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UNCSA: #WeCreateHere


UNCSA: #WeCreateHere

University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Dazzle by Design.

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts competes with the nation’s best arts conservatories and attracts exceptionally talented students, but it was difficult to showcase this with a website designed in 2002. With a new chancellor on board, it was time to invest in a web presence that reflected the true caliber of the school.

Before we could develop a smashing new site, we needed to identify UNCSA’s brand essence and develop new ways of talking about the university, while representing five different and very dynamic arts schools that each served multiple academic levels. mStoner and UNCSA discovered the answer lay in letting UNCSA’s students do what they do best: dazzle

uncsa homepage image UNCSA mobile desgin mockup UNCSA-Mockup image of table with uncsa images


After more than 140 on-campus interviews, mStoner realized that what UNCSA’s five schools of dance, design & production, drama, filmmaking, and music all had in common was a powerful capacity for visual storytelling. We presented a strategy that was equally arts-focused, which would allow the energy of the student work created on campus to tell UNCSA’s brand story. “We wanted UNCSA to have a platform for the incredible visuals they had,” said Voltaire Santos Miran, chief executive officer of mStoner. “When you walk around campus, you feel like you’re in Hollywood — there are sound studios, costume shops, black box theaters, everything. They had amazing content and no way to showcase it.”

The mStoner team owned the project just as much as we did. As soon as I began working with them I immediately thought of them as our in-house team. They put in extra effort because they wanted to create a site that truly embodied the story of UNCSA,” said Claire Machamer, UNCSA vice chancellor for strategic communications.

The lead message – “We promise this: you’ll do what you love” – came out of our discovery and focus group sessions.


woman with makeup
two dancers
photography team

Final Product

  • Building on UNCSA’s new black-and-white logo, we designed minimalist, high-contrast pages and then let the color arise from photography and video of student performances, rehearsals, and studio time. The result keeps the visitor immersed in the student experience while the dramatic greyscale palette conveys the serious, professional character of the school.
  • We kept site navigation simple, nearly invisible, and elegantly collapsible for mobile devices. Like an usher in a theatre, it delivers audiences to their destination and then fades into the background while they stay captivated.
  • In terms of content strategy, we used the power of microcontent – the principle that sometimes just the right visual and just the right caption are all you need to make a brand impression and a memorable experience for the visitor.
  • The chance to study with certain faculty is one of UNCSA’s biggest draws, so longer faculty bios add depth, personality, and authority to the site. UNCSA Vice Provost & Dean of Student Affairs Ward Caldwell said, “Faculty bios used to read like vitae but now they tell prospective students not only what their accomplishments are but also how they’re going to teach, and what they bring to the studio and classroom. They allow prospects to hear the story of who they will be while they’re here and what they’ll be doing – and that’s [incredibly] valuable.”
  • Governance recommendations also emphasized visuals and storytelling: we presented a staffing plan to UNCSA that included hiring a digital media team who could produce dynamic content and new stories on a frequent basis.
  • Academic pages play a large role in SEO results and recruitment, so UNCSA chose to retool these by rewriting them and adding space for the best examples of student work, keeping the pages fresh, visual, and robust for social media.
  • Adding bios, photos, and interviews with admissions counselors has made an immediate impact on prospective applicants. Caldwell noticed that students “will now come into the admissions office and visually recognize the admissions counselors and call them by name. It’s creating that relationship between the university and prospective students and their parents, where they actually know the people they’ve been talking to. That is a direct result of the visual nature of the website.”
People call our site ‘stunning’ and ‘beautiful’ — visual impact was one of our goals for the site and it was clearly accomplished. Social media referrals have skyrocketed because people are sharing the site; they’re proud of it.

— Claire Machamer, vice chancellor for strategic communications, UNCSA


One year after launch, the results are impressive:

  • 964% increase in referrals from social media
  • 518% increase in admissions inquiries
  • 48% increase in online giving
  • 37% increase in applications to the school of film making
  • Eight prestigious web awards

Institutional pride in the site continues to run high as well. Machamer shared that the new site “sparked a digital revolution for our campus. Over the past year, the passionate voices of our students, faculty and staff have emerged through the stories featured on uncsa.edu and our social media channels.”

Vice Provost Ward Caldwell concurred. “We had a static, aging legacy website that was probably the worst example you could have for a creative, vibrant, dynamic, ever-changing university. The site we have now is an excellent example of just the opposite: it went through a dramatic change from being a relic to being a model of best practice.”


  • Award-Webby-Awards
  • Award-InteractiveMediaAwards-BestinClass


Digital strategy, content assessment and audit, web governance report, marketing strategy report, visitor interface design, responsive HTML/CSS development, content management system (CMS) selection and implementation, search engine configuration, analytics, content development, calendar integration, and consulting on campus map and interactive tour.


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