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Award-Winning Theme Website Tips from Heritage Christian School
Andrew Martin

Finalsite introduced the Finalsite Double Diamond Awards at Finalsite University in Chicago earlier this year to recognize all the amazing work our school webmasters put into their websites to create compelling content with Finalsite modules and tools. The award show was also meant to inspire school professionals to take their websites in new directions, try new ideas, and explore different ways to use Finalsite’s communications tools and modules. 

The third entry in our 10-part series recapping the Awards show, the Theme Design Award, recognizes schools that took a theme website the extra mile with inspired design choices, unique twists to the theme, and in the case of public schools, consistency across multiple websites. Our panel of judges were thoroughly impressed by the tough competition, but the first-ever winner for the Theme Design Award was ... Heritage Christian School


Heritage Christian School (IN)

Lauren Woolever and the communications team at Heritage Christian School impressed our judges with the thorough use of their style guide throughout the Avon Theme website. Heritage broke out of a standard mold and created page layouts that are logical and meaningful that stood out from the crowd. Crisp photographs of students, faculty, and the campus on the homepage and spread evenly throughout the interior pages was the icing on the cake.

Heritage Christian School website homepage

Tour the school’s website and you’ll notice the consistent use of the school’s deep blue and vivid orange colors, iconography, text callouts, callout buttons, headers, and blockquotes. Every page pulls its design directly from the school’s extensive and detailed style guide. The uniformity in design and colors helps tie the entire website together as one cohesive package that serves to both guide the visitors effortlessly from page to page while reinforcing the school’s brand.

Heritage Christian School Website Style Guide

Theme Design Best Practice

“You’ve spent the time (likely dozens of hours) carefully putting your style guide together, so use every aspect of the guide when designing and building your website,” said Project Manager Lisa Willsey. 

Add those blockquotes to your testimonial pages. Inspire your visitors to take action with big, bold calls-to-action throughout your website. Make use of tables, tabs, and accordions with your school’s design to keep your pages neat and orderly. Every added component of your style guide helps create an overall cohesive aesthetic that makes your website simple to navigate. 

Heritage Christian School homepage calendar

For example, the above “Upcoming Events” calendar on Heritage’s homepage is certainly bold and definitely stands out, but the vivid orange color keeps in line with the school’s style guide to maintain the aesthetic found throughout the website. The ultimate goal when designing and building any great website is creating an experience that is both informative and enjoyable with simple navigation for returning visitors and new visitors alike, Lisa said. 

 Download our Website Redesign Playbook to learn how your school can create websites like these!

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Clarkston Community Schools (MI)

Representing our public schools in the Theme Design category, Clarkston Public Schools wowed our panel of judges with the consistent use of high quality images throughout the 14 school district websites.

Clarkston Community Schools website homepage

“Mary Ellen has done a great job making their theme looks fantastic. She ensures they only utilize clean and crisp imagery, and she does a great job of sourcing these from people across the district,” said District Client Success Manager (CSM) Gerard Gustafson, one of the Theme Design judges.

Gerard also loved how Clarkston cloned and repurposed their theme design for their athletics pages since their athletics program has been incredibly successful in recent years. 

“Using our Madison Theme to build their websites, Clarkston takes a lot of pride in the careful attention to detail that went into their website to nail down the navigation to make moving from page to page and website to website within the district as simple and effortless as possible,” Gerard added. 

Clarkston Community Schools athletics homepage

Theme Design Best Practice

Professional-grade photos are crucial in today’s competitive school website landscape. Excellent photos are worth a thousand words, and they’re often better than text at conveying emotion and capturing attention. You can use a thousand or more words to describe what makes your school fun and engaging, but one image of a teacher walking an engaged student through their math lessons will always be more impactful. 

People are 65 times more likely to remember strong visuals and photos than they are text-based content on your website, and original images lead to 35 percent more conversions than stock imagery alone. Websites with tons of strong visuals and photos, like Clarkston Community Schools, receive up to 90 percent more website traffic than schools with few visuals or photos. 

