Four Kitchens

The right higher ed development agency knows more than tech

5 Min. ReadDigital strategy

When you need to transform your organization’s website, web development agencies steeped with technical connections are often the tempting option. Examining those agencies’ roster of clients and developers can look like a who’s who of the software development community.

Who better to know the latest tools that will get your website work done?

Not so fast. Approaches that are right for high-profile B2B, ecommerce, or SaaS firms don’t necessarily translate to higher education. Moreover, if your development team doesn’t fully understand your organization, it may take more time and effort to get the results you need.

Higher education institutions face specific challenges now and in the years ahead. A web development shop that recognizes those issues is better equipped to deliver the right solution.

Experience counts when it comes to building an app or website. But technical facility is far from the only ingredient you need to ensure your agency delivers a successful project. You need a smart, insightful team behind you that understands your needs encompass much more than technology.

At Four Kitchens, applying a unique combination of perspectives to our work doesn’t just allow us to better understand our clients. It makes everything we do that much stronger — and that much more likely to drive immediate results.

Great web development requires more than technical skill

Obviously, anyone working in web development needs to love technology. Advanced platforms like Drupal and WordPress opened new frontiers for user-friendly development, especially from the perspective of the end user.

But as technology has advanced, so have the opportunities for applying its use in other fields. Developers no longer need to have worked exclusively with tech companies to gain experience with innovative digital tools. We have team members who have worked in fields such as music education, photojournalism, industrial design, and communications. In every case, their interest in how technology has impacted those different professions drew them toward exploring web development more deeply.

If your developers have experience outside the tech industry, you can also avoid drowning in jargon during your next website project. People on our team have worked with technology outside of the tech industry, which means we can clearly communicate about what we do. A developer may be capable of crafting miles of beautiful code. But you won’t understand the value of their efforts if they can’t explain what the results mean for your project.


Plus, we believe teams that have multidisciplinary backgrounds create a more collegial working environment that ultimately benefits you as the client. Breaking down a technical solution in one meeting and connecting over the latest streaming hit in the next makes any web project run more smoothly. (Unless you think don’t think the ending of Lost was satisfying or that Game of Thrones was — because those are contentious subjects!)

Experience illustrates the challenges for higher ed institutions

A team with a range of experience beyond the tech industry is more likely to understand what external users and internal stakeholders in your field need from a digital experience. For example, a developer who has worked in higher education not only understands what the marketing department at a university needs to get their job done. They also recognize the expectations of a prospective student browsing a landing page.

But more than that, you need to work with a team who understands the full scope of your organizational challenges and the trends in your field. Universities aren’t just facing a more sophisticated audience when it comes to presenting their value to prospective students. They also face an uncertain future because the pandemic accelerated a move to virtual learning sooner than expected. The stakes involved in ensuring your website delivers an effective, accessible experience have never been higher.

Plus, higher ed institutions are not monolithic. Doctoral-level, R1 universities, liberal arts colleges, and public universities are all very different institutions — and economic conditions for each have never been tighter.

It’s not like the private sector. Most folks in higher ed who have to manage a website need that task to fit with the rest of their duties. Many on our team have experience in the culture of academia. We get it.

Effective digital shortcuts resolve higher ed complications

At their best, websites should make your job easier. For people managing sites for various departments in higher ed, the website is another part of their administrative duties.

Depending on the structure of your university, every communication may need to align with the style of the larger institution. Or maybe yours is a more decentralized system where departments have more latitude to do their own thing. Either way, there are a lot of moving parts to manage.

Regardless, your teams don’t have time to mess around on your website finding a way to publish what they need. Your development agency should know how your tools can work together. If someone inputs data in one place, your content editors should be able to import it for their use rather than enter it again. Or, if you need to ensure all your departments have the freedom to create their own experiences that are consistent with institutional guidelines, you can incorporate a design system that will bring everyone into alignment.

When your development teams lack experience with higher ed, you need to deliver a long preamble describing how your institution works. You need to work with an agency that understands the realities of working in educational institutions. And that can only be revealed when you’re collaborating with a team that has been where you are.

Why a dedication to lifelong learning delivers better technical solutions

At Four Kitchens, we have a long history of working with academia even though we’re not all academics ourselves. Our teams didn’t take traditional paths to permanent careers in academia, but many of us have floated that direction because we’re invested in education. We care about higher ed, and we view learning as a lifelong pursuit.

But even as our team has come from a variety of disciplines to work in web development, we don’t focus solely on technology. Don’t misunderstand — we’re driven by a passion for making great technology that serves a purpose. But that drive is fueled by a diversity of interests.

Our internal communication channels are filled with a variety of practice groups dedicated to interests from farming to photography. While it’s not all related to the web, it often returns to a common thread. One developer redesigned a chicken coop that features a variety of sensors to ensure it’s always the best possible home for his birds. One project manager volunteers for a literary journal and hosts writer camps. The more we learn, the more places that knowledge takes us.

If this sounds like the kind of team that will guide your institution in the direction it needs, we should talk about it. Or maybe you’re someone whose background may not be in traditional web development, but it’s brought you here. Have a look at our open roles and let us know where you fit.