Guest Post: 5 UX Questions to Ask Before Designing an Academic Website

The issue of user experience today plays a major role of every web design attempt. Lacking a knowledge of interaction and user interface design is a cardinal sin – perhaps even more so when the website in question already has a very complicated structure. University and college websites are there to serve the students – they provide information, represent the academic or extracurricular aspects of a school and serve as gateways to the student and staff intranet system. Here are 5 essential UX questions web developers should ask themselves before designing an academic website.

1. Does every page communicate the identity, values and priorities of the school?

Remember that not all users will visit your homepage – they might be redirected to one of your pages from another source. Visiting individual department pages, subpages and microsites, users should always be able to identify the university brand by its name and logo.

All images featured on the website will convey a message about the main values of the school. If a school is known for athletics, use images of its sports events. Users generally appreciate large, high-quality images that don’t scream ‘stock photos’, but represent something authentic about the college and its atmosphere.

2. Can users easily review the list of all majors and programs?

This is probably the most important point in academic web design. Universities and colleges usually offer a large number of majors, programs and courses, and web devs sometimes struggle to put it all together in a logical and streamlined manner.

It’s important to help users find what they’re looking for – they might not know which degree belongs to which school and so often miss out on courses and programs they were looking for. All programs should be grouped by school or field, and degree names must always be visible.

3. Does the website help users in achieving their goals?

When designing an academic website, it’s important to identify the main tasks users will want to accomplish on the website and then follow them yourself, checking whether the process is smooth and uncomplicated.

If they’re being redirected from one department website to another in search of an application form, try to make finding all they need easier. Beware of duplicate, contradictory or incomplete information – a university or college website often resembles a maze you can easily get lost in. Use personas or real users to test your website and spot potential problems.

4. Does the layout and written content convey the school’s character?

In an effort to attract the right crowd, some university or college websites become a repository of advertisements and colourful buttons – trying (and failing) to look cool. Informal language and interaction might not work this time. Young adults choosing a college are well aware of its costs, and won’t be impressed by a flashy surface lacking in substance.

Content should be clear, easy to navigate and serious, representing the school’s attitude towards the accomplishments of its students. Instead of trying hard to sound like prospective students, you could post videos and interviews with current students speaking out about the school and its facilities. This is engaging and authentic, but also substantial, showing that you value the opinion of your students.

5. Is the About Us page interesting?

Often underestimated, in the context of academics the About Us page has the potential to become an engaging representation of the school. You might not realize it, but this is the page all prospective students go to when trying to decide whether the school is the right fit for them.

Make sure your content isn’t long, boring and uninformative. Focus on the school’s achievements and strengths, clearly present some key figures about the school and display information in a way that is scannable and easy to read. A video works great here – you can give users a sense of what it’s like to study at your institution.

By asking yourself these 5 UX questions, you’re bound to create an academic website that looks professional, speaks volumes about the school’s values and provides lots of vital information in a clear and streamlined way.


Kelly Smith is a dedicated tutor and writer. Currently, she develops her passion at Career FAQs, one of the leading providers of career and educational resources in Australia, where she provides career advice for students and job seekers.