In September, Macalester students, faculty and staff returned to campus and discovered that a new visual identity had sprung up on sweaters, student IDs and Convocation lunchboxes. Although the change may have seemed sudden to many members of the Macalester community, the school had been considering a rebranding process for years and began seriously working towards this goal over the course of the 2016-2017 school year. The person overseeing this process was Julie Hogan, who has worked in the Communications Department for 12 years and now serves as Macalester’s Director of Creative Services. “It was something that had been bubbling around the college for a while,” Hogan said. For years, Macalester had lacked a cohesive visual identity, and there was nothing to unify the Macalester experience. Various departments and organizations on campus had different logos, and different generations of alumni often identified with disparate visual identities.
Hogan outlined three contrasting visual identities at the most visible levels of the College: Admissions, which used the unpeeling orange, its own color palette and marketing language; Athletics, which used the College’s traditional colors of orange and blue; and the official brand of the College, which used the Scottish shield. “The main issue is that we had these three separate identities,” she said, adding, “We’ve been calling this a rebranding project, but if you went out into the marketing world, what we have done is not a true rebranding project. We have updated our visual identity and we have brought together our tone and the way that we communicate with all of our audiences. But we haven’t changed our mission. We didn’t change anything about who we are.”
Vice President of Admissions Jeffrey Allen agreed with Hogan’s assessment, saying, “The College certainly doesn’t have an identity crisis. The college knows its core values and lives those core values every day. It really was a conversation about visual identity in support of those core values.” Like many other departments across campus, the Admissions Office distributed materials with a logo that was nowhere to be found anywhere else at Macalester: in their case, an orange unpeeling around the world.
In a recent interview with The Mac Weekly, Macalester Student Government President Suveer Daswani ’18 cited the orange as a primary motivating factor in his decision to come to Macalester: “I saw that and I was like, I want to go to Macalester because of the orange. The whole idea of making a difference and changing the world and the world being open to you, all that cliché stuff really attracted me.”
Allen readily acknowledged the powerful and unique message that the orange represented: “In the Admissions world, we had used the orange, and it was an effective way to introduce Macalester to many prospective students because in part it highlights some of the college’s core values in a very fun, interesting way,” Allen said. “But the challenge for the college is that the orange isn’t the experience that current students or alumni have. It’s not seen elsewhere, past the Admissions experience.”
Moreover, although the orange highlighted Macalester’s core value of internationalism, Allen noted that it failed to represent other core values such as multiculturalism and service to society, as well as another unique Macalester selling point: being a residential liberal arts college in a metropolitan area.
In the summer of 2016, administration got serious about updating the college’s visual identity. Hogan and her team started researching different branding agencies which could help them through the process. They settled on the locally based Little & Company, which has worked with companies like Target and the St. Paul Historical Society. “They aren’t a traditional higher education brand agency, and we thought that would be a good fit,” said Hogan. Once selected, Little & Company held focus groups with faculty and staff, went on campus tours, spoke with alumni on the phone and met with departments all over campus. “They gave us three different concept drafts, which were whittled down to one,” Hogan said. “We received feedback by working with different people around campus, the trustees, President Brian Rosenberg and Andrew Brown, from the Advancement Office.”
The new visual identity can be boiled down to the following components: the font in the logo, more saturated tones of orange and blue with a new secondary palette, sublogos to be used around campus with the familiar phrase of “Mac,” and logo “badges” to be used in a variety of ways. “We are working with campus partners to make sure that they have what they need to support the brand identity consistently,” said Julie Hurbanis, who serves as the Assistant Vice President of Marketing and Communications.
By the spring, the team was ready to begin implementation. For their flagship department, they selected the Career Development Center, which lacked pre-existing materials and was therefore an easy place to start. “We worked with [Dean] Mindy Deardurff and other staff to develop signage, banners and handouts to talk about themselves throughout campus. That was the place that we started. Since then, we have been updating all of the materials that have come through our office,” said Hogan.
Over the summer, this process continued to unfold, and by September, much of the new visual identity was in place throughout campus. It can be seen on the banners flying around campus, on the student IDs received by members of the Class of 2021, on the merchandise available at the Macalester bookstore and on the admissions materials being seen at college fairs across the country.
“This time four years from now, no prospective students will remember the orange,” Allen said. The office was sensitive to the idea that students who were applying for entrance in Fall 2018 had already been exposed to the orange, and Allen said that they hope to erase the orange from admissions materials by Spring 2018, when the Class of 2023 will begin encountering materials from Macalester.
Rebranding also provided the Admissions Office with an opportunity to evaluate its materials and redesign them for today’s generation of students – something it had not done for 12 years. “We were pushing past the traditional life cycle of those materials, and needing to re-evaluate the value, messaging and length of specific pieces,” Allen explained. “The feedback from counselors and students has been positive. It’s a more modern, fresh view into the Macalester experience.”
Reactions from current students ranged from positive to deeply unhappy. “The new identity seems artificial. I feel like we lost a simple yet integral quality of what defined Macalester,” said Jackson Ullman ’20. “I didn’t really like the [orange unpeeling around the world], but the orange was quirky, like Macalester. Blue was never Macalester’s primary color before, and they’ve basically wiped away all the other colors that represented the school.”
Sophie Hilker ’20 agreed that the rebranding had wiped away something intrinsic to the Macalester identity, but praised the appearance: “It feels very forced, like the institution feels it has to prove something to prospective students and competitors for those students by making a more cohesive look. I think a lot of character was lost in the transition. However, it is very sleek and the color scheme features all nice, wearable hues of blue and orange… I just like having something to grumble about, something to be nostalgic about. I think we all do.”
Connor Miller ’20 agreed: “I think it’s a good, more professional look. But the old brand was very Mac and very homey, which is something I miss.”
Nonetheless, all of the administrators interviewed for this article said that they were pleased with the overall response. “We’ve gotten feedback from current students, faculty and alumni that has been really positive. They like the clean look and they like the way that it represents Macalester and they think it feels like us,” Hurbanis said. Hogan agreed, “I think that we were pleasantly surprised that we got very little pushback. We’re really excited to see how it plays out and what will happen in the future.”
by Juliette Verlaque and Por Eiamkanchanalai