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Royal Holloway University Rebrand : Discovering the beauty within

Nestled in the home counties, you may come across Royal Holloway. No, not the London suburb, or the infamous prison.

Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, to give its full title, is a world-class university just outside Egham in Surrey. Opened in 1886 by self-made medicines millionaire philanthropist Thomas Holloway, the college was originally established as a learning institution for women at the suggestion of Holloway’s wife, Jane. The main Founder’s Building is impressive from the outset with its flamboyant pillars, turrets and towers inspired by Château Chambourd in the Loire valley.

Over the years the college has been suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. It is often assumed that it is an institution based in north London, somewhat reinforced by their association with the University of London, which sometimes overshadows their own identity – especially in the media. Also in academic circles, reputation is everything. So when publishing and presenting research, it was felt the University of London label lent more kudos than the less well-known Royal Holloway name. To prospective students, its academic reputation is well regarded, but hampered by misconceptions of the location and social aspects of the campus. However, to alumni the college is remembered with much affection – especially the beautiful campus.

In the university league tables they are well placed – number 12 in the UK and at 36 in Europe. Students that apply to Royal Holloway are mostly attracted by its academic reputation. But the location tends to cause some confusion, while visiting, prospective students are often impressed by the quality and atmosphere of the impressive campus and it’s beautifully landscaped grounds but are often disappointed to discover how far from central London it actually is.

The established reputation of Royal Holloway needed to match their ambitions. As well as addressing the misconceptions, they were keen to maintain and improve their standings in the league tables and increase their intake. It was decided that a refresh of their brand identity would help achieve both these aims, which is where The Team came in. From the outset, we were delighted to discover that Royal Holloway wanted to consult the entire college community throughout the branding project. It was to be a very democratic process with voices heard from academics, students, support staff, alumni and even prospective students. In fact one of the reasons they chose The Team was because of our approach to co-creating ideas with our clients.

Our introductory workshop held during the Senior Management Team away day was an opportunity to understand how the senior staff perceived the university and how they wanted it to be seen externally, particularly by their ideal candidate. This elicited some interesting and insightful responses which helped build a picture and enabled us to get to the fundamental truths of the University’s character. One of our greatest challenges was how to deal with the university’s many contradictions.

From here we were able to distil the findings into a single organising idea, or ‘brand essence‘:

Royal Holloway, University of London, offers a uniquely balanced environment and global perspective that inspires individuals to achieve their potential within our close community.

With this single organising thought, we began to develop new ideas for the Universities brand identity. We were confident that the inspiration for the brand would come from within the historic university and its campus and would leave them with a meaningful and relevant brand that really resonated with the students, staff and alumni, but would also depict an honest and truthful image to prospective candidates – dispelling those common myths and assumptions.

By playing up their many contrasts we had the foundations to help us begin to build a visual brand. First came the logo. It is made up of two squares based on the two quadrangles of the Founders Building. It also features their coat of arms, which combines the heritage of both Royal Holloway and Bedford College. The colours are heavily influenced by the fabric and environment of the University campus – a strong and vibrant brick orange contrasting with a deep slate grey. These confident hues were chosen to represent a bright vibrant progressive institution but also reflect its heritage. When placed alongside the competition, the colours help Royal Holloway stand out from the crowd while maintaining an air of sophistication and prestige appropriate to the sector.

At every stage of the project we tested the strategy, design and visual brand with a varied audience; and consulted with a project board which had been assembled to review and scrutinise our progress in the spirit of co-creation. We also widely tested different versions of the logo with all stakeholders. We even contacted hundreds of new-intake students who would be starting at Royal Holloway University in the new term.

The supporting visual elements of the brand were also inspired by the beauty of the campus. We selected a clean and accessible modern typeface called Ideal Sans. It has classical and humanist qualities that neatly represents the balance of old and new.

When we continued to develop the visual brand, we studied the architecture around campus and were overjoyed to discover an abundance of distinctive and beautiful design motifs carved into stone, moulded in plaster and formed into ironwork. As we always look for an honest and representative creative idea from within, we decided to make the most of these designs, using them as a delicate watermark pattern in the background of all communications. They bring an added sense of prestige to the brand that truly represents a world class university. And when used with our palette of dark greys and highlights of bold bright colours, we avoided the trap of the patterns becoming twee and frivolous – making sure they were only to be used as a subtle and elegant background.

The brand has now been rolled out onto a range of print and digital formats. We have re-skinned the current website and helped develop other on-screen applications. We produced a beautiful brand wall chart to introduce the campus community to the new brand and design assets. The new visual identity has been wholly embraced by the University and its multiple stakeholders.  Here at The Team, we couldn’t have been more pleased with the finished designs and the fantastic response from the creative press too.

The Team rebrands Royal Holloway University – Design Week





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