It’s hot, but not just because it’s summer. It’s the heat emanating from the Deployment Department, pistons firing like mad, rubber on the wheels melting slightly, the launch accelerator to the floor, RPMs in the red zone. By last Slack notice, they were at 49 websites for the month. So I’m calling that 50! One month! That’s a whole lot of domain names getting jiggy with their new HTML.
Let’s join the race:
The Lawrenceville School | New Jersey
When your students are the Lawrentians, your table is the Harkness, and your House is… well, you’d have to enroll to find that out...you can only be The Lawrenceville School, a premier New England day and boarding school covering 700 acres in New Jersey.
If you’re just getting oriented, you could just start with the campus tour, a color-coded, handily categorized light show of buildings with individual video tours of key areas. It’s also easy to get swept up in any number of the microsites, a family of integrated -- but completely unique -- designs within the same instance of the Finalsite platform, featuring key programs that require a bit more individuality and navigation alike.
It’s like an art show, only a school website. Take the Athletics microsite for example, a high-energy, jacked up black and red mind meld of sports, big type, color blocks and lots of fresh content. Or the Giving section, an elegant work of art in its own right, making the compelling case to hit the $425 million mark with broad participation and a theme of “Emerge Transformed.” That’s not the only thing emerging, either. Summer Scholars blasts the design aesthetic with neon greens and yellows bright enough to crack your monitor, all playing to the relief and fun of a vacation away from the school year. And finally, the Gruss Center for Art and Design (GCAD), feels like a school in itself, with bold messaging and focus, surrounded by geometric spirals and orange-red gradients filling everything from rectangles to the letter G.
Together, the Lawrenceville site is both groundbreaking in how many different designs are used that work cohesively, but also simply lovely across the board. Starting with the homepage of the main website and continuing with robust landing pages such as a content-rich Equity, Diversity and Inclusion page. Okay, maybe you’re a parent and wondering now how you can attend? Well, don’t spend too much time on the Careers page, because it’ll be hard not to apply!
University School of Milwaukee | Wisconsin
Of the many excellent interior pages on the new University School of Milwaukee website, the USM Advantage page in particular is a good place to start, laying out the proverbial cards on the table: what are the advantages? There are many. From easy transportation, to speaker events to cross-divisional learning, it’s almost too many -- but that’s precisely what makes it effective.
Each button is a stepping stone to the other side, so if you’re the kind of parent interested in, say, Ethical Leadership, then you’re in business. What’s more, this dynamic page leverages Finalsite Posts, giving the site administrator an ability to repurpose the content elsewhere, or to create new groupings that might make sense for email campaigns or other landing pages.
Design-wise, the site is a reminder of how well deep blues and golds work together. The homepage strings and patches them together in varied content elements, header bars, type and graphical adornments, which together offer a cohesive presentation that is confident and intentional, just like their program. Want to see for yourself? There’s an excellent visit page that combines overview information and a short form to schedule a personal tour.
Cannon School | North Carolina
If you decide to turn the sound on (highly recommended!) during the video montage for the new Cannon School website, you’ll feel a rush of adrenaline as the music builds, and perhaps, if you’re like me, a poignant moment of nostalgia as you think about the best moments of going to school. And that’s the point: we parents can’t go back to school, but we can send our kids, and with their new site launch, that’s what Cannon is making it awfully easy to want to do.
Aside from the music, the footage is taken with an eye for just that very nostalgia -- an old-school analog clock, a sneaker touching ground, and a deeply familiar scene of a young student cautiously walking toward a teacher, saddled on either side by students of all ages carrying classroom objects and dressed for the part. It’s both fun and ceremonial, and reassuring that all are welcome.
This idea is further underlined by Cannon School’s “You Belong” theme, which the teacher happens to ask her class in the video. Ultimately, isn’t “belonging” what we want for our kids? The depth of the site reinforces this and other messages, with photo-rich layouts like the history page, varied content on the middle School page, and highly informative pages like the visual arts page, enhanced with some parallax magic.
What’s more, pages like school counseling or library, which make appearances on most school websites but rarely deliver what they should, are excellent examples of how to make this content a real contributor to a school’s value proposition.
Shanghai SMIC Private School | China
Here’s a toggle-free bilingual website worth checking out, which, as designed, gives equal treatment to both English and native Mandarin languages. But that dual-language moment is fleeting as the site is smart enough to recognize that as a user you really prefer one or the other in your website experience -- which means by the time you head back to the homepage, one of the two has disappeared.
This ”second” homepage expands the scope of the experience with animation, colorized circles, the sweep of a news reveal and a nice panel-locking feature that ensures you’re only seeing the design and layout you should be. Calls to action are lurking about everywhere -- just when you need them -- enabling a unique sense of discovery as you poke, tap and scroll around.
Aside from the lovely design, notable bursts of website achievement are scattered throughout. For example, the college acceptance page breaks more ground using Finalsite Posts to help tag and filter the college choices -- as there are so many -- and the very fact that filtering is necessary sends its own impressive message about the quality of education that happens here. The header on the clubs page jumped out of nowhere -- in a good way-- so the website’s surprises come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
McNicholas High School | Ohio
The new McNicholas website is one of those new launches that reminds you that it’s totally doable to launch an amazing website without the need for a bell and a whistle at every turn.
