Your school's website is often the first point of interaction with your audience and when designed well, a website can attract prospective families, support community communications, and engage your entire school community.
When users visit your site, it's as though they're meeting your school for the first time. You want to make sure that this first experience is positive so your school can attract new families and teachers, keep everyone in your school community up-to-date, and even support fundraising and stay in touch with former students.
But that’s not all — a strong school website design has the power to:
• Build trust in your school's brand and value proposition
• Empower visitors to easily achieve their goals
• Strengthen engagement with your school's content
• Rank well in search engines
• Increase the rate of conversions, such as inquiries or newsletter sign-ups
Family Expectations & User Experience (UX)
With users spending more time online, expectations for website quality have steadily increased. The best school website designs should align with or surpass these expectations.
Keep Reading: 35 Stats to Know for Your School's Website Design
Your school's website should be easy to navigate, meaning people can find what they're looking for without any trouble. This means finding information quickly, fast-loading pages, and a design that satisfies users. It should also be engaging, which means it should be interesting and fun to explore and increase the chances users are likely to return.
Design trends play a critical role in your school or district’s website, and learning how these creative techniques shape the online landscape can help you achieve your marketing and communications goals.
So, what can your school do to keep up in 2024? Explore these trends, and check out these school website design ideas and examples!
Creative Character in Design
Websites don’t have to be boring! Today, more families and users expect more personal and especially expressive website designs. This includes vivid colors, gradients, custom illustrations, and expressive typography, which moves away from the minimal, grid-based designs of the past.
Instead of using simple, plain designs, schools are now making their websites more colorful and unique. This includes using bright colors, textures, different shapes, and fun imagery. This makes your school's website memorable and tells a story about what makes your school special.
Nanjing International School: This recent launch showcases vibrant colors, unique brush strokes in branding, thoughtful animations, and an interesting layout that sets it apart from other schools.
- Bold design with a cutting-edge creative direction and popping colors
- Illustration and animation to capture expressive character
Cardinal Gibbons High School: A private, co-ed Catholic high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, known for its unique scrolling experience on the website.
- Adventurous use of movement that feels easy to use
- Emotionally engaging videos, photography, and copy
- A well-balanced sense of modernity and tradition
Mobile First Design Approach
More than half of the time people spend online is on their phones or tablets, so it’s critically important for school websites to focus on a "mobile first" design — one that goes beyond a responsive design. What does this mean? When creating a website, the first thing to think about is how it will work on a mobile device, like a phone or tablet.
Here are some key points about this approach:
- Easy Reading on Small Screens: When you look at a website on your phone, the screen is much smaller than on a computer. So, the website needs to have text that is easy to read on a small screen. This means no super tiny fonts or long, jumbled paragraphs.
- Simple Navigation: Have you ever tried to click on a tiny link on your phone and tap the wrong link? That's frustrating! In mobile-first design, menus and buttons are made bigger and clearer. This way, when you're using a phone, it's easy for visitors to access exactly what they want.
- Fast Loading on Mobile: Pictures and videos are great, but they can make a website slow to load, especially on mobile. Mobile-first design means using images and videos that are optimized for fast loading. This way, even if the Internet connection on your phone isn't the strongest, the website still loads quickly.
- Scrolling Over Clicking: On phones, it's easier to scroll rather than click through many pages. A mobile-first website will often put more information on one long page that you can scroll through, rather than making you click on different pages.
Remember, because many users begin their browsing experience through an organic search on their mobile device and then continue that experience back on their desktop, it’s important to create a seamless experience across devices with simple navigation and optimized images.
Douglas County School District: Located in Northern Nevada, this district's website design focused on colors inspired by Nevada's landscape, succinct content, and a user-friendly layout adaptable to mobile devices.
- Vibrant creative direction that's unique to the school’s character
- A rich mix of engaging, eye-catching, and intuitive homepage features
Harrow International School, New York: A new school combining the legacy of Harrow School in the UK with the vibrancy of New York. The design emphasized mobile-first qualities like big buttons, large photography, and a simplified hamburger menu for easy navigation.
- Large, visually engaging features with white space and room to breathe
- Consistent user experience across all devices
Everyone loves a good story, and websites can tell amazing stories, too. Each part of the website should feel like a piece of a bigger story about the school — as though each page is a chapter in a book about the school.
You can use stories to explain what your school does, what it values, and what makes it different from other schools. This can make the information more interesting and easier to remember.
Baylor School: A private middle and high school in Tennessee focusing on academic rigor. The website drives admissions through impactful design, varied scrolling techniques, and a guided user journey with strong storytelling elements.
- Engagement through creative storytelling and animation
- Distinctive content experiences beyond the homepage
- Expressive use of video, photography & typography
Moses Brown School: An independent Quaker school in Rhode Island, which used creative character and storytelling in its redesign. The website features engaging layouts, integration of new branding, and a focus on the school's unique Quaker identity.
- Immersive interactivity and dynamic use of motion
- Expressive use of shape and color to capture the brand
- Purposeful content
Your site’s content should be focused and relevant to your school or district’s goals, so everything on your school's website should have a purpose.
For example, if you want more students or faculty to join your school, your website should have information and stories that show why your school is a great place to learn and then prompt users to take action.
Westbury Schools: A district in Nassau County, New York, focusing on creating a vibrant brand presence. The website features engaging intro animations, easy-to-access school navigation, and content focused on the district's vision and programs.
- Purposeful storytelling and persistent calls to action
- Vibrant modern layout to reflect progressive culture
- Helpful sticky panel for easy access to calls to action
Canford School: A leading senior boarding school in the UK, Canford School’s website's redesign involved consolidating content, vibrant design features, and purposeful content that made the school's rich history and vision for the future easily accessible and engaging for website visitors.
- Focused use of content features that are in line with strategic goals
- Creative filtering techniques to break up key content
- Bold and engaging interior page design elements
Adapting Trends to Fit Individual School Needs
It's important to adapt these trends to fit your school's specific goals and audience, and not all trends may be suitable for every school.
Ensure that any design trends adopted should align with the unique goals, values, and identity of your school. The idea is to choose trends that best represent your school's character and meet the needs of your community, rather than just following trends.
It’s important to think about what makes your school unique and choose designs that show off your school’s personality. What works for one school might not work for another.
Considerations for Theme Designs
For schools using Theme designs, many of these trends are still applicable. Just like Guajome Charter Public Schools has done, a mobile-first design, purposeful content, and storytelling can be incorporated regardless of whether the design is custom or theme-based.
If your school's website uses a pre-made design (like a theme), you can still make it look great! The best school website design templates still use many of the ideas mentioned, like storytelling, easy navigation, and making sure it works well on phones. Balance the aesthetic appeal, user experience, and content to meet your goals.
By focusing on creative design, user experience, and storytelling, your school can develop a strong online presence that accurately reflects its character and meets the needs of your community.
Balance what's fresh with what's effective. Not every trend will be appropriate for your school, but consider if you’re keeping up to date with these modern design trends, and that will inspire you as you think about your projects.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
As one of the Creative Managers at Finalsite, Kealan supports our team of award-winning designers in the creation of innovative websites for schools worldwide. Kealan has a passion for goal-driven design and has been working with schools since 2009 as a designer and consultant to understand their needs and define the creative direction of their website projects.
As Director of Creative Services, Kelly leads Finalsite’s design team, overseeing the creative process and guiding the team to create beautiful, user-centered websites. In the 13 years that Kelly has been with Finalsite, she has designed 100+ websites for schools around the world and won over 30 industry design awards. In her spare time, she is usually running after her daughters, spending time with her husband and family, or upcycling furniture.