• International Schools
Designing an International School Website that Listens and Learns
Debbie Eisenach

The International School of Brussels (ISB) has taken the international school website experience to a new level. Having worked with Finalsite since 2005, ISB has always been eager to raise the bar by experimenting with new designs, maximizing the use of technology and challenging site visitors by providing a unique user experience.

At Finalsite University London in October, Dr. David Willows, Director of Advancement, along with Suzette Parlevliet, Communications Manager, presented their website redesign project and explained the reasoning and data backing their decision to create such a unique web experience.

international school of brussels homepage in laptop on desk

David explains, “For the past 3 years, our admission team has been on a quest to re-imagine admissions as a learning experience for families. We have redefined roles, redesigned spaces, and created opportunities for families to play, interact, and learn in innovative and engaging ways. When people come to tour our school today, we meet them in our state-of-the-art Experience Room. Each member of the family uses our digital platform to identify what is important to them when choosing a school. This exercise allows us to prioritize key factors and often you find that what the children want is very different compared to the parents or even between siblings."

Given such a unique way of managing school admissions, the team at ISB soon found that their website was no longer in sync with this new approach to admissions so they embarked on a website redesign focused on three key questions:

  1. How do we listen more, rather than overwhelm families with information?
  2. How do we create a site that literally learns and adapts over time?
  3. How do we create different pathways to knowledge, respecting the fact that different people learn in different ways?

The result was a website, launched in November 2018, that combines deep design-thinking with the very latest Finalsite technology.


"Our work is to tell the story of our school in new and engaging ways. Each re-design is an opportunity to think both about the medium and the message. Once again the collaboration with Finalsite has pushed us to rethink, reimagine and reposition our school."

David Willows


The Power of Search

The new website has stripped away traditional content and surprises the first-time visitor with a search toolbar, powered by Finalsite's Advanced Search, that is front and center. “This search bar," David explains, "helps us listen and learn from prospective families. We no longer want to assume that we already know what people are looking for, but instead begin by asking them what they are looking for today. Because we now have the ability to customise this powerful new search tool, it will get better over time at predicting what prospective families want to see."

International School Brussels Website Homepage

And what if you don't find what you are looking for? Well, the search results page offers a handy form that allows the reader to ask the ISB Communications Office a question, who are then easily able to guide visitors to the content that they are looking for.

International School Brussels Website Search Results

Simplicity is Key

Alongside this innovative approach, the sophistication and elegance of the ISB design also lies in the way in which it does traditional things well. The navigation offers visitors a complete overview of the site, together with editable features. Breadcrumbs also ensure that however deep you go into the site, it is ridiculously easy to find the path back to previous or new information. In short, you very quickly feel at home on this site. It's simple, intuitive and very logical. When in London, David and Suzette wrapped up their presentation by saying that simplicity was a key driver of this site and that, if they had had more time, they probably would have made it simpler still.

International School of Brussels Website Navigation

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Understanding New Pathways to Learning

Perhaps one of the most surprising features of this new site, however, is the way in which the search tool and traditional navigation have been complemented by a grid-like menu for prospective families. A hint at the interactive game that families play when visiting the ISB Experience Room, the grid is rooted in a simple question: what is important for you when choosing a school? Suzette explains: “These twenty pathways to information are based on things that we know are important to families when choosing a school. It's efficient and direct. But the choices that people make are rooted in what we know about different thinking styles and the different pathways that people might want to take through the site."

Rooted in these ideas, each page offers at least three other suggested pages, similar to the way in which sites like Amazon link visitors to pages based on individual tastes and browser activity.

International School Brussels Grid on homepage

Interesting Site Features

Despite its apparent simplicity, this turns out to be a site that is rich is resources. The College & Careers Counseling page offers an interactive map of where ISB graduates attend university.

image of college acceptances map on ISB website

School health and nutrition is also so important to families and ISB is clever in that they documented this through words and a video with their chef, further emphasizing how important it is to them.

health and nutrition information on ISB website

With many international schools located in big cities, getting students to school safely can be challenging. ISB clearly documents the services as well as the safety of their buses.

ISB bus service information on website

Another page worth viewing is their campus overview which includes a stunning aerial video of the campus and beautiful forest surrounding the school.

campus information on ISB website

So, all in all, ISB’s new site in our view is unique, engaging and certainly worth taking a spin around. We look forward to hearing more about their work at Finalsite University Asia in Vietnam later this month.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Debbie Eisenach

As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past 9 years while living in both Asia and Europe. From conference planning and presentations, to association events, and client success stories, she helps schools understand how they can maximize their web presence while partnering with Finalsite. In her free time she enjoys traveling and attending events at her children's international school in Berlin, Germany.

  • Success Stories
  • UX
  • Web Design
  • Website Redesign
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