any details left to assumption.

Home pages were designed with modular rows allowing the 400+ sites to customize content to their need.

Once core pages were in place, the team worked through home and supplementary pages. This area proved difficult as designs needed to be modular enough to cover home pages across over 400 sites while keeping them flexible enough to include custom content for every publisher.

A card and row system was employed, allowing publishers to select the number of rows on their pages along with how many elements per row would display. The team canvased the existing site and created a few dozen generic cards as starting templates for publishers to work off of.

Search provides an array of facet options depending on the type of scholarly publisher with modular widget placement on the right rail.

One of the most powerful components of the redesign was a flexible SOLR-driven search widget for home pages and right-rails on content pages. This tool empowered publishers to display a list of customizable content based on search queries. Results could range from a static list of recommended articles or books (chosen through DOIs) to a dynamic list of content displayed by topic, all automatically updated through the query itself.

Initial project launch only included their hundreds of journal and society sites, with online products such as books and reference material to launch in another phase. The team extrapolated simple content page designs for these products to come, ensuring that the templating system would remain consistent and robust enough for this future implementation.

The split-view design developed over a need for a more efficient research reading mode displaying text and figures/tables side-by-side.

Other product design for Silverchair’s platform included both product- and site-builder tools for Oxford and future clients. SiteBuilder utilizes XML templates uploaded by publishers to rapidly stand up new sites on Oxford’s platform and dictate home page and right-rail element display. ProductBuilder utilizes SOLR search to quickly create static or dynamic groups of content for publisher’s marketing and sales needs.

User research + testing

User research was crucial to the design approach and was utilized in all phases throughout the project. Before kicking off design, the team conducted user interviews and collated related research for the design and build phases. This information provided an informed approach toward issues that previously existed and opened new areas for improvement.

After completing initial designs of the most important page types, the team drew up an extensive hypothesis for in-person testing at Oxford. Tests were completed with a rounded group of users that represented typical visits to the sites.

Users were set up on computers with a proctor and led through scenarios for observation and commentary. This process uncovered several issues related to clarity of tools on article pages, lack of mental models for navigation in some areas, and the lack of use of tools such as column collapsers and content metadata.

These results proved incredibly insightful – the team adjusted a second round of designs based on their findings. Throughout the ongoing phases of design, usertesting.com’s tools gave quick feedback, enabling rapidly iterations on design. This worked well with Silverchair’s AGILE sprint approach and rapidly built out proven designs that were quickly approved by the client.

Build phase

Oxford Academic's global site was templated, allowing Oxford to quickly stand up, edit, and expand upon secondary site pages.

Silverchair’s build team included over four front-end developers, seven .NET developers, and numerous development architects, security experts, business analysts, and project managers. Sprints operated on three-week cycles with the design team integrating into the group to provide consultation throughout the build.

The project employed WCAG 2.0 and 508 compliance to adhere with disability requirements and remove barriers for research experience on our sites. Silverchair’s design and front-end development teams met prior to code sprints to agree on an efficient approach to reach accessibility throughout the build phase.

Issues browse was designed for familiarity with search page templates, providing another avenue for visitors to find scholarly work.

Silverchair met with Google Scholar’s team several times throughout the site build to ensure their bots could adequately absorb site content and metadata for their indexing system. New requirements from their team such as multiple abstract lines showing above the fold and a necessity for abstract only pages required a few design shifts before launch.

Oxford University Press’s new site launched in phases due to the massive number of publishers they employ. Feedback received was warm across publishers and users alike and the project launch a success for both teams.

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