Old school gets a facelift at 40

May 04, 2006, volume 36, no. 1
By Barry Shell

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SFU is about to get a facelift. No, not another new set of steps in convocation mall. A fresh SFU look and feel will soon appear in print, on web pages, and in our advertising.

It's all being created by one of our own: SFU grad Anson Lee, a principal of Karo Design.

Last year, President Michael Stevenson asked Warren Gill, VP- university relations, to bring consistency to SFU's visual identity. “A diverse and often confusing branding has proliferated over the last 20 years,” notes Gill. “SFU's look has not been refreshed since the early 1980s. We don't even have a common way of displaying the letters S, F, and U.”

Gill formed a cross-campus committee of people who use visual identity symbols and asked SFU business professor and branding expert Judy Zaichkowsky to meet with the group and explain the importance of a consistent and easily recognized visual identity. A tendering process selected Karo Design to resolve the problem.

Lee believes his varied academic experience at SFU was a key factor in attaining a top management position in one of Western Canada's leading multidisciplinary design consultancies.

“We are developing consistency around the use of the SFU crest, as well as campus, faculty and department naming,” says Lee.

As an example he points to SFU websites or business cards which have no rules for even the simplest issues, like the names of the three campuses or the location of phone numbers.

Lee says a visual identity system should allow users to easily understand the hierarchy of information (campus, faculty, department, etc.) but it should also indicate what SFU is about. Importantly, it must deliver an emotional message about the university.

“A unified identity system is a small, but important, step to signal change,” says Lee. The long-term goal is to convey the overall impression of SFU. What are we doing at SFU? What experiences are we offering students, faculty, staff, parents and donors to create the desired perception of our university? In other words, what are the defining features of the SFU experience?

Karo also redesigned the admission package that SFU student services sends to 8,000 prospective students. The new folder with a red and black colour scheme has been well received.

Byron Henry, director of communication services, likes it. “I think the new packages are terrific ­- a cut above what we had done before,” he says.

It's too early to tell if Karo's new approach will have an impact on enrolment, according to Lee.

The first few attempts at redefining SFU's visual identity are experimental, including an ad campaign in the local papers and SkyTrain stations. Change will be gradual. For example, as new business cards are required, they will feature the new design. “I'd like to have the basic elements of our visual identity established by June, but more specific elements, such as website designs, may come later,” says Gill.

“We have three campuses now, and they should all be seen as part of the same organization.”

Lee does not want to create what he calls “brand police” - people who would ensure every document, website and advertisement sports the correct SFU crest and colours.

Instead, he's looking for a common theme around which different schools and departments can build their own identities.

The goal is to launch the new identity system at the conclusion of the 40th anniversary celebrations in September.

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