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Web site design (or redesigns or refreshes, as it is often subdivided into) for colleges and universities is very serious business. Every three to five years institutions turn themselves inside out, write the granddaddy of all RFPs and tweak or start the site design cycle all over again.

Of course there are many institutions who have internal staff who manage and produce the whole process but even in those cases they usually have to ramp up to some degree and bring in outside resources (like a digital agency of record or specialist services) to help them get over the hump of work involved.

The problem for many senior marketing and communications managers is that if you don’t keep you finger firmly on the pulse of website design in higher ed you quickly lose track of what’s happening out there and fall into the trap of relying on old information and out-of-date sensibilities. That’s very dangerous in any area of marketing but particularly problematic in site design as technology, tools and tactics are advancing quickly and the design sensibilities of the marketplace are a rapidly moving target at the best of times.

As a digital marketing agency exclusive to higher ed, HEM works continuously with career colleges, community colleges and universities in website design but even we get so busy trying to get the work done that we sometimes don’t have time to see the website design forest for the trees.

So here are a few free, web-based, resources that we use to help keep up on what’s happening in the marketplace and maintain a reasonably current sensibility of what’s out-of date, what’s cool and what‘s bleeding edge in terms of educational site design.

1) Mini reviews of higher ed website designs from EDU Checkup.

Nick DeNardis, Associate Director of Web Communications at Wayne State University produces 4 or 5 of these 20 minute reviews of college and university websites each month. Since October of 2008 he has produced 322 reviews which are all available on their website. These are great bite-size reviews that you can use to keep up and educate yourself on how other sites compare and rank.  

2) Do-it-yourself website research using Braintrack Braintrack is a fantastic higher ed institution index that helps you easily find and access college’s and university’s websites locally, nationally and around the world. Oddly, not every school is in their index but I would say it contains most and if yours happens to be missing you can let them know and they will add it.

3) Curated awards of websites by the Edustyle Awards The Edustyle Awards, among others, provides a curated list of leading websites that they think are providing best design practices. I like their categories and find it quite useful as a quick reference for who is doing what, and who is at the cutting edge of things. ( By the way, the winners of this year’s Edustyle Awards will be announced at the EduWeb Conference, July 30 – August 1 in Boston. Higher Education Markeing has a booth at the conference, for the first time this year, so please drop by and say hello. )

4) Meaty investigations of special topics with Higher Ed Live I personally love the shows that the folks at Higher Ed Live put together. They are interesting, filled with leaders in their respective specialties and provide excellent reports on what’s happening and what best practices are in higher ed marketing. They have done a number of episodes on website design, content and functionality so check them out if you are looking to expand your working knowledge in this area.

We hope you find these resources helpful.

Please let us know what your favourite resources are to keep yourself current in website design and we will pass them along.