University / College Branding

While looking for research for our project of rebranding the New College Stamford Higher Education Department, we have come across some of our main competitors for local applicants. This post will aim to juxtapose the branding of colleges and universities to give us an idea of the do’s and don’ts of branding a higher education institute. I think I will start with the prospectus for undergraduates for the year of 2013.

I have looked at over 15 universities and colleges in the UK and from this, I have found that only 7 of them have a downloadable PDF of their prospectus. This actually surprised me in the fact that technology is well upon us and the universities and higher education institute are meant to be at the zeitgeist of this technology. Yet, less than half of these higher education institutes have an online version of their prospectus. I think this hinders the exposure of the higher education institute and I think that students don’t want to wait for a week for a prospectus to come through the post. When I was researching, I found myself not wanting to fill in the 8 full page forms just so I could receive some more information. I just went and found a different university/college that did have an online prospectus, in which I could just flick through and find the relevant course.

However, with the online prospectuses that I could find, I found some similarities in the design of the covers.

These prospectuses are from Lincoln University, University of Birmingham and the Birmingham City University. As you can see, the covers of these prospectuses are very design led and not photographical. I think that this does work for these prospectuses as they do look aesthetically pleasing. The Lincoln University Prospectus cover is very corporate and I’m not sure this would appeal to the students that it is trying to attract. The University of Birmingham Prospectus shows a vector of the building. I think this is creative and informative, but maybe a little dated.

As you can see, the New College Stamford, City College Norwich, Writtle College and University of Leeds Prospectuses are quite obviously based on large format photography. I’m not exactly keen on having the cheesy, staged photo’s of the happy students as the front cover of the prospectus. I much prefer the University of Leeds cover with the simple photo of the main building. It is very simple and very informative. However, the New College Stamford Prospectus cover is nice, but is just a bit boring and maybe a bit too corporate. I think that the Prospectus covers work much better as a photograph and not a digital image. I do like the aesthetics of the digital/non-photographic covers, but I much prefer the photographic ones.

One of the main branding elements of any brand, is its website. This is one of the most distinctive and most memorable sections of any brand. The websites that I have looked at, all have different designs but many of them look very corporate and sometimes boring. I think that this could potentially appeal to the target audience as FE students see university as the start of a professional career. Which is exactly what it is. However, there are also those people that like to have a traditional sort of feel to their website and with a little bit of creativity, I think that they could have a winning combination.

University Websites:

With the exception of the University Centre Peterborough website, the above images are really quite formal and corporate. Which I think does appeal to the target audience, but, as a graphic designer, I can’t help but think that they are boring. The only one with real colour is the UCP website above, despite it looking a little immature. I think that this vivid colour palette is really immature and is not appealing to anyone. The rest of the websites are, as I have said, are very corporate and functional, but still quite boring and uncreative.

FE Colleges that offer HE courses:

These websites are a lot less professional than the university websites. I think that this is because the target audience is the 16 year old market, rather than the slightly older age of 18 years old. With these websites, the HE department in the college seems to take a back foot during the website design process. This makes the HE section (aimed at 18+) look identical to the FE section (aimed at 16). These 2 markets may only be separated by a couple of years, but these are the main years of maturity and decision making and therefore should not be treated similarly.

Overall, I think that the university prospectuses and websites are generally more professional and corporate than the colleges that offer HE courses, however, I think that the He courses on the FE college websites should be more of a main feature as this brings in a profit with tuition fees and it allows the college to gain more publicity and better grades for the local area.

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