Campus UX: Why universities should be creating 'branded environments' on campus

When most colleges and universities consider their brands, they rarely venture beyond the design and implementation of a logo, writes Gensler Design Director Brian Brindisi.

August 13, 2014 |
GenslerOn

When most colleges and universities consider their brands, they rarely venture beyond the design and implementation of a logo. Time and time again we have seen this “logo” inconsistently used on brochures and buildings without further thought into the potential power of branding.

By failing to delve deeper into this “potential power,” universities fail to capitalize on this profound opportunity to reinforce their specific set of ideals. Simply put, a good brand does more than establish a visual language; it creates an immersive experience for every person who interacts with the campus; it enhances the lives of students and faculty by uniting them under a shared sense of values and goals; it engenders loyalty with alumni, which as a result significantly can increase the percentage of donations. 

Having a short-sighted mindset in regards to branding and not approaching it in a holistic manner will not allow a university to fully engage with existing and prospective students, faculty, and alumni, as well as the outside world.

In its infancy, a brand may start with a visual but it should go beyond a simple sensory experience. A “good” brand engages students before they’ve even set foot on campus; it communicates specific ideals and traits associated with the university; it takes a simple visual cue, like a logo, graphic or color, and turns it into a defining perspective; it frames this perspective within the student’s point of view; it allows the student to comprehend how faculty and other services can help achieve their specific goals; and it attracts prospective students by piquing their interest and promising to deliver. 

A “good” brand permeates through the technologies, which now allow us so many new freedoms. The brand provides choices and lets students, as well as others, take control. Today, people no longer want to be told what to do; therefore they want universities to reflect their own values, and with that, a universities’ brand is incorporated into their decision-making process to help determine which school is the right fit.

Today, students, want to study in a setting which mirrors a particular lifestyle and makes them feel comfortable. As a result, campuses are beginning to incorporate elements from disciplines such as hospitality and urban design. Universities are diversifying their offerings, and as they do this they are creating cohesive visual languages, which reflect their brands and engage students. On campus, a strong brand integrates itself into the built environment in an organic manner.

Gone are the drab white walls and generic classrooms of yesteryear. Universities now want every facet of the built environment to communicate a specific message and to cater to a unique experience. The “one-size fits all” approach to classroom and building design is a thing of the past. Every available visual landscape on campus must now convey differentiated information to users. Integrating a university’s brand through comprehensive signage, the application of clear visual language, and design features that speak to the functionality of each space helps realize this goal.

By creating a sense of place within each building, universities not only enhance the overall learning environment but also increase rates of retention. We live in an experience-driven society where everything from going shopping to attending a sports game is singular. Successful campuses mimic this pattern. If the on-campus experience isn’t memorable, if it doesn’t transcend into the student’s post-graduate professional world, then the probability of that student staying in contact with the university and giving back to ensure that future students enjoy the same benefits considerably diminishes.

A significant advantage of a lasting brand is loyal alumni. Strong alumni contributions reflect an assigned worth that a graduate associates with the institution or university post-graduation. This assigned worth conveys the impact or perception of the individual’s experience and demonstrates their higher education chapter has influenced or changed their lives for the better. An affinity to the university has been created and a sense of pride to take care of their kinship results in an obligation to give back and ensure the vitality of the university.

At the end of the day, a “good” university brand doesn’t just influence a student; it becomes a part of that student’s personal identity. Graduates of universities with strong brands identify themselves as alumni for the rest of their lives. They flaunt not only their degrees but the experiences that came with those degrees. They wear their association with “their” university like a badge of honor and are eager to advertise it to the rest of the world.

At its core, higher education branding is the process of taking the characteristics which make a university great, and expressing those characteristics through emotive experiences which ultimately enhance learning and the overall on-campus experience. On-campus comprehensive and immersive branding at universities will be a significant trend in higher education over the coming years. The only question is what universities and colleges will get ahead of the curve and which ones will trail behind.

About the Author

Brian Brindisi is a design director for the Lifestyle-Brand Design studio and Regional Brand Design Leader at Gensler's New York office. His portfolio includes education, mixed-use, cultural, and corporate projects. Outside of Gensler, Brian continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor at the School of Visual Arts where he teaches visual identity and branding. Contact him at brian_brindisi@gensler.com.

 

More posts from the GenslerOn blog

GenslerOn | Gensler

Published by Gensler, a global design firm with 5,000 practitioners networked across five continents, GenslerOn features insights and opinions of architects and designers on how design innovation makes cities more livable, work smarter, and leisure more engaging. Our contributors write about projects of every scale, from refreshing a retailer’s brand to planning a new urban district, all the while explaining how great design can optimize business performance and human potential. For more blog posts, visit: http://www.gensleron.com.

Related Blogs

July 15, 2019 | Healthcare Facilities | GenslerAmy Carter, Bethany Callihan, and James Crispino

Below are five strategies to improve access and patient experience.

How the Internet of Things will transform airport environments

Auckland Airport — Auckland, New Zealand. Photo courtesy Gensler

May 20, 2019 | Airports | GenslerScott Gorenc, AIA, LEED AP, Senior Designer, Gensler

Connected devices and their wealth of data have led to significant improvements in operational efficiency a...

April 30, 2019 | GenslerDiane Hoskins

Our data reveal what is truly going on in the current workplace, with insights on how workplace design can...

It’s time for office amenities to get to work

At Campari Group’s new North American headquarters in New York, four distinct bar-like experiences offer more than just a place for employees and guests to blow off steam. Photo courtesy Gensler

April 08, 2019 | Office Building Design | GenslerAmanda Carroll, IIDA, CID, LEED AP, Workplace Leader, Principal, Gensler

Amenities with the greatest impact on effectiveness and experience are those that directly support the work...

How the built environment can help the climate crisis

Courtesy Pixabay

November 05, 2018 | Sustainability | GenslerAnthony Brower

Our buildings and cities will have to experiment with new climate responsive forms, and in many cases, the...

Leland Federal Building

The G.T. "Mickey" Leland Federal Building in Houston. Image © Joe Aker.

October 03, 2018 | Sustainability | GenslerChris Mundell And Maria Perez

Many companies are influenced by the misconception that only some projects can qualify as sustainable.

Comcast Studio Xfinity

For Comcast Studio Xfinity's new flagship in Washington, D.C., Gensler created an engaging experiential brand program that informed the store's interior design and created a warm, social, and inviting environment. Image © Chris Leonard.

September 17, 2018 | Retail Centers | GenslerRyan Cavanaugh

One way to solve for the future is to disrupt the expected.

August 27, 2018 | Office Building Design | GenslerJanet Pogue McLaurin

The degree of open or enclosed doesn't matter in high-performing work environments. If the space is designe...

The CSU Northridge Sustainability + Recycling Center

The CSU Northridge Sustainability + Recycling Center includes a rooftop photovoltaic system, which offsets the energy required to support the building's administrative functions. Glazed, north-facing overhead windows bring in natural light that enhances the work environment for staff and creates a daylight autonomous environment. The design eliminates the need for artificial light in the building during daylight hours. Ryan Gobuty, Image © Gensler.

August 06, 2018 | Energy | GenslerAnthony Brower

The architecture, engineering, and construction industry will have to make major adjustments in the years a...

A day in the life of an ‘agile worker’

A mix of sit-stand stations and collaboration areas support agile working. Image © Gensler/John Ryan.

July 18, 2018 | Office Building Design | GenslerJane Stull

When our Gensler La Crosse office relocated last year, we leveraged the opportunity to support an agile wor...

Overlay Init