MA Web Design + Content Planning

Major project

Assessed elements

Project brief (what you must deliver)

There are 2 elements for the Major Project, the project website, which has an approximate 75% weighting and a written report, which has an approximate 25% weighting. Actual weightings may vary depending upon the nature of the project. The project website and report are assessed together and form a 100% portfolio mark.


Dates for interim crits will be set out in the programme timetable.
Final presentation: 13th September 2023
Final submission: 27th September 2023

A phased approach

The project website and the written report are assessed at the end of the project. However, in order to guide you through what is quite a complex process, the final report is broken down into a number of sub-reports, consistent with the different phases of the project and these sub-reports should be written as the project develops to form a record of the design and development process.

For each phase, you will give a presentation (PowerPoint or similar) that explains your approach and which covers the elements described below. During the presentation, you will be given feedback on your ideas from staff and students. After each presentation, you will write a short report (approximately 1,000 words) based on your presentation and the feedback you have received and this should be made available from your coursework homepage one week after the presentation. See the programme schedule for the dates of each presentation/crit.

It is important to note that the presentations and reports are not an end in themselves and they are not assessed; they are designed to provide you with a framework for the development of your project. They form a record of your progress for your own benefit, and allow you to demonstrate that progress to others.

The project phases and reports are as follows:

Phase 1 - Concept

Concept: Discussion and Report

The concept report is where you describe your proposal and should include the following elements:

  1. A Twitter description of the project (140 characters maximum).
  2. An elevator pitch, which can be presented in less than 2 minutes and includes a description of the problem and your value proposition (how the problem will be solved).
  3. A longer account of the problem.
  4. A longer account of the value proposition.
  5. An explanation of your USP (unique selling proposition).

You may also wish to include a manifesto which sets out your approach and/or rationale for this website.

Business and Cultural Context: Presentation and Report

The business report is an explanation of the general business environment in which you are working. It includes an identification of competitors and/or description of the niche your site will fill, a discussion on revenue generation or what alternate value the project will deliver. It may also be beneficial to do a SWOT analysis.

In addition, you should state or restate the rationale for your project that you may (or may not) have presented during the concept discussion. Tell us what problem your project solves, give us a 140 character description of the project idea, provide an elevator pitch, and tell us what your unique selling point is. If it helps, think of us as being potential investors that you are selling your idea to.

Cultural Context is an exploration of the wider context within which your project is set. For example, if your project was to do with blogging, you could explore the history of the blog, the different forms it takes, self-publishing, self-expression, the democratisation of opinion and what effect this has had on culture and on society more broadly. This should allow us to understand where your project will fit within this wider context aond/or how it will become a natural progression of what has come before it.

Research: Report only

Following on from the Business and Cultural Context report, this report is primarily an analysis of the existing web landscape within your chosen field. It should include an analysis of cognate websites (those in the same niche, subject area or genre) and an analysis of non-cognate websites (those that provide similar functions but in different subject areas or genres).

You should also undertake a competitor analysis. How popular or successful are your competitors? What is their business model? Can you learn from this? Can you improve on this? What can you do that they are not doing? What problems that they experience can you avoid?

Undertake this element of research during the Christmas break so that you have done enough information-gathering and are fully preparred for the start of the planning phase.

Phase 2 - Planning

Commodity: Presentation and Report

The commodity presentation will describe the website content (text, images and other media), explain what form it will take, how it will be organised and how it can be found within the site. You will need to identify your target audience and explain how you have designed the content for them specifically, taking a user-centred design approach. This is a part of what is often referred to as Content Strategy. You can define and explore the needs of your target audience by developing user personas (3-4 should suffice) and you should also consider the user journey, based on typical user scenarios. You can use this technique to explain how your content and the way you will present it, satisfies the needs of your target audience.

The techniques and ideas introduced during the User Experience Design workshops with Steph and Chris (e.g. Empathy Mapping and Storyboarding) are all relevant to Commodity. Use whatever tools you think may be appropriate to your particular project.

Commodity is very much to do with user experience (UX) but does not concern itself with visual design. Ultimately, the commodity theme is about identifying your audience and demonstrating how your content and information architecture will satisfy their goals.

