The 2016 Circle of Excellence judging panel for the Digital Communications categories consisted of twelve individuals selected for their diverse areas of expertise, knowledge of digital communications and experience in the field of education. Members of the panel represented a variety of educational institutions, both public and private, as well as digital agencies.

As in previous years, the judging was a collaborative effort and the winners were selected after extensive discussion and scrutiny.

Given the rapid pace of change in the digital space, the judges began by defining the components of a high quality website in 2016. Below is an outline of what makes a website award-worthy in 2016, in no particular order:

  • Visually captivating: The website needs to intrigue and call to the user to continue reading, clicking or taking action.
  • Responsive: A working website means it needs to be available on all devices.
  • Audience-centric: In all aspects, can we tell that decisions were made intentionally to appeal to the primary audience.
  • Storytelling: Is there logical progression through the website and does it appeal to emotions?
  • Has to be deep: A successful website is not just a facade, the design, architecture, and writing must go beyond the top level pages.
  • Intentional user experience: The website needs to be intentional about each element added. 
  • Sense of the character: A connection to the institution or something larger.
  • Taking a risk: Innovation comes with putting something new into the world.
  • True differentiators: Can the website convey why they are the only ones to make a claim or offering.
  • Well-integrated multimedia: Intent and understanding of the underlying media channels.
  • Accessibility: The content and calls to action must not exclude.
  • Speed: The website must be responsible with their bandwidth usage.
  • Connective to the rest of the institution: A website on an island excludes the opportunity for an interested used to explore more.
  • Brand consistency: Looking for websites that embrace and extend the brand.
  • Good use of resources: With all constraints considered, was the end product a good value?
  • Invitation to engage: Clear call to action.
Institutional Websites

77 Entries

Gold Awards

College of the Atlantic (ME) -

  • The College of the Atlantic is a website that immediately invokes a smile. There is so much about the website that is intentional and a connection to who they are. They don't need to tell you they are different, they show it. When you arrive on the site and throughout the navigation the user is presented with a sense of place, they use video and animation to reinforce that message. There are small unique touches like the tide calendar and events calendar which includes classes, giving a sense of what a day at the school might be like. Lastly, the course catalog is a complete joy to use.

Johns Hopkins University (MD) -

  • Johns Hopkins is an institutional website that has embraced their brand in a way that extends it to the Web as a medium. The use of images, video, animations adds to the experience without making it feel like they are after thoughts. It starts with their experiences and interests rather than what they want to do (academic programs and majors) allowing for exploration and engagement. Clear navigation throughout the site, the copy helps the user navigate, and not overwhelming. The academic programs page is easy to use and gives an overview before sending the visitor into specifics. Lastly, their consistent use of icons throughout the website to reinforce text calls the user's attention without being distracting.

Silver Award

Eckerd College (FL) - Think Outside

  • The Eckerd College website is clean but energetic. It has a good hierarchy of content and each page is eye catching and the user of call to actions paired with icons drive the visitor to the next steps. They were able to reduce the amount of content from their previous website by 70% which is impressive but at times the images on the site feel too polished and have a feel of promoting a clothing line.

University of North Carolina School of Arts (NC) - University of North Carolina School of Arts Website Redesign:

  • The UNC School of the Arts identity shines through from the moment the visitor opens the homepage. Every photo feels authentic and shows the level of performance a student would be involved with. The website shows a level of polish that is on par with the results they achieved for the price of the redesign. Social media is integrated throughout the website through a unique hashtag. Overall the website is easy to navigate highlights their unique character.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VA) - Designing for Designers: VCUarts Overhaul:

  • When visiting the VCU Arts homepage the immediate reaction is ‘this feels like art'. The site has a funky but appropriate navigation with calls to actions in appropriate places. The attention to details are intentional and make the visited interested in exploring more pages. The content is focused on the student and really captures the program's character. The website was done in house and with a small budget. The area of improvement we would give is to increase the depth of the design through other areas of the website.

Bronze Awards

Roanoke College (VA) -

  • The Roanoke website is filled with student stories that reflect and speak the university voice in an authentic way. The messaging and images give the feeling of identity. The content on the website is a mixture of short paragraphs, quotes, images and videos to keep the attention of the visitor while still giving clear calls to action.

University of California, Berkeley (CA) - Berkeley Web Redesign Project:

  • The Berkeley website is a cohesive organization of a large decentralized school with small attentions to detail. It is a feat to keep the site simple for the breath of items that could be competing for homepage presence. Some areas that stand out are the the Financial Aid page and the Admissions area which are unique but still feel like the same institution. 
Individual Sub-Websites

110 Entries

Gold Awards

Cornell University (NY) - Bird Academy

  • The Bird Academy website has a well organized depth of content content that utilizes the medium in as many ways as possible. The identity of the institution and the Lab are both represented equally. Content is reused in as many ways as possible while focusing on the user experience to keep visitors exploring.

Michigan State University (MI) - Spartans Will Website

  • The Spartans Will website is clean and clear, it doesn't try to overwhelm but packs a surprising amount of content. For the cost to produce the website and the outcomes this site is an example of a clear goal and execution. The site integrates social media without being overwhelming and is an iteration of a campaign completed with an in house team.

Silver Awards

Boston University (MA) - College of Communication Website

  • The Boston University College of Communication is a website that focuses on, an embraces, the primary concern communication students have, getting a job after graduation. The content of the website focuses on this concern and through well written stories is able to build confidence. The website embraces the Boston University brand while still being unique.

Boston University (MA) - Boston University Strategic Plan Website

  • The Boston University Strategic Plan is a plan you may read fully. The ability for Boston University to build a digestible plan website that is fun to navigate, even without photos is a feat that other universities have not been able to accomplish. The website is on brand, clear and let's the content do all the heavy lifting.

Johns Hopkins University (MD) - Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Yearlook

  • The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Yearbook takes stories and lays them inside a unique navigation that has a number of attentions to detail in the code. The site stays on theme and the navigation has users continuingly moving forward.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MA) - MIT Mechanical Engineering Website

  • The MIT Mechanical Engineering website makes mechanical engineering interesting. Through variable content a user is able to move through the site and explore areas they otherwise would not have been interested in. The website overall integrated multiple where possible and in a natural way.

School of Art Institute of Chicago (IL) - School of Art Institute of Chicago 150th Anniversary Website

  • The School of Art Institute of Chicago 150 Years is a lovely timeline of its history. It feels like a gallery, which is appropriate for their brand. The website drivers visitors to scroll and although the navigation isn't typical it is intuitive. The content is well tagged and easily searchable. The interactive poster generator is fun and they take a risk by putting this user generated content online. The site overall feel endless.

Bronze Awards

Indiana University (IN) - I'm a Hoosier Website

  • The Indiana University I'm a Hoosier website connects fans and athletes. It makes an emotional connection between the two and has a clear goal in mind. The site uses retargeting for ticket sales ads and the results show it is working.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (MI) - Battery Lab Interactive Tour

  • The University of Michigan Battery Lab is well thought out and delivers on the goal of engaging users in the facilities available. The website integrates parts of a long form video without making the website focus on the video. A user is progressed through the lab as in the same way the product is.