Last week, I wrote a post about Georgetown University’s process for redesigning its website.  As I drafted the piece, I developed a working thesis that university websites are sort of like government sites, in that they have to do so much and serve so many audiences that the designs end up being utilitarian and bland.  This lead me to spend a few hours going through the websites of the 100 best universities in the country, as ranked by U.S. News and World Reports, in an effort to prove my theory.

Turns out I was wrong.  It turns out that despite all that they have to accomplish, lots and lots of universities have produced websites that are both beautiful, and immensely usable.

Following is a list of the 11 best best designed websites from the U.S. News World Reports list, as judged by me with input from some of my co-workers here at The Bivings Group.  Please note that I only looked at the top 100 on the list – I’m sure there are websites from schools outside the top 100 that are equally impressive.

Take a look, and let me know what you think in your comments.

Update: We have newer rankings for 2012 (view here) and 2013 (view here).  

(11) Virginia Tech

I like the look and feel here a lot, as well as the use of photography.  It isn’t higher on the list because it is just a little too busy for my tastes.

vt

(10) University of Denver

Great use of photography, and the site does a  good job of routing visitors to where they need to go based on their user profile.

denver

(9) Duke University

The Duke site is clean and classy, but is just a tad bland for my tastes.  Others had this one higher.

duke

(8) Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Points to MIT for coming up with a design that is completely unique, and for a really clear and usable navigation structure.  I like this one better than others here.

mit

(7) Wake Forest University

Another elegant design.  I particularly like the way they’ve judiciously used the potentially overwhelming school colors (black and gold) to evoke the school, without sacrificing aesthetics or usability (hello Brown University).

wake

(6) Boston University

Just a confident and classic design.  Love it.

bu

(5) University of Chicago

The details throughout this site are outstanding.

chicago

(4) Rutgers University

The homepage Flash element is really well done, and if you surf a bit you’ll see a real attention to the details throughout.  Great site.

rutgers

(3) University of Rochester

This is similar in structure/approach to the University of Denver, except the execution of the homepage here is a bit better.  Interior of the site isn’t as strong as the homepage.

rochester

(2) University of Nebraska

This is the most “Web 2.0” looking of the sites, which isn’t a bad thing given the level of execution.  Also has shades of the Obama site in the use of background imagery and icons.

nebraska

 

(1) Johns Hopkins University

The job of a designer is infinitely easier when they have great photography to work.  Johns Hopkins has great photos, and does a wonderful job of using them to brand the school.  Entire site is excellent.

jhu

 

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. For these clients and others, Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, helps manage crises, creates and implements online marketing strategies, and manages the development of custom applications and software.