The Chester Zoo website has finally launched! After months of hard work, it’s now out there for all to see! But what can’t be seen is the work that happened behind the scenes and what went into getting us there!  

As I proudly watch my friends and family navigate their way through the site for the first time, I find myself telling them about every last detail - the working, the re-working, the testing, the thinking and the talking (oh, the talking! - the meetings, the over the desk chats, 11am Slacks and midnight WhatsApps) that went into every decision. I realised something, that what people see in front of them when they look at the amazing work we do, is only a tiny part of what makes it great. What makes our work great, is everyone! It’s not about one person, it is literally about all of us, and how every day, on every project, we take the time to talk - to collaborate, to learn from those around us, to get the most out of everything we do.

So with all this in mind, and a brilliant project to base it on, I present to you…

Team Collaboration On Chester Zoo Website Design & Development

The 7 Ways We Absolutely Nailed Teamwork

1. Ideas breakfasts

Every few weeks, the design team have a breakfast meeting, with coffee, croissants and creative ideas. But for this project, we invited the whole company. Every single person turned up, which goes to show how passionate everyone is about the work we do, as well as the work Chester Zoo do. From this, we got the idea to give the team at the Zoo the creative freedom to animate their amazing typeface, to create messages that intrigue and excite. It didn’t stop at the idea - one of the developers at the breakfast went away and used his own time to make it work!

2. User experience (UX)

More often than not a client will come to us looking for a complete website redesign. It’s quite often the case that their current website is not performing well, or it’s confusing to the user, or it looks old and dated, but regardless of all this, I find it exciting when we have an existing site to really evaluate. Instead of starting from scratch, we look at what’s already working and what’s not. Does the existing site do what it is supposed to do, for the people it is supposed to do it for? The best way to find out is to speak directly to the website’s current, potential and future users. Great UX will not come without collaboration with the user. Throughout this project we really got under the skin of what the many different website users wanted - from professors to zoo visitors, we got all the information we could. Surveys, usability testing, user complaints, qualitative and quantitative studies all gave us insight into what we needed to do to get it right.   

3. Post-its and sharpies

Whatever your industry, never underestimate the power of a post it note and a sharpie! The minute anyone walks into a room of people and sees these objects, they know that their voice is going to be heard. It’s the power to share knowledge, to contribute ideas, it’s equal participation and it almost always sees great results. I daren’t begin to work out just how many post-its we used throughout this project, but the one thing that I am sure of, is that every single one of them had something important on it. We used post-its to note usability testing feedback, for content ideas, to organise pages and templates. We moved, replaced, improved on every single one until we had built up a complete picture of what we wanted to achieve.

4. Sharing the good, the bad and the ugly

The entire Ultimate team have such vast and varied backgrounds and experiences, and we make sure that we share it all! It’s not all about sharing great achievements, but the things that haven’t worked out so well for us. What we learn from the pitfalls of the past make us think differently, make us more aware and more knowledgeable. Having dipped our toes into the water of Chester Zoo’s events programmes for a small microsite we built last year, we knew from the beginning exactly what we needed to do, and more importantly what not to do on the main Zoo website. We made sure this knowledge was shared with the team from the beginning, meaning that the new system does so much more!

5. Client partnership

When I say teamwork, I don’t just mean the team at Ultimate, the client is as much a part of our team as anyone. Getting to the bottom of the needs of the business is key to any successful project, and there isn’t a better way to do this than getting everyone in one room to discuss it. My favourite trip to the Zoo this year didn’t actually involve any animals - it was the day I stood in front of 30+ Chester Zoo stakeholders and asked them what they needed out of the new website. This resulted in ideas, insights and what-not-to-dos we would never have considered.

6. Card sorting

With pages coming out of our ears, the best way to work out how to organise them into an intuitive website navigation is, you guessed it: collaboration! We got a bunch of Chester Zoo website users to organise the pages into groups which they felt belonged together.Then, we looked for trends in what the users were saying, and listened out for confusion in terminology. Using users to structure the website navigation means that everything is in the place they would expect it to be, with a title they expect to see.

7. Hot desking

Our Head of Client Services, rather endearingly once said “Do you know what I’m good at? Hot desking!”. This came after, for the third time that day, she had stayed perched with her laptop at another person’s desk, the best part of an hour after finishing talking to them! The truth is, she is good at that, and it’s this kind of thing that makes collaboration easy. Every single one of us is ready at any point to help each other out and share our knowledge. One of the best things that came out of this approach on the Chester Zoo project is the website’s wonderfully intuitive, completely bespoke content management system (CMS). Designers and developers have been in constant contact, working out how to get the most out of the CMS, down to tiny details like the colour picker only containing the Chester Zoo brand colours, to the ability to upload any content in any form thein house team could possibly wish to!   

Of course, the website is now live, but that’s not the end of it. We now have the exciting task of continually improving it, tweaking, testing, refining, rewriting, redeveloping, redesigning, retesting, and of course, doing all of it together!  

Written by Anya Ellis May of 2019