Your higher education website must be beautiful. That’s a given. High-quality photography, crisp web type, dynamic layouts and slick micro-interactions are at the baseline of visual design for the web. It must be responsive, learnable, accessible and useful for starters — and the list keeps growing. While these topics often dominate discussions, great web design is more than pushing pixels, pillaging the latest javascript library and reading up on UX trends.

Use these six fundamental goals to evaluate your site design, lead an effective discussion about what you’re trying to accomplish, and keep your next conversation about web design from devolving into a debate about background colors and text size.

1. Your website design must reveal your brand.

Your website must embrace your institution’s personality, history, and place with confidence and purpose. Your site’s visual design is a powerful tool for conveying your brand to visitors — if you want people to think of you as inventive and bold, you shouldn’t have a vanilla site. If you want visitors to think of you as innovative, do innovative design. Make a statement, have a point of view and stick to it.

2. Your website design must speak in your institution’s voice.

Your institution probably has a particular voice for communications. For some places, the institutional voice is relaxed and breezy; others might use an elegant, sophisticated voice. Ideally, your website design and institutional voice should work together. For example, you don’t want to pair a highly contemporary design with overly formal written content. The visual and written expressions of your institution should harmonize to give visitors a clear impression of your personality and values.

3. Your website design must be context-specific.

People are spending more of their time using websites that tailor information to their needs, wants, and preferences. For instance:

  • Facebook curates a news feed for each user.
  • Google presents individuals with personalized search results.
  • Online retailers remember what you’ve purchased and make suggestions based on your shopping habits.

While most education institutions don’t have the need (or the capability) to offer such highly personalized experiences, we can still consider context when making design decisions. For example, pages that are primarily for prospective students should be visually distinct from your parents’ gateway. This doesn’t mean you should have different web designs, simply that you should consider the context of your visuals.

4. Your website design must spark a connection.

When a member of your target audience visits your website, you want them to feel connected to your institution. Prospective students and parents should begin to picture themselves as part of your community, and alumni should remember what it was like when they walked on your campus. Compelling visuals are one of the most effective ways to influence people’s emotions and create an individual connection.

5. Your website design must drive real action.

Once you’ve made a connection with an individual, your website should move them to action. Design serves that broader goal by encouraging people to request information, visit, apply, attend an event, or make a donation. User experience design plays a dual role in this process: The visuals should make taking action emotionally compelling, and the usability and accessibility of the site should make sure visitors don’t give up or abandon their intended task.

Many of our design deliberations center around a particular color or photo choice, but it’s important to remember that it’s not about the size of the button, it’s about facilitating a successful application process. That means considering the apply button itself, but also considering the user experience after someone clicks that button.

6. Your website design must delight visitors.

Once your site has been fined tuned to speak with a constant voice, connect with your audiences and drive action, focus on making the experience more pleasurable. You can do this in different ways:

  • Use micro copy. The words and phrases that appear in search fields, alerts, captions, and reminders often get ignored while headlines get all the love. In truth, these small bits of copy can reinforce your brand’s snappy, serious, or sporty personality.
  • Carefully considered animation and seamless transitions can aid the flow of your design.

When your users can forget about the user interface (UI) and focus on content, your site will be much more enjoyable to use.

mStoner Staff

AUTHOR - mStoner Staff

mStoner, Inc. helps clients to tell their authentic stories by clarifying their unique brand value proposition, creating a content strategy to communicate the brand effectively, and implementing compelling and dynamic communications across the web, mobile, social media, print, and other channels. We focus on research, data, and results.

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