CALAT website redesign goes live!

Marketing officer Johnny Hoskin describes working with Croydon Digital Service to improve CALAT's website for learners and employers.

CALAT (Croydon Adult Learning and Training) is one of the largest adult education providers in the UK. We’ve been running much-loved courses for adults of all ages and abilities in the borough for over 70 years.

Its website was made slightly more recently than that, and has just had a shiny new relaunch, with a little help from Croydon Digital Service (CDS).

The tale of the CALAT website

Strange to think now, but when I joined CALAT in 2013, getting a change made on the website took a minimum of 48 hours. Not because the person making the changes was particularly slow, but because they were based in Trinidad and Tobago.

Fast forward a couple of years and, without a jot of experience, I heroically/foolishly (delete as appropriate) said that of course I could do a better job and so took sole responsibility for the design and upkeep of the whole site.

Fast forward again to mid-2019 and I knew the game was up. The site, although functional, was cluttered and creaking. Here’s a taster of our old front page…

The old CALAT website, with a cluttered menu, text laid over image, and yellow on yellow text

CALAT’s homepage until January 2021

Pretty hard to read right? That wasn’t the only issue. Here were a few of the problems affecting the old site design:

  • outdated look and feel that was offputting to users
  • homepage carousel – see shouldiuseacarousel.com for more on why this was an issue
  • top menu drop-downs full of pages that the public didn’t need to see
  • writing that was inconsistent across the site and difficult to understand
  • regular updates needed to keep the site and theme from crashing…
  • … and it kept crashing anyway!

I desperately wanted the site to be more professional, as it’s our digital front door. But I’m a comms and marketing officer, not a web designer! So I did the only thing I could do: I picked up the Bat Phone to CDS. At Croydon Council the Bat Phone is not red and nor does it send a signal into the sky. Instead it looks a lot like a Word document with the not so heroic title of ‘Digital Services Proposal’.

I filled out the proposal and crept back to my desk to await my fate. Remember early 2020? When offices were places with people in them and you could still sneeze without creating a 20-metre exclusion zone around yourself. Them were the days.

Squad assemble!

A squad was assembled and we went to work to build a better future for all (those using the website). Including me, CALAT’s Communication and Marketing Officer and resident subject matter expert, the squad comprised of:

  • “Design” Dave Hampton – Interaction Designer
  • Halima Ikuomola – Junior Interaction Designer
  • Corinne Pinfold – Content Designer
  • Mohamed Elghorri – Technical Solutions Engineer
  • Chris Stevens – Front End Developer
  • Naomi Charles – User Researcher
  • Victoria Hunt – Product Manager

And not forgetting Shaneek Glispie, our delivery manager until she moved on to adventures outside the council.

To be part of the squad was a real eye opener: terminology I was not used to (what do breadcrumbs have to do with websites?), acronyms galore, and Trello. What is this shiny app that organises our tasks so efficiently? I’ve got be honest here and admit that I still have no idea, sorry Victoria.

The squad carried out desk research into websites from other education providers and user research with real people who tried the website and highlighted where the problems were. Miro was a handy tool for tracking this research and presenting it back to the team and stakeholders.

An array of design research on Miro

Design research in Miro

The team met remotely every week to divvy up tasks, which included:

  • creating new online identity and digital guidelines
  • streamlining existing content, with many pages deleted, and implementing new navigation
  • creating new consistent page templates that meet the key user needs
  • turning PDFs into accessible web pages
  • reviewing accessibility and data protection policies including cookie banner
  • developing a new WordPress site with brand new Elementor theme
  • creating video training guides for CALAT website admins

Slowly but surely a digital phoenix could be seen emerging from beneath the ashes, and what a wondrous thing it was to behold. Gone was the carousel of shame, no more was the random and inexplicable use of different font sizes, consigned to history went the out-of-date plug-ins and, perhaps most personally for me, I never (ever) have to think about or use Slider Revolution again. Ever. Shudder.

Not all heroes wear capes

The process itself was easy, productive, focussed and clear, that about sums it up for me. I really enjoyed learning from them all and the time spent at our weekly meetings. I have my fingers firmly crossed that phase 2 of this project will bring the CALAT enrolment portal over to the main site, thus opening up a world of conversion rates and other super fun stuff.

To return to the superhero theme, can the squad I worked with be considered as such? No. What they are though is a really talented, creative and professional group of people who literally made a gleaming silk purse out of a sad and soggy sow’s ear. Having said all that, I have a sneaking suspicion Dave keeps a cape at the ready!

Check out the new CALAT website in all its glory.

The new CALAT homepage

The new CALAT homepage

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