Your Higher Education Marketing Link of the Week… Drew University: “Minimal Navigation” on Home Page… 26 April 2019

New Style Home Page for Drew University features “Minimal Navigation”

Drew University home pageDoes being different from other higher education websites by itself create a competitive advantage? If that’s the case then Drew University indeed has advanced past its competitors by using a “minimalist” design approach.

What is minimalist design strategy? A definition from the Nielsen-Normal Group in The Characteristics of Minimalism in Web Design: “A minimalist web-design strategy is one that seeks to simplify interfaces by removing unnecessary elements or content that does not support user tasks.”

Note a key element here: A minimalist goal is to “support user tasks.”

The agency that worked with Drew on this site, Capture Higher Ed, says this about minimalist design:

“Although mega menus were all the rage a few years back, there’s been a shift to minimal and even hidden navigation elements. This is taking a cue from mobile, where most of Gen Z is already viewing websites. Some institutions, including Capture partner Drew University, have already adopted a minimal navigation for their main websites. Declutter your homepage by removing your traditional navigation menu and testing a minimalist navigation button like in the example below.”

Yes, navigation is hidden…

On mobile, the minimalist design does hide the regular navigation. Indeed, as the page first opens it hides just about everything on the home page. (More is visible from a desktop or laptop computer but the goal here is a more effective site on mobile, “where most of Gen Z is already viewing websites.”)

drew University home pageEventually visitors will see a “Launch Your Life” marketing message, the first of 5 content headings and 5 buttons to review each major element on the page:

  • Launch Your Life.
  • Let’s be clear – college tuition is too high.
  • Learn it. Use it.
  • Plug in.
  • Put the “hire” in higher education.

Home page content is recruitment-oriented. Each piece is designed for impact with future students. Which one might be most appealing? That would be easier to know if each one were available to scan right from the start. In this format, that’s not possible. On mobile, Drew wants you to see each one in order.

What about top tasks that future students have, especially a review of available academic programs? You can’t see that pathway from the 5 elements here. If mobile visitors persist past “Launch Your Life” they will find content on affordability (a 20% tuition reduction in 2018 and information on merit scholarships and low debt loads) and job prospects after graduation.

Drew University home pageA traditional menu is available to people who open the hamburger symbol on the page. Follow the “Academics” path and you’ll find a list of the academic programs.

On Mobile… a “slow” 3.6 seconds to download

Google in March made major changes to the “Test My Site” tool. Among other points, speed is now rated using a 4G standard rather than the 3G level that Google told us until March 70 percent of people are still using to access mobile sites. Comparison with past Link of the Week mobile speed reports isn’t valid. Speed expectations are higher now than in the 3G world.

Drew University has a “slow” home page measured by Google: 3.6 seconds. Minimalist design does not, by itself, lead to a faster site.

Competitive comparison… Google now gives you the ability to add up to 9 URLs from competitor sites for comparative speed ratings. Do that. If the result shows that your site is slower than your key competitors that might give you new internal leverage to increase attention and resources to the need for a faster website. How does your home page on mobile compare to the 3.6 seconds of Drew University?

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Experience a most unusual design format at the Drew University home page.

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2 Comments

  1. Interesting design approach. I’m not usually a fan of hidden navigation, but I appreciate the fact that they resisted the large hero image/video and clutter that often appear on higher ed sites.

    One flaw, however is that the site does not redirect you to SSL if you enter drew.edu without https. This seems like an important detail to overlook.

  2. Wow! A website with real problems.

    You’ve hit most of the issues there…
    It’s OK to use a ‘minimalist’ design – although ‘minimalism’ itself shouldn’t be the goal: the goal is to meet your business goals (e.g. recruiting new students) by removing all extraneous clutter so that visitors can achieve what they want to achieve more quickly, without errors or frustration. But you don’t replace real navigation with ‘minimal’ marketing messages that visitors won’t understand!

    And those pop-ups (again, more marketing msgs) are really annoying.

    And many pages seem to have ‘Additional navigation’ drop-downs – often with just one or two links: the drop-down takes up more space than two links would! People will have no idea what might be under ‘additional navigation’ – again, it’s meaningless to visitors.

    I tried following task paths that potential students might follow… ended up clicking on an ‘Apply to undergrad’ link and it took me to a sign-in page, with tabs for ‘First year students’ and ‘Transfer students.’ Talk about putting barriers in the way of users’ top tasks and your own business goals (conversion)!

    My guess is they didn’t test prototypes with real potential students before launching this, and/or that their governance prioritizes marketing over supporting top tasks and conversion of target audiences!

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