For a boarding school over 125 years old, Mercersburg Academy still brings just the right amount of modern fashion to its homepage, a reverse anachronism that works in its favor. The single design element that sets this trend is the thick and thin vertical stripes that seem to frame the panels on either side, combining pastels of peach, lime, and baby blue. “Define Yourself Here” is scripted and big, but hardly the formal brand of a school that is rustically nestled in the idyllic rural campus in Mercersburg, PA. The new best-in-class website makes it easy to explore, with well-developed pages like Academics that, in addition to the content you’d expect, features video, testimonials, a link to a virtual tour, and image-based buttons to visit the library or learn about academic support. It’s as if the site was a fortune teller, predicting your obvious next step and laying it there in front of you. Those next steps deliver, too, such as College Counseling, bringing the right amount of content at the right time, and further rolling out the obvious next step for the user, such as for acceptances or even a page specific for college admissions officers.
Strategic Design is a beautiful page, straight out of a magazine, with a full spread in reverse type that talks about the “Bold Moves” that the School is taking forward in both a first horizon (3-5 years) and a second horizon (5-7 years). As an athletic powerhouse, Mercersburg has a deep athletics section, using Finalsite Athletics Manager to support scores, schedules, and rosters as well as comprehensive pages on areas like Facilities, which have dozens of pictures of courts and fields. Want to check out a game? Be sure to visit the Blue Storm Fan Guide. And if there ever were a complete visiting page, this is it.
Rarely does one associate a school website with “suspenseful” but the new launch for the International School of Dusseldorf, an international school with students from over 30 countries and 150 faculty, gets about as close as you can -- a tiny dotted pegboard of a background holds the mega navigation in place, a short but enlarged message, and then a whole lot of blank space, which after just a second (an eternity in internet time) fills with a large-maned lion, which judging by the lines of motion by its foot is clearly on the move. Visually, the lion is more than just a nice piece of line art, a modern interpretation of the animal that belies itself with a smirk, of sorts, and is shaded with the same dotted pattern as the background behind the menu.
The enormous red dot that only half covers him, creates a uniquely balanced piece of art, the asymmetry of the circle almost as intriguing as the lion itself. The red strikes through the design like a spotted leopard, but a caricature of a lion’s face forms what perhaps may be the first use of the king of the jungle: infographics -- hearts as the lion’s eyes and a slightly fearsome growl revealing a red tongue to share that 99% of the most recent class received their IB Diploma. As a result of these graphics, and a carefully selected group of fonts, the site almost feels entirely illustrated somehow, as if an artist were sketching the site before you.
Even when you make it to the bottom a skyline of Dusseldorf emerges in a black, nighttime footer. Further, into the site, such as the Academics landing page, other colors emerge to supplement the palette - orange and green in particular, and larger outlined dots create occasional circumferences of color. And important pages, like Well Being, respect the parents’ needs to understand the broader dimension of the learning and community environment, built upon a common grid of images that serve as necessary next steps for understanding the School’s offering: Life Skills, Pastoral Care, Transitions, and more.
The honeycomb that presides over the new San Domenico School launch, a best-in-class website that is beautiful and engaging, ties into both the monogram as well as the more frequented features such as infographics, icons, Instagram posts, and outlines for social media icons in the footer. At a minimum, it’s a reminder that a simple shape like a hexagon can provide all sorts of graphic mileage. But for San Domenico, this treatment is just the beginning. For one, if there was ever a good reference for a site that deploys more than one bell and whistle -- but in a purposeful way -- the SD website has it all. A slight scroll-jacking, for instance, forces the user to understand and see key areas that matter: Service, Study, Reflection, Community, locking in sets of two images with a short paragraph about each. It’s a little jarring at first, as if you think your computer might be broken, but it works. And in some ways, it makes a lot of sense: if you’re taking a tour in person you don’t interrupt to tell your guide to skip to the next building in less than half a second. Those featured areas serve as the top shade to the parallax below, a reveal of a perfectly framed classroom shot with testimonials to follow.