Delight: Presentation and Report

Delight is all about the visual design of your proposal and may include an explanation of your logo/brand design, the choice of colour and typeface. You should consider the appropriateness of the look-and-feel of your website with respect to your target audience and the genre/niche you are in. The page layout on common devices is an important aspect of visual design as this will demonstrate your use of white space and visual hierarchy. Other considerations include your proposed use of images and icons (photographic and/or illustrations) and the style of other user interface elements (e.g. navigation). Are you challenging convention with your design or conforming to the norm for similar websites? A review of cognate websites may help you answer this question.

You should use whatever tools you need to convey your proposals. These could include (but are not limited to) mood boards, style tiles, wireframes, and static mock-ups.

At this stage, the visual design proposals you present are a statement of intent, rather than a final and fixed decision. Naturally, your design ideas will likely evolve along with your progress with site development. So, consider this a first iteration of your site design.

Firmness: Presentation and Report

Firmness is to do with the technical underpinnings of the project. In this presentation, you will describe what technologies will be used in the implementation of your project and explain the rationale and the research that has informed your decisions.

In the context of a website, your presentation might include such topics as hosting platform (this may vary depending on the nature of the content, the scalability required, and the cost), choice of front-end technologies (HTML and CSS may be a given but other considerations may include support for older browsers, semantics, naming conventions, CSS pre-processors…), version control (will you need it?), use of JavaScript (or not) and/or the choice of JavaScript frameworks/libraries.

The choice of server-side technologies should also be considered. Will you use PHP and MySQL and, if so, do you plan to build a bespoke web application, or will you use an existing platform? If you choose to use an existing platform, what were the key factors in your choice. Have you considered the pros and cons of using open source solutions versus commercial solutions?

In many cases, a CMS (content management system) may be needed. If so, an analysis of available options should be made along with a justification of your choice. Consider how well the CMS matches your requirements (a comparative table may help – how do your key requirements match against the features/qualities of the options you have looked at?). How easy (or difficult) will it be to modify the solution to suit your purpose?

Once you have defined all the technical building blocks of your project, you will need to consider your own learning requirements. For example, if you decide that you might need to use a JavaScript or PHP framework, or a templating language, how will you learn to use it, and how long is this likely to take?

Phase 3 - Prototype

Prototype: Demonstration and Schedule of Works

Immediately before the summer break, you will present a prototype version of your website. It need not be feature or content complete but it should demonstrate the general design principles that you have identified as important in previous presentations. You must also present a schedule of works so that tutors can be confident that you understand what is required in order to turn your prototype into a fully-functioning website and that you have the time and expertise to action this. You should include an estimated date for site launch.

Your prototype presentation should include the following:

  1. A brief description and rationale for your project (you could use your Twitter description, manifesto, or elevator pitch).
  2. A summary of prior crits: business case and cultural context, commodity, firmness and delight.
  3. A demonstration of your prototype. This may take various forms depending on the nature of your project, but the key point is that it must be rich enough for tutors to be able to clearly understand your vision for the completed site. For example, it could be done:
    • via transitioned slides to show flow of user journey.
    • as static prototype pages, HTML/CSS/JS only to show content/UI/layout.
    • using static mock-ups and partial webpages to demonstrate interaction.
  4. A schedule of works. Break your activities down into separate tasks (e.g. content creation, theme design, implementation etc.), the more detail the better, and then estimate how long each will take. Set deadlines for each element and then present as a Gantt chart so we can clearly understand your proposed schedule (gantt.com).

Phase 4 - Implementation

Implementation and Promotion Report

The implementation report will describe how all the previous stages have come together to form a coherent website offering. Any problems encountered and any variations from the initial plan should be detailed. In addition, the implementation report should include a description of your SEO and social media strategies along with any other promotional/marketing efforts you have made or plan to make post-launch. There is no fixed date for publication of this report but it should be made available one week after the site launches.

Phase 5 - Analysis

Analysis Report

Once your site is up and running, you will want to analyse its performance using server logs, Google Analytics and other tools to monitor site traffic, bounce rates, demographics, user journeys etc. The analysis report describes the performance and you should explain whether the results you get are as expected or not. Do they indicate that you are on target to achieve your initial goals?

Phase 6 - Completion

Presentation and Final Report

The presentation is your opportunity to tell the whole story of your project from start to finish, from concept to final website. You may find it useful to use the thematic structure of the Major Project crits to structure your presentation, but this is not essential. Remember that the audience will include people who have never seen your project before (our new intake of students), so be sure it all makes sense and don’t assume any prior knowledge.

