Updated Web Brand Standards

Author: Zach Allen

In a previous post, I discussed branding inconsistencies in our digital network, and the need to develop an improved design system for the University. More recently, I discussed the Notre Dame Web Theme, the design system developed to unify our online brand. This post highlights how the new design system impacts the University’s web brand standards (rules and expectations for official University websites), as outlined on the University’s brand website, OnMessage.

Why Web Standards

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” – Seth Godin

A brand unifies a group of people under a mission, cause, or purpose. On the surface, it consists of logos, colors, and other identifying elements. But underneath, our brand reminds a user who we are: a University unified by a unique commitment to faith, values and academic excellence. The visual elements of our brand tie our units and people to Notre Dame’s powerful reputation.

The University’s web network traffic dwarfs the yearly traffic to our campus. These websites either 1) reinforce our brand narrative when they exude excellence or 2) devalue our brand narrative when they don’t. Web brand standards ensure that official University websites meet standards for quality.

New Web Standards

The previous web brand standards, introduced in 2011, served their purpose well; we’ve simply outgrown them. The number of websites has grown exponentially, along with overall traffic, and our needs have evolved. The previous standards offered:

  • Little design direction, which resulted in a various of online expressions and inconsistent branding across our network.
  • Loosely defined hosting parameters, leading to security and performance issues.
  • No guidance on quality, performance, or accessibility, which allowed poorly-constructed websites to be approved.

The updated standards have addressed these challenges directly:

  • Brand unity and design direction are now guided by the Notre Dame Web Theme, ND’s web design system. Occasions for deviation from the ND Theme have been outlined, with acceptable minimum standards defined. Assets (Wordpress Theme, HTML Theme, design kits) are freely available.
  • Websites must be hosted with University-approved providers.
  • Websites must meet basic standards for quality, performance, and accessibility.
  • All new web projects, initiated internally or externally, should be cleared with Marketing Communications before commencement.

We encourage campus communicators to familiarize themselves with these new standards, especially before initiating a new website design project, either internally with MarComm or externally with an outside vendor. This is a significant change to the way websites are designed at Notre Dame. All requests for University subdomains are subject to the standards. 

Websites designed using the old web standards are under no obligation to immediately upgrade, but should do so during their next redesign.

Design Exceptions

The Notre Dame Web Theme isn't appropriate for every website; there are instances where the technical or creative needs of the project require a different approach. These instances include:

  • Special Events
  • Branded Campaigns & Initiatives
  • Products & Journals
  • Auxiliaries
  • Arts
  • Athletics
  • Internal Applications
  • Third-Party Applications
  • Collaborations

Details about these instances is posted with the new web brand standards, along with minimum standards required for such instances.

We’re thankful for the partnership of campus communicators and University leadership as we’ve explored the best path forward for the University’s websites. We’ve had many discussions over the past year and half, and been encouraged by the thoughtfulness and collaboration of our colleagues. 

The events of spring and summer 2020 delayed this update, and with most campus communicators working from home, we recognize in-person presentations about this update might not happen soon. If you would like more information, or have questions about details, please contact us - we're happy to discuss. If your unit has multiple communicators and a Zoom gathering would be helpful, we're happy to present in that environment as well.