Category General Observations

Fifteen judges made up the jury panel for the 2017 CASE Circle of Excellence Awards in the category of Digital Communications. Judges were invited from public and private institutions of higher education and also from agencies that provide services for education-based clients. Judging took place over two days of collaborative scrutiny and discussions that followed a preliminary period of pre-screening.

Criteria including presentation, effectiveness, technological considerations, and various other factors were outlined to ensure fair and comprehensive discussion on the merits of each entry. Those standard are explained for each of the subcategories below.

Criteria for Judging Award-Winning Institutional Websites

  •  Visually Compelling: The site must capture attention conveying appropriate message and mood to its target audience. Artwork, typography, and copy must portray the distinct personality of the institution, providing a sense of place and relationship.
  • Navigation and UX: Ease of use and clear calls to action must persist at all levels of the site. Users should never be confused about how to get information, what to do next.
  • Content: Is it helpful, clear, specific, and up-to-date? Is copy well written? Graphics should be helpful vs. gratuitous Is there a good use of multi-media?
  • Audience-Centric: The site must cater to the needs of its audience(s) in an intuitive fashion, rather than presenting the agenda or organizational chart of the institution.
  • Effectiveness: Clear goals for the site should be defined and measurements of success provided in proper context.
  • Depth and Strategic Vision: Design and information architecture should show strategy deeper than top levels. Design should reflect overall institutional brand unless a purposeful deviation is required.
  • Innovation: Did the designers take a risk? Did they differentiate themselves as standing out from the crowd?
  • Accessible: The site must be inclusive, with equal access to information and functionality for all people, including those with disabilities.
  • Technology: The site must be responsive/mobile-ready and work on a variety of devices with differently sized viewports and capabilities. It must load quickly and degrade gracefully across a variety of browsers.
  • Resources and Value: The site should reflect a good return on the investment of staff time and budget allotted to the project.
  • Searchable: The site search should be robust, comprehensive, and easy to use.

Comments on Winning Entries

Institutional Websites

64 Entries

Gold Award

Hamilton College (New York) -

  • This is a deep redesign offering volumes of information in a clear, clean, navigable interface that never overwhelms. From the start, the personality and mission of the institution is evident to the primary audience of potential students and parents, even in the nomenclature used for navigation. Secondary audiences are not forgotten, calls to action are clear, a consistent clarity of presentation and audience-centered design persists at all levels below the homepage. Multimedia and social media are well integrated. Search is robust and content that paints a picture of life and learning at Hamilton is provided throughout the site, such as the professor and student profiles in the content-rich areas of study section. The redesign represents good return on investment through planning, research and analytics.

Phillips Exeter Academy (New Hampshire) -

  • The personality of Exeter jumps off the screen with captivating multimedia, great headlines, copywriting, photography, compelling student profiles and clear calls to action. Real students were used to communicate with prospective students and their parents, telling stories of successfully dealing with insecurities and life changing experiences during and after graduation. Mobile experience is strong and effective. Analytics show the investment over two years is paying dividends in high traffic, especially in the admissions section, reflecting the primary target audience. The large menu is nicely chunked into a legible well-differentiated grid.

Silver Award

Indiana University -

  • This site boldly proclaims the value of a liberal arts education with smart copy, clean design and calls to action that pull a viewer through various levels of what turns out to be a sticky site aimed at not only prospective students, but current students who haven't yet declared a major. The site reflects the overall institutional brand. Visuals capture sense of place without distracting from deep information on degrees, majors, academics and how to apply. Great use of templating and mobile is strong. Analytics for bounce, session and page views show great results by in-house staff reducing previous site content by 75%.

Bronze Awards

Carnegie Mellon University (Pennsylvania) -

  • This site reflects the first phase of a well-researched plan to improve the consistency of over 200 websites affiliated with the institution. The in-house team has achieved consistency in content across the whole site, multimedia headers are people-centric, and navigation is strong. Good investment in user experience testing is reflected in strong engagement analytics and accessibility. Mobile experience could be better and long-range plan should address that.

University of Notre Dame (Indiana) -

  • This site illustrates the value of a liberal arts education, especially in the section called "Outcomes." Employment statistics for recent graduates show initial career results for various majors. Alumni profiles in written and video formats show how a liberal arts education leads to real-world outcomes. Main navigation strongly serves the primary audience of perspective students, parents, and guidance counselors. 

