We worked with Athlone Institute of Technology and Limerick Institute of Technology to develop a brand system for their transformation into a newly formed technological university. Tackling the development of a visual identity for a new university is a unique opportunity and a deeply complex challenge. The formation of the Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest, from client consultation, application for Technological University status, stakeholder workshops, to brand development and rollout was as exciting as it was daunting. With many moving parts, we began this journey with open and honest conversation.
Engaging with Stakeholders
We met with working groups, made up of various stakeholders such as faculty, 2nd and 3rd level students, industry leaders, department heads, communication teams, international teams, and individuals situated all around the country. In these meetings we presented research, but more importantly we asked questions and listened to the stories and perspectives that these people had to offer. Each had their own opinions, wants and needs from a university. Moving forward we would have to be cognisant and respectful of these needs. A university concurrently caters to the needs of thousands of people from all walks of life and our brand would need to mirror this diversity of needs.
The River’s Source
Counter-intuitively, we began our research for this new technological university by first looking back. Taking from Irish folklore, we looked at the stories borne from the history of the River Shannon. These stories the source of the river, Connla’s Well, also called the well of wisdom, granted special properties to the water of the river. These waters would then feed into the regions and towns that developed alongside the river. This was our primary source of inspiration when developing the logo. The result contains two key elements; the water of the river, signifying the flow of knowledge and information, and the bridge, which reflects the structure and access provided by the university. These concepts, working in tandem, reflect the ethos of this new university.
The colour wheel is a crowded battlefield in the education sector. How do you stand out from the crowd, but retain a semblance of authority and trust in your audience? Typically, the same handful of colours are used repeatedly as they are tried and tested and expected. We couldn’t afford to be too ‘expected’, that would be akin to joining a race with your shoelaces tied together. We stepped away from the colour wheel and explored alternatives, which is when we came upon gold. Using gold as a primary colour and as a key asset in the development of brand recognition is an atypical decision in the educational sector. Gold is not a colour, but rather a material, the appearance of which differs from screen to foil to metallic inks. Gold as a primary colour immediately distinguishes this University from the rest of the domestic playing-field. Used with consideration, gold is an elegant, timeless colour that is suggestive of excellence.
Gold alone would not work, in isolation gold can feel a little bit precious. But gold combined with a vibrant secondary colour palette yielded a stunning effect. The result was a memorable and acerbic colour treatment that avoided typical tropes associated with gold usage. With few core elements we could strike a serious tone, and with an injection of colour the timbre of the brand could transform entirely. A system was slowly forming.
Developing a System
This brand system essentially operates in two parts. Along with the logo we developed a suite of primary brand elements with a modernist design ethos. Favouring simplicity and coherence, we saw functionality and longevity as key factors in our decision-making process. The simplicity of these elements allow this brand to be easily expressed, whether at the hands of an in-house designer, or film crew, or student using native software. At its core this is a simple brand with few colours, reliable type and simple elements, ensuring the brand will operate well into the future. But ensuring longevity is not enough.
We proceeded to build supporting elements such as patterns and textures in bold colours, informed by the movement of water, though rendered with sharp, digital characteristics. This is a brand that needs to thrive in the digital age and should be built to communicate in such a manner. Digital expression, through the likes of motion graphics, screen-friendly design elements, and visual accessibility considerations, means that this brand will excel across the spectrum of platforms and applications, from social media to web design as well as environmental design and print media.
The careful juxtaposition of timeless primary elements alongside expressive secondary elements allow for a tonal flexibility in brand communications which can adapt to best engage with the wide ranging target audiences. These elements combined result in a brand that can authentically carry pertinent stories relevant to today’s increasingly connected and diverse audiences.
Duality and Design
At the core of all this work are stories, real stories, told by passionate students, dedicated faculty, innovative industry leaders, resilient communities, and curious young minds. The brand systems that we create do not tell these stories, but can act as a platform to elevate and amplify those with a story to tell. Too often brands are spoken only in relation to longevity. Timeless design with no room to evolve or adapt. This is an important consideration, but brands like this university also need to be enacted in the here and now.
A technological university must champion the stories that already exist and empower those whose journey is just beginning, as these are the people who will affect positive change as we move towards an increasingly uncertain future. The systems that we create need to be relevant in fifteen years’ time, but they must work now because we are at a cross-roads and there is no time to delay. That is the duality of design.