The Value of High Quality Images and Photos infographic

You can watch our recent webinar to learn dozens of tips for taking better school website photos, and learn how our Resources module can help you manage your photo collections with just a few simple clicks, including easily adding alternative text to ensure ADA-compliance.

The Discovery School (FL)

Our panel of judges loved the unique approach to branding that The Discovery School used to create a Madison Theme-based website that feels as young and playful as the younger students that attend the school. 

“Sara has done a great job incorporating the school's branding into all of the elements of the website. As a one-person shop, she chooses great photos and creates pages of clean content that are easy to navigate and read,” said Jennifer Settle, the school’s CSM.

It may have been a small touch in the overall scale of the website, but the judges (and Jenn) absolutely loved the brushstroke aesthetic applied to images at the top of many of the pages found throughout the website, such as the “About Us” page below.

The Discovery School About Us website page

Discovery’s “News” page was another judge favorite with it’s playful and crisp little details in the images and icons that continues the playful aesthetic found throughout the website, helped largely through the school’s unique soft blue and yellow colors that are warm and inviting. 

The Discovery School News website page

And just like Heritage and Clarkston, The Discovery School took the extra time to craft a simple and easy-to-use navigation system that’s never frustrating to use and always take you to exactly where you want to go. Discovery’s website is a well-branded reminder that less can be more when it comes to creating a cohesive and uniform design. 

Theme Design Best Practice

As The Discovery School’s website shows, simplicity is often better than complexity. It can be easy to become too wrapped up in design trends and fall victim to the trappings of adding too much to the website in terms of assets and flair that drown out the basic necessities like a good, simple navigation system. 

“Clean, consistent, and simple navigation menus throughout the website will always be more important and useful than superfluous flair,” Lisa said. 

Westmark School (CA)

Last, but certainly not least, is Westmark School. Westmark impressed our judges with a Theme Design-based microsite dedicated entirely to their annual report, affectionately called “The Magic of Westmark.”

The Magic of Westmark microsite homepage

“This is a great use of a theme design to quickly launch a standalone annual report site. It will be built on Publications next year. For this microsite, Westmark made great use of our Posts module and the Ledyard Theme to show off photography, events and donations from the past year,” said Sam Lipscomb, Westmark School’s CSM.

Scroll through the eight-section homepage of the microsite and you’re greeted with large, high quality images that break the microsite down into theme-based sections: one for a message from the school’s leaders, another for a year in review, and so on. The bold white text over the pictures provides just enough information for the reader, and the large calls-to-action with the unusual shows that annual reports don’t always have to be all business and professional.

The Magic of Westmark Financial Report section of the microsite homepage

Click the button and you’re taken to the Financial Report page that provides a complete break down of the school’s operating income and operating expenses with equally clear and concise text and pie charts. The star banner across the top and the student testimonial at the bottom, along with the colorful text choices, help breathe life and playfulness into what could have otherwise been a boring, data-driven page. 

The Magic of Westmark Financial Report page

Key Takeaway

These four schools proved that Finalsite’s theme websites are anything but cookie-cutter through intuitive navigation systems, impactful imagery, intelligent branding, and simplicity that naturally lends itself to an enjoyable user experience. These four fundamental basics are key to elevating an average website into an award-winning theme website. 

Whether your school is working on a tight budget or timeline, Finalsite can help you design, build, and launch a theme website like these in 60 days or less. We cannot wait to see what schools submit next year for our second annual Double Diamond Awards Show during Finalsite University 2020 next March in Orlando, Florida.

Learn more about Finalsite Theme websites


As Finalsite’s Product Marketing Specialist, Andrew writes blogs and creates videos to share information about all the latest and greatest Finalsite products. Andrew has more than 10 years of video production experience and a journalism degree from the University of South Carolina. He has an incredible passion for movies, television, reading, and writing fantasy and science-fiction. 

  • Awards
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  • Double Diamond Awards
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  • Marketing/Communications
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