Calendars, news, and social media are next, a nice array of fresh content, all powered by Composer, Finalsite’s content management system that is built on the idea of “Create Once, Publish Everywhere”, allowing administrators to manage information in one place knowing that the update will show up throughout the website. Landing pages, like boarding, are wide open layouts -- not unlike the 515-acre campus -- filled with great content, additional hexagons, and more: a news feature just for the dorms, school advisors, and frequently asked questions tucked into an accordion content element. Boarding schools like SD are constantly on the hunt for great teachers, so the employment page is top of the list in terms of priority, and the implementation of Finalsite Posts to share job opportunities with filters and keywords is a great example of the module’s versatility. Site translation, powered by Weglot, is also seamlessly integrated into the design, sending a message that the School wants to serve as broad an audience as possible. And if you lose your way, the site search top right provides just enough to get you going, with an input box and a few handy links to start with.
“She will know her power,” claims Columbus School for Girls on its new website, in all caps, and then: “It’s not just a statement, it’s our promise.” That’s where things begin in sharing the big CSG story, and depending on one’s path through the site it’ll end wherever the journey takes you. One place this might be is the Tuition page, worth pointing out because of how it opens with a pointed statement “Invest in your daughter's future” and then follows with a handy inline calculator, allowing families to understand their qualification for financial aid based on their income and entry point, perhaps one of the first -- if not the first -- question that is top of mind. Other pages like New Unicorns 2022 (yes, the school mascot is unicorns -- how cool is that?) provide key information and contacts in a compact layout using accordions and linked lists, while Meet our Community is full of friendly faces who bring a very personal touch to the website. Why CSG? is another example of a simple page that has high impact, with inline video, “Featured Parents” and big buttons that go to the Academics, Arts, and Athletics. Meanwhile, a Trustee Portal, set behind a password, provides secure access to shared documents for the board, a handy implementation of Finalsite’s portal technology that saves the school time and keeps their leadership coordinated.
From an admissions playbook perspective, there’s more than one reason to check out the new Canisius HS website for ideas on how to make it crystal clear what your school’s value proposition is. For one, they simply try the direct route, with this statement: “This place is special. Let us show you why,” which sits next to a grid of six ways, from College Prep to “Men for Others”. A second way is tinged with genius, side by side sets of pictures, with “You Today” and “You Tomorrow” demonstrating that there’s a before and after to a private school education, particularly one like Canisius, a Jesuit education that “builds freshmen into young men of character.”
There’s also a large “This is Our House” panel, pinned with emblematic flags of a British England ilk to signify the House System, including “Brotherhood to the 6th Power”, a nice way to message how an individual becomes an integral part of the community. Uniquely, the House System page, also features a nice implementation of embedded social media, laying in Instagram and youtube elements to add some interesting content. Practically, too, the School is getting a lot of mileage out of the new website with features like Finaslite’s Calendar Manager, which allows the school to provide subscriptions, filtering, alerts, and display options that can be used in a traditional grid, but which can be used in other areas of the website without additional editing. Conversations with Canisius is another simple way to show value: with videos of people who believe in the school, were impacted by it, and want to share.
It’s not uncommon for someone viewing a new website design to say something along the lines of, “I like a clean design.” After all, who doesn’t like a clean design (or clean anything for that matter?) But what does a “clean design” really mean? If you’re looking for an answer by way of example the new website for Dauntsey’s School, a day and boarding school in Wiltshire, England, is as clean a clean design as one can find. This is not to say that the site is void of graphic interest; it’s simply to say that what graphic elements there are, combined with careful selection of typefaces, is a set of very deliberate choices that are above excluding as much as including. For instance, thin and narrow horizontal and vertical rules introduce natural space between images, short blurbs of text, infographics and the like. One panel, as another example, takes up the full screen but is only one image and one content block, offset slightly with a single background color.
