We’ve spent lots of time on this blog discussing what makes up a good logo (link). Versatility is one of the key elements that create a strong visual identity. The more places a logo can go, the farther brand values can travel. Here are seven places York College and other educational institutions must put their college logo.
- Website Home Page
In the digital age, a website is arguably the most public face of an organization. Whether linked to, searched for, or stumbled upon, the website is a primary point of contact between people and your institution. Colleges are no different. Putting a powerful logo at the top of the page sets the tone and image for the web experience.
Students, faculty, and staff are often viewed as very different segments of a school’s population. But they do have one thing in common, according to our college experiences: coffee. Students pulling all-nighters, professors grading final papers, and janitors cleaning at 5 a.m. all need a cup of Joe (or six) to make it through the day. Having the college logo on mugs will create a daily interaction with York’s visual identity.
- Business Cards
Staff members and faculty are educational professionals – and while more communications are moving towards digital means, nothing can replace a face-to-face interaction with colleagues in their field. Trading business cards and sharing contact information at conferences and panel discussions is a great habit for college employees. The reputation of the college goes with the business cards every time they are passed along, if your visual identity matches that of your employees.
- Floor Panels
This is a unique place that colleges in particular have to pay attention to. Normally the floor isn’t where your attention is supposed to be held, but at colleges with multiple indoor sports teams, lots of people will spend hours looking at what is happening “on the floor” of a gym or multi-purpose room. Emblazoning the logo on flooring can be a great way to utilize space while reinforcing the new visual identity.
- Outdoor signage
Most colleges have a tight affiliation with their physical location. York College has a “town and gown” relationship (link) with York, NE. The college campus has many opportunities for featuring the logo. Large signs on roads leading to the college help direct people to the school. Stonework and arches can provide a permanent fixture that highlights the school logo. More creatively, York could plant flowers or plants in the shape of the logo, giving the campus energy associated with the new visual identity.
Spirit wear, athletic uniforms, and college gear all can function as mobile representations of the college identity. Placing the logo on all sorts of apparel can be a conversation starter for many different people. For those who don’t know York College, it can be a chance to share the story of York for the first time. Alumni and students might meet other graduates if a piece of York College was worn.
- Acceptance Letters
One of the most important documents colleges produce is the acceptance letter. While not the first or last time a student will interact with the college, this piece of paper represents an education, progress, possibility for success, and so much more. Affixing the college logo and all it stands for on acceptance letters will tie excitement to the school’s visual identity.
It starts to happen without your even realizing it. Maybe you were relaxing at a park bench waiting for a friend, or sitting in shopping mall food court. Before you can pull out your smart phone, a person walking by catches your eye. You can’t help but think to yourself, “What’s their story?”
The same question that comes to mind when people-watching can be asked of brands. Rebranding York has made us ask, “What story does York College tell?” While no organization has the same story, here are a few common elements of all stories.
There is a reason nearly every fairy tale starts with the phrase, “Once upon a time.” The main characters always have some kind of backstory. We might not be told their entire childhood or medical history, but we are given a context that helps make sense of the coming events.
In the same way, companies and organizations don’t just appear out of thin air. An idea gave way to an original invention, a group of friends created a start-up, a new mom found a need; all of these give a simple backstory to set up the events that follow. For York, the history of the institution (link) combined with the school’s values creates a solid beginning of the York story.
Have you ever put down a book halfway through for no other reason than it bored you half to death? Often, these books stop telling a story and only describe events. The characters aren’t growing, or the plot seems to thin rather than thicken. Bad stories become passive instead of dynamic.
This can happen to brands as well. Sure, customers and constituents might agree with your principles; but does the brand keep their attention? Has a need been identified that ought to change? Dynamics help give life to the story, a way of connecting people to the brand. York College has past presidents, changes in accreditation, and a town-and-gown history that help give movement and life to its story.
A beginning context creates common ground, and dynamic characters and events give life to the story. But a story has to lead somewhere, whether it’s the next chapter, the climax, or a final scene. In all of these cases, the goal is resolution, either resolution to move towards the next scene or event, or final resolution that ties the whole story together.
A resolution can function the same way for brands. Some companies frame their mission or product as the last change people need to make in their life. Most brands, however, recognize that people desire to move forward into the next chapter of life. Rebranding York College moves students, faculty, staff, and alumni into a new season of the college’s life.
Beginning with a relatable context, creating a dynamic need for growth, and providing a vision of the good life is essential for story telling. Make sure to check back as we rebrand York College and help better tell the “York Story.”
Have you ever had trouble responding to the question, “How would you describe yourself?” It can be difficult to get an objective, outside-looking-in view of yourself when you are too busy living life. But if someone asked you to describe your best friend, partner, or mentor, you might never run out of things to talk about!
