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The Need for Empathy in Your School Website User Experience
Connor Gleason

Every day, users arrive at your school's website with a purpose — whether it's to learn more about your school, take a specific action, or have pressing questions answered. Prospective families are eager to explore academics, students are seeking information about clubs, teachers are looking for resources, and potential employees are interested in learning how to join your team.

These visitors come to your website with distinct needs, desires, and questions in mind, but the one thing every user has in common is that they expect your website to provide the answers and solutions they seek. This is where empathy comes into play.

Emotion drives so much of our users’ decision-making, and the more your school website's content, design, and language can connect with people on a human level, the more trust you’ll gain. One study revealed that 83% of people want a web experience with a “compassionate connection that communicates empathy and support with the struggles they face,” especially after the pandemic.

To create a truly user-friendly and user-centric website, let's explore how empathy enhances your school website's user experience and ensures it's a valuable resource for all who visit seeking answers and solutions.

User-Centric Design: Serving Real People

Your school website serves real people with unique goals and expectations. There's a human behind the screen — you need to put yourself in their shoes to design a website that resonates with students, parents, teachers, and the community.

Here are some key considerations for your users:

Identify The Goals of Your Main Users

Start by identifying your school website's 2-3 most crucial user groups. Are prospective students your primary audience, or do you need to focus on faculty and staff? Don't forget about the critical role of current parents. Understanding how they think and what they feel can help meet their needs.

Prospective Students and Families

  • Student Goals: Prospective students primarily visit your website to gather information about your school, academic programs, and student life. They want to be able to see themselves at your school.
  • Parent Goals: Parents want information on their children's education, including academic programming, community, parent-teacher communication, and resources for supporting their child's learning journey. They’ll also want information about tuition, affordability, and whether it’s worth the investment.

Current Families

  • Family Goals: When thinking about your school's website, remember that parents have specific things they're looking for. They want to know about the education and programs your school offers, how the community is, and how they can talk to teachers. Show them clear information about what their children will learn, how they can get involved, and why your school is worth staying.
Kansas City public schools about page

Kansas City Public Schools’ About page goes deep into the district, with plenty of resources for families like board information, handbooks, calendars, policies, and so much more.

Faculty and Staff

  • Goals: Faculty and staff often require access to resources like schedules and calendars, directories, and teaching and professional development resources.

Prospective Employees

  • Goals: Engaging prospective employees and attracting the best candidates to work at your school is a crucial aspect of user-centric web design. The experience you offer to potential faculty and staff members on your website can significantly impact your school's ability to recruit and retain top talent.

Keep Reading: 5 Ways to Use Your School District’s Website for Staff & Teacher Recruitment

Persona Worksheets

Know the Pain Points and Opportunities

To truly make a difference in the user experience, it's essential to identify the key touchpoints where your website can address pain points and provide opportunities.

  • Is it during the admission process when prospective students seek information?
  • Is it when parents are trying to find updates on school events or resources for their children's education? 

By pinpointing these moments, you'll know where users get hung up, so you can streamline the user experience and help them accomplish their goals.

Prospective Students and Families

  • Pain Points: They may face difficulties in finding clear and updated information, such as ways to inquire, application deadlines, or financial aid opportunities. Parents may face challenges when finding details about school events, such as dates, locations, and RSVP options. 
  • Opportunities: Simplify the application process, offer step-by-step guides, and provide a dedicated admissions experience. Create an easily accessible events calendar with clear event descriptions, RSVP links, and the option to receive event notifications. Creating dedicated sections for admissions, virtual tours, and success stories of current students can address their needs. Dedicated pages or a section about “why your school” can provide clear incentives to inquire or apply.
Thorton Academy inquiry

Thorton Academy uses Finalsite Enrollment to streamline its inquiries, and notice the language: “How can we help you today?” With just a few clicks, users can easily inquire, schedule a 1:1 meeting, register for a tour, or get more information.

Current Families

  • Pain Points: Parents might get frustrated if they can't find up-to-date info on your website. They might be looking for how to ask questions or details about school events.
  • Opportunities: To make things better, you could make navigation simpler, make a keyword search bar more prominent, create resource hubs, or have a clear calendar for school events.