The hero images throughout the site are also “clean”, a stunning example of framing, and composition, using foreground and background strategically, blurring everything but the key focal points -- usually large clear shots of student faces. Entry at 13+ is a landing page that is complete, but still simple and high value in terms of content, with an upcoming schedule and a welcoming picture. Toward the bottom are three next steps (also simple) that are easy guideposts for a prospective family to keep digging. This sense of a next step as you complete a page is consistent and relevant to each page, such as The Manor, which is an entry point for Lower School boarders who can then key into pastoral care, food and clubs and activities -- a thoughtful trifecta of top-of-mind interests that every parent of a younger child might be curious about.
In terms of The Villa Advantage, at Villa Marie Academy, well, it’s been happening since 1872, a school 150 years in the making. They provide, as the website says, “Unstoppable Excellence” which comes to bear in terms of belonging, core values, and IHS Charism, which is based on love, creative hope, and fidelity. Throughout the site, these themes play out in images, videos, and content of bright students, eager to learn and engage at a variety of ages and environments that would allow any parent to picture their own young child attending. And for those parents who are already lucky enough to have their child there, the large “Parents” button links to a one-stop-shop list of links and resources, perusable even by outside visitors who may want some insight into the school.
Pages like Important Dates is an excellent, evenly-divided page that clearly outlines what’s ahead for 2022 and 2023. And if you can’t find what you need, the Search magnifying glass in the header opens up more than just a free text bar, with a nicely organized set of Popular Links, one of which includes Tuition and Financial Aid. This page is worth checking out as it provides the cost of attending, of course, but also contains far more information about scholarships, 529 plans, and payment options -- all helping your average parent quickly understand a path to affording the education here.
It was nice to see the new launch of Jackson County School District’s website, if for no other reason than their last best-in-class design five or so years ago was also a shining example of great design, usability, and thoughtful approach. As a district of nine schools, tucked in the Smoky Mountains, the site needs to cover a lot of ground while creating a unified presence for the district -- all of this is bread-and-butter stuff for district websites these days, but to achieve that within the context of a beautiful site is much harder. Small touches make the difference: for instance, the carousel of quick link buttons running below the stunning hero images have faint spot colors of green and blue, a tiny bit of fill that adds depth to the outlines. The News & Events box has nice rounded corners, but is hooked on either corner by small quote balloons, a nudge to the website skimmer that this content is something conversational in nature and worth stopping in for, like a seat at the local diner. A few social posts fade in with slight animation just below that, powered by Finalsite Feeds to make it easy for administrators to moderate and share content from Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
A lovely grid of each school opens from the Schools Menu, but the list is enhanced with small thumbnails of each building, as well as contact information -- another nice touch that lets the user know the district wants to make life easier. Each school site follows the district’s aesthetic lead, coordinated by structure, type, and graphic design, but individualized with color, logo, and content. In this way, the district can ensure a consistent brand while not interfering with the autonomy of each school. The mega-menu, for instance, opens a navigation box that is unique to the school, with its own colorful topographic background to coordinate with the rest of the site. And on a practical note, critical areas like calendars are both district and school-specific, allowing Smoky Mountain High, for instance, to share its own high school events while allowing the district to include additional items across every school. Create Once, Publish Everywhere at its finest.
If you’re a New England boarding school with a college-worthy campus tucked in the beautiful mountains of western Connecticut and a century’s worth of history, you’ve got a lot to work with, and an equally tall mandate to have a website that says so. This website is beautiful, through and through photography is stunning; layouts are open and well-considered; typography is easy to read, and elegant and plays a key role in the overall aesthetic, and individual components such as Kent Traditions on the about page use a little bit of scroll-trickery to share what makes the student experience so unique here.
The Tuition and Financial Aid page is a lovely example of combining strong messaging with important information about affordability and applying for financial aid, while Campus & Town combines an interactive tour with local information in a page that serves both purposes nicely. Kent is guided by three principles: Simplicity of Life, Directness of Purpose, and Self Reliance -- which you can explore briefly using an interactive panel on the homepage while seeing it come to life as you explore the website. The Academics area of the website is robust, with full department pages and class descriptions alike. Have an interest in taking Greek or Latin? Or maybe a class on Dreams, Constitutional Law, or Astronomy? Kent has you covered…
Who doesn’t like a good apple for a logo, especially one that also represents planet Earth? Such is the case for Buena Park School District, who enlisted Finalsite’s design team to create a fantastic custom design that is fresh, with an open floor plan to give elements room to breathe. As a starting point, just after the beautiful hero image starts a section titled “Award Winning Schools” which gives ample space to showcase each of the middle schools and the five elementary schools. Similarly, News and Events is tabbed out using Finalsite Posts to allow for quick filtering and an even quicker way to see a slew of news without a lot of noise.
