Consultation & Collaboration

May 9, 2017


Q&A with Ion Brand Design


Ahead of its 50th anniversary in 2018, North Vancouver’s Capilano University engaged Ion Brand Design to redevelop its brand identity and emphasize its location on traditional First Nations territory. The school and Ion hosted numerous consultation meetings with First Nations, student reps and artistic advisors to craft a holistic identity that would appeal to the entire community—shown through the school's new brand pillars: confident, unified, creative, luminous and enduring.


The anchoring mark, a shield with a Coast Salish trigon shape, connects the colours of the surrounding mountains, forests and sea and references the traditional motifs of eagles, raven and salmon. Rod Roodenburg, partner at Ion, tells us more about the project.


Why was the consultation process so important? Were there any challenges with having so many voices in the room?


Working in the “place branding” arena, we have found that distinguishing brands is less important than what brings people together. This applies particularly to Capilano University, where a consultative process was key to allowing people to voice their concerns, frustrations, aspirations and vision.


We spoke less about design and more about personal experiences and goals, positioning the university, and how a unified brand might be used to heal the community. It’s no secret that Capilano University has gone through a tremendous amount of change, particularly in the last decade. No matter what anyone’s best intentions may be, people can tend to feel left behind or disenfranchised. We felt it was our job to empower the university from staff to students to First Nations, and embolden everyone to participate and influence the outcome.


In general, we make a big effort to not stuff stakeholders into a box—an authentic community brand is created through public engagement, by the people who will see it every day knowing that it came from them, rather than being imposed.



What’s the most valuable insight your team gained as you were working on the rebrand?   


We found it heartening to know that, not in spite of but because of, with the incredible amount of public input we were able to create an inspired, vibrant and meaningful brand. We continued to push ourselves throughout the design process and challenge the University to reflect on the brand strategy to evaluate the creative outcomes. We went through a number of iterations, and were able to respond with tremendous range, no one really willing to settle. 


Our team truly put our heart and soul into the project, recognizing its importance to the University and to the community as whole. Capilano University is an amazing place, with deep creative roots and a bit of an alternative perspective on educational opportunities focused on students. We felt a great deal of responsibility to ensure the branding was not only done in the right way, but that the outcome matched everyone’s high expectations creatively. 


One of the most important objectives we discovered through our stakeholder sessions, it turned out, was for the University to aspire to a culture of cooperation between faculty, staff and students. This is something to note and admire about the people that worked with us client-side: they recognized and understood the power of branding to bring people together. It was never seen as a quick fix or superficial exercise. The process was always understood to be as valuable as the outcome.



What were some of the things with the old identity that needed to be addressed?

As it prepares to mark its 50th anniversary in 2018, Capilano University recognizes an opportunity to clarify and affirm its identity and place in British Columbia’s post-secondary landscape. The rebranding project supports the strategic goals to “improve the University’s reputation, competitiveness and enrolment and increase student enrolment through strategic marketing” identified through the University’s 2015/16 SEM Works process. Furthermore, the branding needed to support the University’s academic plan. So, clearly this was a project that has undergone several years of planning, strategic work and consultation prior to our arrival. The existing identity also presented some formal design properties that people felt did not work to support their workflow, communication needs and services. Some of the issues were grids and graphic treatments that people felt “boxed them in.” So, while we needed to address a number tactical issues, a new identity was an opportunity to mark the transformation Capilano had experienced over time. 


At best, these kinds of projects can be incredibly complex. When you layer the number of stakeholders, strategic plans, nuances and needs, it can seem a bit daunting. Experience plays a huge role in bringing such a project to a successful conclusion, and our experience was to distill the data and multiple input nodes into a concise and simple truth that drives a singular bold vision. We call this the Brand Goal, and upon reflection, the old logo and brand simply did not live up to it. We don’t go into these kinds of projects necessarily expecting to do a new logo. A logo, as we all hopefully know by now, is not the brand. Our brand strategy pointed to the need to go into another direction, which by virtually all accounts seems to have been the right choice given the ovations at the brand launch party. For us it was a watershed moment that was more about the campus community and renewal, and less about a new logo. 


See a video of the brand refresh and process below.


Capilano University Brand Refresh from Capilano University on Vimeo


A shorter version of this article appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Applied Arts.



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