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GW Develops New Identity Standards and Guidelines
July 16, 2012
A new university logo will be released in the fall.
July 16, 2012
Two years ago, the George Washington University began to research and develop a new message strategy to better reflect the qualities that make GW unique from other universities.
At the time, there was little consistency around visual identity across the university. Each department and school had its own look and feel. And the university’s logo, portrait, color palette and font choices didn’t translate well into digital applications.
To help the university create a cohesive visual identity that can be widely adopted, GW hired two branding consulting firms: FutureBrand and 160over90. FutureBrand, whose globalchairman Christopher Nurko received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs in 1984 and 1987, was tasked with helping GW refresh the university’s core identity elements including its logo, portrait, color palette and fonts to better align with its message strategy. 160over90 was responsible for helping GW create a new look and feel for the university’s marketing and communication materials.
And after two years of research and design, GW has developed a new modern identity with specific Identity Standards and Guidelines to help the GW community implement the new visuals. The Identity Standards and Guidelines, which are designed to be applied to advertising, stationery, signage, digital media and print materials, include instructions for the use of GW logos, colors, typography and imagery.
FutureBrand Creative Director Mark Thwaites and 160over90 Creative Director Cory McCall spent a few minutes with George Washington Today to better explain what went into creating the new Identity Standards and Guidelines.
Q: How did you start the visual identity redesign and creative direction process?
Cory: It started with three very hot days on campus last summer where we interviewed somewhere between 50 to 75 people from all parts of the GW community — students, faculty, deans, department heads and of course President Steven Knapp. We returned with several full notebooks and digital recorders and began to piece together the story of the George Washington University that we had discovered. This was all done with words at this point in a strategic document called a creative brief. Think of it as a blueprint that would guide the creative work. We actually came back to campus and presented this document to a rather large representative sampling from the university. And then, with their approval, we began bringing it to life with original copywriting and design.
Mark: When we started the visual identity redesign, we looked at two distinct areas. We first looked at the practical application problems, which included production issues and random creation of multiple logos, and tried to figure out how we could solve them with design. Secondly, we used the new positioning, brand attributes and brand pillars, which are all based on the heritage of the university and some aspirational traits, to create a brief that we used as a filter to drive the design process forward. From there, we created a spectrum of logos that were evolutionary moves (small steps away from the current logo) to revolutionary. Some of the qualities we examined were purely typographical and some addressed the modification of the George Washington portrait.
Q: How much work went into creating the new brand guidelines?
Cory: The short answer, a lot. Over the past six months we have had weekly discussions with GW and FutureBrand, dissecting each aspect — the signature system, the typefaces, the color palette, etc. There are a ton of minute details that need to be considered, and it can feel overwhelming at points. Twice we had full-day, in-person work sessions — once at FutureBrand’s New York office and once at our Philadelphia office — with both agencies and GW’s Department of External Relations where we essentially locked ourselves in a conference room, ordered in lunch and just stayed at it until we had solved what we needed to solve.
Mark: Creating brand guidelines is an iterative process that really begins once you agree on the identity. It's a massive part of the project because it deals with the real-world application of the identity, which is a huge undertaking for a university due to the multiple audiences and touchpoints the identity lives in. The lion's share of the work tries to adapt and be practical to solve day-to-day issues around branding. Guidelines are the number one facilitator of this process.
Q: What are the goals of the new identity standards and guidelines?
Mark: The goals of the identity are to create a cohesive, singular, but flexible visual voice for the university – one that will stand out in the category and convey the personality and unmatched education that GW can provide. The goals of the guidelines are to provide comprehensive, manageable and consistent rules and an application direction that facilitates cohesiveness. The key is to allow for enough flexibility so that the identity can articulate the appropriate message, depending on a variety of situations.
Cory: To unify what the university is saying and how it is saying it so that collectively, we can tell the untold story of GW in a bold and distinctive way.
Q: What does the new brand express about GW?
Mark: The new brand speaks to the location of Washington D.C. and what it has to offer, the rigorous academics and great teaching. Additionally it speaks to the unique opportunities that GW has to offer, which ultimately equals successful outcomes.
Cory: It is bold, passionate, fearless and forward-looking. It communicates the fact that there is truly no other university experience quite like this one, rooted in the heart of our nation’s capital and integrating the benefits of that location into the way we learn, the way we live and the way we impact the world.
Q: How can GW faculty and staff implement the new guidelines into their work?
Cory: Read your guidelines, especially the upfront portion on message strategy. This really provides the thinking behind everything. It sets the stage for the story we are telling both with the new logo and portrait as well as with the new creative work. Then it’s all about understanding how to use these new elements correctly, so the university feels cohesive and connected.
Mark: GW faculty and staff can implement the new guidelines by using them as a tool to help create messaging and powerful design solutions for all of their marketing needs. The guidelines should not be viewed as a book of rules, but a book of guard rails so that all materials and communications are on brand and appropriate for the George Washington University.