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CA Curious

Design thinking: the story behind our new digital home

April 23, 2020

A little over a year after we officially kicked-off our website redesign project, last week the communications team was proud to announce the launch of the new caryacademy.org.  

A long time in the making, this monumental project is more than just a visual upgrade. It represents a complete reconceptualization of the site—from function to architecture, content to design.   

Throughout this process, every new objective presented its own set of design and content challenges. And I thought I would take this opportunity to walk you through how we have approached a few of them. 

At the top of the list? The decision to shift our digital presence to serve primarily prospective students and their families, and prospective employees. (This, of course, was undertaken alongside a concurrent effort to shift communication for current families to Blackbaud).  

This new strategy begged the question: how do we appeal, specifically, to those potential students, families, and employees that would embrace our mission, learning philosophies, and community values? Those that would be excited to contribute their unique voices and perspectives to our community? How can we help them to really “get” CA? To see themselves here? 

Our answer lies, in part, in our how we tell our story.  

You might notice that the new site is written in a singular voice that addresses our prospective students directly. This was a purposeful, strategic choice. 

Community is important here. Personalized learning is important here. Student choice and agency are important here. We wanted to start that relationship-building and model that personalized interaction—that we see and treat each student as an individual—from the very first digital interaction.  

We wanted to underscore that students at CA “own their learning.” And what better way to start than by putting prospective students in the driver’s seat to make their school choice?  

The tone of the content is markedly different from our old site. It is meant to be more informal, playful, at times unexpected, even provocative.  

Heavy use of photography throughout aims to make an emotional connection and helps to visualize a CA experience—one that extends outside of the classroom to include ample experiential, community, and extracurricular offerings.  

Our aim with all these changes is to empower, inspire curiosity, invite discovery, and to underscore that we are an inclusive, accessible, and approachable community. One where there is joy, playfulness, and camaraderie. Yes, we work hard and are committed to excellence, but we have fun doing it. CA is not, in fact, where fun goes to die.  

On the visual design front, it was important to bring the site’s visual identity in line with our core values. To balance “serious, respected educational institution” with “ground-breaking, envelope-pushing, risk-taking learning visionaries.”  

We’ve walked this line with a traditional navigational structure and site architecture juxtaposed against clean page designs, hero imagery, layered animations, and video integrations that are in line with contemporary, future-oriented design trends that are more suggestive of a start-up aesthetic than a school. And we’ve designed the site from a mobile-first perspective. Entirely responsive, it was designed to be useable and appear beautiful first on your cell phone, then on your tablet, and finally on your laptop or desktop.   

In a landscape where some of our key mission words are often bandied about as education buzzwords, it was important to illustrate our mission and strategic plan through robust storytelling efforts. To demonstrate just what we mean when we talk about discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence. We wanted to be clear that, at CA, our commitment to our mission isn’t just lip service but something that our employees and students live and breathe daily.  

To that end, on key pages throughout the site you will find filtered news and stories feeds that put the “proof of concept”—those stories that illustrate out mission and values in real terms—next to higher-level descriptive text. This dovetails with a broader storytelling strategy that will keep this content fresh and relevant week after week, encouraging return visits and demonstrating the dynamism of our community. 

In addition, we’ve also developed a more robust news and stories section that allows you to explore CA through our various storytelling efforts. This section can be filtered and searched based on your interests. Over time, it will only continue to grow, becoming a rich community resource.   

As a relative newcomer to CA, this process has afforded me a wonderful opportunity to get to know our community in a multitude of ways and on a deeper level. And I’m grateful for it.  

I’ve learned more about our academic departments as I’ve crafted new text for each of them. I’ve had to dig into our learning philosophy and the principles that guide our mission to be able to accurately capture and reflect them. And I’ve had the opportunity throughout this process to get to know many of you through various formal and informal conversations that have informed the work you see now.  

As with all things CA, this was a highly collaborative effort. And I’d like to extend a special thanks to everyone that helped to contribute to this project, from those that participated in early stakeholder groups, to those that reviewed text, to those that provided their quotes and photos, to my team, your contributions were instrumental in laying the foundation for the project and helping to advance it.  

Thank you! 

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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