University of London

Brand toolkit creation

Bringing an unruly identity under control

When a successful brand expands, it can start to lose shape and focus. Over time, people begin to take it for granted and, as its edges blur, so its power is diminished. When the central marketing team at the University of London wanted to regain control of their visual identity, we helped them bring the family back together.

The University of London is the second largest university by number of full-time students in the UK and occupies a coveted place in the top two per cent of the world’s academic institutions. But it’s better known to many through its 18 self-governing colleges – an illustrious list that includes King’s College, UCL and the LSE.

Though this is a natural consequence of the University’s federal structure, it has gradually diluted the core University of London brand, which is critical to the promotion of the University – and its member colleges – around the world.

This brand is composed of several distinctive and equally important ‘family members’ that support the work of the member colleges. From the iconic Senate House Library and the University’s many internationally renowned research institutes, under the stewardship of the School of Advanced Study, to key services for students such as accommodation and careers advice, the central University is both a hub providing essential resources and a sprawling network of departments, each with its own agenda, personality and unique mix of internal and external customers.

Well aware of the value of the University of London name and reputation, yet faced with a fragmented visual identity, the central marketing team needed to take back control of their brand, preferably without recourse to strong-arm tactics.

Having successfully pitched for the project, our first task was to gain a clear understanding of the current state of the University’s visual identity. This involved a series of in-depth interviews with key staff from both the central University and its member colleges. We also undertook an audit of the visual identity, and spoke to staff responsible for the creation of marketing materials.

As expected, we found that each branch of the University of London family told its own version of the University story without reference to any bigger picture. We concluded that the University urgently needed to unite behind a universally agreed set of values, a shared brand narrative and a strong, unifying visual identity.

Equipped with a deeper understanding of the dynamics of the University, we developed a core narrative that connects its vision and values to past achievements, current activities and future initiatives. Positioning the University as an agent of connection and communication, rather than an inert hub, we created a narrative that could be adapted to suit the agenda of each branch of the family without compromising the integrity of the core brand.

We then tested our narrative, first among the project steering group, then at a series of workshops with stakeholders from each branch of the family. After further adjustments and refinement, the narrative was agreed and signed-off.

Once the narrative had been approved, we developed a creative brief for our design team.

The brand narrative would inform all aspects of a refreshed visual identity, from key messaging and tone of voice to imagery, colour and typography.

In line with the stakeholder feedback, the brief established the sovereignty of the core University identity, while creating space for each branch of the family to develop its own distinctive personality.

The revitalised identity has been in place for around six months. Templates have been distributed across all branches of the family and a stronger, more consistent brand is emerging. Feedback indicates that people are aware of the bigger picture and the unifying brand narrative that has been embedded throughout all forms of staff communication.

As hoped, we were able to turn an assignment that threatened to alienate members of the University of London family into an opportunity to share ideas and contribute to a more consistent, but also more flexible and responsive, visual identity. This ensured that the University’s central marketing team seldom have to act as the ‘brand police’. Instead, they are custodians of a strong central identity with the flexibility to accommodate new ideas and approaches that, in turn, will enrich the University as a whole.