These early Spring days are so much longer and warmer; the skies have that impossible blue; the grass is shaking off its winter coat; and the trees, the tulips, the front porches, the schools, the world — it’s all just...opening up, now, isn’t it? It’s all very exciting. So, cheers to these clients who launched a new school website in March, 2021, which, from this desk from the hills of Northern Maryland, has been a month full of hope and promise, a never-ending 12-month corner we now seem to be turning. It’s a great time to launch a website, in other words.
Eagle Hill School | Massachusetts
There’s a lot of coming and going in the video montage of the new Eagle Hill School website, a day and boarding school for grades 8-12 in Massachusetts. For a moment, you either feel like you’re a tour guide or the one being guided. And that’s really the point of a good website - directed and self-directed, a virtual invitation to let the School tell you about who they are, or a place where you choose straight, left or right to find just what you’re looking for.
While their best-in-class homepage is more than worth the visit, the landing pages are where you should dive in. Campus Living drives home a message of learning, community and friendship in a location that is stunning, shared in layouts that are interesting and visually appealing. College Counseling is filled to the virtual brim with information, tucked in accordions and carousels. And pages like Visual Arts make you want to pick up your paintbrush while Performing Arts inspire you to get right on the stage. Ready to visit? The Campus Tour should be your first stop — it’s a great interactive map with lots of useful contact information.
Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 | Minnesota
When, like many districts, you have a number in your name, you’ve got a branding challenge staring you down right out of the gate. And if your district has three names, like Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191, an even larger one. Which is why the logo is worth noting — the first “1” is spelled out, and it’s captured in a tightly-knit, black and yellow graphic that is semi-symmetric (who ever realized that the e in “one” and the number nine could be mirror images had a stroke of genius) feels a bit futuristic, like something you might find on the side of a rocket ship.
But maybe that’s all helping, considering “Blaze your path” is a key phrase on the opening hero images, repeated as a header for the first panel to describe the district as “future forward” with “barrier-free” pathways to learning. We all want that for our children’s education. The language continues: in elementary school, the district will “Spark Wonder”, while in Middle School you can “Fuel Exploration”.
Further down, an off-kilter photo profile and testimonial showcases how students will “Become a Beacon”. All of this messaging keeps poking and prodding at the same point: this is a district that’s not just keeping up with the times, but leading them. The design has just enough pizzazz to support, rather than interfere with these messages, and the yellow and black are inseparably linked, like the future is with the past.
Gratz College | Pennsylvania
Bottom line: this is just an excellent website for an online college, on many levels. For one, when your main venue is virtual — with or without the pandemic — and the traditional campus scenes of gothic buildings, quads and lecture halls aren’t in your asset library, you’ve got to get creative. The large hero images that open up on the Gratz homepage are pulled from a gallery but are randomized instead of looping, which is perfect as each image conveys just the right amount of energy and appropriateness to complement the program major that’s featured on the page.
The college brand is well coordinated and clearly defined, with variations on the dotted patterns that circle images or set up as background enhancements, often in gold that helps balance the blue and teal. It’s nice to see the featured story on the homepage of alums, but the full page of everyone is more than impressive — after all, there’s nothing more compelling than hearing about real outcomes and results.
The associated high school, Gratz Academy mirrors the college site in design, but the Finalsite Platform allows the subsite to use its own navigation, images, and content, while still giving administrators an ability to manage or even share content across both sites.
Taipei European School | Taipei
“Learn and Flourish.” Now, who doesn’t want their child to do that? That’s the theme of the new website for TES, and learn and flourish they certainly do. The first panel, after the homepage slideshow, is all about the “learn” half of this equation, with prompts for British, French and German academic programs, as well as quick access to the School’s mission and values.
Likewise, the second panel is all about “flourish”, which is explained through four entry points with more detailed overlays - Unique Journeys, Beyond the Classroom, Embracing Diversity, and Doing Well By Doing Good. Combined, these two panels set the stage and tone for a comprehensive student experience, which makes the succeeding two panels — 10 Reasons “Why TES” and “Meet Our Community” — pixel-perfect icing on the virtual cake, more substantive examples of what sets TES apart.
Content aside, there’s a nice design supporting all of this - with touches of gold and blue with a big thick typeface that’s easy to read -- and the occasional ring of stars that ties to their logo. A well-organized footer finishes the site, a compact well-organized layout of contact information, calls-to-action, and other useful links.
Countryside School | Illinois
On the homepage of the new Countryside website, there’s an absolutely fantastic -- and completely atypical -- picture of three children walking through a meadow near a river with what looks like butterfly nets; it captures one of those fleeting moments (or deeply nostalgic, if you’re a parent) of being a child uncovering the world, a gesture of independence. The photo also happens to be rich in color and detail - a palette of greens, browns and burgundies in narrow lines of the tall grass. Using this image as a leading photo is only indicative of a lot of good decision-making through the new website of this K-8 private school in Champaign, IL.
As another example, the “What Makes Us Unique” is as direct as it is thoughtful, pulling in the medallion shape of the logo to feature five key points that set the school apart. What’s more, the call to action is smart: “Portrait of a Graduate”, which for many prospective familes is exactly the point. This page features a large silhouette of a student surrounded by outcomes we all want in our children - empathetic listener to an informed critical thinker.
The site continues to define its uniquenesses clearly and succinctly throughout: the Middle School page, as one example, is filled with talking points, and large, visual narratives for each. You can’t help but walk (or, rather, click) away feeling like this school has it together with much to offer.
Brownsville ISD, in Texas, is a big district, so one place to start is the Schools menu, a great example of how to organize a lot of schools in a menu that’s easy to use. It’s also an excellent example of a mobile-first design, where features, news, calendars all refactor into a convenient and intuitive mobile experience. Behind the scenes, ensuring this experience is equally simple for the administrator who can preview a page in many different device sizes while they edit in Composer CMS.
The homepage features a nice blend of a script typeface that juxtaposes naturally with the serif headers, and the use of large images that are blurred, combined with the blues and metal grays of the school colors, gives a design aesthetic that is both professional and modern. Individual schools, such as Putegnat Elementary, pick up the design of the district page, while taking advantage of the necessary autonomy to update news, calendars, homepage photos and even the particular infographics featured on their homepage. The black bar at the very top serves as the district-wide navigation, a narrow bit of real estate that helps keep the user oriented and provides simple ways back to the parent page.
Finally, the district-specific interior pages are also well done. The Board of Trustees page, while simple, has everything you’d want: names, pictures and contact information of the board, but also quick access to agendas, meeting information, policies and other important information around governance and planning.
Summit School | North Carolina
It’s telling that not only is “Prepared” the first of five keywords used to describe the education of students at Summit School but it’s also the only one perched on the same curve, with a star, like the logo. Makes sense. “Prepared” is exactly what you want to hear as a parent for a school serving children from age three to grade nine -- because everything else falls into line. And that’s how the website rolls, finding a focus and drawing it out.
For instance, on the Upper School landing page, an important area for prospective families, the message, “Think again. And again” is a terrific headline for the narrative that follows about their program for older students. The tab element in Composer works well for this content, pulling Environment, Culture, Curriculum and After School Options into an easy to digest package, to “thumb through” as it were.
Likewise, pages like Fast Facts do a nice job of supplementing important notes with some pictures and call outs, while Summit Social leverages Finalsite Feeds to feature a slew of activity, a campus bursting with activity on every front. Finally, labeling the tuition page “The Value of Summit” is a clever move, as that’s exactly how we want prospective families to think about the cost of attending.
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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.