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When Nostalgia Gets in the Way of Good User Experience

April 10, 2018
3 months, 1 week ago

If the invention of the television wasn’t proof that the future is nothing like we’ve imagined it to be, the bubble took care of that for good. It showed us once and for all that if we refuse to adapt to the new, we can’t stick to the old either. The future is a one-way street.

That’s why universities and colleges whose sole purpose is to educate the next generation must always have one foot in the future. While the core foundation of their strategies sticks to the traditional framework (website supported by social media channels, extracurricular activities, and, sometimes, below-the-line marketing), this needs to be under constant renovation. What worked yesterday may be futile today. And, more often than not, this ‘facelift’ can be seen in details such as–drum roll, please–the pdf prospectuses and guides you send out.

You probably spend vast sums of money on your website, making sure the user experience is just right. But in light of the money spent and efforts you make to attract new students, choosing to upload pdf publications to your site or even sending these as attachments in emails isn’t really futuristic, is it?

Using the print design as your online brochure may seem like a great way of killing two birds with one stone, but there are some pretty big reasons why this shouldn’t be done. While converting your huge brand style guide might be perfectly suited to the pdf idea, your prospective students want to be wowed and presented with a real stand-out, an interactive all-you-can-eat presentation of why they should study at your school. Today, pdfs just don’t meet the brief any more. Their ship has sailed.

So, right-click, save the following tips, and meet the future.

Don’t mirror print with the web

Your print guide fits its purpose, that’s for sure. Print still has its place, but print and online are two very different things, and you shouldn’t use the same design for each. For example, your print version will likely use print-ready images, which can be huge in size, along with small font sizing. Both points mean a pdf is simply not suited for online viewing. Plus, browsers handle pdfs in different ways, with some downloading and others opening them in a new tab.

Please, read this blog post on mobile

And keep in mind that your students are probably doing the same thing when leafing through your pdf: they stay on mobile. However, they won’t see all the great reasons why they should click on the ‘apply now’ button, but a document that isn’t responsive to their size of screen/device.

Your pdf, however beautiful in print, doesn’t work so well on a phone: it will more than likely be formatted for print with small font sizes and large images. This is the complete opposite of what works well online, with long lines of text difficult to read without zooming in and large images causing slow download speeds. The text will not fit the screen like your responsive website does, nor will it feature the same search functionality. That’ll be their cue then: they’ll stop reading.

According to a report by We Are Social and Hootsuite, more than 50% of the world uses a smartphone, with 50% of the world’s web traffic coming from mobile phones. Plus, nearly eight in nine people would stop engaging with content that doesn’t display well on their device (source: Adobe). With all this in mind, continuing to ignore how pdfs act on different devices, you might as well slam the door in the face of your prospective students.

Don’t put them to work

When students come to your site, they are eager for information. This is your time to sell. So, sell. Sell your location, your unique student experience, your differentiators. Sell with every click, and make clicks work in your favour and lead to further engagement in content with a real spark. Sending them to a pdf puts them off from viewing all that valuable and useful content. Will they print your 100-page prospectus? Would you?

Where’s the fun?

No matter how you put it, you are, after all, communicating with young people who know the bubble is not about sheer information. It’s about interactive information. A pdf can’t fit in this mesmerising realm of wow. You’re asking students to continuously click from page to page and read chunks of text. It’s like asking them to study before enrolling in your courses. Plus, a pdf has no back button and little control over the navigation journey. There is no user interaction whatsoever. Only work.

All this talk, but what’s the solution?

You may already be planning for the 2019–2020 academic year: that’s the future you ought to be rolling up your sleeves for. That’s why kissing your pdf goodbye to produce a separate HTML5 brochure for your prospectus, study abroad, regional, welcome, orientation, ESL, or international guides can make wonders the pdf has never dreamed of. Designed and created to be viewed online at any screen size and with web-ready font size, plus no long download times, a brochure will create a fluid and planned user journey, which can direct the user to specific pages buried deep in your site (this is especially relevant when it comes to course search). Imagine developing an informative playground that includes the best of your institution. Custom-built elements to inspire, connect, and excite young people: ticked off!

Yes, it’s hard to let go of strategies and elements that have worked so well in the past. A pdf will always occupy a special place in our hearts: it was that first online gizmo that echoed your beautiful print prospectus. But when nostalgia works as a drawback, it’s time for new favourites.

Let’s talk more about the future!

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