University of Nottingham, Ningbo China - Appealing to prospective students

  • Steven Chen

Insight: The University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) was the first Sino-foreign university to open its doors in China in 2004. They were struggling to compete with their rivals in the digital landscape. Their visual language had become cluttered and inconsistent, their information architecture (IA) needed to be updated and their unique selling point that had become lost. We were commissioned to create a design solution that would appeal to their prospective students and potentially influence the visual language across all campuses. I worked with Lead User Experience Designer Marcos Villaseñor and Creative Director Will Krüger.

Challenge: Initially, the client’s intention was to design a stand-alone site that was more aligned with Chinese web design trends for complex, content heavy and localized layouts. It became clear through discussions with stakeholders that it was more about maintaining the ‘Western’ appeal of their brand. We shifted the focus to designing one single site that would work across multiple campuses.
Due to the amount of work involved and time limitation, we knew there was no way to complete the IA before the deadline. More than a hundred pages already existed and it was impossible to start from scratch. We opted to reskin the majority of the existing content. The design had to work with what we had, with some key components and key pages redesigned.
“…The site is for tourists, not for students.”- Nielsen Norman Group, 2016.
Idea: This is a quote from an article on the usability of the Tsinghua University website by Nielsen Norman Group. Tsinghua University is perennially ranked as one of the top academic institutions in China, yet their website was deemed insufficiently user-centric. Our research indicated that it’s not right to assume that Chinese students or parents would favour complex and content heavy websites. In fact, Chinese sites should not be complicated. They need simple design, but they shouldn’t be oversimplified or minimalist either.
Therefore, we took inspiration from more contemporary web design in other Asian countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. We elaborated on the University’s current brand, taking the outlined shape from their existing design and added more diversity by applying it in various forms and colours. We designed the site with English and Chinese body copy simultaneously to cross check the layout, making sure that both would work with the design. Separate fonts were also recommended for English glyphs and English + Chinese glyphs to avoid clashes in their different x-heights.


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    University of Nottingham, Ningbo China