Miranda Hall
Miranda Hall
Ritsaart Marcelis
Ritsaart Marcelis
April 5, 2021

Branded Environments Make a Big Impact in Student Unions

Miranda Hall
Miranda Hall
Ritsaart Marcelis
Ritsaart Marcelis

Our education practice was thrilled to participate in this year’s Association of College Unions International (ACUI) conference. Our firm had the opportunity to share our experiences and ideas in two separate presentations—one on how branded environments can make a big impact on the user experience, and the other focused on why we think student unions are the next big frontier for community colleges.

In this post, we’re sharing some key takeaways from the presentation we gave with Dr. Monica Mendez-Grant from Texas Woman’s University about the power of branding and graphics on the user experience.

Our presentation explored how branded environments can help institutions create unforgettable student experiences. There was significant interest in this topic being that a branded graphics program can make a big impact often with a smaller investment—in either existing buildings or new facilities. Using environmental graphic design, technology, storytelling and art, we’re able to craft experiences that reinforce brand identity, promote pride and support institutional growth. Below are three of the key ideas we shared in our discussion.

Implementing a brand environment strategy is a low-cost way to reposition a union.

Not every institution is able to invest in a new facility, and even when new unions are built, it’s good practice to continually rejuvenate them as student interests and expectations change. A good way to explore possibilities for your union is to create an environmental branding master plan. This plan can help you identify opportunities for how a branded graphics program can be seamlessly applied across your facility and integrated within the architecture to feel intentional and cohesive, but flexible enough to stay current and highly changeable.

Graphics can forge deep bonds with students.

Since the union is most often the heart of the campus, it presents a significant opportunity to reinforce an institution’s culture, values and mission. Through environmental branding and interpretive storytelling, we can reinforce important messages that are both subtle and deliberate, doing everything from providing inspiration and encouragement to promoting inclusion, pride and loyalty. Graphics can also remind students why all their studying and hard work matters. The higher education experience isn’t just about getting a degree, it’s about preparing people to make a real difference in the world. Constantly reinforcing that message throughout a union can go a long way in keeping students engaged.

Going viral often starts in the union.

There’s no denying that the built environment is being impacted by the “Instagramization” of the world. If you search a specific college or university’s hashtag on Instagram, you’ll likely see many images of students taking selfies in front of an iconic campus landmark, mural or graphic. From our perspective, the Instagram movement has been amazing to watch to because it’s made people more aware of the importance and power of great design, whether it’s in branding, wayfinding or experiential design. By including instagrammable moments throughout a union, we can give students a reason to linger, promote spontaneous interaction, strengthen campus culture and even help with recruiting.