Roosevelt University (Illinois) -

  • Refreshing design clearly defines this institution's mission at the outset where the primary audience is met with 4 distinct calls to action. Main navigation is easily discovered, straightforward, and good on mobile. Content is people-focused and backed up with statistics, giving a clear idea of the personality of the institution, faculty and student body. Initial analytics show increases in mobile engagement and primary target site sections.
Individual Sub-Websites

109 Entries

Gold Awards

Kenyon College (Ohio) - All in a Day 

  • Beautiful, simple, and highly engaging. Captivating photography pulls the viewer through the site, creating a deep impression of campus life during one 24-hour period. Using existing photography targeted initially toward alumni engagement, this digital destination represents a low-budget, high value opportunity aimed at yield and recruitment audiences. Good print support for campaigns and lots of positive qualitative feedback to admissions staff. Embracing a discipline of simplicity has resulted in very high digital engagement statistics.

Salve Regina University (Canada) - This is Salve

  • This is a fantastic example of an innovative, user-centric, mobile-first approach to a digital viewbook. The audience is immediately asked to interact with the site to produce content showing fun and informative profiles of real students. Great social and multimedia integration. Calls to action integrate user feedback and invite further exploration. Great, energetic design gives the impression of an intelligent, active, interesting student body at a nurturing institution.

University of California, Davis - Grand Canyon

  • An in-house team leveraged various rich-media formats to create an immersive experience that instantly communicates the real-world excitement and hands-on educational experience a prospective student might expect from this institution. Interesting content in dynamic layouts is delivered via several navigation options, yet the viewer never feels lost. Storytelling is personal, exciting and infused with intellectual purpose. Statistics show high engagement with target audiences and social media, with unexpected spillover into wider media audiences. Project established new workflow and shared ownership for creative team.

Silver Awards

Fuller Theological Seminary (California) - Fuller Studio

  • The engaging and deep content on this site helps break the institution out of its seminary box. Fresh design and content-rich layout creates immediate engagement that is rewarded deeper in the site with ongoing collections of media in various formats. This content is interesting on several levels, transcending the higher ed brand into that of a media outlet. Highly useable navigation, search functionality, and social integration. Great statistics for overall views and new viewers. Would be good to see more cumulative social stats.

Johns Hopkins University (Maryland) -  Department of Development and Alumni Relations Rising to the Challenge Campaign Progress Report

  • This cleanly designed modern progress report quickly gets the viewer to engaging infographics, which show fundraising across a wide variety of metrics and target audiences. Simple and smooth navigation makes the site easy to use across devices. Animation feels helpful, not gratuitous, and drop-down options expose a depth of data that makes the site informative to all stakeholder audiences. Photography feels mission-driven and people-focused, and does not interfere with the presentation of information. "Give Now" link is a lost opportunity to drive users directly to online form.

Kenyon College (Ohio) - Beneath the Beech

  • A bold choice, this engaging site captures the imaginations of prospective students and meets them on their own turf. Focused on the question of "fit" when a student chooses a school and how important that factor is in academic success, the site ignores traditional messaging and institutional branding. Relying heavily on student interns for production, the site establishes a library of unique, shareable video. Analytics show high site views, content engagement times, and email list building success.

Bronze Awards

Boston University (Massachusetts) - Research Support Website

  • An in-house staff successfully combined 10 existing research support sites into a single user-centric and easily navigable toolkit to support activity at this major research institution. The homepage presents several points of entry to deeper levels of the site, depending on a user's role, specific known needs, or their stage in a project lifecycle. Policies, forms and process documents share a common look and feel. Search is robust and the glossary functionality is helpful for clarifying common research jargon and abbreviations.

Case Western Reserve (Ohio) - As Mentioned

  • This annual report presents stakeholders with a view of how their institutional reputation is made in today's world - not through their own news releases, but by thousands of posts in social media and online news institution all over the world each year. The website design is modern, clean and engaging. Stories are well curated and exciting, layouts are interesting and invite further engagement. Financials and leadership messages are easy to find, but don't interfere with the most interesting content.

Stanford University (California) - 125th Anniversary Website

  • A rich collection of stories celebrating 125 years of institutional history from a variety of viewpoints that balance history and aspiration for the future. The site is clean, beautiful, and navigable with a rich set of timelines, multimedia, portraiture, and engaging "Then and Now" photos. Built on a short timeline, the investment in the site resulted in a central digital hub to support and coincide with anniversary celebrations. Statistics indicate engagement of prospective students. There are missed opportunities for better integration of social media.

University of New Mexico -  The Lobo Life

  • A collection of stunning student photography and video that showcases the diverse beauty of New Mexico, this website is targeted to prospective students as an enticement to come study at UNM, and also calls attention to the school's US News #5 ranking in photography. Each collection is coupled with a location map and other information for potential explorers. Calls to action for admissions are prominent in an expanded footer. While this site integrates social media well as a distribution channel, it was judged to be more properly awarded in the website category. Analytics and media attention are impressive.