You will have 15 minutes overall for your presentation so aim to complete your talk in about 10 minutes, leaving 5 minutes for questions and feedback. Do make sure you organise a “feedback buddy” to take notes on your behalf. Your tutors will also provide feedback notes.

There are a number of components that we consider when making our assessment for the Major Project. These include the design of the site, the technical aspects, the design/development process and the learning outcomes. In effect, we consider all of the above in the context of the structure of our crits (commodity, firmness, delight, business and cultural context). In order for us to gain a clear understanding of the less obvious aspects, such as process and learning, we ask you to compile a report that details these things and which logs your decision-making.

The final report is largely a compilation of all the previous reports, corrected and updated to describe and explain the site as it stands and the process you went through. It should also include a conclusion, which should be used to describe the success (or otherwise) of the project and a reflection on what you might have done differently in the light of what you have learned. The report should also include details of your future plans for the website. The final report will be submitted for assessment a couple of weeks after the final presentation (see schedule for exact date).

The research which supports and explains your conclusions will contain references to a wide range of media. This must include print publications (e.g. books) and web publications but can also include references to podcasts and broadcasts. References to print publications must be done using the Harvard (parenthetical) system.

Word Count (how much should you write)

There is no fixed word count for these reports and different projects may require more or less explanation of the different phases. However, a typical final report will have a word count of between 10,000 and 15,000 words and therefore, each sub-report will be 1,000 — 1,500 words on average. There is no penalty for exceeding this word count but final reports should not exceed 20,000 words.

Policy on the use of WordPress themes

Many students choose to use the WordPress CMS for their project site and this is perfectly reasonable. However, some students will decide to develop their own theme, learning how to do this along the way, whereas others will decide to take what is effectively a short-cut and use a theme developed by others. There may well be a pragmatic reason for doing this and no student will be penalised for using an off-the-shelf theme providing it is appropriate for the project site and development process. However, there is clearly a difference in the degree of difficulty and learning outcomes between students who build their own theme and those who don’t and we will take this into consideration when making our assessment of the projects.

Students who take the more difficult route will be rewarded for doing this. So, given two projects of similar standard where one is based on a bespoke theme and one is not, the project using the bespoke theme is likely to score a higher grade than the other. We believe this to be fair. It is also designed to encourage students to deepen their learning and understanding during the Major Project, which should be considered an opportunity for advanced self-learning.

Students who do decide to employ an off-the-shelf solution should ensure that the Major Project report includes all the details of this decision. This should include a rationale for choosing the selected final theme and consideration of aspects such as JS fall-backs, light page load, customisation options allowing for a more unique design and any other relevant issues specific to the project.

In summary, we offer an incentive for students who develop their own theme but students who do not do this will not be penalised (with the caveat that the chosen theme is appropriate and adequately explained in the report).

The principle detailed above also applies to any other CMS.

Assessment Criteria

Assessment will be based on the following criteria but, because of the individual character of masters level projects they will relate in different ways to each project. The University’s grading is based on the following system:

  1. Distinction 70-100%
  2. Merit 60-69%
  3. Pass 50-59%
  4. Fail <50%

Quality (and quantity) of research

[A= the thesis is fully supported by research and testing, B= good use has been made of research and testing to explain and justify the thesis, C= there is just enough research and testing to justify the thesis].

Quality of business plan and website content

[A= a well-researched and imaginative business/funding plan well supported by evidence from comporable projects, B= a satisfactory business plan with a reasoned funding/business model, C= there is a plausible plan for funding the project].

Quality of technical implementation

[A= a well-researched and convincing technical plan/prototype for implementing the project, B= a satisfactory plan/prototype for implementing the project , C= a ‘bare bones’ plan/prototype for implementing the project].

Quality of functionality and usability

[A= the prototype/design provides for a high quality user experience, B= the prototype/design provides for a satisfactory user experience , C= the prototype/design satisfies the basic requirements for the user experience].

Quality of graphic design

[A= excellent quality and well-reasoned graphic design, appropriate to the target user group, B= satisfactory graphic design, appropriate to the target user group, C= basic graphic design for the target user group].

Quality of publication and promotion

[A= excellent plan for site publication and promotion, using the most appropriate marketing opportunities, B= satisfactory plan for site publication and promotion, using appropriate marketing opportunities, C= sufficient thought has been given to publication and promotion to launch the project website].