Website redesign

Creating user stories

I’m determined that our digital projects, starting with our new website, are user-focused. One new tool I’ve been learning about is the user story.

For us at Sussex Students’ Union our users primarily fall into two broad categories: students and our staff/officers/volunteers.

One of the aspects of agile management that has stuck with me is the idea of ‘user stories’.

What is a user story?

A user story are concise summaries of what users need/want from something such as a piece of software or website.

They are generally structured as ‘<someone> wants <something> so that <something else>’ or more technically, ‘<a user> wants <a feature> so that <value/benefit/result>.

These are created by working with the people familiar with the service you’re developing, commonly with decidedly low-tech index cards. They aim to get at the heart of what users need and why so everyone involved can prioritise these needs and understand what the problems are rather than racing straight to solutions.

Example user stories for a students’ union website

I played around with user stories today to get a feel for how we could use them for our website project.

I went old school to begin with by digging around in the stationery cupboard for index cards – who says digital people can only use computers?!

I started by looking at the most commonly viewed pages on our website as those are the aspects I plan to prioritise in our redevelopment. These are some of the examples I came up with:

  • Students want to vote in our elections because democracy (yeah still need to pin down the exact reason but ‘because democracy’ felt like an acceptable placeholder for now)
  • Potential employees want to apply for jobs so they can be considered as an employee
  • Students want to find out who their Student Rep is so they can contact them
  • Students who run clubs & societies want to book resources so they can run their sessions

One challenge is not squeezing too much into one story, I think we’ll need to do some editing to tease out the individual components of user needs and motivations.

I found coming up with the first two chunks of information (who and what) fairly easy. Being forced to think about different types of users was useful as it is tempting to  always just say ‘students’ whereas different students have different needs and goals.

Thinking about why people want to do things was interesting as previously I’ve rushed straight to ‘oh well it needs to have a membership system’ but thinking about why has useful implications for usability and content.

Next steps

Now I’m more familiar with creating user stories I’m planning to use them as part of my meetings with colleagues as part of the process to gather user needs.

That’s likely to come up with a fairly hefty list as I’ll be encouraging everyone to think ambitiously and innovatively rather than feeling constrained by what our website currently does. That means there’ll be  a lot of sifting, looking for similarities and overlaps in functionality and choosing priorities.

I’ll blog once I’ve tried creating user stories with my colleagues to let you know how it goes.

Useful links

What is the purpose of a website?

When starting any project I like to make sure everyone agrees what its purpose is. That might sound a bit obvious but very often I find we’re charging off towards a solution without actually all agreeing what the problem is. This is particularly tempting with digital things when you’ve seen some cool app or website and you want to play with it.

When planning our website redesign then I turned to my research partner, the internet, and went Googling for some wise words on what your website’s purpose could be. Turns out – nothing spectacularly useful for me in the first few search result pages.

There was loads of stuff about B2B websites and lead generation but nothing over-arching. That meant I actually had to think for myself, *eye-roll*. Actually I love this sort of thing but my inner lazy teenager was cross I couldn’t at least get a head start from the internet!

Four purposes for a website

Anyway, I think a website’s purpose can be some or all of the following:

  • Transactional –  people  want to do stuff online: buy things, join things, subscribe to things
  • Informational (not sure if that is grammatically correct but it fits my ‘-al’ format and I’m a sucker for consistency however forced in this context!) – people want to know something: opening times, what features you offer, who to contact
  • Conversational – people want to interact with you/other people, largely through user-generated content: post a review, comment on an article, post feedback
  • Promotional – this one is less user-focused and it’s when you want to publicise information about something: the great things you’ve done, why your product is better than everyone else’s,

What have I missed? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter or via

Next, the questions are what should the balance be? Which of these are (or could be) push or pull factors? How do these categories fit with internal expectations about what should be on the internet?


Preparing for a new website

I’m looking forward to overhauling the Sussex Students’ Union website so I’ve been gathering some useful links and resources to help prepare for this exciting project.

I thought I’d collate them here and ask the good people of the internet if they have any suggestions.

These are the things I’ve come across most recently but please do add your own suggestions in the comments or tweet them to me – @jowalters.

Oxfam’s radical approach to content for the Oxfam GB website

At a recent CharityComms event, Gez Russell, Editor of, talked about how they radically slimmed down and refocused their online content.

[slideshare id=30382948&doc=gezrussellv3-140124051731-phpapp02]


I really liked how they went back to basics rather than just trying to import their old content into a new layout.

8 Excellent Reasons to Redesign Your Website

This article, from HubSpot, is useful to check to see if you should redesign your website and use these key points as reminders of things your new site should do.

Start with why

A good point in this short piece by Euan Semple. stuff

I basically love everything the Government Digital Service (GDS) do. Like, want to print it out and staple it everywhere so everyone can see it, love it.

Their site has loooooads of inspiring and useful stuff like their design manualDigital by Default Service Standard, design principles and content guide.

They share information about how they created and continue to develop such as how they explored user needs.

Don’t Make Me Think

I’ve got next week off work and, so I’ve treated myself to a new book (as that is genuinely the sort thing I like to spend my spare time on). I’ve ordered Don’t Make Me Think: A common sense approach to web usability [affiliate link] following a recommendation from Matt Collins.


What else should I read or learn about?

Original image from

February 27th, 2014|Website redesign|0 Comments|