Communicating what an organization represents can be difficult for those on the inside of the organization. One way to gain a better perspective is to analyze what your web presence is saying about your organization. Tens, hundreds, even thousands of people are interacting with your website everyday – and seeing what they read and interact with can point out how your organization communicates itself.
A fun, visual tool to develop this perspective is a tag cloud. Tag clouds are generated by inputting a blog, webpage, mission statement, or document, measuring the frequency of words and terms, and highlighting the most common ones. Take for instance the Declaration of Independence. Sure, we all know what it did; but do we actually know the content of the document? When King George III read it, what were the biggest takeaways? Let’s look at the tag cloud and see:
Just a cursory look at the tag cloud shows that words like “people,” “states,” and “colonies” are primary points of the document. Since we are rebranding York College, it’s important to know what exactly people see York College to be. Here’s the tag cloud that comes from the York College mission and vision webpage:
York College is focused on transformation, education, equipment, and service. For a college rebranding itself, these are important themes and take-aways to consider. Using tag clouds like these (generated from http://www.tagxedo.com/) are a helpful, visual tool that can give flavor and impact alongside organizational research. And when it comes to rebranding and communication, a better perspective is always welcome.
Just two weeks ago our team of heavy hitters made it back from Nebraska with good news – York has decided on a new logo design. While we can’t show you the design just yet, here is a picture of a major inspiration for the new logo to whet your curiosity. In the meantime, we figured it would be good to discuss some of the finishing touches and considerations that go into a new logo.
1. Always make sure your logo looks good in black and white.
When creating a logo, good designers (like our own Jeff James) first start working in black and white. Why no color on first drafts? Color is one of the most powerful tools a designer has, even more powerful than the design itself. Pairing a bad color with a great layout can kill a design before it gets a fair shot. Still doubt the power of color? Take this case study: in 2000, Heinz came out with a new kind of ketchup – EZ Squeeze Ketchup. What was new wasn’t the form, but the color – there were blue, purple, and green colored ketchup bottles everywhere. While an initial success, the new line was discontinued when kids got tired of having spinach-colored French fries.
Besides, not every application of a logo can use color. Many organizations use logos as watermarks, or need to invert the colors to use on a black background. Starting with black and white gives more flexibility than tying the logo to its color.
2. The secondary color matters just as much, if not more than, the primary color
Once the logo is perfected in black and white, colors are added to inject life into the new design. With the new York logo, we are leaning towards a two-color palette; a primary color along with a secondary color. Not all designers or marketers go this route, but in our eyes, a logo acts like a living person. The design and primary color make up the body of the new logo, while the secondary color gives the logo spirit or character. The personality of the logo and the brand it represents come from the interaction of the colors as they play out on the new design.
3. For more versatility, use an unlocked logo rather than a locked logo.
One of the goals of a good logo is versatility of use. The organization should be able to use the logo to reinforce its brand in as many applications as it can, from shirts to website and mugs to billboards. Colleges especially have a wide range of uses for their brand, and York is no exception.
But what is an unlocked logo, and how can that help? First, look at these examples of locked logos: BMW and Adidas. Every car produced by BMW has this tag on it; some might say you are paying more for the tag than the car, which shows how important branding is. No single element can be removed from the logo or stand-alone and still carry the essence of the brand. The logo is locked-up, and can’t be tinkered with. Adidas is similar – the name and image go hand-in-hand, and moving one without the other degrades the logo. A locked logo is inflexible, and doesn’t allow companies and organizations freedom to choose word or image, name or design.
On the other hand, unlocked logos give much more flexibility in application. Here are the logos for McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz. While the logos have the ability to stay in place, there are a number of applications where the words move to the side, or the image stands alone without the tag line. Versatility allows a brand to reinforce the main image while giving creative room for usage.
We are inching closer and closer to a finished and finalized logo for York College. Make sure to look for these three touches on the new logo when it is released.
While this blog has centered on creating a new visual identity for York College, we have made it our goal to provide resources that give a fuller understanding of the rebranding process. One of our most important tools is research. Research helps an organization understand their market and discover the unique elements the brand brings to the table.
Two essential aspects of research are first to identify what brought customers and clients to your organization, and second are they satisfied with the experience? Acquiring new customers is great, and necessary; but turning customers into partners who bought in to the experience is just as important. In our surveys to current students, we received lots of feedback and what aspects of a York College experience drew them in originally, as well as good insights on whether they were buying in to what York had to offer. The CGC team recently presented the finalized research reports to York as the project moves ahead.
