Maybe you’re a student searching for office hours, a faculty member browsing databases, a fresh-faced prospective undergrad, an athletics fan… the list goes on. If developers haven’t crafted a clearly-organized, navigable, and functioning site for your school, you will find yourself in the web design equivalent of a food fight.

Of course, fulfilling all of the content and style demands of an education institution is a fine balance to strike: edge toward a more complicated design and the navigability of your content may suffer as a result (“What if I just want to know how late the bookstore is open!?”). On the other hand, rote and tone-deaf designs, even if they clearly lay out information, leave a bad taste in the mouths of a skeptical prospectives or would-be donating alumni.

Add in seamless transitioning and stunning visuals, and a successful design would seem to approach the impossible. But here are 30 sites that make it look easy.

The Physical Institutions

Imagine you’re an eager 18 year-old (with discriminating tastes in web design) looking for a place to grow and learn over the next four years. The front page has become something of a pre-visit and an opportunity to showcase the best a campus has to offer — an opportunity all of these schools have seized. Let’s get started!

1. University of Chicago
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UofC sets a precedent in higher ed with their seamless design, well-dosed content, and clean layout.

2. Stanford University

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Stanford profiles the arts through a mosaic of videos with playful hover features. A piece of art in itself?

3. University of Montana

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Striking photography of the Montana wild presents a clear draw for future students.

4. Rochester Institute of Technology

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RIT riffs on the standard “front page” format with popping animated icons.

5. L’institute Franco-Chinois Lyon

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This site delivers responsive storytelling through teased content, vertical blocks, and unique navigation.

6. Drexel University

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Drexel’s award winning site beautifully coordinates bold type, color and photography.

7. The University of Washington

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UW’s site organizes and transforms their news content with cards.

8. Rhode Island School of Design

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Whereas many college and university sites will try to wow you with their front page and then drop off after a click in any direction, RISD demonstrates impressive consistency throughout their many pages.

9. Atelier

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Atelier’s inspiring artistic layout patches together student work with content. This design takes risks and its striking aesthetic is the reward.

10. Providence College

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A video heads this site, providing the tone of the Providence Campus. Video usage is continued throughout the site, relying heavily on stories to give students an idea of the school.

11. School of Visual Arts

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Innovative type distinguishes SVA’s site along with their full use of scrolling, a somewhat rare feature in education web design, but one that works with a page showcasing student work.

12. Bob Jones University

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BJU’s site utilizes precise scrolling between striking photography to pique the interest of future students.

13. Study in Sweden

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This page has a striking, minimal design and colorscape evocative of Scandinavia.

14. UCLA

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A well designed page from UCLA’s school of Architecture and Urban Design. The mouseover effect actually works as a way to categorize content (orange for news, blue for events, etc.).

15. University of Brighton

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A gripping read! UB’s site introduces the university in six chapters. Bright-on the money!

16. Kenyon College

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Well-integrated and organized content up top, scroll down to find more of the same.

17. Dallas Theological Seminary

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This multi-campus seminary’s site features clean and captivating design.

18. Tamagawa University

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This Japanese U’s site engages users with fun scrolling effects. Memorable and dynamic.

19. Universidade de Coimbra

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More excellent design from abroad, the Portuguese University of Coimbra delivers beautifully curated historical information.

20. SCAD

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This site manages to set an inspiring visual precedent for future students, and, designed by a former student, acts as a SCAD portfolio in itself.

21. IADE Lisbon

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This site’s interesting use of type means easy navigation to one of its many programs.

Online Learning

Newer online education models do away with stayed elements like physical classrooms and traditional textbooks, offering scaled-back, innovative media in their stead — and much sleeker web design to that end. Because these sites take advantage of their narrower scope and lighter weight, they often surpass their physical institution peers on the navigability and visual fronts. A sign of great things to come!

22. New Charter University

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While many online degree sites have you filling out forms from the get-go, New Charter University borrows the look of a visually balanced front page that’s usually associated with higher ed.

23. Instructure

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Instructure offers a clean space for easy navigation.

24. Code School

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Both Code School and Code Academy offer pared-down, intuitive designs that make for a much less intimidating introduction to coding than a CS seminar.

25. Code Academy

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Code Academy even has you entering basic code on their front page.

26. Gibbon

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Gibbon’s “Playlists for Learning” format integrates their use of cards, feeds users into new classes, and even enables collaborating with other students.

27. Team Treehouse

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Scroll through big visuals and discover the options with ETT.

28. Tuts Plus

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A roulette style learning site, Tuts Plus has a search engine bar on their homepage for streamlined navigation.

29. Lynda

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In Lynda’s case icons prove an effective and beautiful way to cleave out different content.

30. Learn the Secret Handshake

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An insider feel for the young design community — straightforward doses of advice deftly arranged in icons. True to its nature, LtSH proves a well-designed site.

Education is changing. Thankfully, so is its web design.

A class of institutions has graduated from the uninspired design, confusing organization, and irrelevant links typical of ed web, and a new design paradigm is flourishing. Physical centers of learning are beginning to display their talents for innovation and aesthetics on their sites, while online entities are making knowledge accessible in new ways.

As learning becomes more and more entwined with the web, how exactly will the place of design play out? It’s hard to say exactly, but these sites get our hopes up that UX and great design will move into the fore of tomorrow’s education.

Comments
  • Tasha Mey

    Love the examples you have provided, this has been very inspirational for the project I need to complete. Thank you for the post 🙂