Alpha review: University of Stirling guest post

October 1, 2014 by No Comments | Category Digital Public Services,

This is a guest post from Kathy McCabe, Stacie Lindsay and Ryan Kaye from the University of Stirling

When the University of Stirling were given the opportunity to feedback our views on alpha, my colleagues and I jumped at the chance – this was our opportunity to help shape a service that will put the people of Scotland at the heart of its design.

Here are our thoughts, what do you think?

Adheres to good website design principles
Overall we felt alpha looks very good and adheres to many good website design principles. The font type, size and colour contrasts are good for accessibility. It has a nice, clean design and is easy to navigate.

Search and navigation

Importantly, the search function returns relevant results although sometimes related content was unexpected. We were amused by a search for ‘Recycling’ which brought back ‘Change your name by deed poll’. Perhaps old names can be re-used!

We think some of the navigation might benefit from a review to reduce the number of levels as it needs an additional click to get the full content. For example, to get to the full workplace pensions content, users would need to navigate the following: Home > Business and employment > Retirement and pensions > Workplace pensions > Workplace pensions

Better signposting needed

We also noticed that when the site’s navigation takes you from to the GOV.UK website (e.g. to renew your car tax), it returns you to the home page of the GOV.UK website and not You have to be aware that you are on a different site and return to the original window, which will still be at the jumping off point.

We think this needs to be better signposted given the breadth of IT experience and awareness of the potential audience, especially where some will be novice users.

Overall, we think it is a good example of a website and wish the team well with the public launch.


Martin Bramley, our Agile Delivery Manager, responds

Kathy, Stacie and Ryan,

Thanks very much for your feedback, we really welcome your thoughts and have come to very similar conclusions ourselves. I will endeavour to address each of your comments and explain what we are doing or have done about it.

Search results

The alpha site was predominantly launched as a proof of concept to verify we had the necessary skills and were using the appropriate technologies to deliver it. In alpha we chose to use the solr search engine and although we did not fully implement the solution, we decided that going forward, we would use an elastic search engine to improve the relatedness of results.

Navigation levels

During the implementation of alpha we were busy developing the information architecture for our longer term solution. The information architecture is still by no means final but we have agreed that nothing should be more than three levels from the home page.

External links

As you pointed out, navigating away from needs to be handled in such a way that the user understands a) why they have been taken to an external site and b) that they still feel able to trust the site they have been taken to. Our user research team have been investigating various task-based studies to determine whether a more appropriate solution should be developed.


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