Designing For Your Audiences Isn’t As Hard As You Think

By Jeremiah Barba | Jul 27, 2017

Ah, marketers. Bless our little hearts. Why do we make things so hard on ourselves?

We bury ourselves in everyone else’s big data, trends, and research, and forget to focus on OUR audiences. We jump at every new shiny trend but forget to adjust, refine, and improve our efforts on existing channels.

Web design is no exception. In our experience as a creative agency for higher education, we’ve seen a tendency to let websites become a jumbled mess of internal news feeds, unnecessary sliders, and bragging posts about rankings & research. And before you can say “Associate Interim Vice Dean for the Subcommittee on Academic Affairs,” the intended audiences are forgotten. That 16-year-old honor student making her college shortlist probably doesn’t care about your awards. She wants to know what it’ll be like every day, and why she should choose you over that other school (you know the one).

What’s that you’re saying? “Slow your roll!?!?”  Fair enough. I know it’s not that easy. Especially in higher ed web design, you have an army of stakeholders whispering threatening nothings in your ear. You don’t have the luxury of just “picking an audience” and making your entire site geared toward that group. But you don’t have to compromise to design a site that meets the needs of multiple audiences. Let’s walk through it.

Research the needs of your audience(s).

First, you have to know who you’re talking to. How well do you know your prospective student? How well do you know their parents? We dug into this in detail in this blog post. Don’t take all every trends article you read at face value, since those trends change about every 6 minutes. Do your research, invest in focus groups, listen to them on social media, and build personas for the audiences you care about. Start with that foundation and keep coming back to it as you progress.

Focus on the sites & apps they use.

Where are your audiences living on the Internet? More Buzzfeed or Fox News? More Mashable or The Guardian? Whether you’re thinking about prospective students, current students, alumni, parents, or others, it makes a big difference and will provide insight into how they think, who’s influencing them, and how that should affect the sections of your site aimed at them.

Steal, I mean, borrow. Yes, borrow. That’s a better word. 

Let’s face it. All creativity is in some measure stealing from someone else. Even the most original idea has some root in the work of another. So, as you’re thinking through how you should design your site, incorporate ideas from the sites that your audience loves in the parts of your site that you’re designing to provide them helpful content. Return to their perspective as you design, and you’ll stay aligned to their needs.

Build your site with their needs in mind.

As you design and build, keep all this data in mind and don’t stray. The great thing is, every section of your site doesn’t have to be all things to all audiences. Do prospective parents love graphs and stats? Graph the living daylights out of that “Parents” page. Prospective students dying to consume more video? Load up the Admissions page with moving pictures.

Keep coming back to your goals.

This also helps you satisfy all those stakeholders’ questions as you work to fulfill the goal of your site. Enrollment problem? Focus on the needs of prospective students from top to bottom. Alumni engagement lacking? Provide opportunities for them to connect with fellow grads and share their achievements. Put all your goals in one place, prioritize them, and let that be your guide.

Go forth, higher ed web design pro. Let’s not make this so hard on ourselves.

Tell Us What You Think

Why do we make web design so hard? How have you built your site to meet the needs of multiple audiences?

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