Design and Branding for Schools (Linkedin)

Matthew

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In the Education sector, sometimes there can be a little confusion surrounding the relationship between branding and identity, and the role played by art and design. So, our school branding experts at Toop Studio are here to tell you what you need to know…

Branding and Identity

Put simply, a ‘brand’ is what people think of and feel when they hear or see a brand name. It involves an emotional relationship that instils reliability and trust between an organisation and its stakeholders.

A school’s brand consists of intangible elements (such as reputation or heritage) and tangible elements (such as the logo, visual communications or buildings). An identity is the collection of these tangible elements (logo etc.) within the brand.

Obviously, the school itself largely controls its identity. Intangible elements, such as the school’s results and media coverage, are more difficult to control. So, in order to improve a school’s brand you have to examine every touch-point and interaction the stakeholders might have with the school.

If a school is divided into houses, then often there is (or should be) some kind of sub-identity for each house. As well as names, houses can have their own colours, emblems, badges or flags. A full branding of a school’s houses helps to instil a sense of belonging and loyalty.

Finally, a set of brand guidelines (also known as a ‘style guide’) outlines an organisation’s brand identity elements (such as the logo, colours and tone of voice) and the rules for using them. These established guidelines make sure an organisation’s communications remain consistent over time. They are extremely useful for schools, as they allow the management of their communications with employees and external sources efficiently.

Logo, Typeface and Video

A logo is a graphic mark that represents an organisation. Every school has one – years ago it would have probably taken the form of a school crest. These days, there are often two parts to a school logo. The first is the school’s name in a particular font (this is known as a ‘word mark’). The second is a purely graphic symbol (known as a ‘picture mark’). Remember, a picture mark is a useful device for ‘tight spaces’ (such as in a twitter profile image).

A well-designed school logo needs to satisfy many demands. It should be fairly timeless, and portray a sense of reliability and competence. It should stand out when placed alongside other local school logos and be legible even at small sizes. It should also be able to be sewn into a uniform and be derived from something meaningful.

The typefaces used in external school communications should be consistent. Typefaces and fonts will depend on the look of the logo (modern or traditional), how legible they are, how they work on screen, in print and on signage. It is a good idea to have a ‘primary typeface’ in a limited number of weights, and perhaps a secondary typeface that works with it.

Video is an evolving medium in the education sector. When commissioning a school video, begin by working out what makes your school different from other schools. Consider who can best present the school to the world; perhaps it’s the students themselves, or a mixture of the head, the teaching staff and the students?

Education, Walls and Buildings

When considering design for schools, it is incorrect to assume the only role of design is marketing related. Educational content can be delivered visually via painted murals, mounted panels, vinyl wallpaper or wall wraps for exterior walls.

In the example below, the relationship between atoms, DNA, genes and cells are explained via an illustrated wall graphic that is displayed in a stairwell leading to the science department.

Primary schools are often more visual places than high schools. In the primary school display below, flora, fauna and the architecture of each region helps to illustrate a map of the world.

However, some interesting scientific research has shown that the best place for this kind of visual material is not in the classroom. The current thinking is that school classroom wall displays should be minimal. The best place for wall graphics is in communal areas and corridors. The world map above was installed in the school entrance hall.

In fact, the walls of a school offer enormous possibilities for communication and education. Consider the school reception area and communal areas such as the canteen, common room or stairwell. These walls are an opportunity to do more than be decorative. Wall graphics for schools are a great way to inspire and educate.

Large institutional buildings, such as university campuses, are often divided up into zones. Good design can help to give each zone a sense of place. Maps and signage also help to make sure new students and visitors know where they are and how to get around.

Rebranding

A rebrand is a good idea if a school is holding on to an out of date visual identity that might be out of sync with their current practice. The key to a successful rebrand is not necessarily to throw out the old identity completely, but to evolve it. If a school has a good reputation, it also has brand equity.

In the example below, the crest on the left represented Springfield School in Portsmouth, UK. After a brand refresh it was replaced by the logo on the right. It was decided that the old ‘rampant lion’ crest had connotations that didn’t best reflect a forward-thinking school in the 21st century. The new design draws on the positive connotations of the lion symbol, rendering it as a young lion of either sex, springing forward. The ‘S’ of Springfield is worked into the lion’s tail, and the star and crescent was added to tie the identity even more closely to the City of Portsmouth.

Design and branding for schools is a specialism of Toop Studio, Brighton.

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