Wolfson College

A touch of modern for Wolfson College, University of Cambridge.

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Wolfson combines the traditions of a Cambridge University College with contemporary values and an inclusive culture. It is steeped in heritage but needed to modernise its website to attract students and reflect its diversity. 

Background

Students don’t apply to colleges, they apply to the University. A College is more like a base of operations and they are in fierce competition for the best applicants. There is no “apply” button or other CTA. The University needs a diverse group of applicants but the very people they want to attract are put off by the image of a traditional Cambridge College. The Colleges are also charities that need to fundraise, targeting alumni, and market conference space. A College website, therefore, has several very different audiences. 

Solution Provided by Contra

The project was essentially a digital rebrand with a modern site to reflect the true brand values of the College. It needed to position the College as an inclusive and vibrant community, promoting academic excellence. It also needed to show that it was a modern place to study and differentiate it from other colleges in the University all while speaking to each audience clearly.

Contra conducted stakeholder interviews with various departments as well as representatives from the student body. We also conducted desk research which included examining the existing site’s user behaviour, search queries, keywords and traffic. We built up a series of user personas that, along with our research, informed our strategy and we concluded that: 

  • Student recruitment was the primary function of the site, but not the only one. Regarding this:
    • Student applicants needed to feel reassured that this was a place they could fit in and call “home”
    • The college’s egalitarian and inclusive principles would resonate with the target audience if we could demonstrate them in the content and design
  • That alumni and conference customers wanted a “collegiate feel” so it was fine to lead with student recruitment, as long as audience-specific content was clearly sectioned and signposted. 

Contra took the view that each audience should have their own section to act as a mini home but to lead with admissions. We tested the new information architecture with a user testing tool to survey if users could find what they were looking for in the new hierarchy. It scored very highly with users so we felt confident to implement it. During open days, applicants meet friendly students and staff who turn out to be “normal”. The facilities impress and the College feels inclusive and special. Our strategy was to create a “virtual open day” experience that recreated that experience.

Visually, we wanted a design that reflected the modernity of the college with its progressive ethos. We wanted to create something bold so went with a striking use of black and white, with strong secondary colours to identify the sections. We incorporated the ‘W’ into the design using it as a window to the world at Wolfson. We wanted to inject a strong sense of diversity and student involvement so we included big messaging statements and large images to convey the meaning. We wanted to show the life and vibrancy by including looping video backgrounds. Wolfson’s values of; academic excellence, integrity, inclusiveness, and restless curiosity were all focal points of the design.

Results

The new site is bold, modern and friendly. The design has repositioned the College online to a progressive, inclusive and vibrant community. It accurately shows the College’s culture while giving each audience its own section. It has received high praise from the college fellows, students and staff. It was also completed in the agreed time frame and within budget which made this project a roaring success. This new site appeals to prospective students in the way that Wolfson wants to communicate with them, representing the precise message they wanted to convey. 

“I have very much enjoyed working with Contra. The design has been very well-received, the back end is a joy to work with and of all the developers I interviewed, Contra had done the most due diligence in reading the brief to understand our specific needs. It was also an advantage that they understood the complexities of working with our IT department. The design and build process went very smoothly as Contra has a great communication system in place. I found that having a Project Manager to handle day-to-day liaising with the coders was very helpful, and using Slack and Trello to communicate and raise issues kept things moving. Above all, what the designers did was come up with a look and feel for our website that reflects our structure and meets the needs of our very different audiences. I would not hesitate to recommend Contra for your website build.”

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