Rebranding a university

In late 2015, we began an exercise to rebrand the University of York. There were a number of reasons why it was time to undergo this process.

First of all, the introduction of a new Vice-Chancellor heralded a new era for the University and they needed to reflect his ambitions. Their old logo, designed in 1994, was in need of updating as there were issues with legibility due to its length. As well as this, their marketing collateral was disparate and in need of a clear set of guidelines to help create a cohesive brand. The identity guidelines in place in 2007 were relatively rudimentary and often ignored.

To start the process we facilitated workshops to assess whether University staff were receptive to change and to understand where their marketing material stood at the time. It transpired that many staff and stakeholders were very receptive to a fresh approach, however, they were wary of a radical change: other UK universities had approached rebranding in this way, but to their detriment.

From the ground up, we first tackled the design of the logo. We kept the design of the ‘of York’ element, refined it and rearranged it into a stacked form. This allowed the logo to appear larger when constrained by width.

The wording ‘UNIVERSITY’ originally set in Palatino was modified, flattening the bases of the serifs and adjusting some of the lettering to create a more open and contemporary cut. These changes were subtle but necessary.

Digital communication is of obvious importance as a channel for any modern institution. It was therefore necessary to redesign the Coat of Arms into a simple form so that it could be used at a small size (when viewed on tablets or mobiles). This was then used as a stand-alone icon, for example in social media, or as a watermark. It was also added to the logo to reinforce the heritage of the University with its collegiate nature, and to reflect the city of York itself.

We had to strike a balance between an institute (and city) that had a heritage, whilst simultaneously being at the forefront of research and learning. Our solution was to use two type families Inka (a serif font) and Monsal Gothic (a sans serif). The two type styles complemented each other and could be used in varying amounts to reach difference audiences.

We developed the look of the new identity using their undergraduate prospectus as a test bed. The design help to define the publication style for much of their other literature, including their postgraduate prospectus. From here we implemented a set of brand guidelines to help dictate the look and feel of the University’s visual language.

The brand is continuing to be rolled out across the University and has received praise from staff, students and other stakeholders. The consensus is that the rebrand has been a huge success and will set the University in good stead. Its brand now has consistency and can compete with other UK universities, as well as other educational institutions abroad.

If you are considering a rebrand of this nature, please get in touch with us on +44 (0)20 8972 9700 or email us.