January 2013

Collating & promoting the research discoveries and public engagement activities from Australia's most prestigious university, Pursuit is a project that I conceived, ideated, advocated for and launched.

The challenge

Universities generate knowledge.

A challenge many of them face is that much of this knowledge is either too detailed for the general public to understand or the only published in academic journals which most people have no access to.

This contributes to two negative outcomes for Universities:

At some point, if Universities are to communicate to the public what they are researching then they need to find a way to disseminate this activity and knowledge.

Historically, at the University of Melbourne this meant that dozens of small websites were created, each trying to do a small piece of the work of communicating research news and discoveries to the public.

Predominantly ineffectual and invisible through the massive complexities of University websites, this content languished and largely failed to explain the research mission of the University to the public.

The Solution

As part of my work on a new Web Strategy for the University of Melbourne, I architected an ambitious approach to create a series of platforms - each of which would be created to address a major subset of user and business needs. These platforms combined would form a new University web presence. One of these platforms was Pursuit.

My goal for Pursuit was to harness the full breadth of University content by consolidating the best of it into a single new platform and enabling a new generation of highly engaging content to be produced. By creating a single destination for the public to visit individual pieces of content would get more exposure, reach a larger audience and increase the chance that the tempo of content refresh would warrant audience revisitation.

To do this, I needed to:

The homepage was designed to bubble up the best content.
The reading experience is deliberately clean and focused.

The Process

The process I went through to create Pursuit was as follows:

Step 1: Idea and an alpha prototype

Initial wireframes for the platform

Step 2: Business case and approvals


The platform moving through iterations of design, development and testing.

Step 3: Editor Training

We worked hard to made the interface as simple and as intuitive as possible for editors. Here you can see how simple it is to add a hero image to a piece.

Step 4: Itration, maintenance and improvements


Pursuit has been a resounding success for the university. It is now the primary distribution channel for our research news and discoveries and poised to expand into helping promote our events, lecture recordings and podcasts.

Impressive metrics

In the 6 month period since it launched there were 2,278,489 views from more than 1,573,017 people. Of these, 725,204 views were complete reads of an article. Prior to Pursuit, the largest source of research readership was our newsroom, which garnered only 20,000 views per month.

High degree of user satisfaction

User satisfaction from both public and editors of the platform has been fantastic. During user testing sessions, members of the public remark how clean and readable it is. We have also had editors comment that this is the best CMS they have ever used. They love it's simplicity.

Fulfilling strategic purpose

Drawing back to the original purpose of a platform of Pursuit - to make the public aware of the research completed by the University - independent market research conducted by Sweeney validated the platform by confirming that positively impacted public recognition of The University of Melbourne as a leading research University.

Using the Web Design System I created, Pursuit was a mobile-first project

Key features

Minimal and focused reading experience

One of the luxuries we had building this site compared to other sites providing news is that we didn’t have to display ads. This meant we made a decision early on to focus on providing the best possible reading experience possible.

Closely-coupled editing interface

One of the most important considerations in creating a publishing platform is creating an editing interface that editors love to use. I invested heavily in creating a medium.com-esque editing interface that editors love to use on a daily basis. They reward this investment by creating beautiful, engaging content.

Channel structure

To entice faculties to publish their content on Pursuit rather than their own news websites, I invented a channel structure whereby they were able to publish their content into their own ‘channel’ of Pursuit but which also facilitated administrators to re-syndicate the best content into ‘Super Channels’ to give it greater amplification. We also made it possible for Faculties to display their content on their own websites via atom feeds.

Machine learning-based article recommendations

To increase the likelihood of a visitor reading more than one story, we implemented a machine learning algorithm to make article recommendations. These recommendations accommodated your previously read articles, common patterns and contextual matching to make better recommendations

Automated & personalised stakeholder and author reporting emails

Ensuring continued support and raising internal awareness of the work of Pursuit was achieved by creating individualised weekly reporting emails. Integrating the Rails application and Google Analytics, this email sends customised reports to both stakeholders and authors.

Daily/weekly/monthly digest emails

The weekly digest is a key driver for repeat visitation and core focus for the site. With a focus on a seamless sign up process and empowering subscribers to manage their own subscription, the engaging digest sent by Pursuit is a key driver of repeat visitation.