Arnie Fishman

6 Steps to Take Towards a New Visual Identity

Your visual identity is an extension of your internal reality

When it comes to your brand, your visual identity is the front line. It’s ubiquitous. It’s multi-purpose. And it’s often one of the main things prospects remember as they consider your institution.

So changing your visual identity isn’t something you should take lightly.

Done right, an updated look can give your university a tremendous boost of energy and a renewed sense of pride. Done wrong, well, let’s just say things can get ugly.

Why now?

There can be any number of factors driving your need for a new visual identity: your current look may be dated; what you have now doesn’t work well in today’s digital age, or you have new leadership that wants to take your university’s look in an entirely different direction.

Before you do anything, however, you need to know that a visual makeover is about more than just lines, shapes, color, typography, and perception. It’s about the people at your institution—and their priorities and goals for the entire organization. And because the human factor is such a big part of what your institution is, it’s essential that you get the right people on board from the start.

Where we come in

At Lipman Hearne, we’ve been helping organizations establish their visual identities for decades. We work with our clients every step of the way—from the planning stages to rolling out the new identity—to make sure everything goes smoothly. Because we want to make your success our success.

Over the years, we’ve developed a process to help our clients get the results they want. These first seven steps will get your project up and running—and bring you closer to your new identity.

  1. Start with a plan. You wouldn’t build a house without blueprints—and you shouldn’t rebuild your brand without a detailed plan either. At Lipman Hearne, we spend a lot of time talking about the process to make sure all the boxes stay checked and we don’t overlook any crucial points. It’s about formality as well as flexibility, knowing that every institution requires its own set of procedures to launch a successful rebrand.
  2. Take a visual audit. We look for patterns in your existing materials to discover how the current identity is being used. When does it work well? When does it come up short? Chances are, you’re already aware of some problems you run into on a regular basis. Understanding these issues can help us create a framework to decide if you need greater flexibility or tighter controls as you move forward.
  3. Do your research. Your staff knows a lot about your institution and the core ideas that make up the DNA of the organization. To find this information, it requires deliberate research with key stakeholders, communication users, and even the public to get to the core issues. Many hidden gems and priceless insights are out there just waiting to be mined.
  4. Build your identity team. Creating a new brand identity is a big undertaking, so it’s essential that your team supports the project. This committee can help move things along efficiently and keep your project on track. And even if one person drives most of the decision making at your institution, you still need to bring others into the mix. Think of it as a checks-and-balances approach.
  5. Think small (at first). Sometimes a smaller visual toolbox is better than one with no limits; it forces you to focus your efforts in the right direction. Maybe there’s a distinctive building on campus or an institutional icon that can inspire a new look or logo. Or maybe it’s an obscure part of the university that you’ve overlooked. By starting small, you can open yourself up to bigger ideas down the road.
  6. Create a criteria doc. Once we have all of the information from above, we create a criteria document—your (and our) roadmap for success. It outlines the main elements that are available for design exploration, as well as areas to look at on the fringes. And, just as importantly, it also shows us ideas to stay away from: visual treatments, language, etc. that are unacceptable.

At Lipman Hearne, we often have multiple designers work on a project because we know that each of us brings a unique perspective to the team. This helps us get multiple viewpoints and to see how successful a solution is—or isn’t. We want to make sure that we all are seeing the same things—the same ideas, forms, connections, and metaphors—because they all play a factor in the final outcome.

If you’re mulling over the idea of a new visual identity and need some insight, let’s connect!