How will design trends affect school websites in 2019?

Friday, 21 December 2018 | Written by Jonathan Wallis-Leggett with Karl Fry and Lisa Statham

In brief...

  • School websites have become vital engagement tools for schools and parents that include multiple types of functionality.
  • Design is becoming more focused on making these increasingly complex websites easy and intuitive to use.
  • Improving website layout, accessibility and creating consistent online branding will be key areas of focus.
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School websites are becoming bigger and more complex

We launched our first website sixteen years ago in 2002, and there has been significant change since then. In 2002 the likes of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter did not exist, Google was only four years old, and Amazon had only just started to expand beyond selling books.

Over this time, the biggest change we have seen with the internet is in how actually we use it. We are now able to gain access from a huge range of devices, get instant access from almost anywhere and do everything from stream movies to international video calls to the weekly food shop and bank account management.

More people are using the internet than ever, and they are becoming accustomed to being able to take care of anything and everything whilst doing so. School websites have gone from a single page of basic information to a vital engagement tool for schools and parents. These platforms are now used for everything from communicating news with parents, promoting school events, taking payments for school meals, marketing to potential new parents, advertising job vacancies, facilitating online learning and much more.

The design is becoming more about functionality

When change of this scale happens, everything tends to change with it. Back when school websites were relatively small and only had one or two things to do the core job of the design team was to give the site a creative ‘wow’ factor, to make it stand out and look fantastic.

Website design still aims to deliver that ‘wow’ factor, but its focus has also grown and evolved. Design is now used to help manage the growth in complexity and functionality, without having to sacrifice easy and simple user experience. In essence, website design and website functionality are no longer separate; they work together to deliver an overall experience that makes people’s lives easier.

The movement of design towards a function-based focus is the major trend that we will see continue throughout 2019; it will be more concerned with finding creative solutions that make websites easier for people to use. Some of the most important changes in 2019 will be things that don’t particularly stand out to users or wow anyone, but are vital when it comes to improving the overall user experience.

There are a huge number of areas where user experience-led design will focus throughout 2019 but here are the ones we believe will be most significant.

Navigation and layout

The role of design when it comes to navigation and website layout has two simple jobs, the first of these is to make sure people can find what they want as quickly and pain-free as possible, no matter the reason for their visit.

As there are now so many different reasons to visit a school’s website, navigation menus need to be obvious, straight-forward and instinctive to use. Clickable links and buttons need to be clear and visual noise, and disruption needs to stay under control. One of the key ways we will see this achieved over 2019 is with the continued rise of minimalistic design, a stripped-down, simplistic style which aims to focus on only the most essential elements of a website and cut out unnecessary components.

The rise in the use of mobile phones and other smaller screens over the last few years has meant that users are no longer reluctant to scroll on websites or open up sub-menus. Users instinctively understand they may have to look around to find more information. This will give designers an opportunity to maximise their minimalistic approach through the use of more single column scrolling designs. Expanding sub-menus and search bars mean that absolutely everything doesn’t have to be visible above the fold of the homepage.

The second role of design in navigation and website layout is in visually prioritising specific website elements. Not only are school websites becoming bigger and more complex, but they are also increasing in their specialisation, and this is a trend that will continue through 2019. Not every school has the same priorities, so not every website has the same functionalities, and even when they do, they may prioritise differently.

Website design will also be more focused on ensuring that while everything is easy to find, the most important elements to the school are the most immediate and should be visually prioratised above other elements. Sites focused on new parents will likely want to promote the values and principles of the school above all else and build a clear brand, while schools that want to improve parental communications will prioritise their newsletters and other related information such as the calendar.

Accessibility

With more people than ever before using the internet, it is imperative to ensure websites are accessible for anyone and everyone using them. Over the course of 2019 we will see more websites incorporating accessibility features designed to make life easier for those that require them, this may include but is not limited to:

  • Ensuring that everything important is written in text or has alt-text for screen readers
  • Ensuring that text is big enough to read and can be resized without breaking the design
  • Using less technical language
  • Allowing for integrated tools such as Google translate for EAL (English as an additional language) users.
  • Not using colour combinations that are difficult to see and read
  • Adding the ability to view pages in different colour contrasts

Another area where accessibility is going to continue to improve is in responsive website design. Gone are the days where websites are exclusively accessed on desktop PC’s, websites are now accessed by mobile phones all the way up to wide-screen monitors and everything in between. Some users will only access the internet on a single device type, and others will use several, depending on their situation. Even when it comes to a single device-type like mobile phones, multiple sizes need considering as there is no standard mobile screen size.

All of the work that goes into making a website simple to understand and intuitive to use needs applying across all screen sizes and device types to ensure that no matter what the device is, the end user can get the same positive experience.

Accessibility is one of the biggest areas that will drive this bigger trend of function over form; it is going to be vital for schools to ensure that anyone can use their website and that good design is used to remove potential problems and frustrations, rather than create them.

Consistent branding

Digital experiences now go beyond just a single website and into multiple places such as social media and mobile phone apps. A big focus in 2019 is going to be in using good design and build features to connect all these experiences. This is in an attempt to ensure that however people are engaging with a school in the digital space, they receive a consistent experience.

Websites are incorporating more functionality than ever before. Whether that be communications tools, news feeds, events calendars, payment systems or anything else, the design will now aim to ensure they are all seamlessly integrated into a single experience and the elements of each don’t act in contrasting ways. It will also be increasingly important to make certain that the design visuals used on third-party sites like social media banners and imagery remain consistent and in keeping with the school’s overall approach.

In conclusion

In conclusion, school website design in 2019 is going to be focused on user experience and the practice of making people’s lives easier through the use of intuitive, well thought-out design.

This approach has been a passion and specialism of our design team over the last few years, and we have closely followed its rise in significance and demand. When approaching a new design, we always start by putting ourselves in the shoes of the people who use the website on a day to day basis. We build an understanding of how and why they visit the site and what can be done to make their experiences better.

If you are considering refreshing your website in 2019, then get in touch with our team, and we’ll be happy to help you unlock your websites full potential. If you want to take a look at some of our work, click here.

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