Campus Living Villages creates communities for students studying at 76 universities in five countries. A truly global brand, CLV relaunched 61 websites under one umbrella – MyStudentVillage.com. It was an ambitious digital rebranding requiring rich expertise in content strategy, an intensely collaborative client-agency partnership, and a flexible content management system to empower team members across the globe.
Because of the different considerations and vernacular necessary for different cultures and countries, our team seized every opportunity to ensure just the right amount of back-end blend of standardization and customizability so the content could flex its muscles on the front-end.
When working with a campus housing business with locations on three continents, it’s no easy task to create an intuitive architecture built around limiting clicks and minimizing hassle. The navigation required a different line of thinking from the get-go to ensure no matter where you are on the site, you’re only a few clicks – or taps of the phone – from being able to research a location elsewhere in the city, the state, the country, or even the world.
Whereas a common project progresses from strategy to design to development, MyStudentVillage was an intensive partnership between content strategists and developers. We established the content hierarchy and URL structure early on in the process to create a uniquely manageable international site.
Moodboards & strategy
Moodboards allow us to determine the website’s visual direction. Our team applied its expertise to get in the minds of the end user, but CLV went one step further—bringing a focus group to the moodboard exercise to gain more insightful feedback on the project’s visual approach. We carried this valuable moodboard feedback into the next stage to build more informed wireframes and designs that were guided by end user input.
Think of your 18-year-old self. Were you heading off to college driven by the idea of meeting new people and creating new memories? What adjectives would you use to describe you? We aimed to capture those adjectives in the design and pushed to create an overall sense of youth through the whole of My Student Village.
CLV already stood on solid footing with a strong brand, so our design team aimed to find the right balance between pushing for a new feeling while preserving its established influence. Striking this balance may have been a challenge, but moving forward with the rest of the design became easier thanks to the robust content blueprint and information architecture established in the strategy phase. Every design is iterative, and the result of My Student Village is an authentic collaboration between designers and client.
When you’re committed to communicating youthful emotions in your design, imagery will play a big role. That’s why attractive, colorful, full-bleed photography will be the first thing you notice when you take My Student Village out for a spin. By providing direction on photo selection, we set CLV on the path to showcase the personality of its campus housing properties. This tone of photography allowed CLV to establish identity on a village-by-village, university-by-university, city-by-city, and country-by-country basis.
When search plays such a primary function in the site user experience, it needs to be powerful. The predictive search provides visitors instant and changing results as they type their queries. This Airbnb-like experience for the end user is taken one step further for content managers. They can easily determine the categorization and depth of the search itself with a simple tagging system on the back-end.
Think about the scale of what Campus Living Villages provides: student housing on three continents, in five countries, and at 71 universities. Search makes it easy to access any campus housing location, but mapping doubles down on simplifying the user experience. The maps on each country, city and university page give the user a quick snapshot of their options, and the markers allow for easy entry points into any campus village. For the publisher, adding new locations on the map is as easy as dropping a latitude and longitude into WordPress.
API & integration
The integration of student housing software with the My Student Village website needed to feel and look natural – and not like a third-party tool. That’s what led our development team to collaborate with CLV on building an API (application program interface) from scratch that specifies how the student housing software and the WordPress engine should interact.
This API needed flexibility because different regions have specific needs regarding how they interact with the housing software, but the WordPress integration needed to deliver on ease of use and depth of capability across the globe.
When CLV forges new university partnerships in the future, its new partners will immediately benefit from My Student Village’s tailored content management system with integrations into student housing software.
We don’t just practice and preach user experience for the end user, we also keep the client CMS user experience top of mind, too, by building out WordPress to make it easier for the client to add, edit and manage content.
We started with permission structures: for example, WordPress users in the United Kingdom need only to view and edit UK content on the back-end. We continued with logical hierarchy for four levels of relationships between villages, universities, cities and countries.
If you think WordPress doesn’t possess the complexity you need for your site, think again—our custom post types allowed for unparalleled functionality and customizable footer menus and even incorporated third-party API with maximum ease of use. The method of content creation was standardized without ever sacrificing flexibility and customizability when a message needs to differ across universities or villages.
When we say we don’t just build websites and walk away, we mean it. With a refined, collaborative process in place, we envision our partnership with CLV lasting not months, but years. In addition to teaming up to build an all-new corporate site complementary in design to My Student Village, we intend to work with CLV to continually evolve its site to grow the rate and quality of conversions, all while continuing to help it set the standard as a global leader in student housing.
“Finding the right fit when it comes to selecting agency partners is no easy task for a business as fast paced as CLV. Sometimes it just happens, and in relation to Gravitate, it just happened. Together, we took the first step in designing a platform that is beautiful to look at, intuitive to use and endlessly scalable. I enjoy seeing the west coast style and trends influencing and shaping our digital brand nearly as much as I do collaborating with Gravitate to further build our partnership.”
“The success of this project was related highly to the strength of our partnership with the CLV Team. We overcame obstacles of not only physical geography but the challenge of massive amounts of website consolidation. We worked closely with their team to determine the best usability features students looking for accommodations would need. These solutions had to be leveraged globally, so we were always collaborating on that level of scale, ensuring solutions fit within every region. We see the CLV Team as an extension of our team and we are looking forward to continuing this partnership into the future.”
“CLV is a great partner and I’m looking forward to working with them in the future. Working with a global brand like CLV has been great and the My Student Village web site was one of the most fun, challenging, and rewarding projects I’ve worked on here at Gravitate. Throughout the entire project we were constantly collaborating with them to make sure we were creating a site that would appeal to their audience while achieving their business goals. We listened to their ideas and they trusted our recommendations while challenging each other on the proposed solutions – a true partnership. In the end, we created a website that is beautiful and user-friendly for their visitors while being easy for their team to update and maintain.”
“We had a short timeframe and a large site to build. It was challenging, but very rewarding to see everyone pull together and deliver. One of the most exciting parts was working with the StarRez API. Working closely with CLV, we were able to build a brand new piece of technology to pull in live room and pricing information for the site.”