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Fall is here! For me, it’s the hay bales and pumpkins, the crisp cool air and clearest of blue skies that make this season my favorite. And no doubt, it’s a season for launching a lot of new websites! As schools tippy-toe around a day-to-day that is peppered with coronavirus landmines, private schools also know that the din of this year’s admissions and recruitment cycles is calling loudly, and their district counterparts need to polish their message and communications to instill confidence and clarity.
Here’s the roundup of the latest school website launches for September...
September Custom Launches
Viewpoint School | California
If you’re feeling a little stuck at home, maybe you should skip Viewpoint’s new launch, because you’d have a hard time not wanting to visit this stunning place in California from just watching the opening video.
Set in what appears to be rolling mountains, this coed K-12 private school throws it all at you — ceramics, robotics, soccer, theater, dance — with shots of kids in masks that bring today’s reality into the mending with an aerial perspective that is both peaceful and beautiful.
As if this video hook wasn’t enough for this best-in-class design, the rest of the homepage captures the school through a series of interactive panels — one for Viewpoint voices, student life, the mission and more — all assembled with a color scheme and design that seamlessly connects the top to the bottom with engaging interactive components, subtle animations, and big clear pictures.
Second tier pages, like Who We Are (and even pages deeper in, like Honor Societies) are great examples of creative information architecture, made possible through the flexibility of Composer, Finalsite’s content management system. Multiple columns, images weaved through the text, and video on pages like Music and Arts avoid the common homogeneity that many other websites have.
Mount Tamalpais School | California
Speaking of beautiful places in California, the new website for Mount Tamalpais, a K-8 school in Mill Valley just 400 miles or so due north from Viewpoint, is in an equally stunning location, and kids take focus through the media-rich homepage. The prompt to “Discover” — located at the bottom center just above the fold — encourages the user to scroll and do just that.
The MTS Experience lets you take a deeper dive of the school with targeted content and well-selected images that fit perfectly with layout.
Likewise, the navigation bar, opening from a hamburger icon, is clean and easy to navigate, leading to a very smooth user experience. The site is easy, which is what we want all of a K-8 experience to be.
Charles E Smith Jewish Day School | Maryland
Philosophically, the new website for Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School is captured quite succinctly in the header: “Where Tradition Meets Innovation”. This juxtaposition seems to come naturally to the school — as showcased in the website’s video — which blends teachers wearing headsets while lecturing with students manipulating a robotic hand, or kids molding clay interlaced with building entryways that evoke a school firm in its belief system.
Homepage panels titled Community Voice, Get The Facts and Lion Pride, further down, combine to showcase a school with lots going on and much to talk about. The Hebrew translation in the navigation rollover is just one example of ensuring the website speaks directly to prospective Jewish families. Even the hamburger menu, with a full screen overlay, has this convenient translation.
Accent colors of orange, red, and green all help to break up the standard bearer blue, which is used just enough to make an impact. On the inside, pages like Mission and Values explain its core beliefs, grounded in Jewish tradition and education, while the Jewish Life shows how the school lives those values every day.
Kansas City Public Schools | Missouri
All I can say about this new district website is: Wow! Where to start? Maybe with something routine, like “Select a School”. The simple navigation element is website design at it’s finest, with a clean overlay, a simple tabbed navigation and an easy-to-read list of schools — perhaps the single most important design challenge for a big district.
Or how about the News and Social tab, hooked to the left? It slides open to reveal its social channels, without having to gum up the homepage design, with a nice featured story and a tightly designed grid of more stories below.
The KCPS in “We Are KCPS” is hollowed out, revealing more of the high-energy video underneath, but mirroring the thin rule that helps contain the design. The primary navigation is unconventionally at the bottom, but this is just as intuitive to use with a mega nav standing up instead of floating down. This is all happening, and I haven’t even started scrolling!
Because so much is already handled by way of navigation and tabs, the rest of the homepage can focus on telling a story — “KCPS Cares” puts words to their mission, while framing a few key distinctions.his is followed, in turn, by a very compelling statement from the superintendent: "Our schools are not factories that produce identical goods. The community has given us the tough, but invaluable job of addressing the singular educational needs of all our students.” That hits home.
Lastly, there’s an entire panel — “Engage” — devoted to involving the greater community, with CTAs set up for mentors, parent organizations and the like. This is a district who so clearly understands what it takes to succeed, including the website.
