College rebrand—too little for too much

Columbia officially debuted the results of a yearlong effort to rebrand the school on Sept. 19. The project includes a new word mark with a bolder font and more spacing in the logo. The college also eliminated “Live What You Love” as a slogan and gave the college some official colors.

Columbia’s branding was undoubtedly in need of improvement, so the initiative to redo it made sense. However, the direction the college went in only caused more confusion and is likely to be ineffective in raising Columbia’s profile.

The rebranding cost Columbia almost $700,000, with approximately $400,000 dedicated to creating new advertisements on platforms such as Spotify and Pandora, as reported Sept. 19 by The Chronicle. The advertisements are a good investment because they feature Columbia students’ work in the form of background music, reinforcing the college’s reputation as an institution that encourages students to engage with the world around them. However, the rest of the rebranding tells a different story.

The six primary colors in the new palette—named for South Loop staples, like “Grant Park Green,” “Red Line Red” and “Wabash Blue”—are variations of the college’s previous color schemes. 

Columbia also hired an out-of-state company to complete the work. While the agency chosen specializes in rebranding higher education, with clients as diverse as the Pratt Institute and Purdue University, it would have been more in line with Columbia’s goals to have involved the college community, at the very least to ensure familiarity with the college’s reputation. 

Marketing and design students alike jump-start professional careers at Columbia, and giving them the chance to participate in the rebrand would have provided valuable experience and networking. If our students are talented enough to produce Manifest—the famous end-of-year celebration—and design murals for the Wabash Arts Corridor, then they are surely talented enough to contribute to a rebranding effort. 

This, in addition to President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim’s reluctance to put students on the design committee for the anticipated Student Center—slated to open in 2018 in place of the Papermaker’s Garden’s current spot—shows a disconnect between Columbia’s mission and its actions. The college says it wants its students to be engaged and working in the world around them, but it refuses to give them opportunities for professional experience and resume building—and, as a bonus, save the college money. 

The college community also cannot forget this rebrand comes right after a summer filled with damaging departmental cuts and staff and faculty layoffs, so it is a peculiar time for the college to have spent approximately $300,000 on creative services.

The rebrand Columbia spent so much money on was a good idea that was poorly executed. With more changes going forward, the college should learn to make the most use of the resources it has available, so that another disappointment like this rebrand will not happen again.