Royal College of Art

A new digital experience for the world’s number one Art and Design university

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The challenge

The Royal College of Art (RCA) is the top ranked art and design university in the world. The brief was to design a cutting edge website which positions the RCA at the vanguard of creative thinking. They also wanted the new online experience to reflect their move towards a greater focus on STEAM and showcase the innovative outputs of this multidisciplinary approach to work, thought leadership and innovation. 

The challenge was to create a world-leading solution that accurately reflects the RCA’s standing - whilst delivering the project in a phased release structure which allowed the RCA to release key sections of the site. The site needed to be AA compliant and up-to-date with the required accessibility guidelines, while balancing a sophisticated design sensibility.

Our approach

A comprehensive RCA content audit, competitor and comparator review  — combined with user and stakeholder interviews — helped us assess how the RCA could use their content better to communicate effectively with their customer base. This enabled us to develop key sections of the website to help prospective students find the information they need in an engaging and inspirational way. We also assessed the wider educational landscape to help the RCA envision how their digital platforms could help cement their position at the forefront of the future of learning. 

From a design perspective we took inspiration from the RCA’s positioning statement of ‘Radical Traditionalism’ to drive the creative expression.

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What we delivered

Our first task with the RCA was to improve their applicants' journey and make their experience - even prior to application - world class. The core objective was to make the pages work harder. Our approach was modular, creating a suite of building blocks to construct pages. 

We looked to transform the experience by investigating the students' complete journey and streamlining their digital path. We explored not only how to optimise the application form, but also the end-to-end process, from the time that new students first dreamt about being an RCA student, right through to pressing apply.

Through interviews and on-campus research, we discovered the key pain points and barriers for those looking to move onto higher education. These questions and concerns were mapped against the current website to understand how best to align content and deliver information exactly when customers would need it.

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The resulting site layout is open and minimal to frame content, exposing the grid lines as a nod to traditional typography. The palette is largely monochrome, using oversize panels of black and white to divide sections of content. The alignment of type and imagery is intentionally offset to produce page layouts that sway less conventional and avoid a group of uniform boxes. The new site opens up the width of the canvas, creating new breakpoints to ensure the site displays well on both large screens and smaller devices.  

The layout of the text and the main body font was changed from Knockout to Benton Sans for improved readability. The site design is minimal and simple, with large images and clean typography, designed to create a more immersive experience.

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What we learned

“From receiving the initial brief, the team was really excited to work on this project. Working with an institution of the calibre of RCA, you have to think big, while applying a practical approach that allows the new site to be updated and deployed in phases. The new design system needs to be rigorous and scale for the future, ensuring the site communicates effectively to a wide variety of users in alignment with current accessibility standards.”

Rich Foster, Creative Director, Beyond (London)

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