But answers to our questions only provide half the story. We need to know how York College compares to others in the industry. The following are the questions we wanted to know to determine how York was doing gaining new students and providing a lasting experience for current ones.
- What percentage of students apply to one college or enroll at their top choice?
Recent trends show that increasing numbers of students are applying to more colleges than ever before. According to The American Freshman: National Norms 2013, “fewer students are enrolling at their first-choice institution. The proportion of students enrolling at their first-choice institution is at its lowest point [since 1974, when the question was first asked]. In 2013, 56.9% of students enrolled at their first-choice campus, …down 2.4 percentage points from 2012.” Here’s the breakdown by-the-numbers for college admissions:
(Chart and quote from The American Freshman: National Norms 2013 http://www.heri.ucla.edu/monographs/TheAmericanFreshman2013.pdf)
- What are the top 5 factors that influence an applicant’s school choice?
The following are the top five reasons an applicant chose their school (from the same The American Freshman 2013):
College has a good academic reputation (64%)
This college’s graduates get good jobs (53.1%)
I was offered financial assistance (48.7%)
The cost of attending this college (45.9%)
College has a good reputation for its social activities (44.1%)
More now than ever before, students are considering the financial situation during college and after graduation when choosing a school.
3. What percentage of college students would recommend their college?
This question can be answered indirectly. This question is really asking if current students are satisfied with their experience. One way to gauge that is whether current students would re-enroll at their college or not.
The National Student Satisfaction and Priorities report asked that very question. They found that, from private schools, 59% of students would re-enroll at their college or university. This is a slightly higher amount than at public universities, but considerably lower than at community colleges (Check out the full report here; although free to view, you must login as a guest).
Research always involves knowing your constituents and knowing your market. As we continue to rebrand York College, finding the right answers to the smart questions is what will make this project thrive.
Rebranding a large organization or institution is not a one-man or one-woman job. There are a slew of people working to get the redesigned York College visual identity up in the air. One of our key team members is Jeff James, our designer. He’s the lead person creating a new and improved logo for York College, and we thought it would be great to share his perspective on the project so far.
C. Grant & Company (CGC): Thanks for taking some time to answer some questions Jeff. We are excited about the progress we have made with the redesigned logo. Are there any current elements that you are hoping to incorporate into the new logo?
Jeff: When rebranding you always want to keep in mind the heritage and character of the existing identity. York’s current brand has some good foundations, but all organizations can shore up the gaps and improve their image and messaging. I have been thinking about its hardworking Midwestern roots as I design – the character of the institution and student body needs to play a part. Many school identities link to something physical on campus, so I have explored a variety of elements and least one of the concepts will incorporate something from the campus.
CGC: Has there been a driving factor, e.g. uniqueness, simplicity, historical, etc., for the new logo?
Jeff: A school logo really has to work in about the largest range of possible uses, from large to small and from full color to one color. Versatility is key. We want to make sure that the new logo is one that will fit the variety of purposes that come from higher education.
CGC: How can you tell what concepts are a good fit for York College?
Jeff: The best way is to tell the story of York College through the logo concept. There are conceptual elements that are very modern, energetic, and that look great, but don’t provide enough continuity with the history of the college. Other elements are robust and striking, but are too archaic to be using in the future. The best way to evaluate where the concept fits on the spectrum is to tell and retell the story and mission of York, and identify whether or not the elements of the logo tell the same story. If it doesn’t align or feels like a stretch, it might be time to go back to the drawing board. But if the story and logo do match up, you know you are on the right path.
CGC: During our meetings you mention how logos and images work as metaphors for organizations. Which metaphors do you visualize as you work on York College’s logo?
Jeff: Many colleges have similar images in their logos. You see lots of towers, shields, etc. These are strong images; towers represent strength and stability, shields protect and defend in a historical manner. But a rebrand provides an opportunity to stand out from the rest of the pack, so I’ve been using different metaphors and images as I brainstorm and sketch. One I keep coming back to is the idea of a window. Academia is portrayed as ivory tower learning, without acknowledging the real world. But a window lets the world in, as well as giving a new perspective on the world. A York educational experience gives students a new window, a new lens, to see the world through.
CGC: What about creating the new design has been most fun? Most insightful?
Jeff: The Y is a great letter to work with and doing typographic research is always a great deal of fun. I love the idea of blending the old and the new in my design. Bringing something historical but interrupting it through the lens and context of the 21st century can lead to insights. In designing I have been exploring a lot of ideas that reinterpret something historical. The schedule for this project has allowed me to spend a few hours a day over the course of a few weeks. It has been a lot of fun to explore a variety of ideas and pick it up the next day and take things in a whole new direction.
