“A bold, unique website: unlike anything else in the sector”

Nathan Monk, Solutions Architect from creative agency SMILE, shares a short insight into how they approached redesigning the multi-award winning University of Sunderland flagship website

The project started with an interesting insight: market research undertaken by the University found that people weren’t sure where Sunderland was located in the country. The reality is that it’s a wonderful, vibrant North East city by the sea, with many benefits to the student community. So we designed a site that positions Sunderland as equal parts destination and university.

Our approach to redesigning websites is scientific: we break the process down into chunks (or sprints for all you Agile fans out there), develop a hypothesis, and create a measure of success.

Measuring success is an essential part of the process – too many design companies focus on aesthetics instead of business goals. Without understanding and measuring the paths and actions users are taking on the website, you could end up with a website that is nice to look at, but ultimately a failure.

We pride ourselves on creating websites that are as effective as they are beautiful. With the University of Sunderland that meant a website that not only won a gold HEIST award, but which also delivered 67% more open day bookings, 36% more prospectus downloads, and referred over 7,000 people to apply via UCAS.

How did we get there? By adopting a user-centric approach that understood the needs of the users, and which could also craft the journey that the University wanted users to take through the site.

We took a component-led approach to design, simplifying the masthead, and deployed an off-canvas menu, to give more screen real estate to content. There were some key conceptual underpinnings that subliminally act as nods to the location. A key example was ‘the shoreline’, an angular divide between sections, reflecting the point at which the sea meets the sand at the local beach. The project flowed beautifully, with content informing design and technology enhancing the solution.

Working well with university stakeholders is a key part of a project’s success and, to create a smooth delivery flow, we created clickable high-fidelity prototypes, constructed on-site with the website working group. The prototypes were sent out to the stakeholder groups for feedback, and the results were collected, assessed and refined to meet the measure of success. This approach became an important part of the legacy that we left behind.

The University team were great to work with: they had a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve and communicated this through their brief. We explored further possibilities and solutions together as the website developed and that iterative, collaborative approach is what we think gave this project the edge.

The University of Sunderland flagship website now has a bold and truly unique design, with a distinctive and flexible visual language. It’s a true representation of the University, and has an integral role in the University of Sunderland’s continuing success.

The University of Sunderland was awarded Gold in the ‘Best Website of the Year’ category at HEIST 2018 and ‘Digital Campaign of the Year’ at the North East Marketing Awards. This was a rewarding confirmation that its bold and confident approach puts it ahead of its competitors.

To find out more about this and other projects, visit wearesmile.com

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