What Harvard Business School Can Teach Us About Web Design

by 0 02/21/2012

Harvard University has graduated eight U.S. presidents and more Nobel Laureates than you can count on all of your fingers and toes.

It is also home of the largest academic library in the U.S.

Harvard University knows academics.

But it turns out they are no slouch when it comes to web design and marketing either.

We asked our Crazy Egg Design and Marketing Experts to give the braniacs at Harvard their opinion on the Harvard Business School home page.

Click image to enlarge:

Harvard Business School Website Design Critique

Cesar Keller, Simple FlameI think the Harvard Business School website is a doing a couple of things well.  The first is not cramming so much information into one screen.  It is clean, well organized and great use of fun colors.  The screen shot displayed has great photography, clean typography, and the content is easily consumed.  The use of the content carousel works great.  By rolling over the colored thumbnails at the bottom, a tooltip provides a quick insight as to what that section is all about.  The interface is a wise choice to provide various sets of information based on the real-estate used.

The content on each of the carousels is code for the most part.  In other words, the text is picked up by search engines.  This means some planning time was spent on creating beautiful stylesheets instead of taking the easy route and merely slapping photoshop composites on the site.  This helps with SEO efforts and organic search engine placement.  This also makes it possible to effectively manage fresh content in a highly dynamic area of the website.

If I were to provide some constructive criticism, I would mention that there are no static calls to action that might help them with some conversions.  Maybe some high level conversion points that don’t move with the carousel would help with traffic.

~Cesar Keller, Simple Flame

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Robin Cannon, Shiny Toy RobotsI like that Harvard Business School’s home page is very visually bold. A lot of educational institution websites are filled with small and difficult to read text, but this page is instantly engaging. It personalizes the program effectively, and links its recommendation and comment to a real person.

If I have a criticism, it’s that it’s a little too generic in its approach. “Look, we’re showing diversity of men, women and ethnicity!” Nothing wrong with that in principle, but can be done in a slightly less corporate way.

~ Robin Cannon, Shiny Toy Robots

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Angela Jones, Design By Ange.laHighlighting testimonials from its students is a great idea. Seeing photos of actual students along with their testimonials lends the program a sense of trust and transparency.

The typographic treatment to the “O” in voices is not well done. I realize it’s supposed to be a speech bubble, but it looks more like it’s pointing to something below it – like a place marker on a map. There is a disconnect for me in the look and feel of this page. The bright colors and group of icons don’t immediately say higher education or business to me. There are a lot of icons at the bottom and I only know what a few of them represent. Overall, the design of this page isn’t immediately recognizable as Harvard Business School. In my opinion, this site needs a new, more Harvard-like color palette and fewer icons.

~ Angela Jones, Design By Ange.la

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I think the MBA screen is great as it shows a real student in their program.  However, when you first go to their website, it starts with their latest news article.  I think the focus of their homepage should be their students and programs like this screen shows, but instead they lead it with three news articles.  I would like to see something on the homepage for students interested in applying to the MBA or Doctorate Programs instead.

~ Kristi Hines, Freelance Writer

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Sanj Sahayam, Unique ImprintsI like the colours used to section the page into the various areas. There’s a nice big picture of a happy student implying that HBS is great place to learn. I like the MBA VOICES logo  with the speech bubble used as the O.

Given that HBS is known for its academic excellence, I would have expected to see a more interesting quote than the one provided. The faces down the bottom left seem to have an dark overlay, which makes it harder to make out the faces.

The HBS logo seems pixelated and out of focus. Also the search banner up the top seems a little dull when compared with all the colours used below it. The news|recuit|give menu seems a little out of place.

~ Sanj Sahayam, Unique Imprints

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Babar SulemanBy dedicating almost the entire page to a student testimonial, Harvard Business School has put the spotlight on what’s really important to prospective applicants: feedback from current students. And the fact that the featured student has a B.A. in Biology promotes the diversity in the MBA class profile- something prospective students will be interested in. Clearly the designer worked very closely with the admission committee for this one!

I’m personally partial to a smart use of many different colors and the website’s bold- but weighed- combination of everything from blues and greens to oranges and yellows is a welcome choice. Too often schools tend to favor sombre palettes and end up looking washed out. Harvard kept the formal black and maroon for the header only and allowed the colors to come out and play for the rest of the page. The result is a web page that is as stately as a Harvard education and as alive as its MBA program.

~ Babar Suleman

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Sherice JacobWhat Harvard Business School’s website does well is introduce prospective students to real-life peers exploring the MBA option.  It gives them a chance to see if Harvard is right for them, and what other people are saying. It looks as if you can scroll through different students’ perspectives, although the icons at the bottom are a bit cryptic.

My biggest concern is asking “what next?” After I read these, what’s the next step?  I don’t see any button to learn more about the program and what benefits it could offer me.

~ Sherice Jacob, iElectrify

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Naomi Niles, ShiftFWDThe branding is well-done and the design is clean, visual, and tasteful. I like the use of actual student photos that are professionally taken. My attention is drawn especially to the faces, which may or may not be what they intend.

What I don’t like here, is that it’s unclear which action you need to take. I have the sense that this is a presentation, but where do I click? Perhaps the buttons below?

These buttons are also cryptic. There’s no way to know where each one goes and there are two many choices in general.

~ Naomi Niles, ShiftFWD

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On this page, the Harvard Business School is doing a great job creating a visually appealing page. The colors and the pictures of people create a page that is easy to look at and is visually appealing. I give them an A+ for color and visual appeal.

Moving on from the visual aspect, this page could do a better job drawing attention to the key aspects of the site. I can’t tell which portion of the site deserves more attention than the rest, and which headline I should pay attention to more than others. The site looks great, but it doesn’t focus my attention on the key calls to action so I’m not sure where I’m supposed to look and what I’m supposed to do.

~ Joseph Putnam, BlogTweaks

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What about you?  What do you think about the web design and marketing aspects of the Harvard Business School home page?

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