When someone visits your school website, does it reflect positively on your school? What kind of image would someone form if he or she could base it solely on their experience with your school website?
Image is everything. Well, not everything, but it counts for a lot. Especially when it comes to websites.
Even an airlines with a sparkling safety and on-time record can suffer from a major image problem if the peanuts are stale or the seat cushions are tattered. A bad impression left by the very visible evidence of a poorly designed school website can be an inaccurate representation of your school.
You might have the best and brightest staff, students, parents, and facilities. Your debate teams and sports teams may have no peer. Your teachers’ lesson plans could be innovative and award-winning; more National Honor Society members than you can count; National Blue Ribbon School. But when parents visit your website and leave frustrated or with a bad impression, it hurts your school’s reputation.
It’s what the public sees that drives perceptions, and your website design plays a big role in how your school is perceived.
What everyone expects from your website
Websites these days are expected to not only look professional, but be well designed in terms of usage and navigation. It should be up to date. Frequently used information such staff directories, calendar events and even lunch menus should be easy to find. As the content core for your school’s social media, it needs to be mobile friendly more than ever before. Your school website is the communications hub for your district.
It’s important to have not only a professional-looking website, but a website that is designed well. Design, to paraphrase Apple founder Steve Jobs, is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works. In order to fully communicate and engage, your school website needs to work well and look good.
Great businesses invest in good websites, for they know how they connect online with the public. Their website can make or break them. The same can be said for any organization or school district that relies on communications to be successful.
Good website design can help build trust
The whole concept of trust is at the heart of the school environment. When I was in school (I can hear it now: oh no, here we go again), the doors were wide open, visitors were encouraged, and teachers and staff were regarded as leaders of the community.
While teachers remain among the most important shapers of our future, the landscape of how schools interact and are perceived has come under greater scrutiny.
The task of building connections between the school and community is becoming more difficult too in this fast-moving, cluttered world. School communications has never been more important in building trust. Parents and community members must rely on a school’s media savvy – including websites, social media and non-digital communications – to form their opinions and (you hope) feel good about the school.
Great web design can engender trust in any organization. According to web credibility research from Stanford, 75 percent of users admit to making judgments about an organization’s credibility based on their website’s design.
If your website suffers from poor design, it frankly may appear you don’t care about other aspects of the school (see tattered airline seats). A quality website can set the precedent of expectations and reinforce the very values you’ve devoted a career to building.
If your school website does not reflect the quality of the school, you are missing a big opportunity.
Would you trust a real estate agent with the major financial investment of buying a home if he pulled up in a run down, sputtering 1983 K-Car?
Create the positive experience.
Okay, so what constitutes good design? It’s not simply colors, layout, images and such.
Famous furniture designer – famous, at least, in furniture circles – Charles Eames said that design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose. He came up with a revolutionary comfy office chair design that certainly puts a premium on function. His award-winning career created design concepts that transcend furniture and can be applied even to website design principles.
So think of making your website a comfortable experience for your users. Comfortable, I might add, applies to not only your website visitors, but your school’s users as well – the ones responsible for managing the site. Your school’s communications director or the various content managers or writers assigned to keep your web content current need a comfortable, well-designed website too.
The more organized your website is – the better designed it is – the more inviting it will remain, building confidence in your visitors that they’ll get the information they need when they visit.
Remember, people are not coming to you website because they want to, they are looking for information. Your school website design can make or break their experience.
The ability to get around on your site and find what they need reflects on how well your school is organized. The more organized your website is, the more inviting it will remain, building confidence in your visitors that they’ll get the information they need when they visit. What’s more, they’ll want to stay connected, improving the overall education experience for all involved.
Not finding what you need or dealing with a poorly organized website can put your school in a negative light.
Design on the move
Not only do you need good design for your school website, you need responsive design. A website built on responsive design means one that automatically reformats its layout to be readily viewed on any mobile device. The website ‘responds’ to the phone or tablet on which it’s being viewed.
Responsive design Is no longer a luxury for schools who want to reach the growing number of parents and staff who access the internet using their phones. According to Pew Research, the number of adults using phones to access the internet as high as 55 percent. This number skews heavily for younger adults and lower-income adults, but one thing is certain, the number of mobile users hitting your site is rising.
The perception of your school
Your website is a major touch point of you school brand. Not the only one, but it’s a major one. Your school’s mission is lived out in its brand, its promise. Brand, remember, is not just the look of your product or service, but the customer’s or, in your case, the entire community’s experience with your school.
Any school communicator serious about its school or district’s image should put a lot of stock into how a website plays into the overall brand experience for the entire school community. It’s not only parents, after all, that you’re trying to engage, but your students, staff, media and community members – who are all influenced by your school’s brand. Influence that can translate into better attendance at PTO meetings and sporting events; more participation in fund-raising events; more engagement on social media channels; or even more votes for a school tax levy.
Forbes magazine contributor Lori Geller, in a column on brands, makes an insightful comment that can be applied to your school. Sometimes a brand is memorable because of the little things.
Little things like: the professionalism and friendliness of a teacher. Or the cleanliness and orderliness of the school grounds. The synchronized student cheering sections at the football games. A well-written email from the school principal. A basketball coach that always exhibits good sportsmanship and demands the same from his players. A website that is well designed and keeps people coming back.
No stale peanuts on your flight
As the communications headquarters for your school or district, your website is more than just a place to view the calendar of events, see what’s for lunch or check the football schedule. It’s more than just making information available to your audiences.
Your school website should be a reflection of your school – the students, the staff, the facilities, the experience. It has more visitors, after all, than the front lobby, the football game or any school play. Your website’s design is more important than you may realize.
Your school may very well be that airline with the sparkling on-time performance and spotless safety record, but are you making sure the peanuts are fresh, the flight attendants are helpful and friendly, and the seats aren’t tattered?
Use great design on your school website to insure it reflects just how great your school truly is.
As co-founder of Campus Suite, Steve believes behind every great school is great communication. His tech savvy and passion for design fuel his desire to help administrators understand, embrace and seize the power of web communications.