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What 9 Recent Award-Winning School Websites Have in Common
Mia Major

In this article we explore how 9 recent award winning school websites from the US have been awarded design awards from the most prestigious digital design and advertising competitions in the world including the Hermes Creative Awards, IAC Awards and AVA Digital Awards. In each competition, school websites are judged by industry professionals from companies like Google and Disney, and compete on an international level against hundreds of other companies and schools.

website in three different devices

Here Are Our Winners For January - May Of 2017:


  • MARVELWOOD SCHOOL | Honourable Mention
  • WALNUT HILL SCHOOL FOR THE ARTS | Honourable Mention

  • LAURALTON HALL |Outstanding Website
  • SUMMER AT LAWRENCE | Best School Website

  • At first glance they don't have much in common aside from all being Finalsite clients. They're from different countries and states, target different audiences, and have entirely different brands and messages. But their websites actually have a lot in common — not the design, of course, but rather the process and elements that created it. Here's what three of our American school website designers — Julianne Hamilton, Nathan Lyttle and Keisha Croxton — who worked on these award-winning pieces discovered about the elements that connect these award-winning websites:

    They Have A Deep Understanding Of Their Brand, Message, Audience, and Purpose

    Award-winning websites go beyond a beautiful design. In every case, the way a website design brings a school's brand and message to life through the careful use of colours, fonts, and design enhancements is equivalent.

    "These schools came with great assets: images, videos, quotes and other content to work with," said Julianne. "They came with a clear sense of who they were and any misconceptions they were trying to overcome, and I was able to run with that when designing their website."

    That being said, when you start with a unique obstacle, it allows you to come up with a unique solution that no one can copy or replicate.

    This Results In Some Really Cool Design Enhancements, Such As:

    Princeton Academy's "chapter book" themed design element:

    chapter book

    Summer at Lawrence's colour-changing background:

    summer at lawerence's

    They Take Risks

    Take a look at each of these schools in the winner's circle, and you'll notice that each one of their homepages has at least one unique feature. "These schools are willing to take risks," said Julianne. "And they're always glad they did."

    Take a look at The Wood's Academy's website, and you'll notice is looks nothing like the rest, primarily because it scrolls horizontally, rather than vertically. It also doesn't feature the standard large header photo or video. It's simple, elegant, and puts their message front-and-centre.

    woods academy website

    They Trust Their Designers

    Micromanagement is a great way to cripple your design's progress. "These award-winners trust that we're the experts," said Juliane.

    Last January, we shared the process that led to Purnell School's award-winning website, and the Head of School Jeff Beedy echoed this sentiment: "You need to get the right people on the bus. Once you do that, you need to let humans go, and allow them to pursue their passion, freedom, and mastery."

    When you trust your designers, you end up with new ways to share content — like this interactive Q & A panel on Marvelwood's homepage:

    why marvelwood

    They Put In A Lot Of Effort On Their End, Too

    Our deployment team recommends spending at least five hours per week adding content into your school's website once it is in the deployment process. However, many schools wait until the very end, and either cram all content strategy into a couple days, or launch later than expected.

    "All of these schools put a lot of effort and time in on their end too, really putting some love into the interior pages," said Julianne.

    Take a look at Avon Old Farms for Example, who make the most out of a simple interior page design layout with photos, videos and text. Our team didn't show them how to do this, they did it on their own.

    avon old farm school website

    "Being able to maintain the design and content is definitely key. So many times I've seen sites where the final design was fantastic, but they couldn't keep up with the content over time," added Keisha.

    They Aren't Copy Cats

    Take a look at each one of these designs — none of them are a conventional panel design. Whether it is a different use of white space, an innovative scrolling technique, or a first-time implementation of a new animation, each of these schools looked to themselves for inspiration, not someone else.

    "As designers, we're always striving to create the next great thing," said Nathan. "I love when my clients look outside of their immediate competitors and even our portfolio of designs for inspiration and trust that we want theirs to be the website that the others want to copy."

    For more information about how the Finalsite UK team can help you school build a better online presence, speak to one our education consultants.


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