2021 School Web Design Trends to Watch
Julianne Hamilton

The designers on Finalsite’s creative team are always striving to outdo themselves – to make each new site they design more stunning, more effective, and more impactful than the last. So, the process of considering new trends is something that occurs constantly and fluidly throughout the entire year. But as we turned the page from 2020 to 2021, our UX (User Experience) Committee got together to discuss a few of the concepts we’re most excited about. 

Whether you’re preparing to redesign your entire site or simply want to freshen things up, here are the design trends you should be considering. 

Design Trends for 2021

  1. Alternative Hero Areas
  2. Immersive Motion
  3. Vibrant Color Schemes
  4. Graphic Details
  5. Goal-based Design

Watch the 2021 School Web Design Trends to Watch video with Julianne Hamilton and Angelo Otterbein below 👇

1. Alternative Hero Areas

We refer to the space directly below the header on the homepage as the “hero” – it’s often a large image slideshow or autoplay video. But we’re seeing alternatives to the traditional slideshow hero as a growing trend. UX testing shows that our users don't look through every slide. So if there are important messages, you want to make sure that they aren't buried on slide seven in your slideshow.

There's also a desire to show something fresh in this space, which immediately distinguishes your site from the ocean of slideshows and videos. This is the most prominent space on your homepage, so how can you use it in the best possible way to accomplish your goals?

By being selective with their most important messages and desired actions, Legacy Early College makes the most of their hero space, inviting users to engage in specific calls to action. 

legacy early college homepage screenshot

If you currently have a hero slideshow and no plans to redesign, consider simply reducing the number of slides for more focused messaging that users with limited time and attention will actually engage with.

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2. Immersive Motion

Use of motion in web design has been increasing every year. Advances in coding allow us to create ever-more interactive experiences. In 2021, expect to see designs that don’t just incorporate motion here-and-there, but which make motion a central part of the design concept. We’ll be taking scrolling animations to another level with different flow structures that push interactivity to the next level for a whole integrated experience. 

The motion seen on Marin Academy’s website brings their story to you as your scroll with sections sliding and appearing in place. The triangle shapes from their logo are brought to life here in a way that reflects the school’s character and energy.

marin academy homepage screenshot

3. Vibrant Color Schemes

In 2021, you can expect to see more striking color combinations (like Marin Academy), more black and dark backgrounds with vibrant accents, and more gradients (like Legacy Early College). We’ve seen schools go bolder and brighter with recent rebrands and even schools with a very traditional aesthetics are increasingly open to unexpected accent colors to freshen up their look.

Millfield went with a dark background on their most recent design, which immediately sets their site apart from their competitors, makes their bright photos pop, and allows a palette that might otherwise appear too primary (red, blue, and green) feel elevated and sophisticated.


millfield school homepage screenshot

Additionally, Millfield incorporated a super fresh, vibrant green to compliment the more classic green from their crest. This almost neon shade really drives home their stated aim, “that each individual will discover their own brilliance.” Bringing in an accent color like this is a great way to breathe fresh life into your school’s brand without abandoning its history.

4. Graphic Details

School life was very different in 2020 with many schools going remote for some or almost all of the past year, and then masking up and distancing when they did return. Covid-19 created a new reality and there is nothing wrong with using older photography, incorporating candid shots from home, and images of students in masks. But in 2021, we’ll see more graphic details, more illustrations and other elements to support the energy of a space where a photo might not be able to show it alone. 

Even if 2020 had been a year like any other, I still think we would see more graphic details in school websites this year because it’s a growing trend in general as audiences grow tired of super flat design and crave more texture, warmth, detail in designs.

Charter school, Hogan Prep does a beautiful job with their website, taking a Theme Design in a totally unique direction with the graphic details in their imagery. 

hogan preparatory academy website screenshot

Graphic treatments like this are something that should be produced by the school before embarking on the redesign process. Once a school has elements like this, or like the triangles in Marin Academy’s brand, our designers have elements that can be brought to life. 

5. Goal-based Design

I’ve designed sites for over 60 schools and done in-depth consultation with schools all over the country (and the world!) and this is what really makes a great website. Designs are unique because the school is unique. When the design solution centers around solving a unique, specific problem or goal – that’s when everything falls into place.

In some ways, the idea of a “goal-based” design defies trends, but in another sense I don’t think we’ve ever seen schools more conscious of their goals. We have more and more data to support the idea that our users have limited attention and are flooded with information. Schools have also embraced the idea that their homepage has a purpose beyond simply relaying information. Public school districts want to inspire pride of association and communicate their top priorities clearly and independent schools know their website is an essential part of their marketing strategy. 

Every example school I’ve already mentioned landed on their beautiful, unique design by staying focused on their specific goals.

Another great example is Kansas City Public Schools. Their site is striking, fun, informative, and concise with clever navigation that helps their users get from A to B easily.

kansas city public schools navigation

UWCSEA could never have landed on their design by attempting to copy another school - it was only by focusing on their own distinctions and goals that they landed on their unique design. 

uwc south east asia website screenshot

You don’t need to wait for a redesign to put this “trend” into action. Take a look at the content of your site today and ensure the language you're using reflects who you are. List out your site’s goals (bonus points for listing them in order of importance) and compare those to your site content. Can you simplify text to be clearer or write a stronger headline? Is there an image that would highlight something more important? Have you crammed something onto a page that doesn’t really belong to appease a particular department? Take some time to ensure your site is as purposeful as possible.

Key Takeaway

My final recommendation? Be you. And be bold and purposeful this year in what it means to be you. And if you need help finding your way, we’d love to help. Request your free website report card, or book a free website consultation today!

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Julianne Hamilton

Design Manager, Julianne Hamilton, leads Finalsite’s international design team; overseeing the creative process and guiding the team to create beautiful, user-centered websites. She has designed 60+ websites for schools around the world and won over 30 industry awards for her work. She believes design is a collaborative process and loves helping schools tell their unique stories in a way that sparks delight and inspires action. In her free time, Julianne volunteers as the associate director of an artist-run gallery in Baltimore, sits on the board of her local arts district, and is an avid traveler.

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