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What 9 Recent Award-Winning School Websites Have in Common
Mia Major

Since January, Finalsite schools have taken home nine design awards from the most prestigious digital design and advertising competitions in the world including the Hermes Creative Awards, IAC Awards and AVA Digital Awards. In each competition, school websites are judged by industry professionals from companies like Google and Disney, and compete on an international level against hundreds of other companies and schools.

Laptop iPad and iPhone with award-winning images

Here are our winners for January - May of 2017:

Hermes Creative Awards

Internet Advertising Competition

AVA Digital Awards

At first glance they don't have much in common aside from all being Finalsite clients. They're from different countries and states, target different audiences, and have entirely different brands and messages. But their websites actually have much in common — not the design, of course, but rather the process and elements that created it.

I reached out to the three designers — Julianne Hamilton, Nathan Lyttle and Keisha Croxton — who worked on these award-winning pieces to discover the elements that connect these nine award-winning school websites.

Here's what they shared:


Award-Winning School Websites Have a Deep Understanding of Their Brand, Message, Audience and Purpose

Award-winning websites go beyond a beautiful design. In every case, the way a website design brings a school's brand and message to life through a careful use of colors, fonts, and design enhancements is equivalent.

"These schools came with great assets: images, videos, quotes and other content to work with," said Julianne. "They came with a clear sense of who they were and any misconceptions they were trying to overcome, and I was able to run with that when designing their website."

That being said, when you start with a unique obstacle, it allows you to come up with a unique solution that no one can copy or replicate.

This results in some really cool design enhancements, such as:

Princeton Academy's "chapter book" themed design element:

Princeton Chapter Book

Summer at Lawrence's color-changing background:

Summer at Lawrence Color Changing Background

They Take Risks

Take a look at each of these award-winning school website, and you'll notice that each one of their homepages has at least one unique feature. "These schools are willing to take risks," said Julianne. "And they're always glad they did."

Take a look at The Wood's Academy's website, and you'll notice is looks nothing like the rest, primarily because it scrolls horizontally, rather than vertically. It also doesn't feature the standard large header photo or video. It's simple, elegant, and puts their message front-and-center.

The Woods Academy Homepage


On-Demand Webinar: Learn 20 secrets behind award-winning school websites.

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They Trust Their Designers

Micromanagement is a great way to cripple your school web design's progress. "These award-winners trust that we're the experts," said Juliane.

Last January, we shared the process that led to Purnell School's award-winning website, and the Head of School Jeff Beedy echoed this sentiment: "You need to get the right people on the bus. Once you do that, you need to let humans go, and allow them to pursue their passion, freedom, and mastery."

When you trust your school's website designers, you end up with a new ways to share content — like this interactive Q & A panel on Marvelwood's homepage:

Marvelwood flip card

They Put in A Lot of Effort on Their End, Too

Our deployment team recommends spending at least five hours per week adding content into your school's website once it is in the deployment process. However, many schools wait until the very end, and either cram all content strategy into a couple days, or launch later than expected.

"All of these schools put a lot of effort and time in on their end too, really putting some love into the interior pages," said Julianne.

Take a look at Avon Old Farms for Example, who make the most out of a simple interior page design layout with photos, videos and text. Our team didn't show them how to do this, they did it on their own.

Good example of AOF content

"Being able to maintain the design and content is definitely key. So many times I've seen sites where the final design was fantastic, but they couldn't keep up with the content over time," added Keisha.

Aren't Copy Cats

Take a look at each one of these award-winning school websites — none of them are a conventional panel design. Whether it is a different use of white space, an innovative scrolling technique, or a first-time implementation of a new animation, each of these schools looked to themselves for inspiration, not someone else.

"As designers, we're always striving to create the next great thing," said Nathan. "I love when my clients look outside of their immediate competitors and even our portfolio of designs for inspiration and trust that we want theirs to be the website that the others want to copy."


Webinar: 20 Secrets of Successful School Websites
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.


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