The design -- solid and efficient -- is somewhat beside the point, holding big pictures in the header and keeping everything organized below. The restrained mega navigation is a good reminder both for admins, who struggle to limit options to seven or less, -- and for users, who may not consider but probably appreciate that fewer choices could mean better choices.
The “M,” hoisted by the semblance of a green cross, marks a branding trail, a cairn of sorts throughout, leveraged, for instance, mid-way down the homepage where the school’s distinctions and philosophy are described in a simple, animated fashion. The burst of green and yellow lines emanating from the corner is an unexpected twist to the design, a half-masked star of sorts beckoning you to stay on the site. Don’t have time to read? The at-a-Glance page does the trick, a clean grid of stats and facts, including the fact that their mascot is the Rockets, which of course means the possibilities have only just begun.
Landon School | Maryland
Need a good example of a homepage that tells a story? Check out Landon School’s new homepage. Wow. Play a quick game of scroll roulette and see where you land.
You might bump into their Instagram feed, a large, edge-to-edge 3-x4 grid of photographic here-and-now-ness; the size of each image stops your tracks and encourages a look-see. Or the Signature Experiences panel, “Dedicated to Boys”, the layout for which forms a sort of hierarchical pyramid, starting with the school emblem and ending with three well-selected pictures and descriptors.
Facts and Figures tells a big story against a beautiful campus scene of boys running around. And more! The rectangular divisional checkpoints for each grade have these swirly, animated plus signs, reminiscent of pinwheels you might hold at a parade, but set against deep bands of brown, red and blue.
Speaking of brown, which is Landon’s school color -- that’s a tough shade to get right, but the design handles it well, with the delicate touch of a chef tweaking the seasoning. There’s really only one area when you get a lot of it -- the overlay of the navigation -- but that’s okay, because it serves as a high contrast background to hold a large linked index of the site, including a list of “Popular Pages”, a nice add.
There’s lots more cool throughout, such as the designed for boys landing page, which has video rollovers to intro their testimonials, extremely well designed layouts that mix columns, media, text and headers in a way that could double as an online magazine. Even pages like Give get the A-plus treatment, with a barrage of very compelling reasons to whip out your checkbook.
Notre Dame High School | New Jersey
There’s a playful animated sequence that opens the new Notre Dame High School website that is all about the letters in the school name, the final “e” expanding into a full-screen action shot of a football player. At least above the fold, there’s not much else in the way of messaging -- the images looping through speak for themselves in many ways, and the big calls-to-action are nothing but obvious if you choose not to scroll.
Nevertheless, the homepage continues to deliver, including a “Why Notre Dame?” panel spelling out the answer with key components. Just below, “Hear Our Stories” adds complementary spot colors to enhance the design, and the footer is complete and neatly laid out. On the inside, pages like Student Co-Curriculum are chock-full of content, an accordion-palooza of clubs and activities -- you’d be hard pressed to find something you don’t like on this list. Likewise, while Curriculum pages such as The Arts are text-heavy, the effect is no less impactful, a menu of arts offerings that could fill even a college curriculum guide.
Barrie School | Maryland
When you’re a school with just 300 students, you’d consider yourself small, but if you also educate children from 12 months all the way to grade 12, you simultaneously have a big story to tell if you.
As a progressive, Montessori school that’s been around for nearly 100 years, Barrie has a lot to say, perhaps best captured in a nice infographic on the At-a-Glance page and with the accordion-driven distinctions in The Barrie Difference. From a design standpoint, the symmetric, teardrop leaf that forms the dot in the i (also known as the “title” for the typographically inclined) in Barrie, plays out as a graphical element that pops in and out of layouts in multiple incarnations, a photo mask here, a call to action there.
The primary palette - teal and light green - blend nicely with various spots of orange or red, but on the whole every color is inclined toward “less is more.” The site is not deep but pages are full of content, and it’d be hard to imagine a prospective family not getting the information they need.
June Theme Launches
Finalsite’s theme website designs make it easy for schools and districts to launch beautiful, mobile-friendly websites on tight timelines or budgets. These schools and districts launched new theme websites in June:
Capistrano Valley Christian Schools | California
Metro School District of Wabash County | Indiana
Ferndale School District 502 | Washington
Chartwell School | California
Kowalski Group | Connecticut
Orinda Academy | California
Holliston Public Schools | Massachusetts
Austin Independent School District 492 | Minnesota
Encinitas Union School District | California
Chestnut Hill Academy | Washington
Wausau School District | Wisconsin
Rossville Consolidated School District | Indiana
Savannah Country Day School | Georgia
Crown Point School Corporation | Indiana
Calvert County Public School District | Maryland
Harare International School | Zimbabwe
Western Placer Unified School District | California
Karns City School District | Pennsylvania
Evergreen School District | California
Tangipahoa Parish School System | Louisiana
Holy Family High School | Colorado
Watertown City School District | New York
School District of Oconee County | South Carolina
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.