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  • General Best Practices
Designing Your Website for the Millennial Parent: Dos and Don’ts of Engaging Design and UX
Angelo Otterbein

We all have a love-hate relationship with our dos and don’ts, right? They keep us honest, but sometimes it’s nice to color outside the lines. But, before you even start coloring, you need to ensure that the lines are clear as to what to do and not to do with regards to website design for the millennial generation. (And to be clear: many of these points are best practices in general; but they are also extremely relevant for millennials.)

#1 | DO have a responsive website.

Responsive website is also about embracing mobile more than just being mobile. This is an important distinction because many of us work on a desktop while everyone else is surfing the site from their phone. It’s akin to cooking a large roast in a deep cast iron pan and then not considering how you’ll serve it on the small appetizer plates you’re using. That’s why we love our CMS, Composer, where you can preview the experience on the device at any time.

Community School website in composer platform view

The Community School’s site looks just as great on a small phone as a huge desktop. You won’t get anywhere with any other topics if you don’t have a site someone can browse on their phone in the morning while eating their avocado toast. If they go to use it on their phone and have a difficult and frustrating experience, their research just might end right there.

#2 | DON’T fill your responsive site with long blocks of dull, uninviting text.

Let’s start with an example, Punahou’s interior pages are just as gorgeous as their homepage. Because we know not everyone enters through your homepage, you want your interior pages to be just as engaging, inviting, and exciting to look through as your homepage.

The millennial parent wants to skim— at least in the beginning of their website experience — while in a hurry. But then they may decide to make more of a commitment to dig deeper.

Punahou Interior Pages on website

#3 | DO use headings, block quotes, images, videos, and other graphic treatments to break up content.

If your pages do need a lot of text, using other forms of content to break it up and make it more digestible is key. The Bear Creek School’s admissions page uses images, buttons, a calendar slideshow, and directory to convey information; this is good!

Bear Creek meet the team panel with headshots and calendar events

If there is a video or image that could tell the same thing you were trying to express in a lot of words, you know what to do.

#4 | DO write short, mobile-friendly content.

The American School in London does a great job of capturing a lot with a few words. If you put your prospective family hat on for a minute contemplating a school for their children, ASL does a great job of showing the “kind” of student they nurture, such as “explorer” or “innovator.” Unique language that captures a lot. Who doesn’t want their child to be an innovator.

American School of London Innovator Panel featuring students

ASL demonstrates the power of being very succinct which means mobile friendly; but it also has well-placed interactivity, allowing you to navigate easily from one value to the next.

This website also conveys diversity without needing to say. A simple map shows how ASL brings students from all over the planet.

One quick test: if a user wouldn’t want to read it on a phone, is it really even necessary for your desktop? Or at all?

#5 | DO leverage social media, especially Instagram, the more popular channel among millennials.

Wingate University uses social media on their Around Campus landing page—a great example of how to leverage for your website what’s already being created elsewhere. Social media also doesn’t have to be on the homepage alone. For Wingate, including these feeds on the Around Campus landing page makes perfect sense because prospective students want to know what campus life is like—-and what better way to show that than through their social media?

Wingate University social media panel on website

Additionally, while we tend to put so much of our focus on the homepage, the truth is that users spend very little of their time there. Once a website visitor has established that they’re in the right place, they’re off to somewhere else on the site—or they’ve bypassed it altogether because they’ve done a google search directing them to somewhere on the interior.

If you feel like you’ve done a great job with your homepage, spend more time focused on interior pages, and consider social media’s relevance there, too. These are the pages that sell value and provide millennial parents and their children that next level of information.

#6 | DON’T use stock photography and videos of students.

Millennials want to see authentic content. We like Rawson Saunders authentic and personal video that draws the user in -- the very opposite of a stock photography, which millennials see right through. This video tells an authentic story from the students; you don’t feel like you’re being marketed to — you just feel like you’re being told this story.

Rawson Saunders Homepage with two kids

#7 | DON’T expect them to take your word for it!

Phoenix Country Day School has a lovely website that offers stats, quotes, and examples to illustrate their offerings, and uses social proof to hammer home the point. Simple language with quick blocks of content that is highly visual and, most importantly, authentic.

Phoenix Country Day School Individual Page with photo of athletes and quote

A lot of school administrators love their marketing language; they spend a long of time crafting it or they’ve worked with a branding agency to come up with some really engaging statements. In most cases, these words belong on your website, but you still have to prove them out. The millennial parent isn’t going to trust that statement just because you said so.

