Higher education website design needs to be responsive
A lot of information architecture, user experience and content design knowledge and effort are deployed in crafting homepages for higher education websites. Nevertheless, there is often a feeling these pages are generic or don’t always deliver as planned. And, with the world having gone mobile, the same presentation and layout concerns may even be heightened for smartphones.
One way of addressing these concerns is to check homepage images as they appear in different browsers on various end user device types.
For this article we set our software to scan each institution’s homepage in desktop and mobile modes. And, as we did in two similar exercises for the UK’s universities and colleges and Canada’s post-secondary institutions, the resulting images have been assembled into galleries, allowing higher education web developers, designers, content strategists and UX specialists to verify designs, layouts, mobile friendliness and user experience.
The same exercise could be replicated across a single institution to check the content design, information architecture and user experience of faculty, department and research institutes. And, detailed webpage scanning also facilitates digital governance, through reviews of key institutional sub-site and microsite pages for brand, policy, style and preferred practice compliance.
However, the current image set more readily supports competitive research: for example, by comparing and contrasting different institutional approaches to navigation and content hierarchies.
Higher education website design: the desktop and mobile views
In this article we put 42 Australian and eight New Zealand university website homepages under the scope. The images are shown in two separate galleries, below.
We’ve combined the desktop and mobile screenshots into a composite view to illustrate how well the desktop designs translate to mobile layouts. The scans confirmed that almost all the universities had responsive websites, with over half the sites favouring carousels as their main feature.
As in our previous webpage scanning exercises our software has to contend with and respond to cookie warnings. Otherwise, the snapshots are partially obscured by pop ups. These messages are particularly intrusive on mobile devices. It turns out that we are not the only ones concerned with this UX problem: Paul Boag recently published an article on LinkedIn addressing this issue: A UX Disaster: Can We Solve the Cookie Crisis?
The desktop images show webpages as they appear on standard 1920 x 1080 monitors and as rendered by Google Chrome. The mobile images were captured at 375 x 667 as displayed in iPhones 6/7/8 running Safari. For the composite images the mobile screenshot was scaled up to 607 x 1080.
Categorising ANZ university website homepage designs
As in our earlier UK and Canadian higher education homepage design review exercises, we’ve tagged each screenshot to capture its most prominent visual design features, including any headlines, straplines or taglines used.
We’ve stuck with the same tagging scheme for each exercise and while we selected the tags judiciously (and after looking at a lot of homepages), we recognise reducing complex website design ideas and messaging to a small set of categories will lack nuance.
Most pages require more than one tag, so will show up more than once. The tags are:
- buildings – an on-campus building
- choices – no single focus but visitors can click links to execute defined tasks
- individual – student, faculty or alumni profile
- news – breaking or recent news and events
- ranking – ranking or other institutional statistics
- research – an example of current research
- statement – a headline, mission or similar institutional statement
- students – two or more students
- work – a focus on career or work possibilities
Interestingly, unlike UK university websites, fewer than 10% of homepages for Australian and New Zealand universities had embedded video as the homepage feature. The stronger preference was for carousel images.
The Content Management Systems Australia’s and New Zealand’s universities use for their homepages
While UX specialists, developers, designers and content strategists all contribute to how a webpage looks in a browser, so does the content management system (CMS). Consequently, we’ve added tags for the main CMSs the institutions in our study use to render their website homepage. All CMS tags are in upper case. AEM is Adobe Experience Manager.
Clicking on a tag filters and re-orders the gallery images to show the range of homepage design and content strategy approaches.
Australian University Website Homepage Design Gallery
New Zealand University Website Homepage Design Gallery
If you had a vague concern about the homogeneity of university website designs or how well they perform on mobile, our gallery may have provided relief, consternation or both.
We collected this article’s underlying data using our higher education web estate management solution. Homepage images are just one example of content, user experience and risk insights obtained by analysing data from comprehensively scanning college and university websites.