Responsive Design Patterns to Create Penn State’s Beautiful Online Experience

Responsive Design Patterns to Create Penn State’s Beautiful Online Experience

Annie Stone, Marketing Strategist
#User Experience | Posted

With the recent launch of Penn State University’s main site and news site, we were able to help Penn State breathe new life into their outdated online presence, to allow prospective and current students alike to have the best experience possible on a wide array of devices. Working closely with the PSU design team, we created a complete experience from desktop to mobile, utilizing popular design patterns that would help guide the user experience while never fully stripping away content from the end user.

Utilizing the Omega Theme, we used the default media queries of mobile, narrow and normal or otherwise known as under 740px (mobile), under 980px (tablet) and anything else above (desktop). These media queries really helped the PSU design team explore the possibilities of what was possible at each one of these breakpoints and how fundamental elements can be optimized for the device that they are being displayed on. Most notable were, menus, search, curated news boxes, and featured article headers were all areas where the PSU designers and Phase2 teamed up to bring out the best experience for each breakpoint.


Whether we are talking about main menus, secondary, or even tertiary, all menus have their place and purpose for guiding the user through the site to their destination. The PSU design team never forgot this principal, and substantial effort went into making sure menu items were reachable at all breakpoints. While the main menu follows standard design patterns, the desktop to tablet change is just a slightly more condensed version of the original, and made to optimize the horizontal space of a tablet in portrait mode. Moving down to mobile, we made the biggest changes. The main menu collapses to a large clickable/tap-able button that reveals/hides a vertical menu with large target areas, optimized for mobile.


The secondary menu also behaves in a similar fashion to the main menu by collapsing down to a larger clickable button that reveals menu items also enlarged in order to visually gain appeal while also providing a larger area for users to click on. The transformation happens earlier at the tablet level as we felt that the condensed horizontal space would make the tex-only menu items harder to read and more difficult to click on for smaller screens.



Search was another component that Penn State needed to emphasize  throughout the site. It was very important to leave this as simple as possible, so like the menus, it was decided to collapse the search, for mobile only, into a drawer reveal that focused on simplicity and a large focus area. Again, we went with a large icon that helped by having a large target area for the mobile and tablet experience.




Curated news boxes:

On the homepage, the curated news boxes provided a fun canvas to work with content that shifts around as the device changes from desktop to mobile. Knowing that space is limited in the mobile realm, it was important to provide something visually pleasing, but that would also still engage the user to click through a news story. So iconology was used to capture the specific type of news piece while the title was left to engage the user into clicking through to the story.

Mobile curated boxes

Tablet Curated Boxes


Featured Article Header:

Imagery was crucial to the PSU redesign strategy. It was only natural to have engaging treatments to the featured article headers. If the article header implemented a slideshow, we used flexslider. Otherwise, simple css scaled the images per breakpoint. The meta description related to the image would truncate and shift around depending on the breakpoint for better readability and appearance.

By implementing responsive design patterns, we were able to help the PSU team achieve their goal of making their online content and news accessible by any device.

Annie Stone

Annie Stone

Marketing Strategist