Stowe School & House
Creating a flagship website for one of the UK's most famous independent schools.
Setting the scene
A key objective was to balance the needs of two distinct areas of Stowe: the main school and the house and gardens. Each of these had very different business objectives and associated user requirements.
The house is designed around an e-Commerce solution that allows users to buy tickets for tours of the house, and to individual events scheduled throughout the year. The School also has an Alumni organisation (called Old Stoics) which is in itself a separate business unit.
It was essential to hit a deadline driven by the opening of a new visitor centre at Stowe House, so the alumni project and an online application process for parents were moved into a backlog of work to be delivered as a phase two.
"Working with the Quba team has been a pleasure; together we have created a clear vision for our site. They were able to understand our complex requirements."
With a diverse range of stakeholders from both the School and the House it was important that we had regular dialogue with our client. In effect we ended up with one project team made up of stakeholders on both sides which worked really well. The combined knowledge and experience on both sides created strong working relationships which allowed us to make good decisions quickly.
Team members on all sides became so engaged in the planning stages that discussion on the project spilled over into traditional social spaces like Twitter. For the Quba team members working on the project seeing this positive interaction was very pleasing.
Arriving at a technical solution
As we approached the end of the planning stage we agreed the full scope of what was required for the initial launch and earmarked future projects.
One big investment was the core platform. The client had been nervous about committing to a specific CMS due to restrictions with their old system. In the end we recommended Kentico CMS. This platform is very flexible from a design perspective, can handle eCommerce transactions and has good integration capability which was an important future consideration. Specific features for launch included:
- A significant alumni section advertising opportunities to reconnect with old classmates
- Integration with PayPal and four other merchant accounts allowing payments to be taken directly by different business areas
- Sophisticated calendar management allowing events to be published in the right calendars for the house and/or school
- A gallery plug-in which dynamically creates a mix of portrait and landscape images and resizes them automatically
- Mobile preview which helped the client to understand how content pages would work with the responsive design
For Stowe this project represented a significant investment and a brave step away from traditional school websites. Measuring success was always going to be challenging. The client was already attracting many more school enquiries than spaces available and there had been a significant number of stakeholders who spoke positively about the old website.
In the end we took a collaborative approach to gathering insights from the website. Quba made sure that the Google Analytics was set up correctly and the team at Stowe gathered insights on what the website was producing in real business terms. The results have matched the feedback we have had from other schools and web designers. Stowe.co.uk is a great example of what school websites can be and is producing real return on investment.
Stowe are supported under our Quba Care support service and our client services team are in constant contact with their team.
We have already completed a number of small additions to the core website and are in discussion about future phases of work. Without giving too much away there are plans for some additional investments in digital this year due to the success of our engagement so far.