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University Branding: Why It Matters and How to Achieve It

March 15, 2022
  • Higher Education

Through our work with colleges and universities, we know finding new ways to attract and retain the best and brightest students is no small feat. In fact, doing so is more challenging than ever as enrollment has trended downward for the last ten years.

We’ve learned, as has the broader segment of prospective students and their families, that the "value proposition" of higher education requires a multi-pronged approach. This includes creating an authentic university brand identity – and incorporating it throughout campus.

In the insights that follow, learn how to build a university brand through interior design elements and see how universities brand themselves in a few dynamic examples. 

Why is a University Brand Important?

A successful college brand identity communicates a clear message about the school's values and offerings to its students. To achieve this brand goal, colleges and universities can start by learning about what students want out of their higher education experience – and then articulating how they can help them achieve their goals.

For example, Purdue University continues to see positive growth in enrollment, running counter to the national trend of declining enrollments. Purdue's president, Mitch Daniels, says there is “no pixie dust” or magic bullet that is behind their incredible growth over the past decade. Rather, the growth in Purdue's brand lies in their graduates; they share their stories and live on as vibrant examples of the university's most loyal evangelists.

Among the changes that President Daniels has enacted in response to student feedback is prioritizing accountability in higher education. He accelerated growth in studies for engineering, technology and computer science, which support Purdue's strengths as well as key areas in the national economy. And students are coming for it. 

President Daniels summarized the importance of prioritizing students and university branding quite succinctly by saying, “It seems the great work that our graduates do catches the attention of younger people. That’s the best sales tool you’ve got.”

So when seeking how to develop brand image for a university, listen to the students. Invest in their interests to ensure they have an experience worth sharing with others.

How Should We Consider Branding in Our School?

Every walk through campus is an opportunity for a university to communicate its brand to students, whether current or prospective. 

Incorporating the brand can happen in subtle ways. Perhaps the entrance to the dining hall displays the school motto. Personalized tables and chairs in dining halls and cafes can display school colors or the logo. Custom storage solutions, whether in a locker room or a classroom, can conjure feelings of school pride at unexpected moments throughout the day. Custom tables can also work around existing historic architecture that can be important to the brand of many universities.

Even smaller scale design changes like these can give students the sense they're part of the school instead of just another student walking through its halls. And just as students and faculty emblazon their wardrobe with school spirit, there is a natural expectation that the spaces where they study and teach have personalized elements representative of their school pride. 

    But Where Do We Start?

    Each college and university has its own identity and reputation. Bringing that to life within the student experience gives the opportunity for physical environments to flex a one-of-a-kind feel throughout campus. Through the Infinity From KI program, which places the emphasis on latent needs identification, our team of experts can modify existing furniture solutions or co-create completely new furniture designs. This process allows you to develop something completely unique to your college or university – even something that’s never been done before. In fact, the latest advancements in technology and agile manufacturing make achieving designs that support your particular identity or culture easier than ever.

    FBLIT_Bradley University_ModBackbone_ConnectionZone_Pirouette_Lab.jpg

    Take Bradley University as an example. Organizationally, the university evolved its business and engineering brands into a shared center for engineering and enterprise, placing an emphasis on student ownership, peer collaboration, and value creation. Together, we designed a modified solution for our Backbone Media Platform centered around a stationary "tech hub" with outlets to accommodate technology. Students have ownership of the space, with the ability to move the tables around for solo or group work without sacrificing access to power for electronic devices. This specific solution allows the focus to be on the holistic brand or corporate goal instead of a limiting factor in how space supports the objectives of the university.

    At Guilford Technical Community College, a comfortable and inviting environment is central to its brand. Through Infinity From KI, our team helped GTCC modify our MyPlace Lounge Furniture with original design elements that imbue a softer aesthetic for its brand goals. The rounded seats and backs offer optimal comfort and a unique design specific to the college's lounge and collaborative spaces. GTCC also chose colorful upholstery from Pallas Textiles to further draw students in and set a purposeful tone for these environments.


    The Ed Robson Arena at Colorado College is another prime example of how universities brand themselves. In these strategically branded athletic spaces, the college selected Doni seating with two-tone shells in the school colors of black and yellow. This offers distinct, high-impact visuals for the VIP seating section above the arena. In the film room, Lancaster auditorium seating was specified with Pallas Textiles ‘Holy Cow’ Carbon Copy faux-leather upholstery with an embroidered representation of the college’s Prowler mascot stitched into the seat backs. The branded furniture offers an opportunity for the athletics department to instill pride in its students and families as well as fans and patrons, solidifying an all-around winning experience.

    Well-designed athletic facilities go beyond the weight room to address a mix of academic and social spaces in support of student-athletes. Our comprehensive product portfolio supports all areas of an athletic facility with the convenience of using a single manufacturer.


    Bringing Your Brand to Life

    Defining and incorporating cohesive university branding throughout a campus can set a college or university apart from its peers and competitors – and make it a place students are proud to call home.

    Let us help you bring your brand to life through strategically personalized furniture. By engaging custom furniture solutions, colleges and universities can make impressive statements in limitless ways. And with KI, it’s remarkably easy to do.

    Contact your dedicated KI sales specialist to discuss how to make your vision a reality. Learn more about our tried-and-true custom design process by clicking the button below. 

    Learn More About Branding Through Infinity



    by Jonathan Matta  Education Market Leader

    Jonathan Matta is KI's National Education Leader, supporting organizations in their pursuit of solving complex challenges by applying the power of design. Matta previously served as the Vice President of Design at RXBAR, where he led a design team that applied a variety of design strategies, chiefly Design Thinking, to a multitude of organizational challenges. Jonathan holds an altMBA from Seth Godin's program, along with completed courses from Stanford University's "" and IDEO-U. He received his undergraduate degree from DePaul University.


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