University of California Santa Cruz

Improving the Emotional Appeal of an Educational Gem

University of California Santa Cruz


UC Santa Cruz is a shining gem of learning on the Pacific Coast of the United States. Their Admissions Department does much more than process applications. Many students receive multiple offers and it’s up to Admissions to close the deal and convince students to choose UCSC over other universities.

Having produced their admissions offer packets in-house for many years, they came to us looking for our outside perspective and experience using design, imagery, and copywriting to effectively market the UCSC experience to prospective students.

Historically, the Admissions Department has done an excellent job presenting the factual and intellectual argument for attending UCSC. Where they sometimes struggle is in emotional engagement.

Our task was to help them communicate, both in print, and online, to accepted students—and their parents—the enriching experience of going to school at one of the most beautiful universities in the world, while assuring them that UCSC provides students with a valuable education. Together, we developed strategies and produced assets to present UCSC’s charming intimate liberal arts college experience balanced with the benefits of attending an established research university.

We completely redesigned their printed admissions packet as well as createding an enhanced companion website that gives students and their parents the option of exploring in print or online.

UCSC Homepage

Content Creation,


You’re In!

Our approach included presenting information as if attendance was a foregone conclusion. The overall message is more, ‘Here’s what it’s like to be here’, than, “Please come here.” This led us to using lighter, more expressive language such as describing the university as “...a shining gem of learning on the Pacific Coast.”

The admissions packet contains a ton of information, but in keeping with the vibe of the UCSC learning experience, we wanted the site and the booklet to feel open and inviting. Both utilized the liberal use of photos and white space to let the content breath and encourage people to feel more like they’re reading a magazine than a promotional piece. A university is about people. But we saw many sites that emphasized architecture and landscaping. We chose to focus on students in order to help prospective students see themselves at UCSC.

The content is presented in bite-sized pieces, letting people easily scan the content and dive in deeper when they find something of interest or importance to them.

UCSC UI UX design homepage

UI/UX Design,

Information Architecture

Avoiding Overwhelm

We started with the strategic decision to break out the acceptance site from the rest of the UCSC site. In alignment with the content direction it has yes/ as the main URL.

There’s a lot to discover when making a big decision like which university to attend. We simplified the site navigation, limiting it to three items: Learn, Live, and Explore. These three main pages provide an overview of many topics and feature jumping-off points to more detailed information.

Both the persistent call to action at the bottom of each page and a ‘Next Steps’ button in the main navigation bar encourage students to take the final actions of accepting the offer to attend. No matter where you are on the site, it’s easy to take the plunge and accept the offer of admission.

To reinforce the University of California brand, we designed a page transition that includes the UC system’s official seal.

UCSC Learn Live Explore

Art Direction

Adding a Little Gravitas

The admissions offer packet sent to each student also needed to stand out from the crowd. We enhanced each piece in the packet—even the envelope.

We redesigned the admission acceptance letter to give it a more ‘official’ feel. To put the student in the right frame of mind, we included a certificate of admission that has the weight and paper stock of a diploma.

The envelope was very plain. We added brand aspects to it that immediately made it unique and gave the package both a sense of place and importance.

Collaboratively designed by two of our designers, the website and print pieces provide a unified experience. Care had to be taken in producing different versions of the booklet. Variations were created for each student type; US Admitted Freshmen, US Admitted Transfer Students, and Admitted International Students.

The resulting booklets feel focused on each student type and present a massive amount of information while still feeling inviting. Different sections are color coded to visually let readers sense when they’ve moved from one topic to the next.

UCSC Admissions Print Packet
Ucsc Packet Pages

Full Stack Development,

Website Design

There’s More Online

There’s a limit to how much content can reasonably be placed in the admissions booklet. The website gave us much more freedom to include meaningful content unfettered by the limitations of page count and associated costs to print and ship booklets. That’s not to say we went overboard on the site. Our strategy is always to produce relevant content and present it in ways that allow site visitors to scan it or go more in-depth.

We leaned into the idea of providing morsels of information that lead to more expansive pages. This approach aligns with how people use websites, skimming content until they find an item that strikes their interest and then investigating that content more thoroughly.

Transitions between sections on a page is subtle, using either a shift from white to light grey, a full-bleed photo/info block, or photo montage. This makes for smooth flow while scrolling on desktop and a clear section division on mobile devices.

UCSC Live Print
UCSC Live Web
UCSC UI UX Design Interior Pages

Art Direction,


Bringing It to Life

The marketing effort relies heavily on photography. Under our direction, the Admissions Department hired a local photographer to shoot pictures across the 2,000+ acre campus. In addition to general shots that typically include students, they had to shoot portraits of three students that we interviewed for feature profiles.

Due to the fact that we had nearly completed the booklet and website design when the photos were shot, we were able to get shots that allowed us to place text over them, get across a sense of the campus, and highlight the diverse student population.

UCSC Photography

Brand Style Guide

Moving Forward With Style

We created two styles guides to give the Admissions Department the tools they need to produce admissions packets in-house.

The Website Style Guide clearly defines the brand colors, typography, hover states and more.

The Messaging Style Guide conveys the new direction of written copy, providing examples, principles, core messaging, external and internal tone, and more.


It can be difficult to say what convinces a student to pick one college over another. What’s easier to understand is how pleased the Admissions Department was with the final results.

Getting to work with an institution such as the University of California Santa Cruz is always an exciting time here in the studio. Especially when we have the opportunity to positively impact something as critical as admissions. We look forward to hearing how the students responded to these new materials.

Branding & Strategy

  • Content Creation
  • Brand Style Guide
  • Copywriting

Websites & Digital Products

  • UI/UX Design
  • Information Architecture
  • Full Stack Development
  • Website Design

Photo & Video Production

  • Art Direction