CGC: What item of apparel do you hope to own with the new logo on it?
Jeff: Designing takes a lot of coffee. So a travel mug would likely be on top of my list.
Today brings you the second of our York Visual Identity Progress Reports. As promised in our first progress report, updates will be coming more frequently as we move beyond the preliminary research phase.
Our team met last week to accomplish two tasks: match up relevant findings with the deliverables York College will have at the end of the project, and to perform a full Communications Audit.
The main deliverable is the York College brand book. The materials included in a brand book differ from organization to organization; in fact, check out this throwback brand book from NASA circa 1976. While the York College brand book won’t have to describe out how to apply its new logo to a space shuttle, it will require a few key sections.
The first is a segment on York College’s brand distinctives. These are the qualitative statements that make York stand out from the rest of the CCCU. Some can come from the history of York College (link); but the best insights come from the research we do to start off a new visual identity. One major insight we are hoping to pursue further is the concept of an “And School.” At other college and universities, students are often forced to choose from a handful of options: study, social life, or sleep; and if they are lucky, they can be an athlete or participate in a club. That’s not the case at York. Students can participate in athletics and musical events and theatre productions and more, all during their time in college. Being an “And School” separates York from the other colleges.
The second and third sections are the new logo itself and the style guide, respectively. While we haven’t finished the new logo, our designer has been making steady progress on a handful of options for the York College team to give feedback. At our meeting last week, he expressed his excitement with the progress he has made, and is excited to finally bring some concepts to the table. Once the new logo is decided on and the final touches are completed, the style guidelines for practical usage can be created.
After discussing the brand book, we took some time to audit York College’s communication materials. An audit evaluates whether promotional materials match up the brand distinctives as determined by our research. Does the website showcase how students can play sports and perform in artistic productions? Do mailings and fliers show the college as intimate and people-centered, not a standoffish institution? Is the monetary value of the school communicated through publications? The move York College has made to rebrand itself provides an opportunity to solidify the core of the York experience and communicate that more effectively to alumni, parents, and students.
We will continue to publish updates of the progress made in creating a new and improved visual identity for York College. Make sure to check back often for new progress reports and rebranding materials.
In creating a new brand logo like we are doing for York College, it is helpful to have a strong understanding of what to look for in a logo. While there are many objective and subjective ways to rank logos, many characteristics stand out as common traits for good logo design. Although we are using them currently to decide what a strong college logo looks like, these six principles are must-haves for any brand logo hoping to thrive now and in the future. Instead of creating rigid requirements, we developed six categories, each with a series of questions to ask of a logo. Answers to the questions help determine where the logo falls on the spectrum.
1. A logo should be simple
Is the logo clean and high-impact, or complex and ambiguous? Does the logo allow the identity of the brand to be understood, or do multiple meanings create too much work for the audience? Are there embellishments that could be subtracted, or are all pieces required to communicate the message? Do brand distinctives rise to the surface, or get lost in the logo?
2. A logo should be relevant
Does the logo fit with the industry? Can it be seen in the context of the brand’s clients/constituency? Do clients think the logo is relevant to the brand and product? Will the logo match the quality of the product being offered or sold, or misrepresent the brand to consumers? Does the logo effectively challenge your consumers’ stereotypes, or is it a facade?
3. A logo should be timeless
Does the logo have staying power? Is it centered on the latest trend or style, or does it feel fresh yet lasting? Is brand history important for the future? If so, how is the history of the brand represented in the logo? Does the logo represent the present, or a trajectory for the future of the brand? Will the logo help create an enduring brand image.
4. A logo should be versatile
What does the logo look like in black-and-white? Grey scaled? Does the logo base its meaning, impact, or memorability on its color? Is it scalable – able to be adapted at the 1 in. size or on a billboard? Does it look good on merchandise – shirts, hats, bumper stickers, stationery, powerpoints, Internet publications, magazine covers, packaging, blankets, as tattoos, tote bags, etc? Are there possibilities for brand extensions under your logo? Can the logo be abbreviated into a small unit that holds the same meaning/message for the brand?
5. A logo should be memorable
Is the logo recognizable? Is it unique in comparison to the industry? Do people “see” the logo elsewhere, i.e. do daily habits, places, people, signs bring to mind the logo, and therefore the brand? Will consumers or an audience skip over the logo without a second glance, or give them pause, make them think, establish a connection? Does it invoke a lasting impression? Does your consumer see him or herself “in” the logo – do their experiences, histories, personas, fit in with your brand? Will the logo reflect the distinctive qualities of the brand?