School Year Abroad | Massachusetts
I must admit, there’s a touch of envy seeing pictures of students in some of the most beautiful spots in Europe, but that’s no doubt the intent of the new website for School Year Abroad, which has been providing exchange programs with schools in Italy, Spain and France to over 8,000 students over 50 years.
Within the design, the hint of animation — such as the dashed line of an airline path, or the outlines of the Eiffel Tower that stretch from the bottom of the footer — extend the metaphor of travel and movement; after all, this is an organization that inspires kids to spend time in amazing places outside of the world they know.
Landing pages like SYA France are great examples of using Finalsite Composer CMS to build layouts that span multiple columns and integrate different kinds of images and content — all of which makes the critical content about SYA’s program easy to skim or read in depth, broken up with pictures and calls-to-action.
As we all look toward a future when the coronavirus is behind us, SYA’s program on their new website will be even more appealing and important. A great time to launch!
The McGillis School | Utah
If your school name ends with “is”, why not take advantage of it? When those two letters fill up with orange on the new homepage, the lead-in makes perfect sense. McGillis IS many things and “different” is one of them, perhaps best exemplified by the group picture of kids jumping at uneven heights in the Why McGillis is Different landing page.
The mountains of Salt Lake City make their appearance in various pictures, as if watching protectively from a distance, but the site is all about close-ups, with ample opportunity to get to know the school: Meet a Magpie, a carousel of short testimonials, is a fun way to do that. The hamburger navigation opens a panel covering half the screen, which lays out a curated navigation that keeps things simple. One infographic stood out among the others: “30”, modified with “Years of having respect for all,” is the kind of open-armed embrace we hope all schools imbue in a child’s education.
North Shore Country Day School | Illinois
No question, the coolest use of icons I’ve seen in recent memory is halfway down the homepage of North Shore Country Day School, a school just over 100 years old serving grades PK-12. There are four trees, artistically and carefully drawn, each at a different height and growth in their branches and leaves, each of which serve as natural entry points to the divisional landing pages; the message of fostering growth and maturity is abundantly clear. That’s just one unique aspect of the design intent on capturing what it can of such an impressive school.
Then there’s the purple, and the thick san serif typeface, and the implied connectedness of interlaced lines within the logo, which resemble two shields or leaves locked together — all of which combine to make for an inviting page to read well-crafted content and appreciate excellent photography.
Quality pages continue beyond the homepage, where it matters: Live and Serve lays out an extensive service program; The Arts is full and rich with pictures; and the College Counseling landing page is comprehensive, to name a few. Attention to detail at every turn has made the difference.
Town School for Boys | California
An all-boys K-8 school is not common in the world of independent schools, but Town School for Boys, a K-8 school in San Francisco, makes a strong case for why there should be, having had this focus since its founding in 1939. Through featured call-outs and distinctions like “Raising Boys of Character and Impact”, Town School takes a broader and more holistic view of educating boys through its core values, each of which is separately featured just below the homepage hero image, and by its educational approach, which is mapped out with images colored by a tinted overlay and interactive hover states.
Pages like the Meet our Faculty and Staff use big professional-grade pictures to talk about the people who teach at and lead the school, while the Portrait of a Graduate provides insights into the positive outcomes for attending. The integrated social media, using Finalsite Feeds, helps bring authenticity to the site with regular posts from Instagram showcasing school life.
Evangelical Christian School | Tennessee
There’s something slightly hypnotic about the homepage slideshow on the new ECS website: each brightly-colored hero image flashes up and then slowly enlarges in the slightest of animations, bringing the vivid scenes to life. This, of course, is just the start of the user’s journey for this Christian school, serving ages two-grade 12 in Memphis, TN.
The testimonials further down the page, framed in burgundy, feature members of the community, with short quotes that are short but crafted to resonate with prospective families. Fast facts just above highlight just want a unique place ECS is, one notable one being the scholarships earned by its graduating class - $12.1 million!
UNIS Hanoi | Vietnam
Integrating a hashtag — in this case #UniquelyUNIS — into the first and primary headline on the new homepage for UNIS Hanoi (one of just two United Nations schools in the world), is a clever way to accomplish two goals: build social awareness and tie it all back to the school’s core value proposition.
In this case, that value is exemplified by a colorful infographic grid of impressive stats that are jacked up by a short narrative panel on the right. Curious about alumni? 5000 across 85 countries! Looking for a diverse campus? 65 nationalities and 35 native languages spoken. And on and on.