An elegant set of six icons in a peaceful light green rests overtop a semi-transparent image of students which leads the user to critical programs with more information. The panel with the principal is a nice addition, with a silhouetted image and two buttons to watch a video or learn more about him. Double-wide navigation dropdowns shrink and expand to the list, making for an easy-to-consume set of options for exploring. Individual School sites, like Mabel L. Pendleton, maintain a unified look and feel with the district while delivering a simplified site map and navigation geared just for them. With the beauty of “Create Once, Publish Everywhere”, content and respective elements can easily be shared or set up to provide customized content within a school website. Finalsite Posts is a Swiss Army knife of sorts, allowing for an unlimited number of ways to share, display and manage content.
More Custom Designs
We wish we could talk about every single one of our launches at great length, but alas, we can’t. There are just too many and too much to say! Please enjoy these terrific projects:
Oversized words abound on the new homepage for St. Joseph High School in Connecticut, starting with “On a Mission for More” and ending with “Thrive with Confidence”. It’s like a coach or a teacher ebbing you on as you run into the field or get up to the front of the classroom for a fresh attempt at public speaking. There’s so much motion in this best-in-class design that you can’t help but pause for a minute scrolling down just to take it all in. The best panel may be the one that explodes out of the word “Seek”, which, pulled in as if from a fishing line, takes you to options that finish the sentence: “Seek out your talents”. It’s a compelling directive, in a beautiful design. You can’t help but want to learn more.
Perhaps the most clever thing, among many, on the new website for Haverford, an all-boys PK-12 school in Pennsylvania, is an interactive desk of sorts, teased by a header, “Ready for School?” The desk teases you into a quick game of hide-and-seek as it reveals short blurbs, such as a 1908 yearbook that links into more about the school or the trombone that links to the arts landing page. More importantly, each surprise call-out also links to a form where you can quickly inquire. These top-of-funnel forms are critical to engaging a family early on with what interests them, especially effective when implemented as seamlessly and uniquely as this one.
Greensboro Day School, serving ages two to grade 12, uses its great new homepage design, bathed in green with beautiful touches of burnt oranges and reds, to make it about as easy as you can get for parents to get to know the school. The first panel “Why Choose GDS?,” with CTAs to learn more, is followed by a battery of infographics (each of which takes you to more information as well), which is followed by a panel designed to “Get to Know GDS”. In the simplest of definitions, a homepage is meant to start the conversation, and this one does just that.
“Known. Loved. Valued.” That’s what happens here at Fort Worth Christian School -- all told with lots of red, a nice cherry red that is distinguishing and cheery. Like most sites, there are calls-to-action, but it’s clearly spelled out: “Take a next step.” Likewise, just after the hero image, you can find a pathway to each division and start the process. The mission and values page is simple, but it reveals a hidden anagram for CARDS (to save you a step, it’s: C - Courageous Leadership, A- Always Learning and Growing, R - Respect for God, Self, Others, & Creation, D - Distinctive by Design, S - Spirit of Joyful Service), but also a nod to their mascot. Speaking of which, the Athletics section of the website is as good as any to show the features and functionality of Athletics Manager, which allows school administrators to post scores, schedules, rosters, and much more all via a simple interface on the backend, leveraging Composer’s flexibility in terms of layout and elements. And curious just how successful FWC is in athletics? Check out the College Recruiting page.
