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Best in Class Redesign Spotlight: Purnell School
Mia Major

EDIT: IN AUGUST, 2016, PURNELL SCHOOL WON SILVER IN THE 2016 SUMMIT CREATIVE AWARDS.


One of the most exciting parts about working at Finalsite is the unveiling of a new website. We have a Skype Chat called New Site Launch (I know; you'd expect us to have something slightly more high-tech) where Project Managers post every site that launches.

Of course, every website we launch is special — and they each get some serious kudos from our team. But on occasion there's a website that launches...and that New Site Launch chat goes wild with excitement.

Purnell School in New Jersey — which just launched this past week — is one of those websites.

Reading through the dozens of messages acknowledging the site's design from staff in nearly every department, it quickly came to my attention that beyond their sleek, colorful, and modern new website, Purnell's redesign is unique for two key reasons:

  • First, Jeff Beedy, Purnell's Head of School, spearheaded the project — something rarely seen in a website redesign initiative.
  • Second, they managed to launch their completely redesigned Best in Class website in less than 100 days. Talk about an aggressive timeline.

So I caught up with Jeff — who, by the way, is probably one of the coolest Heads of School I've talked to — to learn a little bit more about their jaw-dropping new site that we just can't get enough of.


The Website Redesign Playbook

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Part 1: Set Goals and Know Your Story

Jeff walked into the redesign process with big dreams, high standards, and an aggressive timeline we were eager to meet.

"What I learned from having an aggressive timeline is that we have a fully aligned story," said Jeff. "We never would have been able to have such an integrated website come together on such a short timeline without one."

But the new website had more goals than simply meeting a January 22 launch date.

"My goal was for the website to reflect the depth of philosophy, pedagogy, and sense of community at Purnell," said Jeff. "I wanted the Purnell website to be an educational platform for related research and best practices, to represent both the principles of progressive education and learning differences, and to share the voices of the students and faculty."

That last statement here, is key.

Jeff is referring to a practice called "outcome marketing," where you allow your students and faculty to share your school's story, rather than letting your marketing and communications team lecture on and on.

This is a practice that many schools sprinkle into their website, but for Purnell, it's the heart beating behind every last pixel.

"During the whole process I never told a student or faculty what to say. No scripts. I wanted the website to be organic."

Purnell Meet the Students

And its this organic form of storytelling that makes you feel connected, like you belong at Purnell, just by making a few clicks on a screen.

Part 2: The Design

Scroll, click, and explore Purnell's new site on any device, and you won't be disappointed. Complete with some pretty sweet drone footage, cinematic elements, interactive charts and maps, parallax scrolling, and the infinite scrolling #MyPurnell series of photos (my personal favorite), their new site is completely enchanting.

#MyPurnell

"We wanted an artsy and edgy feel that matched our What's Your Difference motto — which perfectly matches the culture we are trying to create at Purnell," said Jeff.

"I did not want another boring prep school website with ties and brick buildings. I wanted the design to match our philosophy and pedagogy as a progressive school for girls who learn differently."

One of the most remarkable parts of their new site is their Innovation and Education Center page because it goes beyond it's simple purpose of being another page on the website.

Innovation Education Purnell

"This page takes Purnell to a deeper level—a teaching and learning institution," noted Jeff. "This page is a research library for parents, teachers who want to know more about teaching and learning especially in girls in their second decade of their life."

And if you want to see something really cool, just visit their The Purnell Difference Page. The harmonious blend of story-telling and cutting-edge design is spectacular — and you'll be thinking, how can we do something like this?


The Purnell Difference

Part 3: The Process

"The design process is similar to writing a story or song," said Jeff. Like anything that possesses a meaning, it takes time, thought and effort.

Goal and deadline-focused, Jeff served as the project's visionary. "I view our website as a recruiting medium, an educational platform, and innovation center for best practices and current research," he said.

"I believe our website needs to pull us forward toward our vision, so I wanted to be the architect of the design and entire project — and it worked out better than I even imagined."

The site's success is in part, of course, attributed to Jeff's leadership over the project. But equally as important, was the team he had working by his side every step of the way.

"To quote Jim Collins, you first have to get the right people on the bus, the wrong ones off the bus, and the right ones sitting in the right seats," said Jeff.

"Once you do that, you need to let humans go, and allow them to pursue their passion, freedom, and mastery."

In short, Jeff and his team were able to launch their new site so quickly because he simply listened to his designer and project manager. Of course, it also meant that they followed a strict timeline, added content when they needed to, and did all their training to ensure there were no bumps along the way to prevent them from meeting their goal.

Part 4: Summarizing the success.

There are so many key components to Purnell's redesign and launch that make it one of a kind. But for those of you taking note on how to try and reciprocate this kind of success, here are a few key takeaways:

  • Be sure that your school's story is aligned with your goals before you embark on your redesign.
  • Put a visionary at the lead who can make decisions, understands the overall goal of the site, and believes in its success.
  • "Get the right people on the bus."
  • Trust your designers and project managers — they have your best interest at heart. Really.

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