Change is scary, and colleges and universities are often deeply rooted in tradition: so much so that even a small change to a logo could meet significant resistance. But post-secondary brands developed decades ago need to progress to meet new student, alumni, and community expectations – and the needs of new platforms through which schools are connecting these with audiences. As the digital world continues to evolve, higher ed. brands need to keep up.
A complete brand overhaul may not be required to make your brand more suitable for digital environments. But even a deceptively simple update requires time and consultation to be embraced and adopted.
What they said: We need to improve how Queen’s is represented in a digital-first environment.
Queen’s is an established, well-recognized brand, but because its visual identity has remained relatively unchanged for decades, visual elements became outdated and were no longer suitable for digital applications.
At the same time, as Queen’s is a decentralized institution, the brand was being interpreted and communicated differently across faculties, schools, departments, and units.
Queen’s recognized the need to update their visual identity for online environments, and this set us in motion. Our solution needed to reflect what Queen’s stands for today – while respecting the strong brand equity they have built.
Not only did the framework need to be suitable for digital applications, but it had to lend itself to consistency and accessibility in sharing the Queen’s story – including their commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and Indigenization. To achieve this, users of the Queen’s brand would need tangible tools to share with their university-community to encourage and ease adoption of the new brand architecture.
What we saw: The Queen’s story needs to be authentic for key stakeholders to buy-in.
When it comes to visual identity and design work, there’s a tendency to approach the work purely through a creative lens, but at ED we refuse to skip the strategic groundwork. Even understanding that this was a visual exercise, a comprehensive brand platform was necessary to provide a rationale for any suggested changes – however minor.
Because our work would serve as a foundation for other Queen’s initiatives, we knew the brand platform – including narrative devices – needed to be authentic, as this was essential for the university-community to buy-in.
Our process began with discovery, including research and consultation to dive deep into the ethos of Queen’s. We reviewed an environmental scan and learned about Queen’s initial vision for the consultation. We closely referenced the President’s Strategic Vision, to ensure our expression of Queen’s aligned with leadership’s vision. We designed a research process to engage stakeholders which included one-on-one interviews and group sessions, and developed the surveys, discussion guides and other tools needed. To keep us on the right track, we collaborated with the Queen’s team throughout the entire process.
ED made recommendations on the composition of the groups and led and moderated all interviews and group sessions. We talked to people from various stakeholder groups, the very people that make Queen’s “Queen’s”, and we got a sense of their perceptions, feedback and insights. As new topics emerged from these conversations, we proposed additional consultations including a dedicated session with BIPOC members to ensure full community participation.
After the discovery phase, we crafted the Queen’s brand platform and presented it to a number of key stakeholder groups, refining the platform along the way based on feedback received. We worked with each group to ensure the brand narrative genuinely reflected the unique perspective of key stakeholders, while also representing the university as a whole. Nothing creates a sense of joined purpose within a higher ed. community like a powerful brand platform that truly feels authentic to all, and resonant on an individual level.
As part of the brand platform work, we crafted a guiding brand idea to distill what exactly sets Queen’s apart and this served as inspiration for our design team’s creative exploration. This brand idea, captured by the notion of individual success as a result of collective effort, would serve as a touchstone for our creative exploration.
ED’s design team started by conducting an exhaustive audit of existing Queen’s brand assets across faculties, departments, units, and programs. Our team analyzed hundreds of assets they compiled onto a Miro board to get a big-picture view of Queen’s visual brand. We looked for inconsistencies and worked closely with the brand team to uncover which elements or Queen’s sub-brands were to remain untouched and the pain points we were to address – with a specific focus on digital applications of the Queen’s brand.
We leveraged the existing brand equity by retaining the tricolours as Queen’s primary colour palette. The palette was foundational and had served as Queen’s core brand colours for decades but was applied inconsistently, so we suggested simplifying the use of colour. We collaborated with the Queen’s brand team to ideate secondary and tertiary colour palettes to provide more flexibility for brand users. And certain colours were intentionally chosen to reflect Queen’s historical architecture, such as the limestone on their buildings. We anchored these complementing colours with the tricolour – melding tradition and modernity.
We made recommendations on photography approach to ensure images representing the university reflected diversity. We recommended simplifying the Queen’s crest – the main symbol in its logo, and further suggested evolving the logo by reserving the Palatino font for Queen’s wordmark alone. We proposed complementary typography options to give brand users more range and the ability to express a variety of tones in type within the brand standards. And collaboratively with the Queen’s brand team, we determined the ideal suite of fonts that would ensure accessibility and legibility in a digital environment.
ED presented these and other recommendations to the Queen’s brand team and like the rest of the engagement, it was entirely a collaborative process. We made refinements based on the brand team’s feedback, as they had insight on how their stakeholders may respond and what in-house design capabilities they had. Along with modernizing the Queen’s visual identity for digital platforms, the overarching goal was ensuring that the end result was user-friendly. After all, the brand users at Queen’s would be the ones implementing the brand, and the project could not succeed without their adoption.
After an extensive consultation process and working in partnership with the Queen’s brand team to craft the renewed brand architecture framework, we presented it to eight executive and senior-level stakeholder groups, and we were able to build consensus.
Queen’s renewed brand architecture framework was ownable, and provided a cleaner and more user-friendly digital presence. And Brand users were provided with the tools needed such as the Brand Central website and visual identity guide to ensure it could be easily implemented.