If a logomark ever set the tone for a school website, De La Salle’s sure does -- bright scripted writing on a tilt, with swirling dingbats to hold it in place, a kind of 50s throwback that almost works counter to the dramatic opening mages that establish the background for a school that takes its job very seriously -- where ”Islanders Are Everywhere.” The boldness of this visual holds its breath all the way down to the bottom of the page, where gold and black fend each other offer in sharp contrasting layouts and element design. Islander Voices and Stay Connected both bring a personal touch to the website, one powered by Posts and the other by Finalsite Feeds, both easy-to-use technology that helps editors quickly make updates vis-a-vis social channels or quick profile stories at the ready.
Bright colors, batik, diamonds, and branches of small leaves fill the design for the new launch of JIS, one of the largest international schools in the world. Just give the Campuses page a peek to see how broad the offering is in facilities, programs, and diversity. Likewise, recruiting top faculty is critical for any international school, but particularly for JIS, which employs over 750 people of over 20 nationalities; the Come Work at JIS page makes a compelling case for making the move. Interested in both? A simple inquiry form is all it takes…
The narrow, light gray navigation running along the right side gets you fast to what you might want to know about this private Catholic school in St. Louis, but you first have to avoid getting pulled into the video montage showcasing “Strong Values. Strong Women”. A big navigational overlay makes short work to get to the site’s interior pages, while the search and calendar icon are handy utilities, too. A nice Visiting page makes it easy to see the menu of options for getting to know the school better, with a nice video to open the page, a map, a calendar list, featured events, and contact information -- all in one convenient location.
It takes a minute to totally figure out what’s happening on the new website for Providence High School in Burbank, CA, but once you do it’s imminently satisfying: Ground Yourself, Uplift Others. Part of the double entendre here is that the words overlay the video -- one begets the other in effect, as if you have to understand the words in order to watch the students going about their day. Likewise, the navigation opens up to four large keywords that supplement their primary navigation: Care, Seek, Impact and Apply -- short words that are full of meaning, and each sending you off to a very intentional landing page. This is a website full of depth.
If your name includes “Independence” then you may as well run with it all the way down the field, making “Give Me Independence” a perfect message to set atop what are tremendous video clips, one a peaceful moment of a field, close up. The layout and design are big and open, with curves to break up the grid and variations of their feather logo to use as a graphic element, such as above a group of testimonials used for “In Our Words.” The Visit page is one of many excellent examples of putting all the right pieces into one place, organized and efficient -- a testament too of the great layout flexibility afforded by Composer, Finalsite’s content management system.
For a district with over over 18 schools and programs, their new website keeps it simple for the user, with a narrow strip of navigation on the left that leads to a full navigation and quick links to enrollment information, a school locator, board agendas, and a jobs board -- a sensible collection of some of the most critical information for key constituents. Our Schools, top left, opens a nicely compact multi-column list of schools organized by division, also with a School Locator, which provides quick access to each building. One example is Glen View Elementary School, which picks up the design of the district but is appropriately adjusted to be more suited for its target audience -- Bell Schedules and Breakfast & Lunch Menus are now in place of those handy links on the left.
Before even indulging in the big happy faces of kids doing all things kids do, your eyes can’t help but stop for a sec at the stout, personable eagle silhouetted against a bold red circle, pinned to the new design for The Carey School. This is the first of many bright colors that fill the design, an appropriate mix for a school in San Mateo, California that serves ages 3 to grade 5. The Carey Experience does a great job of introducing parents to the philosophy and mindset of this progressive school, with a nice content element to toggle through short blurbs about what makes the School so unique.
Aside from being an excellent custom design in and of itself, the new website for Academy of the Sacred Heart in Louisiana is a strong example of how to allow users to toggle between two related but different institutions, in this case, vis-a-vis a dark blue entry point top right to the Berchmans Academy site, which provides an all-boys school education, built around the same successful education framework as its sister counterpart. Site navigation is unique, but design coherence is obvious, creating a clear relationship that doesn’t take any explanation.
Primary colors don both the logo and the central interactive element on the homepage to create a vibrant design for this charter school website in Chester, PA. Integrated social media using Finalsite Feeds and news content makes for a fresh and authentic experience right out of the gate.
