It’s no secret how important your website is. The 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report from Ruffalo Noel Levitz found that 71% of high school seniors rate college websites as the most important communication channel for learning about a college.
If you want Gen Z to take you seriously, your web design has to meet their heightened expectations, and your content has to be relevant and real. Let’s start with design. Are you up to speed on the latest trends? You’d better be, because they are—and prospective students equate the quality of your site to the quality of your institution. According to the 2015 Ruffalo Noel Levitz E-Expectations Report, "nearly eight out of 10 high school juniors and seniors said that a college website affects how they perceive an institution."
A recent Forbes article identified “The Five Most Important Website Design Trends That Will Emerge In 2017.” But slapping on glitzy new styles may not be so simple for higher ed websites, as you’re necessarily dealing with large amounts of content.
Since applying new trends in our context requires some unique skill and creativity, the Forbes article inspired us to come up with our own “5° Top Five” for higher ed websites.
- Responsive Design—This fundamental is now an expectation, and it’s been the norm for the past five years. A responsive website is designed to be viewed and experienced in a similar way regardless of what device you’re using. Some sites even take a “mobile first” approach in their initial conception. With over 70% of U.S. web traffic coming from mobile devices, a site that is not responsive is inadequate, and prospective students are taking note. Pull up SEBTS and the University of Nebraska on your phone to see examples of quality responsive design.
- GO BIG and go small—The first of the four C-R-A-P design principles is Contrast, and this principle is critical for higher ed website design. Fear of scrolling and an “above the fold” mentality have given way to larger, more immersive interfaces and content organization. Big is in, but so is small. Large, full-width images, full screen video, big buttons, and sweeping headlines can merge with areas of smaller content, patterns, and micro design to create engaging contrast and visual hierarchy. Bucknell and the University of Tennessee offer good examples of sites that have embraced this principle.
- A Robust Style Toolbox—Beyond the basic H-styles and div tags, .edu sites should take a page from Kenyon College and UNR to develop a toolbox of styles and design elements for use throughout the site. The goal is to balance uniformity with unique content needs in a way users feel at home as they view your site.
- Parallax Scrolling and Interactivity Paired with Micro-Interactions—The idea of layering content to move at different speeds as you scroll (parallax scrolling) has been around for several years. Rather than a fad that will come and go, we see it as an evolving tool to engage the user and aid in storytelling. The Forbes article describes micro-interactions as “user enabled interactions that provide control, guidance or rewards, or just impart fun to the experience for the user.” Johns Hopkins University and the University of Texas capital campaign site show innovative use of this idea.
- Beyond the Home Page—Because prospective students and other site users are entering your site through a variety of channels (Google search, SEM campaigns, cross-linking, etc.), your site can’t put all its eggs in the home page basket. Gateway, landing, and program pages are just as important as home page interface design and functionality. The University of Nebraska knows this well. See the value they’ve placed on a number of pages beyond the home page—Why UNL?, visitor, about, and cost & aid.
Your prospective students are increasingly engaging websites with today’s best design features.
Are you incorporating these “Top Five” trends in your web design?
Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2016). 2016 e-recruiting practices report for four-year and two-year institutions. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Retrieved from www.RuffaloNL.com/BenchmarkReports.
Ruffalo Noel Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, & NRCCUA. 2015 e-expectations report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 2015. Available at www.RuffaloNL.com.
Kloefkorn, Sheila. Forbes. Forbes Community Voice. Dec. 21,. “The Five Most Important Website Design Trends That Will Emerge In 2017.” www.forbes.com