Faculty and Staff

  • Pain Points: Complex navigation structures and bloated information can make navigating the site difficult.
  • Opportunities: A user-friendly portal for employees can streamline their access to essential resources and information.

Prospective Employees

  • Pain Points: Candidates often want to understand the school's culture and values, and failing to convey this effectively on your site can deter top talent from applying. Prospective employees may find it challenging to navigate through cluttered content to find job listings, the perks of joining your school, and the application instructions.
  • Opportunities: Make an employment or careers page easy to find, and then enhance your careers section by providing clear job descriptions, application guidelines, and an easy-to-follow application process. Highlight the benefits of working at your school, such as professional development opportunities, a supportive work environment, and unique campus perks with high-quality videos and employee testimonials to showcase your school's culture, mission, and community involvement.

Define Key Usage Scenarios

Consider 2-3 primary usage scenarios for each of your user groups. These scenarios should illustrate the pain points and opportunities within the user experience. Defining each of these scenarios helps you prioritize improvements for your website visitors. For example:

Prospective Students and Families

  • Exploring Academic Programs: A prospective student wants to explore the available academic programs at your school, so create engaging pages with clear descriptions, testimonials, and content to showcase the unique aspects of each program. Consider the questions prospective students may have and provide easy-to-find answers and contact options for more inquiries.
  • Scheduling a Campus Tour: Another scenario might involve a student wanting to schedule a campus tour. Simplify the campus tour booking process with a user-friendly interface. Offer multiple scheduling options, including weekends and evenings, to accommodate different student schedules.

Current Parents

When considering what current parents need from your school's website, think about their daily tasks. They often look for the school calendar to keep track of important dates, schedules to know when classes or events happen, resources to help them support their child's learning at home, and contact information for teachers and staff. Make sure your website makes these things easy to find and use. For example, have a clear and updated calendar visible right away.

TAS parent zone in mobile mockup

Like Taipei American School has done with its constituent zones, offer downloadable schedules and guides on how parents can help with homework or other school projects. Also, ensure that contact details for staff are easy to find and up-to-date, so parents can reach out with questions or concerns.

Faculty and Staff

  • Updating website content: A staff member responsible for updating your school website's content needs to make timely updates to events, announcements, or share recent news. You can help these staff members by providing training resources, tutorials, and ongoing support for using the content management system.
  • Accessing Employee Resources: Faculty and staff members will need frequent access to employee resources, such as information about benefits, payroll, or HR policies. Simplify a section of your site with clear labels, or create a resource hub with FAQs, video guides, and other helpful materials, like Albemarle County Public Schools.
Staff resources screenshot Albemarle

Prospective Employees 

  • Browsing Job Openings: A prospective employee interested in working at your school arrives at your website and seeks to explore the available job opportunities. Create a user-friendly careers section with clear job categories and insights into your school's culture, mission, and employee testimonials to help candidates envision themselves at your school.
  • Submitting Application Materials: Another scenario might involve a prospective employee who is ready to submit their application materials, such as resumes and cover letters. Simplify the submission process with an easy-to-follow upload system with an online form.

Pro Tip: Review how users get tasks done. Explore the paths they take, the content they access, and the obstacles they encounter.

Using Empathy Maps

If you're wondering how to improve a user's experience on your website, an effective strategy is creating an empathy map. Empathy maps allow you and your team to think about the needs, thoughts, feelings, and actions of your users.

Here's how you can use empathy maps effectively:

  • Segment User Groups: Create empathy maps for each of the 2-3 most important target audience user groups you've identified.
  • Ask Key Questions: During the empathy mapping process, consider questions like:
    • What are the emotions our users might experience when visiting our website?
    • What are their primary needs and goals?
    • What do they say about their experiences with our website?
    • What actions do they take when navigating the site?
Empathy map

Adapted from SEMRush

As you answer these questions, look for common themes that can inform your website's design and then use the insights to make informed decisions. Continue to test if your design elements and content align with your users' needs and expectations.

Key Takeaway

Empathy is the key to creating a great user experience. By understanding your visitors' emotions, needs, and user behaviors, you can design a website that addresses their pain points and provides meaningful opportunities.

website redesign playbook

Connor Gleason Headshot


Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.

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