There are any number of reasons which would justify a website redesign, from simply freshening up the general look and feel to a complete rebuild due to changes in products and services. For Watkins College of Art in Nashville, Tennessee, the impetus was some fresh blood.

The arrival of Brendan Tapley as Communications Director in 2016 kicked off a scrutinizing look at the school’s overall brand. Despite  the rich history of the school and its talented faculty, the brand failed at presenting the school as one of the most prestigious art conservatories in the country.

The marketing team at Watkins undertook a massive rebranding effort which included a new logo, new word mark, new colors, new fonts and even a rebranding of buildings. This effort represented a wholesale change with regard to how the school talks about and portrays itself.

The branding process, which lasted until January 2017, culminated in a clearer image for the school, complete with all new photography, videos and messaging which are more impactful, striking, provoking. Every manifestation of the brand emerged anew.

But what about the website?

As the largest ambassadorial platform, the website was the first marketing asset to be rebuilt using the new brand as a guide.

However, rebuilding the site was not simply a cosmetic change.

Old Watkins home page
Previous Watkins home page

While the Watkins website had a significant amount of consistent traffic, visitors to the site often didn’t explore and didn’t return. Clearly, the first impression was important and unfortunately often the only impression many visitors left the site with. The site was 90% informational and very transactional in nature. No one was developing an interest in or engaging with the site; they were not immersing themselves in the experience and were therefore not seeing the value of the school.

Exposing the need for an experiential website led to the idea of “evocational marketing,” creating an online environment where people want to linger and to wander and to become affiliated with, whether as a student, staff member, donor or supporter.

Development begins

New Watkins home page

The Watkins team, along with pixelslam, Debby Levinson, and Stolze design, tackled every aspect of the website to help create this evoking, storytelling experience, including IX, UX, design, and custom WordPress development.

Built within a very ambitious timeframe, aspects of the build were undertaken simultaneously. While this created some project management challenges, the site’s foundation was strong and the site’s purpose was well defined.

This allowed the team to plan and create a unique yet intuitive site architecture based on user experience best practices and content needs, which were meticulously outlined as part of the planning process.

This careful planning allowed the design, development and writing teams to each contribute while ensuring consistency with the new brand.

The new site relies heavily on imagery to tell the story of Watkins and of Nashville. The site presents stories and works from students and instructors while also conveying a sense of what campus life at Watkins is like. The inclusion of posts such as “My615” give visitors a glimpse into the city of Nashville while posts like Motivation Monday, Implements and the Galleries and Spaces serve to inspire and spark interest.

New academics page   Old Watkins academics page
New and Previous Academics pages

The site is carefully balanced with informational pages for those seeking more specific details about the school, the application process and the course work as well as traditional post types such as news and events.

Clear navigation in each section as well as local or child navigation make moving through the site easy while consistent design and breadcrumbs allow users to explore without fear of become lost in deep pages.

new admissions page - pixelslam old watkins admissions page - pixelslam

New and previous Admissions pages

new deep level page - pixelslam  old deep level page - pixelslam

New and previous “deep level” pages

Combined, the informational and evocational content allow people to sincerely enjoy what is being presented but to also absorb the facts and details presented.

Moving forward, the site gives Watkins a flexible framework for future development. As more evocational content is developed and added to the various pillars of the site (Seek, Work, Reveal) as well as to other areas such as My615, the framework allows for limitless configurations of pages and page content to make the site a constantly changing reason to return.

View the screencast below of the home page to see how social media, news, events, content and imagery have been combined to create an engaging and informative website.