The Challenge

After seven years of service, the award-winning website we had originally created for the University of Oxford was starting to look tired and, crucially, wasn’t responsive. After a competitive selection process, the University commissioned us to redesign and redevelop ox.ac.uk - one of the most prominent university websites in the world. Our brief was to:

  • Create a responsive design to reflect the University’s standing as a leading global centre of excellence.

  • Design an information architecture to cater for the University's core audiences; prospective students, students and staff.

  • Develop a site with a rich and flexible content authoring and management experience, using an open source CMS - Drupal.

Our Solution

To ensure we could effectively manage a project with such a large number of stakeholders, we set out to establish a set of principles, modelled on the Government Digital Service approach, that would help guide the project (find out more in Olly’s blog). These principles acted as the foundation for the website and guided the design and the development of content.

GDS Design principles

GDS Design Principles


1. Design & UX

We designed an extensive discovery process to help us ‘take the pulse’ of Oxford’s user community - prospective and current students, together with academic and administrative staff. We learnt about users’ online behaviour, and developed personas for each of the University’s target audiences. Building upon these insights, we designed and tested a new information architecture focussed on key user journeys.


A key outcome of discovery was consistent feedback that both prospective and current students really wanted the new website to provide more of a window into University life. Our design team factored this into their in-browser prototypes, creating page templates featuring full-width photography of students and videos of recent University events, all specifically chosen to provide a realistic portrayal of life at Oxford.

2. Build & Integrate
Whilst our design team finalised the design prototypes, our front-end and Drupal development teams worked towards building the site. Third party tools, such as the University’s fee calculator, were integrated and custom code was developed for features such as the 
Wall of Faces page. We also authored a new Single Sign On (SSO) contributed module for Drupal which allows students and staff to sign into multiple systems with a single login, implementing Shibboleth - one of the key technologies providing federated access management for Universities in the UK and internationally.

3. Optimise & Iterate
After several rounds of user testing, and a lot of hard work, we launched the first key phase of the University of Oxford’s new website in April 2014, with further sections following later in the year. Since then we’ve worked on a programme of continued development to refine and add new features to the site, optimising key user journeys and supporting the Public Affairs Directorate's ongoing programme of public engagement and outreach. 
Our relationship with the wider University of Oxford network continues to grow; we’ve recently launched new websites for both the Faculty of Law and St John’s College, and we also designed the website for the University’s massively successful fundraising campaign, Oxford Thinking.

Key Successes

By pairing great teams at both the University of Oxford and Torchbox, we have been able to successfully design, develop and launch a major Drupal website worthy of a world-leading university.

  • Website named Education Website of the Year in 2015 & 2016

  • Site ranked second for User Experience in Webcredible’s latest Higher Education Report