If you “Come be a knight”, as the new website for Charlotte Christian School, serving JK-12, encourages, then you can surely use #IAMKNIGHT, once you are, and the journey in between sounds like a fun one. The first stop is likely Kindergarten, where a series of videos makes it easy to get a feel for just what lies ahead for an aspiring knight.
Aside from the visual appeal of flipping cards, blue gradients, and a modest spectrum of greens and teals to supplement the palette, functionally Trinity Valley School has some nice touches, such as a dynamic list of events using Finalsite’s Calendar Manager, a clean accordion treatment, a colorful grid of pictures on its Fast Facts page, and a tagged, filterable collection of news stories, powered by Finalsite Posts. Cool to see Composer deep in action.
With a century’s worth of practice, Rossman has remained focused on how to educate four-year olds-all the way up to sixth grade, tucked in a 20-acre campus in St. Louis. The new website design is anchored by the big round letters of its name, all lowercase and fittingly with an apple for the “o.” A great at-a-glance page gives you all you need to understand the school, but there’s plenty to dig into elsewhere for prospective families to begin a conversation.
A narrow vertical navigation is one of many inventive design features of the new website for ZIS, the logo of which is its own colorful ribbon and serves the basis for curves and shapes throughout the website design. A yellow “Bilingual Pathway” button sits alone in the top right corner, while site translation, bottom right, keeps the barrier of language low. ZIS is a premier international school, so when a primary navigation item includes “Our Big Ideas”, it’s worth taking notice.
A big fluid curve is the main act for framing the opening homepage image, but it also underpins a child and parent reaching for a star -- all of which make an appearance in various graphic elements throughout. The cheery fire engine red brings the design to life, and the incorporation of AudioEye for accessibility and Weglot for site translation makes sure the site is available to as many users as possible. Each of the nine schools in the district maintains the coherence of the parent while having the autonomy to manage content, images, and the sitemap.
Here is a great example of when and how to set up a microsite for something as significant as a multi-million bond issue to support a huge array of projects across a timeline of years. The site provides information about oversight as well as opportunities for the community to ask questions and learn more, all self-contained within the same instance of the Finalsite platform as the district site, yet with an entirely unique design and architecture.
“All He Is Called To” is an interesting, if not momentarily ambiguous, message entree to this Benedictine, Catholic college preparatory school for 650 young men in grades 7-12, with a beautiful new website laid out in deep hunter green beneath a main building that could double for a castle in Ireland. Everything about this website is masculine -- even the typography -- with confident borders and treatments that seem as certain and intentional as the monks who teach there.
The mission of this school in Oklahoma City is made abundantly clear when an animated “Christ Centered” banner opens the homepage, which then reveals a lovely video montage. The homepage for Crossings Christian is a nice combination of evergreen content describing their mission with clear pathways for users with a collection of news and events in a neatly designed panel to keep it fresh
There’s a new international school coming to Chadwick Community of Schools, this one in Ecopark, Vietnam, joining the others in South Korea and California. The school is set to open in the Fall of 2023, so the new website’s job is building anticipation, and a successful accomplishment at that.
“Niente senza gioia!” exclaims the new website from La Scuola International School, serving kindergarten through Grade 8 in San Francisco, California, and the only IB World School in the city. Pastel blues, greens, and pinks lighten the design into a welcoming and open website.
A beautiful charter school website, dressed in blue with hints of gold, has this simple message: “Dream It. Do It.” This new design is beautiful with lots of interactive elements to keep you engaged, and one that will surely make other charter schools take note of just how high the bar should be.
Since 1876, this school has been educating children, PK to grade 8 -- one of a network of Sacred Heart Schools that have nailed down a formula that works with five simple ingredients: Faith, Learning, Justice, Community, and Growth. A deep, saturated red is the singular color used throughout, but with thin black and gray lines: the website is elegant and carefully built.
The easiest way to learn about this large Christian school of over 1,200 students in Colorado is to visit the Fast Facts page, an amalgam of infographics organized by area, such as arts and academics. Gigantic numbers are impossible to miss, with much to be proud of for a school that’s only been around for a decade and a half.
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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.