Creating Compelling Branded Environments in Higher Education

Date: April 12, 2021

The way we educate, and the way students want to learn has changed dramatically in recent years. Emerging technologies, new learning styles, and younger faculty are creating pressure for change in everything from design to classroom structures. Also, as the cost of education increases, many students are demanding more of their university education. 

Many institutions are investing in new buildings and spaces as a response but there is a better opportunity for success if the brand of the university is integrated throughout the campus buildings and interiors. 


Is A School A Brand?

Absolutely! A brand is the grand total of impressions and experiences a customer has about a product or service. In this case it’s the impressions and experiences that prospective students, their parents, current students, alumni, and potential sponsors have of a university. A brand is more than just a good tagline, it’s the whole experience which includes the space, architecture, and furnishings. Good branding makes for a cohesive experience that gives your potential students the intended feeling you hope to achieve, and ultimately turns them into happy alumni. 

Recognizing space as a way to support a brand experience begins first by defining the existing institutional culture, comparing that to the desired culture, and then designing (or redesigning) spaces to support the desired culture. 


Branded University Environments Drive Engagement And Success

A well-designed environment tells students about the schools core identity and shared values. This should support the schools mission and create a lasting impact on the students well after they graduate. A branded environment helps students to visualize their success at school, and it can help boost:

  • Recruitment
  • Retention
  • Engagement
  • Support growth plans and partnerships
  • Raise the schools profile, 
  • Create a higher perceived value
  • Help reinforce desired behaviors



Branded Environments In Higher Education Are Key to Ongoing Success

So how do create that branded environment? It’s not as simple as ordering furniture in your school colors and adding signs that speak to your values. Here’s a pathway to creating a branded environment for universities. 

1. Define your message - what is the overwhelming message you want students to get from your school? This could be a student success story, contributions of alumni, or a core shared value. The goal is to identify what will make students feel like they belong at your school.

2. Use your unchangeable elements to support your story - There are things on your campus that you can’t change (your location, key buildings, local cities or towns). Use these to your advantage! Reinforce a state of mind, or feeling that these elements evoke with your branding. 

3. Create a “sense of place” to engage students- One way to make a lasting impression with touring students is to create a sense of place that is immediately recognizable. What in your local community can create a feeling of attachment to your prospective students?

4. Use architecture and design to drive your branded message - design features like scale, proportion, patterns and shapes can have a profound effect on the feeling that a space evokes. 


How Furnishings And Design Can Impact People’s Impression Of Your School

With a clear idea of your message and shared values, furnishings can have a huge impact on how that is perceived when people interact with your school. For example, if one of your core values is a sense of community and gathering, how can furnishings help to make that happen? 


Creating cafe-style dining allows people to linger over long conversations, or study in public spaces instead of their dorms. Using pieces like the Haworth Very side chairs or the Haworth Maari side chairs give great support along with the cafe aesthetic. Or, maybe your focus is on your highly engaged learning style. In this case you could focus on shared spaces that include comfortable seating with tables and technological amenities that allow students to gather and learn together for longer periods of time. In this case, the Haworth Cabana or Haworth Riverbend would be excellent options, both can include charging stations as well as alterations like high backs and privacy booths. 

In-person, experiential branding is a big opportunity for higher education. Integrating a solid brand through your campus plan, exterior spaces, exterior design, and interior design can give people the mood or feeling you desire from your brand. Successful branding creates an educational experience that alumni can cherish for years to come.