User research, web design, and WordPress development for one of the country’s most prestigious law schools
Cornell Law — one of only five private Ivy League law schools in the U.S. — needed a stronger digital presence to promote their top-tier academics, distinguished reputation, and storied history to boost attendance
Founded in 1887 on a vibrant campus setting in idyllic Ithaca, NY, Cornell Law offers three highly revered law degree programs and several dual-degree programs in partnership with other professional schools at the university.
While their academic reputation has always been stellar, Cornell Law’s website was falling short in telling their story of long-standing success. One of their team’s main goals was to improve enrollment numbers by catching the attention of more high-caliber prospective students and clearly illustrating why Cornell is an excellent choice for them.
PAIN POINTS & CHALLENGES
Expand an internal branding exercise focused on the client’s existing viewbook and other traditional media to digital applications, creating more depth in their branding in the process.
Attract high-caliber students from various demographic profiles and geographic locations, including international students.
Increase enrollment across all programs.
Our first order of business was obtaining a clear picture of the school’s various audiences and content needs. Discovery involved user and stakeholder surveys, a baseline analysis of user behavior analytics, a competitive analysis, and an intensive face-to-face discovery workshop that provided deep value through interactive sharing.
Among many key findings, we discovered that there were many opportunities to optimize content and create clearer user pathways guided by specific audience interests.
We also found that many peer university sites were relatively generic, dated, dry, and lacking in clear strategy — providing Cornell with opportunities to break out of the mold with great visuals and meaningful messaging.
To create a North Star for the engagement’s goals and strategy, we distilled our recommendations into a comprehensive strategy brief that reflected not only our discovery findings and current web best practices, but also our knowledge of the higher education and professional services industries.
“It’s time to stop worshipping at the false altar of U.S. News and World Report … [and] focus on what truly matters: delivering value and upward mobility.”
— U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, at the 2023 “Best Practices for Law School Data” Conference.
With a focus on intuitive experiences, we designed clear user pathways and audience-specific navigation to help users immediately understand where to go once they land on the site and what to do next based on their audience type: prospective, admitted, or current student; or prospective or current faculty, staff, or alum.
We crafted the primary messaging, wayfinding, and content on the homepage for the main audiences — prospective and admitted students — and created focused custom landing pages for secondary (but also very important) audiences like current students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
The legacy site had become an archive for old and unloved content, so we eliminated redundant and irrelevant material and streamlined the copy collection to be more digestible.
To clear the path for all audiences to find the information they need, we reorganized content into public-facing for all external users and behind a password-protected portal for select internal users.
In keeping with Cornell Law’s long-standing branding and deep traditions, we tied in some of the design language of existing print materials, including heritage colors and familiar design elements to provide a cohesive brand experience.
Development & ADA Compliance
Significant improvements in the user interface included building a custom WP theme offering ADA-compliant page templates and a flexible design system that allows the Cornell Law IT department and vast community of content contributors to easily add, edit, and tweak features and content in a wide range of combinations without the need for custom features or functionality.
We also provided ample opportunities to highlight Cornell Law’s acclaimed faculty — including incorporating an API field that imports changes on a daily basis. Now, updates to biographies, media mentions, publications, and more are cohesive and standardized — which is particularly important for high-caliber universities with prolific faculty and ever-evolving achievements.
In the end, the new site delivers on the promises made by the Cornell Law viewbook: Students will earn a highly desirable and marketable Ivy League law degree while thriving in its immersive student life and stunning setting.