The UK took bespoke design by storm with a number of stunning new school websites — and we had trouble narrowing the list to just five. What’s particularly striking about UK school websites across the board is the elegant combination of rich history and modern design. With schools dating back to the 1600s, there is an element of tradition that needs to come to life using the tools of the present — and watching that come to life on these five websites is enchanting.
Despite the turbulence of 2020, UK schools — whether or not they’re on the “Best Of” list — rose above and made great strides. And for that, we’d like to offer a congratulatory round of applause. Whether you launched a new website, or maybe your project got pushed back because of higher priority items, we are proud of all our UK schools for their tireless hard work throughout 2020.
The best UK school websites of 2020 (in no particular order) are:
Boarding and day school (13-18) | Surrey, England | 80 pupils
It helps, for example, if you’re Charterhouse School and over 400 years old, but that deep history serves as much as a background element for the design as it does for the school as a whole, where pupils are walking, running, dancing in deeply engaged moments that are conveyed with high-impact photos and video. What makes this website tick so much more than others?
For one, the design makes content discovery easy, as well as:
Big, sans serif headers above beautiful photography;
A hamburger navigation that opens an organized list of options that are well conceived;
Spots of burgundy that help frame pictures and set up calls to action;
Modest touches of animation to introduce themes and panels;
And a sophisticated use of the grid to make sure the content fits just right, as if it were meant to be.
The landing pages deliver a similarly rich experience:
- Explore Charterhouse provides a dozen ways to get to know the school
- Department pages like Art organize faculty, overview information and curriculum are easy to comb through;
- The Houses area is deep and full, giving us insight into boarding life, branded with a slightly different palette for each house. Girdlestoneites are lavender; Daviesites are Green; and Weekites, a firehouse red. If you spend more time than you expected wondering which house you might like the best, you’re not alone.
Prior Park Schools
Co-ed Catholic senior school (11-18) | Bath, UK | 650 pupils
Speaking of centuries-old schools, Prior Park College (one of three schools in the Prior Park Schools family) makes our “Best Of” list because of the hook: a photographic utopia of a campus, situated atop a hill with breathtaking views of Bath, England, and because of its excellence in information architecture (IA), a page and sitewide organization that makes any user journey hitch-free.
To highlight a few notables:
- A well-integrated simple but elegant logo, including a short statement of who they serve
- Smart placement of critical utility links: Current Parents, Calendar, Contact Us and Search, as well as links to the two associated schools with their color-coded logos;
- Three entry points on the left hand side by grade, all above the desktop fold.
- A very clear call-to-action to hear from the headmaster, then a convenient set of four boxes with excellent examples of high quality thumbnails.
- Amazing drone footage, accessible from the interior of the homepage, a kind of “guess what” add-on that could easily serve as the opening salvo
- And lots of fitting sensibility, such as the testimonials that are presented one at a time, a Cadbury sweet with a cup of strong tea.
Independent all-boys day school (10-18) | London, UK | 1,400 pupils
On to others. If we had a category just for typography and typographic treatments, Whitgift would win just as handily. The stately Whitgift logo headlines the page with ease, but it’s the slightly transparent feather that earns the attention, floating passively down the page, pulling your eye toward its bold declaration: “Transforming boys’ lives through education.”
Naturally, the site builds on this statement, panning through beautifully designed portraits and testimonials; news and events that are warmed up with a palette of pastels, and infographics that use an understated but no less colorful mix of blocks and typeset numbers come together like a piece of art. The footer is a case study in excellent layout: maximizing the space, conveying critical information, all while making it easy to parse and understand. This “Best Of” winner was a shoe-in.
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Coeducational independent day and boarding school for pupils age (1-18) | Suffolk, UK | 1,400 pupils
If your monitor is big enough, you feel like you could just step right onto the wide open lawn and make your entrance into the grand main building of Culford School, our next “Best Of” winner we couldn’t say “no” to.
The homepage call-to-action puts users on an easy track to learn about this coed UK boarding school’s mission and values, which leads to a similarly striking shot — this time with people who are joined by two dogs scampering along — it almost seems too good to be true. A simple, organized meganav sends users to divisional pages, which are deep and expository. Design treatments of testimonials, such as on the sixth form page, or the interactive buttons on the parent hub page, all show a finesse and refinement in design that keeps with the institution.
Coeducational independent day school for pupils age (2-18) | Suffolk, UK | 1,250 pupils
Millfield School has a calling: “To be the world leader for the development of children” and the website supports that in every way, our last 2020 “Best Of.” Thin accent lines and a restrained color palette set up the stunning homepage photography well, and the thick sans serif headers against muted, deep grays convey confidence and simplicity. From the left a user can open an animated navigation easily, with a short list of options and convenient access to the Parent Portal.
Reusable content elements within the content management system Composer allow the school to set up infographics, testimonials and the like throughout the website to add visual interest with every click. Excellence throughout.
Whether or not your school made this year’s “Best Of” list, you should feel proud of how much you’ve accomplished in the past year. These five UK school websites certainly set a high bar of what great bespoke design looks like, and we’re excited to see what 2021 has in store!
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.