The UK Data Archive showcases its new brand identity

Article dated: 15 July 2010

The UK Data Archive is launching its new brand and website. The new website presents a more open and appealing image of what we do. It shows how researchers have used data we hold through short case studies, and by making our popular guidance on managing and sharing data more accessible.

By demystifying what we do we hope to entice more lecturers, students and researchers to come and try out what we have, and, at the same time, encourage data producers to give us more data.

UK Data Archive new brand

The UK Data Archive is a dynamic organisation which is growing and expanding its activities into new areas. More recently we have promoted our strengths in research data management, using data in teaching, data preservation, secure data access and European networking of data archives.

"The UK Data Archive understands the needs of data producers, curators and users and is well positioned to respond to new ways of sharing and using data – both from a technological and methodological point of view", explains Louise Corti, Associate Director at the Archive, who has led the rebranding exercise. "Our new identity will help us engage with new kinds users and data creators who may have formally seen the Archive as a kind of "dark archive". We hope to open up access to the data riches we hold at Essex and provide more user-friendly guidance and tools for those tasked wtih producing and managing data."

We are about to move into our 45th year of service. Like many organisations with several decades experience, we have witnessed numerous brand changes. In the early days a red 'Sigma' was user to symbolise our survey analysis focus, and later we moved in line with the University's own new branding, representing the linked squares of the Essex campus. For our new brand we have adopted a plain black 'stamp of authority' which we will also be using in colour over black and white photography, representing modernity and heritage. We have a new subtle palette of colours and are using more open and lighter imagery.

Not only has the website been rebranded to make it more appealing, the Archive has taken a close look at the language and style it uses to communicate its ideas and concepts to a very wide range of stakeholders. We hope our all our users find our new style refreshing and the information easy to digest.

Since the formation of the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) in 2003, some of our long-standing users have been confused by our identity and especially how the Archive differs from ESDS. Before 2003 the Archive was the central place in the UK to offer and access social science data. The ESDS, which is a partnership service with Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research (CCSR) and Mimas both based at Manchester, subsumed most of these core services, but the Archive still runs the majority of the core archiving and access functions and also co-ordinates ESDS. The Archive also runs other key research data services and engages in related research and development activities wherever possible. The new brand aims to portray a corporate identiy for the Archive and differentiate it from the ESDS which focuses on user services.

The new website is the first to benefit from the Archive's new software development process. A wide-ranging review of our tools and techniques was completed recently and we have used the website re-launch as an opportunity to test and refine the many changes made to the way we work. Three aspects to highlight are: continuous integration and testing; the widespread adoption of Web Services; and the use of a content management system (CMS).

Continuous integration and testing means we test more of the software more often, so that the more dynamic features of the site, such as searching the content of newsletters, and other documents and retrieving and repurposing information from external sources, are produced to a much higher standard and are more efficient. Testing is automated, and covers everything from individual 'under the bonnet' components to checking that every page meets website accessibility standards.

Web Services are used when the website needs to read information from some of our other data sources, as they provide a standard and secure mechanism that can easily be re-used by our other websites at a later date. In the future, some of these Web Services can be made directly available to our users, so they can 'mash up' our data in their own applications.

The use of an open source CMS allows us greater control over the editorial process whilst ensuring a consistent look and feel. During the development and testing period, this allows us to make sure the structure and navigation of the site are correct, even in the absence of page content.

These three innovations have helped us to speed up website development and enable us to keep the site fresher and more relevant.

Director-Designate, Matthew Woollard, explains that "while the website is the first area to benefit from the new software development process, other behind the scenes activities will also be enhanced in the future, including resource discovery, higher quality preservation metadata, internal databases and systems for managing access and ingest processing."

We officially launched our new corporate identity at our Open House on 29 June at the University of Essex. The day provided an afternoon of talks and stalls and a reception to introduce our new Strategic Plan.

Users of the current Archive site should note that finding and accessing data can now only be done from the ESDS site. Advice on managing and sharing data has not changed in content but in style and presentation.