6. A logo should be cohesive
Do the individual parts of the logo fit together to create a unified whole? Do the logo mark and logo type/wordmark work together, or fight against each other? Are different elements relevant to each other and the brand? Does one aspect of the logo tell a similar or related story as the others, or are they speaking completely different languages?
Not every new logo needs to score perfectly in every category. Depending on the organization and context, certain categories are more important to nail down than others. For long-term institutions like York College, developing a visual identity that highlights timelessness is essential. The new logo must also be versatile enough to be placed on signs, buildings, banners, mugs, T-shirts, pens, folders, notebooks, and more since colleges put their brand mark everywhere. But as we continue to develop York College’s new visual identity, you can be sure that these six elements will play a part.
In 2010, “Today” Show anchor Ann Curry gave the commencement address to Wheaton College graduates. She gave an encouraging talk, motivating the graduates to take advantage of adversity and move forward with their dreams. Naturally, she cited some of the famous alumni that came out of Wheaton College, like evangelist Billy Graham and the 9/11 hero Todd Beamer, to show that making a difference was possible. Unfortunately for her, these alumni didn’t come from Wheaton College in Massachusetts where she was giving her address; they were alumni of the Christian liberal arts college outside of Chicago.
Although anecdotal (not to mention embarrassing), Ann Curry’s mistake exemplifies the difficulty that arises when multiple schools take the same name. York College finds itself in a similar situation. If you did a Google search for “York College” you would find not just one York College, not two, but three of them. How can York College distinguish itself from the others while still holding on to heritage that comes with the name? By creating a strong visual identity.
One option is to incorporate the regional location into the school’s identity. One of the three “Yorks” goes by York College of Pennsylvania. By making location a part of the name, it adds another layer of details about the school to set it apart from the others. The effect is similar to what occurs with multi-campus schools, like the University of Illinois. Going by city name, like University of Illinois in Chicago or University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, distinguishes schools, administrations, and students from one another, and helps create separate identities.
Another is to emphasize not the name of the school, but what it offers. York College (NE) gives every student an intimate, Christian education – and neither of the other schools can put that in their description. Affiliating with the churches of Christ is another descriptor that makes York College stand out among its peers.
York College does have some strong factors on its side. It has a long history, with a community in York, Nebraska that has given it a place to call home. Geographically, it is far from the other “Yorks”, both of which reside on the East coast. And perhaps most importantly, York College owns the web address www.york.edu. The value of that digital real estate is hard to over estimate – and adding a strong, visual presence and identity on that “property” is going to distinguish York College from the rest of the pack.
Today we are bringing you the first of what will become a regular installment on this blog – the York Visual Identity
Until this point, we have talked about some general concepts concerning a visual identity. We’ve written about why York is rebranding, the importance of York’s history, and impact of the local community. But just last week, the results of our exploratory research came in, allowing us to get a fuller picture of what York College represents. We sent out surveys to four different constituent groups – alumni, current students, parents of current students, and prospective students. Questions focused on the York College experience, with questions asking what York was known for to what type of person respondents would describe themselves as. (If you are wondering why we do this research before every project, read our post, “Why One Insight from Research is Worth the Work”)Progress Reports. Each report will bring an update on where we are in the rebranding process and most importantly decisions and checkpoints to celebrate!
We found a number of interesting insights and data points as we began to pour over our responses. In previous posts, we discussed the importance of York College’s affiliation with the churches of Christ. Our research confirmed that the majority of alumni and current students still are connected to this Christian tradition; however, the student body reports 20% less than alumni. As York College seeks to distinguish itself from other schools in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), recognizing the religious profile is important.
Another observation that came from our research was the number of students who are the first to attend York College. More than 50% of current students are the first in their families to come to York, and an impressive 75% of prospective students who responded will be the first in their families to attend the school. Compared to schools like Harvard and Yale, and even Christian universities like Wheaton College, this is a huge number of students who are coming to York College without family connections.
Our team did find two data points that require some important follow-up and analysis. First is the size of the school. The majority of survey respondents mentioned the small, intimate size of the college as a reason for choosing York College. As we continue rebranding, identifying the elements of a tight, intimate community like York College might influence the end result greatly.
The second was a large disparity between the answers of current students and their parents. Time and again, the responses parents gave were more positive and one-sided than those of current students. This raises a couple questions, of course. Are parents projecting their own values and traits on to their students’ experience? Does experiencing what York College has to offer provide the gap? Do students change their opinions on York College by senior year? Or is it a combination of these? Coming up with a good answer will bring out the best of what York College can offer in its visual identity while also understanding the experience better.
Now that research is in, updates will happen more frequently as progress is made. We will continue to post about the project, as well as highlight other important considerations in a rebrand.