By Fran Johnson
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University rebrands

A few people have asked about my thoughts on the recent Loughborough University rebrand. Rather than talk directly about my personal views on the success (or not!) of the end result, I wanted to take a look at other examples where University rebrands have been revoked, and why.

Loughborough University in London logo
Loughborough University in London logo

The brief

In my eyes, the crucial stage of a rebranding process is the brief. Briefs can sometimes be driven by the ‘need to look different’ so the driving factors maybe ‘it needs to work on mobile’ or ‘it’s got to look fresher’ rather than the need for growth – ‘our brand no longer reflects our target market’ or ‘our company is becoming a global enterprise rather than a national one’.

King's College London logo
King's College London logo

King’s college, London is a good example of a rebrand that was driven by growth. It isn’t going ahead, due to students and staff not feeling like it fully represented the institution. But, the driving factor for change was around the need to remove confusion amongst international students around the ‘college’ part of the name.

The brief had weight. A sound business decision. But not all King’s stakeholders agreed with the need.

Understanding stakeholders within University rebrands

The visual language of a brand needs to match the other communication – most stakeholders buy into the main themes of an institution. For Loughborough, some of those aims are; world-leading research, working with business and world-class sport. The majority of people that come into contact with Loughborough University would recognise those messages.

University of Warwick logo
The University of Warwick logo

The University of Warwick is an institution that is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year. ‘Forward looking’ and standing out from ‘traditional universities’. The rebrand follows these values, and together with a wide ranging consultation with students and staff a new brand was created. The design, however, has been described as “[the logo] looks like a five-year-old had an accident with Word ‘97”.

Design is important

The University of California developed a new logo to run alongside the existing seal. Creating a brand that complements the logo and ensuring all communication feels like it’s confirming the same message.

The rebrand was again revoked, but perhaps due to the way the unveil was communicated. Most stakeholders believed the seal was being eradicated rather than added to, with a misleading video indicated the seal being swept away.

University of California logo
University of California logo

So, how do we measure success?

We feel connected to brands. Any change can evoke an emotional response, and anyone launching a brand will be expecting the negative comments; the institution may need a rebrand due to growth, the stakeholders may all be on-board and listened to, and the design may tick all the boxes in terms of following the rules of design, but then what?

Last week I met with Paul, co-founder of StudentCrowd. He made a very good point around the evaluation of negative responses after the launch of a rebrand. He spoke about the need to decide – ahead of time – what would warrant a rethink. In the case of Loughborough’s rebrand, would 50,000 negative responses be acceptable and people’s natural aversion to change, and anything further be a deeper problem?

In summary, the most successful university rebrands seem to tick the following boxes:

  • Does a rebrand need to happen?
  • Does the logo represent all the stakeholders? ie. for Loughborough representing teaching, enterprise and research
  • Does the rest of the brand fit the logo?
  • Are their evaluation methods in place?
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