- Independent Schools (United Kingdom)
What happens when you take a three-century-old school (Royal Hospital School, 1712), one energetic, talented marketing manager and one leading school website design company and attempt to create a bold new website? Beauty and functionality. The Royal Hospital School website proves there's no need to choose between the two.
Like many other institutions of its era, the Royal Hospital School's old website seemed traditional, sober and somewhat repetitive: picture old-style school crests and navy blue. Nothing shabby about school crests and the colour navy—in fact RHS had good reason to celebrate that particular hue. The school was founded as part of Greenwich Hospital's mission to educate children from sea-faring backgrounds and continues to do so today.
A major issue though, says Marketing Manager Jak Blackwood, was that the old look failed to reflect RHS's distinct identity—down-to-earth, purposeful and nurturing of all students, not only those university bound. "The elements used in the old site made the school's look blend into that of a lot of other schools," Jak says.
Jak Blackwood knows websites—he's overseen website redesigns for two well-established independent schools, worked for a leading website design firm, and is familiar with video production, having worked and taught in the field.
Impetus for redesigning RHS's website was a larger rebranding effort the school undertook with the aid of a creative agency and when Jak arrived at RHS eighteen months ago, he found the school's marketing makeover well underway. The enterprise ultimately led to a re-energised colour palette, a compelling new logo and lots of visuals and text for a new website. It also resulted in a new position statement: "Navigating Success." This campaign offers a powerful insight into the school's mission with visual and linguistic homage to the unique naval history that continues to inspire its values.
The rebranding work yielded valuable material for the school's new website. Now for the right people to guide and implement development of what's arguably one of an independent school's most important marketing tools.
Jak presented his committee-the Headmaster, the Director of Communications, the Bursar and the IT Manager with the best of the UK's web design firms and let them sort it out. "I wanted people who used a science-based approach to website development, one that relied on statistics, not just beautiful design."
Finalsite (then School Website) was just that company. "We could tell the creative team, led by Production Manager Kealan Duffy to 'Just go for it.' They got it almost immediately," says Jak.
"The Royal Hospital School website is a fantastic example of where the design process can take a school with a clear understanding of its key messages and the desire to push creative boundaries." Says Kealan.
Every stage of the design focused on promoting these inspiring messages through a vibrant and modern creative direction. The outcome is not only distinctive, but deliberately tailored to engage the school's specific target audience: ambitious, confident and dedicated young learners.
Besides developing a fresh new look, the school needed Finalsite to improve user experience and navigation, elements vital to any website. "There were too many entrance points on the old site, one for each of the lower, middle and upper schools." Jak says three diffuse entry points resulted in duplication and confusion. "It was hard for visitors to the site to tell where they were."
In addition, the old site was somewhat cantankerous. "Keeping it updated was difficult," says Jak. "Editors had no control, and the design wasn't dynamic." For Jak, also the school's webmaster, the ability to change or update the site easily and visitor comfort were major goals.
Finalsite's Content Management System (CMS), Composer, provided an empowering solution. "With Composer," says Jak, "you can just do it. There's flexibility within the templates and layouts. "Jak particularly loves the ability to navigate and present information with tabs or accordion style menus.
Right now, Jak manages and develops the website alone, with occasional strategic direction from his boss, Sophie Baybrooke, Director of Communications. He's looking forward to sharing some of that responsibility by teaching co-workers to use Finalsite's user-friendly CMS so they can further enhance the digital presence. "(The prospect) doesn't strike fear into me as it once would have."
Finalsite's training materials have bolstered Jak's confidence. "The school ran an awareness campaign with a dedicated landing page. The external company in charge had no trouble updating it after I gave them access to Finalsite videos and trainings on Composer. I just left them to it."
The feedback on RHS's new site has been very positive overall, says Jak. He's currently working on pages for key audiences in addition to prospective buyers--alumni and current parents.
So far, no news about the revamped website's return on investment—that's next on Jak's plate—but expectations are high!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Motor City Girl who: reads, writes & loves her three kids unreservedly; Also, gardening and proofreading. Believer in magic of all sorts.
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