The Problem

New student enrollment was down several years in a row and the school was looking to market to prospective students in better ways. The primary website was past-due for a design that could take advantage of new technology, and a separate admissions website forced prospective students to navigate between two disparate designs with similar, duplicated content and different navigation menus.

The Process

In redesigning the website, I wanted to achieve the following goals:

  • Improve prospective student engagement and understanding in measurable ways.
  • Unite the marketing under a single, cohesive design.
  • Address the growing mobile market.

Early sketches for the mobile version of the website, chronologically from right to left.

A mobile version of the site.

Mobile First

I decided to solve the mobile problem first. If the site could work on a tiny, limited mobile device, the content would, at the bare minimum, be readable on a big desktop machine.

To focus our content, I removed every significant chunk of content that didn’t relate to prospective students. Those secondary audiences, like current students or faculty, are captive audiences that can be trained where to find help and resources. By contrast, prospective students need to understand the site without any coaching at all. Therefore, everything on the homepage needed to be relevant to their needs.

My research was a combination of live usability studies, surveys of prospective students, card sorting, and analytics.

A Single Site Design

Creating a single site from the two original designs wasn’t just a matter of dumping all the pages into one template. In the old version of the site, all of the effective marketing was funneled away from prospective students. In fact, many students weren’t seeing the content that was meant for them until after they were ready to commit to applying, because it was buried in unlikely places.


Disparate designs and navigations for different sections made using the site frustrating. Note the headers and footers, in particular.

To address this issue, I moved all of the valuable marketing information to the homepage and to other pages linked from the primary navigation. Even so, after a content strategy audit, we rewrote most of the existing content to be more clear and focused. What remained was simplified and reorganized.

A More Useful Experience

Determining how to make the site better for students required understanding what they expect out of their schooling. I sussed out this information in interviews with students and in discussions with teams throughout the college, including the Admissions and Advising departments. I learned that this audience wants a quality education, an understanding of the costs, a good location, and opportunities for fun outside of class.

Creating a strong primary navigation was a big challenge, and one of my personal goals was to avoid using a “hamburger” menu, which, research shows, obfuscates wayfinding.

To address these needs, I streamlined the information architecture of the header and main navigation, added a call-to-action with a new tagline to get students interested in Evergreen’s unique academics, increased visibility of the visit request form, and gathered together and wrote new content to form a new section called Campus Life.

I looked at the analytics and set benchmarks to determine how successful I was in reaching our goals.


A screenshot of the current homepage

The current homepage focuses on a single audience, prospective students, instead of trying to be something for everyone.

A screenshot of the current Campus Life page

The Campus Life page is a new page that brings together all of the opportunities that students have outside of class.

The Outcome

This long process provided many new challenges, but since going live with the updates, the school has experienced success with the new site.

  • Mobile usage has climbed steadily month-over-month, starting at 4% and now averaging over 30% and reaching as high as 50% on key days like graduation and new student orientation.

  • Five streamlined primary navigation links transport students around to information they need. Regular usability studies continue to validate their usefulness. I also successfully avoided the hamburger menu.

  • Likewise, the singular design has noticeably decreased confusion for prospective students, as observed during live usability studies.

  • Finally, the rate of decline in enrollment fell, and the school attracted 100 more incoming freshmen the following year. In addition, the number of applicants has grown year-over-year.