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Storytelling Via Simplicity


Storytelling Via Simplicity

Mills College

Education with an edge.” Mills College is proud to align itself with individuality, diversity, boldness, and creative experimentation.

This independent liberal arts college in Oakland, CA encourages its young, mostly female students to stand out and “make a statement.” So when it was time for a website redesign, Associate Vice President of Marketing Judy Silva knew it was imperative to develop a bold, creative web presence. The new site needed to be as forward-thinking as Mills students and right-fit prospects.

Mills-Mockup Laptop Mills-Mockup inner pages Mills-Mockup mobile

The Goals

Before engaging mStoner, Silva and her team already had a strategy in mind for the new site as well as sophisticated design standards. They were seeking a partner who could understand their vision and make it happen. “One of the most challenging aspects of a redesign (and we’re still in the middle of ours) is the time it takes to do the work, on top of the other regular work you need to do,” Silva said. “It’s definitely a marathon, so you need a partner like mStoner to help guide and support you through the process with tools that can help you manage it all.”

With mStoner on board, the team established the following goals for the redesign:

  • Position prospective students as the primary audience for the site.
  • Implement a responsive design that performs well on multiple screen sizes.
  • Present more brand-based content to reinforce the best-in-class reputation of Mills.
  • Establish intuitive navigation standards throughout their web presence.
  • Develop a consistent tone, style, and message for all website content.
group of students
close up of woman
view of campus
woman working with ceramics


This is a site that’s going to last for a long time,” said Ben Bilow, creative director, mStoner, Inc. “There are no fussy design elements. Since it’s all about the content and images, it will be easy for Mills to update the CSS and the images and have a completely new look.”

Market research shows the most successful sites make it easy for users to find what they are looking for. The new site’s approach to design, content, and user experience is very intentional and pared down to get visitors where they want go quickly.

Three of the key strategies in play are:

Simple is Better

  • Fewer links in the navigation and on the page reduce decision fatigue and get visitors to the information they are looking for faster. The new architecture is concise and rock solid — no duplicated content or misleading pathways.
  • A click on “Visit” takes visitors to a page with only a full-width video, two short paragraphs of text, and the call-to-action button to schedule a visit.
  • The first thing prospective students want to know is whether a college offers their major. Hence, the website prominently features a program finder that uses large images and easy navigation.
  • What do I do with a biology degree from Mills?” Academic program pages deliver outcomes information in a straightforward, visually dynamic manner.

Show, Don’t Tell

  • The Mills theme of inclusivity, for instance, is reflected in the website’s features with an information hierarchy that showcases student voices; images of diverse students are prominent; headers and intros are packed with watchwords.
  • The IA drives visitors to a special section, “Uniquely Mills,” which exists solely to communicate the Mills experience and differentiators through visual storytelling.
  • Every bit of content relates back to the brand message —“make a statement.” Large-text phrases like “be empowered” and “be revolutionary” appear throughout the site, inviting bold thinkers to apply.
  • Full-width imagery depicts the striking individuality of current students on the major landing pages.
  • Instead of news about the institution or photos of the campus or articles on faculty research, the entire homepage is devoted to content relevant to high school juniors and seniors. Questions of affordability, outcomes, and the student experience are all answered through images, infographics, and testimonials.
  • Student profiles on the homepage feature a Q&A format to capture the personal voice of each student. Alumnae stories on the homepage also illustrate the concrete ways in which Mills graduates are creating positive change.

Make it Beautiful on Mobile

  • The full-size, desktop site is rich with user interface motion and text animation: headers gently telescope and retract; content sections elegantly slide into view as users scroll. The sophisticated feeling of forward motion these lend to the site also echo key attributes of the Mills brand.
  • Normally, these features are sacrificed for the small screen experience but Mills felt strongly that they were an integral part of the design. mStoner’s technologists found new ways to develop the site in order to keep these interactions for the mobile design.
  • Designing for mobile devices means designing for the touch interface, so mStoner also created motion features for visitors to interact with in a tactile way. A back-to-top button changes color upon pressing, calls-to-action softly bounce when touched, and slideshows re-center and expand as slides advance. These too are on-brand (clean and colorful) and thoughtfully integrated into the overall site design.
Our goal for the new Mills website was to create a different style site that would deliver our brand message in a distinctive and compelling way.

— Judy Silva, Associate Vice President of Marketing, Mills College


After a midsummer launch, Mills started the 2017–2018 academic year with its newly minted site. New visitors to Mills.edu have increased nearly 20% since launch.

Usability testing results indicated that students are finding information easily. “The most important result for the marketing team,” Silva said, “is that we now have a mobile-responsive website that makes it possible to do digital marketing in a way we simply couldn’t before.”

Stats from the first quarter of 2018 indicate the site’s storytelling focus is resonating with Mills’ audiences: Undergrad campus visit requests increased 51.34% and graduate campus visit requests increased 34.04% compared to the previous quarter (October-December 2017). Other notable stats from this time period:

  • 7.83% increase in users
  • 6.49% increase in average session duration
  • 5.96% increase in pages per session

The Mills marketing team wasn’t the only one that grew from the experience. mStoner’s technologists and creatives reached new heights as a result of the partnership. mStoner Creative Director Ben Bilow said, “Mills brought a lot of good ideas to the work and pushed us, especially in the concept stage, while showing us they valued the work that goes into this. The real challenge was doing work that greatly impressed them.” From developing new ways to make a mobile site interactive to looking far beyond higher education for design inspiration, the mStoner team rose to the occasion and discovered some new capabilities in the process.

The effort did not go unnoticed. “mStoner was a true partner in the website development process from beginning to end,” Silva said, “and we’re working with them now for our next phase of development. Their entire team excelled at client service and creative problem-solving. What was really out of the ordinary was that we worked with the company’s leadership throughout the entire process, and they were genuinely invested in our organization’s challenges and long-term success.”


  • Award-InteractiveMediaAwards-2017
  • 2018 Communicator Awards Distinction
  • EDMAwards logo


Content and web strategy; discovery interviews and focus groups; responsive redesign; content writing; competitor research; content audit; information architecture; thematic CSS development; programming assistance; visitor interface testing; usability testing; accessibility testing; quality assurance testing; Google Analytics set-up and support; site governance and sustainability recommendations


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