Not just another pretty higher education website
by Chris Hartigan
Georgia Tech’s new website is fantastic. Engaging, clean, informative, it really helps tell the impressive and dynamic story of who Georgia Tech is, where the school has been and where it is going. Granted the previous site wasn’t all that terrible, but the “before” and “after” from this week’s new site launch highlights how impactful creative design, fresh perspective, and of course a little imagination can be.
But the new GaTech.edu isn’t just a pretty site. There are five key elements that quickly and forcefully inform visitors of who Georgia Tech is and more importantly why Georgia Tech matters. And in a noisy higher education marketplace where schools struggle for differentiation, especially online, the ability to standout is very important.
1) Goodbye “hero” image, hello statement! Gatech.edu’s first impression is a visual one, and it alone tells a story. More and more we’re seeing schools replace the “hero” image idea with a “statement” image. Hero images fit within the confines of a page and can be bold but don’t themselves tell the full story. Hero images are pictures of leafy campuses, a diverse group of students talking and laughing (with backpacks slung casually over their shoulders), or maybe even a smiling student athlete. Statement images don’t fit into a page – they are the page. And they don’t tell a story about what the campus looks like or highlight a notable professor; they tell a compelling story about the institution itself in a very powerful way.
2) What is the Georgia Tech community talking about right now? Just go to the homepage to find out! Can you imagine devoting valuable real estate on your home page to your live twitter feed? This demonstrates a bold acceptance of how communication is changing and an impressive understanding of how various web and social tools can be brought together to support one continuous digital conversation.
3) Who is the customer and what do they want to know? Here’s a quick question: do you think that prospective students coming to your website would rather have easy access to the median starting salary for various degrees from your school, or would they rather have easy access to the obligatory welcome letter from your president? (Actually the Georgia Tech presidential greeting is only one click off the main page, so it’s very easy to get to). But you don’t have click off the main page to find a table with starting salary information for recent Georgia Tech graduates. It’s right there on the home page, easy to see, you can’t miss it… No doubt it’s exactly the type of information that prospective students – as well as their parents – are looking for. We all talk about putting the emphasis on outcomes, but Georgia Tech is doing more than just talking about outcomes. They’re promoting them.
4) Don’t be afraid to brag, and when you do, do it right. Georgia Tech put a “rankings and stats” section right there on the home page, not on a cluttered side bar and not buried under the “About” section, but right in the middle of the page. Georgia Tech isn’t afraid to brag about how great they are, and they are proud, ambitious, and totally in-your-face about it. And if nothing else it helps underscore how they can make you great too.
5) Bring it all together for today’s mobile consumer. The new Georgia Tech site is very mobile friendly, and you don’t lose anything in terms of content, branding, and overall impression when you switch from full screen to mobile. The mobile elements to the site aren’t an added feature per say since the school built the site on the Drupal CMS which natively supports responsive design, but it’s clear that mobile was a consideration at the beginning of the creative process as opposed to the end.
No doubt higher education is changing, and with that change comes new appreciation for how consumers of higher education will evaluate institutions and how they will use all the tools available to them to shop around for options. The new Georgia Tech website is one example of how a school can embrace a dynamic digital strategy to meet this shifting landscape.