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Loomery x The University of Exeter

An agency partnership which resulted in a new product being launched in 8 weeks.

“The New Students’ Guide project was foundational for Loomery and we couldn’t have done it without the Muir Wood & Co team. We started with a very open-ended set of problems, and finished with a highly effective digital product which delivered on student’s needs. We worked at extreme pace, in a highly uncertain time, within an organisation unfamiliar with user-centred techniques.” 

Brett Thornton, Co-founder of Loomery and strategic lead on this project

The Challenge

How to make university not suck for new students in a pandemic

Starting university is one of the most formative moments of our lives. In Summer 2020, in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic, this moment was in jeopardy for 100,000s of first-years around the country.. New students were faced with coursemate bubbles, limited partying and a daily dystopian dosage of Microsoft Teams. On the socials, the freshers were grumbling whether to defer or drop out completely.

The University of Exeter was looking for ways to make the early weeks of university as easy, fun and meaningful as possible for students so that they would stick around. It was also key to keep them covid-safe and not overwhelm the staff. They commissioned the strategy and technology agency Loomery to swiftly create a solution. We were brought in as partners to rapidly plan and run research, help generate ideas and test prototypes.

Our Approach

Working alongside the agency’s product team in rapid iterative sprints 

We worked seamlessly as a single team with the Loomery strategists and designers. Daily touchpoints and weekly playbacks meant everyone stayed aligned throughout. We operated on a white label basis using Loomery’s branding, and joined their tools and adopted their processes where it made sense to. Our flexibility and familiarity with a wide range of tools meant we were able to switch over and onboard with ease.

Because of the tight deadline we operated in week-long cycles of student and staff research, analysis, idea generation and playback to the client. We started with a discovery phase where we set out to understand the new needs of students. This then fed into a product development phase where we tested and refined prototypes until we had a single developed concept. 

We’re never afraid to challenge the brief if it means that the outcome for the product and its users will be better, even if it means big changes to the plan. A big shift in thinking happened when it became clear to us that certain vulnerable groups needed much more support than others with their arrival at university, but that designing for them would actually help all students. This is a key principle of Universal Design. As a result we changed our focus to speak specifically to these groups and the members of staff responsible for supporting them. 

“Working with Muir Wood & Co gave us a high powered research capability to uncover deep insights at pace, but they were much more than that. Muir Wood & Co became an integral part of the product team, improving the quality of our ideas, driving ever-better process and cementing our client relationships. They really care about doing a great job and make doing the work more fun in the process too.”

Brett Thornton, Co-founder of Loomery and strategic lead on this project

The Outcome

A successful solution for students, based on a foundation of evidence

The result of our combined team efforts was that in breakneck time new students had access to a platform to inform and support them in their first weeks. The platform was called the New Students Guide: a personalised information hub which went out to 8,000 new students, with 90% using it during their arrival experience. 25% of those who used the site were our targeted group of more vulnerable students, who returned an average of three times to get the information they needed to get off to the best start possible.

“An evidence based approach to stop us wasting time building sites which don’t work for our users: music to my ears!"

Ed Creed, Head of Digital, University of Exeter

For more information from the product side, you can read Loomery’s case study.

In numbers

200 students engaged in the research
112 survey responses
10 staff interviews
7 prioritised opportunities
2 co-creation workshops

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