Over the summer, Brunel underwent some incredibly dramatic changes. These were done in two forms: the structural changes from 8 academic ‘schools’ into 3 streamlined, more efficient ‘colleges’, as well as a complete renovation of the University’s visual identity, which will be used on every piece of media the University now releases.
While the structural changes have the largest impact upon the student body on a day to day level, the branding is just as important. Students will only be able to judge the new college system once the academic year has started and over the long term. The branding, however, has proven to have an immediate impact on students. Reactions to both the visual rebrand and the internal restructure, 'TxP', have been decidedly mixed.
This rebrand is one of dramatic proportions, changing many of the key identifiers that Brunel has had since its conception as a University in 1966. In the past 50 years, Brunel has expanded to cater to over 15,000 students, 2,500 staff and a total income of over £170 million a year for 2011/12.
The university market as a whole has changed, with more people going to university than ever before. Brunel needed an image that demonstrated its determination to compete for the best students, researchers and grants. This had to be done on a global scale, as recently Brunel has been placed within top 500 academic institutions in the world, and previously in the top 30 universities under 50 years old, according to the Times Higher Education Survey 2014.
The strategic elements of the TxP project were conducted internally, headed by Vice-Chancellor Julia Buckingham. The external visual and communication work was completed by the worldwide communications company Instinctif Partners. As an established worldwide company with over 700 clients and 20 years of experience, Instinctif has a vast portfolio of successful projects, with a focus upon 'gaining the market share of younger individuals'. Clients including ASOS, Graze.com and General Electric have benefitted from the work of Instinctif, helping to place these brands into an international frame.
The results of the hard work of the University and Instinctif were officially unveiled on August 1. The main change is the Brunel University London logo. Instead of the wordmark Brunel has been using, the logo is now a modern interpretation of the crest given to Brunel through its Royal Charter. This is a design trend that has been growing over the past few years, with many other companies such as the Royal Mint, and interestingly our Varsity rivals St. Mary’s adopting a similar image. The general implications of these simplifications are to suggest a streamlined, more efficient and modern visual identity.
Other changes, however, have not kept as much of the original ideas. This is seen largely through the array of banners plastered on every lamppost on campus, declaring that the University is ‘Addressing society’s challenges’. This somewhat replaces the original ‘Innovate or Die’, which follows Isambard Kingdom Brunel's original approach to his famous work, although University Communications Manager Alex Buchanan points out that ‘Innovate or Die’ “is not an official slogan regardless of what Wikipedia says”.
University representatives are keen to point out that 'Addressing society's challenges' is not a slogan, as incorrectly stated in previous Le Nurb publications, but part of the new positioning statement developed by Instinctif, although it is not clear what this actually means for students. University representative, Communications Manager Alex Buchanan also pointed out that the banners are not permanent, and will be replaced throughout the year with other campaign materials relating to projects such as the National Student Survey and Union initiatives.
The full positioning statement reads: “Brunel University London is a leading international university which addresses the challenges facing society through ground-breaking applied research and educational programmes.
“Our students are taught and prepared for their future careers in a supportive culture of excellence, enterprise and innovation. Our work changes the lives of people around the world by bringing economic, social and cultural benefits.”
Nevertheless, when asked if they liked the phrase 'Addressing society's challenges' in an exclusive Le Nurb survey, 74% of respondents answered 'no', with one commenting that it is "ridiculous and easily misunderstood".
The most controversial change is the colour. The new brand guidelines now state that the University's two main colours are blue and red, a dramatic detraction from the all-blue wordmark and the blue-and-gold crest. Many are disappointed at the lack of yellow in the new designs, as many associate Brunel with the blue-and-yellow/gold of the crest and Union sports kits.
These changes have not gone unnoticed by the student body. In research conducted by Le Nurb, we found that there are incredibly mixed views upon the branding overall. Of 206 respondents, 59% said that they did not like Brunel's new brand overall, and 14% unsure.
Many students voiced concerns that the new crest and wordmark logo looked remarkably similar to St. Mary's University, with one student commenting "There is certainly a feel that the new brand is very much alike our rival St. Mary's which is a bad thing for Brunel." Alex Buchanan responded that those students and staff who attended the second round of focus groups were given twelve different new logo options, featuring designs with and without crests. The most positive responses were for the inclusion of a crest, according to Instinctif, with one participant commenting that “The crest is prestigious. It makes you feel as though your degree is worth something”. The University Council, which made the final decision, were shown the preferred new logo in relation to thirty logos of other universities from across the country, as part of the final selection process. Included in the list were University of York, University of St. Andrews, and King’s College London. Le Nurb can exclusively reveal that St. Mary’s University was not on the list given the council.
Other students are concerned about the cost of the re-design, with one respondent commenting, "To spend that money and come up with this[?] Really disappointed." Others have pointed out that the design courses at Brunel are some of the best in the country. Le Nurb contacted the University regarding the cost of the redesign but received no reply.
Many students feel that the changes were not properly communicated, and students not properly consulted. A source for Le Nurb who has chosen to stay anonymous has explained their frustration with the system: "I was invited to sit on the focus groups, we argued with the design company Brunel had hired endlessly regarding the colour changes. We also expressed our distaste for the red and lack of yellow to which we received no reply”. This student felt disenchanted by the lack of impact of their views, saying “I was very disappointed… what's the point in being invited to be on a focus group if you do not listen to the students?” The University has provided Le Nurb with a selection of participants’ comments from focus group sessions. One said “Brunel is blue. Blue is Brunel”, while another commented: “I love the blue and the red. They are strong, identifiable colours”
When asked to explain the student consultation process behind the rebrand, Alex Buchanan of the University's communications department explained that students were involved in focus groups along with staff at each stage of the redesign. Alex also pointed out that while blue and yellow appear on the Union's sports clubs kit, yellow has "not been a colour used in university branding for a long period". He also acknowledged that the design of club kits is "solely up to the Union" and the Union would not be forced to adapt them to suit the new University colour scheme, although "We would hope that we can agree a design that everyone will support".
While the visual and communication changes were intended to energise and motivate our University to compete upon a global scale, it has divided the student body, and left a disproportionately high number aggravated and disappointed with the University's new direction.
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