Lory Telon, Executive Chronicles | Before the start of every school year, administrators, staff, and teachers prepare their classrooms, canteens, and other school facilities. Broken desks are repaired, walls are coated with fresh paint, classrooms are cleaned and decorated to inspire and motivate the new batch of students. School websites should be no exception.
Every year, website designers and providers need to keep coming up with fresh new ideas to meet people’s changing needs and to keep up with the rapid pace of tech evolution. Other factors that influence these website design trends are user behavior and the way people interact with different technologies.
To stay relevant and engaging to the school administrators, teachers, and students, K-12 school websites should be equipped with these latest technologies. In this digital world, school websites are essential in maintaining open and fast communication with everyone involved.
So what will 2018 bring in terms of school website trends?
Mobile First Approach and Responsive Web Design
According to data from Smart Insights, there’s a consistent rise in mobile usage from 12% in 2008 to 51% in 2015. Mobile web browsing has become mainstream with over 1.2 billion mobile web users globally. And your school community is most certainly part of this demographic.
What does it mean when designers say mobile first? Well the name says it all. Designers conceptualize a layout suited to small smartphone screens first, and then move to bigger screens like the iPad, and finally, a desktop monitor. Along the way, they add menus and features that could be accommodated by the size of the screen.
In responsive web design, layouts conform to the size of the window as the user manipulates it to shrink or grow larger. The mobile first approach is a way for the website to have a responsive web design that users are familiar with. It’s a must for school websites to have this feature as majority of the students, parents, and school staff who visit the site do so using their smartphones and tablets.
Minimal but Colorful Layout
If you browse through popular websites today, you might notice the simplicity of the home pages – bold taglines, large open spaces but with a colorful full-width background, artfully placed on the page. On mobile design, you’ll notice instead of columns with navigation or categories, you have a simple and familiar 3 parallel bars stacked horizontally, also known as the hamburger button, to represent the menu.
This design is not just for aesthetics, but a strategic way to present the website on the smaller screen of a smartphone or tablet without distorting the layout. Large and scalable fonts for better readability without needing to “pinch” a page to zoom in are a must in any school website design.
Website users have become accustomed to scrolling their social media feed by their thumbs and designers have developed techniques such as the parallax scrolling to further enhance the user experience.
Parallax scrolling adds visual depth with a full-scale background image moving slower than the text over it. Backgrounds are not just restricted to images but videos as well. The design adds visual impact to any website and has become a popular go-to feature for publications, photo blogs, and other websites.
School websites can utilize their own photos showing school activities to promote their values and school spirit. Using this type of design with actual photos of events would make your school site more engaging to old students and more relatable to potential new students.
If there’s one aspect of school website design that needs to be improved, it’s the accessibility of the site to people with disabilities.
The Census Bureau released data in July 2012 that shows that there are around 56 million Americans with different disabilities; that’s 18.7% of the total country’s population. Among these Americans are 19.9 million who have some form of hand disability, which means it’s difficult or impossible for them to handle the mouse. 7.6 million have hearing impairment, and 8.1 million have some form of visual impairment.
All these individuals have the right to access the Internet and websites. School websites, especially, should be designed with their needs in mind. Children and parents with disabilities should be given equal opportunity for open communication with the school administrators and teachers.
While there are no official mandate for website design under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), the government is still encouraging self-regulation until the Department of Justice comes out with the official guidelines. Website designers, in the meantime, may use the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 technical guidelines in building a more user-friendly website for people with disabilities.
With these technical guidelines, people with different disabilities will have alternative means of understanding the website content. Some examples are:
- Inclusion of alternative text to describe images for visually impaired students
- Integration of various assistive technologies
- Ability to navigate via keyboard without needing mouse controls
- Avoiding content that could trigger seizures
- Smart autocorrect features
In refurbishing or building websites, it’s recommended that you hire a provider that knows how to setup your website so that these guidelines can be implemented easily. This way, you can ensure that your website is accessible to everyone regardless of abilities. In addition, check if your provider has a CMS that’s designed for schools, which enables your staff and teachers to update the site and apply these guidelines once the site gets turned over to your school.
Do school websites need to follow every trend? Not necessarily. What works for some schools or districts may not work for others. It’s important to consult with your web designer to come up with a website that’s right for your school. Think about your goals for the school website and discuss these with your school website provider so that they can come up with an eye-pleasing, functional, and easy-to-use website that answers the needs of your school community.
Creating a school website that works will not only benefit the students and teachers, but the parents as well. A well-designed website encourages parents to remain informed of their children’s progress. The site serves as a tool they can use to reach the school and receive feedback regarding their children.
In the new school year, assess your website. Does it need a bit of fixing or does it need a general overhaul? Are you getting the best use out of your website or is it stuck in a rut? Get in touch with Edlio today so that we can help you get your school site back into shape, ready for the next school year.