Phoenix Country Day School Quote on website with photos of students

Phoenix Country Day backs up their big idea. When they say “innovation,” they don’t just say “we are the most innovative school in the nation.” Instead, they back up with stories and testimonials and photos. This goes a long way with the millennial audience.

#8 | DO offer social proof.

St. Mark’s Episcopal School includes testimonials from their community on their homepage and interior pages. If you are not redesigning your website anytime soon, now can be a good time to spruce up your interior pages with testimonials.

St Marks School Testimonial on website with photos of students

#9 | DON’T limit your message to just “rigorous academics."

The Woods Academy highlights a wealth of programs that round out their education. Millennials in general place a really high importance on work/life balance in their own lives, so it is not a stretch that they’d want the same for their child’s education. This k-8 school knows that millennials are a critical audience and they put their emphasis on the their “Hallmarks” which cover a lot of non-academic and enrichment opportunities — helping students gain that balance.

And rather than leaning on your past to justify the present as many older institutions do, show that parent how you are forward-thinking and considering that holistic education.

Woods Academy Hallmarks Program page on website with student and sign

 

These Hallmarks remind us that there’s more to a good school website than creating a great design; what sets a school apart is how they identify their unique offerings.

#10 | DO focus on storytelling. Choose a design that places the experiences of your school front and center.

One of most recent examples we’ve been showcasing is Fairfield Prep, which tells their story through a series of videos, and leverages a dramatic, black background that provides a modern and masculine punch to their messaging.

Beginning with a superb video, this site tells a story in 60 seconds or less by sequentially spelling out the things that make them special. The sticky calls to action give the user a place to go at all times. 

Fairfield Prep for Discovery page with photo of students and summary

And despite the fact that Fairfield Prep is by all measures a very well-known school in the area, it is clear that they are not resting on a legacy reputation to fill seats by making sure the website and all the supporting materials show their value.

#11 | DO show off your values

Sidwell Friends School does a great job of highlighting their core values, which is integral to who they in every way as a Quaker school in downtown Washington DC. By communicating your school’s values to your prospects, you are simultaneously debunking the notion that you are a commodity — you are a place where their child is going to grow and be exposed to those values.

Sidwell Friends stewardship information on website with text and photo

 

While this notion of values is hardly unique to millennials, this generation has a higher expectation that the organizations they associate with also have those strong values.  Hit millennials in a heartfelt way with this in mind using concrete examples and evidence, such as hiring a diversity director, requiring service hours for students, or composting food waste. Then let the design and content communicate that.

We understand that not every parent is going to have the same set of values, but parents want to know what you stand for and will gravitate to the school that feels like a match for what they are looking for. So make sure you communicate it!

#12 | DON’T settle for a so-so design.

Bringing your best to the table for the first impression should always be a premium. While this may be obvious for independent schools, school districts also have a keen interest in making sure parents in their community understand who they are and that their website does a great job of communicating.

Tulsa Public School’s new site offers a fresh look, custom search design, and a user-friendly school menu.  The bright colors are fun, and the use of big type and bold colors, combined with infographics, animation and testimonials, all work together to create a fresh web presence that invites you in and communicates a commitment to the site as a valuable resource.

Tulsa Public Schools graduating class spotlight on website with student in cap and gown

#13 | DO keep up with the latest design trends.

We don’t expect you to know every last cutting-edge industry trend, but looking at schools outside of your radius is a good use of a few hours every now and then. Shanghai American School is just one example of a site that pushes the design envelope: subtle animation to support the content; textures that rolled up from their print design; unique overlapping elements and illustrations; and an interesting use of a grid for the interior.

Shanghai American School quote featuring photo of students

The good news with this short list of dos and don’ts is that by attending to them for millenials, you’re also addressing some of the key best practices that are “generation independent.” We all want to use a website that gives us what came there looking for as quickly and painlessly as possible. And remember that a website is always a work-in-progress, and Finalsite views itself as a long-term partner through this journey. Start with a few of these, and keep working your way down the list. Any step forward is a good one!

If you want to stay tuned in on the latest best practices, you can also subscribe to our blog! The weekly digest gives you all sorts of insights, best practices and ideas — lean on us who spend all of our time thinking about how our schools are using their website.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
angelo otterbein headshot

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.

  • Marketing/Communications
  • Web Design
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