When my team and I started to examine the visual identity of Pratt Institute, one of the foremost design schools in the U.S., we expected it to be exemplary. Instead, it was formulaic and inconsistent. And when we started to examine the retention and endowment figures, we realized that the Pratt brand was suffering as much as its visual identity.
A communications strategy had recently been devised specifically for Pratt’s 125th Anniversary, however—an 18-month celebration that was still in progress. The communications and institutional advancement teams had launched an anniversary campaign in order to achieve increased alumni engagement. They also hoped that the visual identity created specifically for the anniversary would become a “calling card” to redefine Pratt.
On Pratt’s campus, mature trees, grassy quads, and a rose garden bursting with color and aroma surround a harmonious blend of architecturally significant buildings that have been added to the campus throughout the decades. Its colors were the basis of the palette chosen for the anniversary: a two-phase palette inspired by the hues of spring and fall. Pratt’s distinctive architecture was used as a fine-line watermark, and the Main Building—Pratt’s first—was the inspiration for the winning logo in a contest open to all Pratt affiliates (a student beat out professors and alumni).
They used a combination of Didot and Futura typefaces, and the tone, style, and treatment of photos was consistent. They had applied the visual specs to printed matter and publications, including the alumni magazine Prattfolio that served as a special anniversary edition. An anniversary video was made and alumni were invited to add to the Memory Project. The dedicated Web pages were tied to the architecture of the Pratt website, but they integrated the campaign’s logo and seasonal color palette. Fundraising banners waved across the top of the screen in colorful call-outs with bold, actionable fonts encouraging visitors to “GIVE,” “IMAGINE,” and “PARTNER.”
“Making History,” the tagline for the anniversary celebration, was a play on words, meaning both the making of history and the history of making—by Pratt people. Pratt’s communications team decided that the best way to tell the school’s story was by focusing on alumni, their memories, and their work.
Pratt alumni are responsible for the designs of countless objects that America just wouldn’t be America without: the Scrabble board, Betty Boop, the T-Bird, Big Bird, the first commercial TV, the Chrystler Building, the Cuisinart food-processor, the puffy pink and orange letters in Dunkin Donuts, and hundreds more.
We interviewed a few alumni in depth and they expressed praise, disappointment, and bright ideas:
- “Bad forms of design, bad usability, not appealing. Could be any school’s website.”
- “The website is missing Pratt’s personality and its uniqueness. It just does not stand out enough from any other university websites. It would benefit tremendously if it could be more daring and edgier.”
- “Pratt is doing a good job in sending communications I’d be interested in. The problem is that I need to give them my other email address!”
- “It’s our alma mater. We really care about the brand and how it looks. Have them join in on the process, like in focus groups.”
- “The most common concern among students is where they will go after graduation. Post a virtual “open house” on the webpage which shows students what they’ll be doing when they leave.”
“One of the greatest assets Pratt had to offer was its stellar faculty, most of whom were practicing artists/designers when I was there. I’d like to see a series of posters featuring members of the faculty and Pratt alumni who have experienced success in the real-world as artists and designers. Knowing that the Pratt experience—its education and degree—leads to a successful career in art and design could make for very effective branding and recruitment efforts.”
In the end we recommended not only to engage alumni in a rebranding effort, but also to have them at every stage and in every role of the process: as critics, designers, strategists, subjects.