Oxford Union case study: redesigning a website

There are several reasons that you might consider completely redesigning your website. It might be that you’re getting feedback from your customers or users that the user experience of the website is not good. Or maybe your brand’s offering has expanded since the current version of your website was developed, and it’s no longer fit for purpose.

Whatever the reason might be, redesigning your website is a big project, and you want to make sure the finished product delivers the right experience for your users. In this post, we’re using our experience working with the Oxford Union on the redesign of their website as a case study.

The brief

The Oxford Union was founded in 1823, and is now the world’s most prestigious and established debating society. Over the years they’ve hosted some incredible speakers, from Winston Churchill and the Dalai Lama to Bill Clinton and Michael Jackson.

They approached Monchü because they desperately wanted their website to portray this prestige and the breadth of their speakers. Their existing website simply wasn’t doing that (seen to the right of this page). It also didn’t work on mobile devices, and with the majority of users now browsing on their phone this was a major issue.

The Oxford Union needed a website which would:

  • Convey the status and authority of the Oxford Union as a brand
  • Allow them to display video content from previous speaker events
  • Engage existing users and keep them returning to the website to engage with new content and upcoming events
  • Widen their online reach to encourage new Oxford students to visit the Oxford Union
  • Function as well on mobile as on desktop
  • Attract top-level speakers from across the globe
  • Be easily editable for in-house staff.
Oxford Union website

Our process

After we agreed to work with the Oxford Union on this project, the first thing we needed to do was immerse ourselves into their world. We spent time speaking to all the key stakeholders at the Oxford Union, visiting the building, and attending speaker events to help us get a feel of the atmosphere and environment.

We also conducted desk research, looking at websites which served a similar purpose to the needs of the Oxford Union. This would help us start building a plan of what the new version of the Oxford Union website would look like.

Once we felt we had enough information about the Oxford Union, and about the needs of their users, we started the web design process. We developed initial wireframe concepts of the design, which were then reviewed with the team at the Oxford Union. We incorporated their feedback to create the final wireframes for the web design.

The final designs were focused on creating a simple, clean website which would be easy to use for the user. Upcoming events were made centre stage in the designs, as this is the primary reason that users visit the Oxford Union website. Alongside the calendar of events, we also emphasised existing content. The Oxford Union had taken a video of all recent speaker events, but had nowhere to house them on their existing website. We made sure this was possible within the design, as well as highlighting these previous speaker videos on the homepage of the website. This made the Union feel exciting and enticing to persuade new users to join, as well as providing summaries for existing members who couldn’t make it to those events.

We also created a 360 degree Virtual Tour of some of the Oxford Union’s iconic building. This included the Debating Chamber, the Gladstone Room and the Library, adorned with murals painted by William Morris himself. The building itself is part of what makes the Oxford Union so unique, and so we felt it was important to portray this in its online version.

In terms of the build of the new website, we had decided early on to use Wordpress as the CMS. It was important that the final site would be simple to use for the internal team at the Oxford Union, and you can’t get much more user friendly than Wordpress as a web editing tool. It also allowed us to assign several administrator and contributor roles to the back end of the website, making the handover of management much smoother.

Explore the Oxford Union website to find out more

Oxford Union website on Mac
The Oxford Union website on iPad
The new Oxford Union website on mobile
Oxford Union video screenshot

Tips for redesigning a website

One of the benefits of working with a creative agency like Monchü on your website redesign is that we can support you with expert advice in terms of website design and development, drawing on our experience with previous clients in a range of different industries. If you do design to redesign your website yourself, here are our top tips:

  • Audit your existing website and decide which pieces of information are important to bring over to the new website, and which aren’t. It’s the perfect opportunity to archive any outdated content!
  • Speak to your users or customers to understand what their needs are with the website. There’s no point having a website with a funky new design if it actually doesn’t serve the customers’ needs, and they’re unable to find what they need.
  • Be realistic about timelines. Redesigning a website is a huge project, and it will take time to get right. You also want to give yourself enough time to make sure it’s working correctly, so try not to put too much time pressure on yourself.
  • Test, test, and test some more. There’s nothing worse than unveiling your brand new website, only to have customers contacting you about typos, broken links, or functioning errors on mobile. Make sure you test everything yourself, and get someone else too as well.

Looking for support with your own website design? Contact us and one of the Monchü team will be in touch.

Oxford Union website redesign