International schools had a lot on their plate in 2020, to say the least, but despite it all there was no shortage of bespoke website design and fully-featured site launches with as much as variety, depth and new approaches as the schools themselves.
But what makes the best, “the best”? We won’t share our secret formula, and that’s because there isn’t one. It’s the right mix for each school done in the right way: high quality images and video, strong content, generous use of white space, intuitive navigation, engaging and compelling user experience. All those elements in and of themselves could have their own “best-of” category.
Needless to say, we’re impressed. Launching a website alongside the intricacies of working in education during a global pandemic is not for the faint of heart. So, if you don’t see your school’s name on this list —don’t be dismayed. We are proud of each and every one of you, your hard work, and dedication. We hope the websites featured in this blog serve as inspiration for you as you move ahead this year, and beyond!
The best international school websites of 2020 (in no particular order) are:
UWC South East Asia | Singapore
Let’s start with Singapore. UWC South East Asia is one to admire near and afar. For one, the story-telling achievement of the homepage will be a good companion for a (very) tall cup of coffee as you hover, scroll and swipe through a near-immersive experience around ambitious ideas like “Thinking Big” and full, open-ended words like “Perspective”.
Exemplars are in abundance, including:
- An ingenious approach to navigating a bifurcated school, with two large campuses in different parts of Singapore
- A user-centric “Find it Fast” that combines search, icons for quick links, and a constituent-driven list
- A novel primary navigation item dedicated to “Our Big Ideas” — who wouldn’t want to see what those are? A great way to lay out the value proposition in plain English
- A K-12 learning “panel” on the homepage that guides users through the academic and student experience without being overly wordy
- A footer that is tightly packed but easy to disassemble visually
- Interior pages that are thoughtfully laid out and intuitive, using Finalsite Composer, such as the Tours, Events and Meetings page, Professional Learning, which is critical for recruitment efforts, or the deep-dive into Boarding.
Munich International School | Germany
Crossing continents, we couldn’t help but recognize Munich International School, in Munich, Germany for their 2020 site launch, a bespoke design that captures the diversity of a place with nearly 1,300 students across 65 nationalities. Large, beautiful pictures feature students everywhere — the school just feels like it’s bursting with energy.
Why one of the best websites?
- The homepage testimonials are simple but effective, inviting and varied. They do a great job telling the story of the school through the voices of their diverse community
- A well-balanced, bright color palette, using just enough reds and blues to carry and distinguish the design elements.
- The seamlessly integrated video and panel for “Making Students Future Ready” that helps solidify the school’s value proposition
- The animated, pastel curves that settle into the background of the “MIS+” campaign effort, drawing the user almost hypnotically
- Simple, yet critical pages like the Contact Us page that put the user front-and-center, anticipating all the ancillary questions that someone may have related to visiting, talking with, or learning more about the school. The Curriculum page is another strong example of a page that checks all the boxes.
In short: Eine großartige Webseite für eine großartige Schule!
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All Saints’ College | Australia
All Saints’ College in Perth, Western Australia, not only makes our 2020 Best Of list, but is the first school in Australia to do so, from Finalsite’s vantage point at least. It’s no surprise: a video montage opens the site, cheery and full of life — an amazing drone shot caps the end, portraying a student event that may as well double as a rock festival. This is a place where you want to be.
What else makes this site a stand-out?
- The oversized, image-driven calls-to-action just below are a smart trifecta of a guided user journey: Enrollments, the All Saints Difference, and FAQs.
- The site keeps on telling the story: annotating programmatic distinctions with sharp pictures and text and subdividing the pre-K through 12 experience into smaller units for parents to hone in on the grades that matter to them.
- The parallax treatments are like little goody bags, an unexpected surprise that breaks up the design without distracting.
International School of Luxembourg | Luxembourg
There are two sites that launched very late in 2019 that we made the executive decision to include in the mix. The International School of Luxembourg’s new website was an easy pick for the 2020 best of, a bespoke design layering in many components worth emulating:
- The “Stories” interactive homepage panel. Treatments like these provide the most efficient, impactful way to share a lot of voices in a little bit of space while also giving the user plenty of freedom to choose their own adventure
- Great content on the Why ISL page, personalizing the experience with real-word examples
- An immersive Campus Tour, ever more important with so much of the admissions process going virtual.
- A unique About landing page that provides a visual index of what visitors need to know
American School of the Hague | The Netherlands
It would be hard not to include the American School of the Hague (ASH) in the “Best Of” list if for no other reason than it has animated windmills — so it gets a hall pass even though it also launched a week before Christmas in 2019.
This bespoke best-in-class design single handedly discards the notion that school websites have begun to look alike and remind us that with a little twist here and a little turn there, you can end up with an aesthetic custom design that is interesting and practical.
For one, illustrations and line art like theirs help bend rules -- not to mention all the square edges that come with pictures -- while adding a joie de vivre to the experience. But sequential panels that tell the ASH story are unto themselves good examples of user-centered design, a nice use of color, and smart editorial choices on words and content. There’s a lot that’s uniquely ASH. And know that you’re not alone if you’re sitting there watching those colorful bikes race across the footer over and over again.
Every international school worked hard in 2020, there’s no doubt about that. From implementing crisis communication plans, to recruiting families and faculty from across the world, you all used 2020’s challenges to innovate and persevere. For that reason — “best” website or not — we tip our hats to you, and all that you do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angelo graduated valedictorian from St. Paul's School in Baltimore, MD and from Princeton University. Despite getting his degree in creative writing and English Literature, it generally takes some doing to keep him from programming and breaking websites. Just after graduating, he started Silverpoint, and grew it to over 300 schools worldwide before merging with Finalsite in 2013.