As a child, I was always interested in knobs and buttons, and I believe that many others can relate. My parents used to play badminton at a community center in Carletonville, Gauteng, South Africa, where I was born. If their stories are to be believed, I apparently frequently took everyone’s car keys and bundled them all together, only to return them to their rightful owners at the end of the games. I sure can’t recall being such a genius, but I guess I still have the affinity to simplify things (after overthinking it a bit).
The University of the Free State’s (UFS) 2020 Virtual Open Day website — an initiative my team led and I submitted for a Gold Quill Award — is not much different from the car keys.
The UFS 2020 Virtual Open Day provided UFS South Africa with an opportunity to present virtual visitors with a holistic experience of all three campuses simultaneously from anywhere and at any time. This was a novel innovation for the institution after physical open days on campus were cancelled due to COVID-19 lockdown measures. The Virtual Open Day experience received several Gold Quill Awards, including one for its website.
To create this Gold Quill Award-winning website, we looked at the various information booklets, guides, videos and other multimedia-related content provided by the UFS Department of Student Recruitment Services and arranged the so-called “keys” into easily accessible boxes — by means of buttons. This came about when the UFS Department of Student Recruitment Services went above and beyond with beautiful virtual tours and collaborated with my team, the Department of Communication and Marketing, to create a website that allowed for another entry point for prospective students and parents to enjoy the Virtual Open Day experience.
This project is so special to me because I took a leap into the unknown world of front-end web development without having the proper knowledge or skills. Due to COVID-19, my normal operational duties were put on hold, and I felt that I needed to jump in somewhere else in order to prove my worth. Countless hours of research, trial and error, and accidental data loss ensued, but through it all I didn’t once give up. I kept pushing hard to develop this newfound interest of mine. With the support, freedom and encouragement from my line manager, I succeeded and exceeded even my own expectations.
The success of the UFS 2020 Virtual Open Day website design comes from curiosity and working outside of one’s comfort zone. Good, qualitative communication with the Department of Student Recruitment Services made the project much easier to execute, and as someone who encourages collaboration-driven communication, I enjoyed working on the project immensely, especially considering that the beautiful virtual tours deserved to be recognized and showcased with a website that benefits not only our two departments, but the UFS as an institution as well.
Receiving a Gold Quill Award of Excellence placed a mirror in front of me, allowing me to see my self-worth to continuously evolve, adapt, experience, develop and, above all, stay curious. I learned two very valuable lessons through this project:
1) Keep playing with buttons (stay curious and open to development)
2) Think of the people who need the correct key (don’t be afraid to overthink in order to simplify — whether for end-user experience or otherwise)
My advice to all who wish to submit to the Gold Quill Awards is to stay curious and selflessly help others through your own curiosity. It may sound counterproductive, but by following those two principles, any entry will speak for itself.
Barend Nagel is the audio-visual specialist for the University of the Free State Department of Communication and Marketing.