Universities are treasure troves of stories.
From academic research and student projects, to alumni successes and archival records, universities have a wealth of material to share with the wider world.
Finding and sharing these stories is the work of marketing and communication teams, who play a vital role in connecting with alumni, promoting staff research, and inspiring prospective students.
Too often, though, these teams are constrained by the tools at hand, including legacy publishing systems, inflexible CMSs, and a lack of developer resource. As a result, their stories can appear drab, flat, and visually underwhelming — and thus fail to have any real impact.
And in such a competitive environment as higher education, impact is crucial.
Looking for more examples of stunning digital stories? Check out our guide, 15 examples of impressive digital stories.
The power of immersive storytelling
Many of the world’s leading universities are changing how they tell stories on the web, and are embracing immersive, visually rich storytelling.
For them, the results are clear: longer engagement times, fewer bounces, and better click-through-rates. Digital stories produced by Imperial College London, for example, receive an average of 142% more unique page views and see 50% higher time on page.
Historically, digital stories have been prohibitively expensive for universities to produce. They’ve required specialist in-house development and design teams able to create custom solutions for each and every story.
With digital storytelling platforms like Shorthand, though, it's now possible for marketers to create fully responsive and immersive visual stories, with no code required. This has made digital storytelling a ‘business as usual’ activity for university marketing teams.
To give you a sense of what’s possible, here are eight inspiring examples from universities around the world.
Not so long ago, the digital editions of university magazines were little more than scanned PDFs. Not for The University of Houston, though, which has transformed its magazine into a collection of immersive visual stories.
“We live inside a bubble blown by the Sun.” So begins this story about how researchers from Imperial College, London, built instruments used by the Solar Orbiter satellite.
Rich in stunning photography and interactive graphics, the story includes a powerful background video that explains how the sun’s solar winds interact with Earth’s magnetic field.
Shorthand’s HTML embed tool is used to place infographics into the story which come alive as the reader scrolls, as well as interactive charts for the reader to toggle.
Icebreaker tells the story of endurance athlete (and University of Queensland alumnus) Cameron Bellamy as he and five others took on The Impossible Row challenge.
The story features a clean design, punctuated with beautiful full-screen photography. The team uses Shorthand’s Scrollmation feature to represent the journey through Drake Passage.
Published in 2015, 'State of mind' from the University of Western Australia remains a compelling example of how stunning design can be used to communicate research.
There’s much to love with this story, including their beautiful background animation; their ‘cake tier’ chart; and the planes and buildings used to animate overseas and interstate migration figures.
The University of Cambridge takes us back in time in this beautiful story about ballooning memorabilia on show at the university library.
Use of Shorthand’s Reveal feature lets the reader ‘flick’ through a series of newspaper cuttings, while posters are interspersed throughout — a simple but beautifully effective way of breathing life into the university’s exceptionally rich archives.
Shorthand is a success story for the University of Cambridge, with use of the tool now spread across multiple departments.
Aberdeen University brings together a sequence of videos to explain the complex intersection of intellectual property and marine conservation.
It’s a great example of university researchers using Shorthand to enrich public discussion on a critically important — but potentially overwhelming — issue. The story also uses Shorthand’s HTML embed feature to insert a quiz into the narrative, inviting deeper interaction with the story.
In this piece, Emory University launches the Hatchery, its new centre for innovation.
Crisp, full-screen photography of the centre is delivered using Shorthand’s Reveal feature, providing a gentle fade between photos as the reader scrolls.
In this story, Bournemouth University recreates the atmosphere and energy of the BFX Festival with a mix of video and photography.
A navigation menu outlines the narrative structure, encouraging deeper scrolling and a way for the reader to jump to areas of interest.
The story also uses pull-quotes to offer pauses to the main narrative and emphasise key voices from the event. These are delivered via Shorthand’s Text Over Media section for maximum impact.
The future of university marketing
University marketing teams — like the world's leading media companies and brands — are reaping the rewards of immersive visual storytelling.
Beyond engagement and campaign conversion metrics, these universities are presenting themselves as forward-thinking, digitally-savvy institutions, which is essential for attracting new students.
Critically, they're able to do this without relying on developers — meaning that marketing teams can publish world-leading work without sacrificing their budgets.
If you’re at a university and want to get started with immersive digital storytelling, sign up to publish your first story free, and enjoy our 50% discount for educational institutes.