There’s a nice news feature worth checking out for its use of solid color and line art, combined with four features with headline overlays — clean and effective. The community and alumni spotlights add a personal charm to the homepage, connecting you with people that have inspiring stories to share. The simple line art, evoking the culture of Vietnam, is an added design touch that continuously grounds the school in its geography.
Rectory School | Connecticut
The cupola alongside Rectory School’s logo is a classic New England boarding school symbol. And while this one is well-pointed and balanced, it is also drawn from a perspective that is asymmetric, with a tapered curve at the bottom — a slightly untraditional twist with which the Rectory School is making its own. For a junior boarding school serving grades K-9, these qualities are important: an education that is rooted in tradition (100 years in the making), but has evolved into a place that can’t be found elsewhere.
The opening video is a compelling montage of kids engaged, and not just anywhere — in a beautiful, rural location in Pomfret, CT. The story unfolds as you scroll and navigate through the panels on the homepage — value proposition points, integrated social media, a carousel of calendar items — all designed and augmented by big serif type, and lots of black and orange, a color combination that adds a permanence to everything. Landing pages, such as for Admissions or At A Glance, combine a lot of Composer CMS elements into pages that are packed with important information but are easy to navigate.
Just want to poke around campus? The Virtual Tour is an excellent way to go.
British School of Jakarta | Indonesia
Over 50 countries represented by 1200 students makes for a very diverse campus, and the new website for BSJ tells that story through a slew of images that make their way into gallery carousels, video, testimonials and the like.
The homepage video starts on hyper-speed, a frenetic opening of a school ready to start, but then settles into a familiar pacing that is fast, but just enough, affirming, in a way, that every minute counts.
The design of the website is understated, leveraging the school’s blue and red throughout to frame a common theme of a school with much to offer. “A Bridge to the World” captures the geographic reach, rendered as a tagline as well as a header to a set of compelling infographics.
The homepage also features some nice examples of carousels: one, for news, using a big news item front and center; one for accreditations and memberships, which is a nice idea; one for matriculations to colleges, which is a key question for prospective parents; and one for the infographic panel. These serve as a good example as any of deploying one design device in many shapes and sizes.
Campaign Microsite for Ursuline Academy of Dallas | Texas
Who wouldn’t want to get out their checkbook when perusing the new capital campaign site for Ursuline Academy, a 146-year old all-girls private school in Texas?
The microsite is beautiful with its deep reds and a symmetrical background pattern of intricate lighter and darker lines that somehow create a sense of motion. Which is the point, to do something: “Act. Move. Believe.” — the opening message tells you. The parallax effect on scrolling is well-executed, revealing campus scenes that appear just as each imperative “Act!” is further defined.
The subpages are also notable. Campaign Priorities lays out the three goals simply, while Donor Voices puts faces and testimonials to the gifts in a sharp layout. An $85M goal is tremendously ambitious, but the shield marking progress on the homepage is already 67 percent full; like the broader www site, this campaign site tells a story of a school that goes right after it and gets it.
St. John's Episcopal Parish Day School | Florida
The thin lines that divide the video on the new St. John’s Episcopal Parish Day School website has the effect of looking through a window — we’re literally getting a glimpse, so to speak, of a school in action.
Speaking of school in action — the site’s accent font, which resembles chalkboard writing — is a subtle visual hand wave to a school’s history before the digital era hit.
The site is sophisticated, too. The successfully implemented homepage panels, which feature clean lines, interesting patterns and a compelling “by the numbers” infographic — 35 percent of SJE employees have worked at the school for more than 10 years! That’s impressive.
The footer is worth noting as a great example for multi-campus schools on how to use a map and pushpins to explain where everything is — the fact that it’s on every page is convenience at its best.
The Swiss British School of Basel | Switzerland
Perhaps it’s the colors, or the style, of the opening video montage on the new homepage of ELA Basel — with the aerial view of an unquestionably European town — that makes it almost feel like a throwback to an earlier decade. But in just a few seconds we zoom in to opening school scenes, including a happy infant being handed over to a teacher — something we don’t see very often. After all, this is the audience for the site — parents of very young children, who are looking for an extension of their family to raise and educate their youngest. The site overall is very contained and simple; you could probably visit every page in one sitting. But this is a nice change.
September Theme Launches
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.
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