A school district logo is more than something that is badged on everything or the focal point when you are entering the building. It is a symbol of what you stand for. Brand is not something your district owns, but the perception of your community.
Dating back thousands of years, potters etched marks on pottery they created. Over time, people recognized the quality of their pottery and would seek the potter based on markings. This evolved into branding as we know it. There is an opportunity to make a mark for your school district that best reflects the quality of your institution.
Unfortunately school districts have not always excelled in this area. Although many districts are proud of their accomplishments and commitment, their logo is a far cry from award-winning. The logo contest asking the high school students to contribute ideas may have been a great learning experience, but it may not have served the district well.
On the other hand, some districts are doing it right. It's one thing to have a great logo, but it's another to have a strategy behind it. Check out what what one Midwestern school district recently accomplished. Suzanne Rothenberg, director of public relations and community outreach at the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township (Indianapolis), assembled a team, gathered a "lot of input," as she described it, and enlisted design professional Michele Knoderer to create not one but two logos.
One serves as an official district logo. The second – the "Decatur Proud" logo – which is integrated with the official logo, is a spunkier version that the individual schools in the nine-school district use for spirit wear, promotions and giveaways. The "Decatur Proud" logo serves as a branding rallying point for the district. The school's website (www.decaturproud.org) and other communications are being branded with the cool mark, and Superintendent Dr. Matthew J. Prusiecki even uses it as a rallying point in a video message on theMSD of Decatur S district's homepage.
It is common for districts to have unprofessional designed logos and did not dedicate the proper resources. The end result can create a disconnect from what your district represents. A logo is an asset of the district and can support everything it stands for.
It is also important for your logo to play well with all of today’s media and channels. For both the black-and-white, hard-copy paper that gets sent home with students or your school district website, your school logo has to sharp and consistent. A solid school district logo design that can be applied effectively to everything can ensure that you have continuity of your school brand.
While you may not be able to hire the top designer to create an awesome logo, you can educate yourself on what makes a great logo. You can use this to help make better decisions and stay on track in the designing process. I’ve listed out the aspects of a great school district logo.
1. Keep it simple
You may think that a logo has to be complex because it has to represent all of the areas of your district. A complex design does the opposite, it’s makes it hard to remember. If you use the Apple logo for an example, it stands out and speaks volumes, yet and you can spot an Apple product quickly. A simple logo can be easy to understand at a glance and leave a lasting impression. Simple shapes and colors are all you need.
Another important aspect of a simple logo is how well it reproduces. Your logo will be used in a variety of places, some you don’t have control over the quality. For example, your logo may have to fit nicely on the website but you can’t even recognize it on the nice embroidered polo shirts you spent $30 each on. A simple logo will always transfer nicely – sometimes with adjustments – to a multitude of areas.
2. Make it memorable
Everyone knows your district name, but your logo needs to make it easily recognized visually. A logo should cut through the clutter and be memorable. Making the logo memorable requires a simple symbol that best reflects your school district. For example, if you are known for growth, you may have a design that uses colors like green. If you have a district that focuses on academic excellences, you may use colors like yellow that can symbolize gold or intellect.
Also work toward a clean, simple look that you can remember despite only seeing it for a short period. This is a harmony of shapes, colors and typefaces you use. When done right, it will take very little time for someone to see the logo and make the connection to your school.
3. Tell your story
This can be the hardest part to design but gives the logo purpose. The story may be your mission, philosophy or other key areas that drive your district. A successful logo uses simple symbols and visually speaks your story. For example, a logo may have hands holding one another if your story is fostering development. Or a logo may use a symbol of a star if your focus is on student achievement. Whatever that story may be, your logo needs to communicate it.
Paul Rand, a famous logo designer once said, “I was too practical to want to be a painter.” I believe what he meant is he can tell a story that serves to a function. A story that you would expect.
When designing a logo for your district, make sure to establish a clear goal and understanding of what logo needs to achieve. This can be done by capturing feedback from a survey to stakeholders. Make sure the design answers the question of the goals you establish.
4. Use minimal colors
To make a logo memorable and stand out, it is best to use minimal colors. A logo with too many colors can come off complex and unprofessional. However, there are exceptions to the rule but 2-3 colors typically works best. I’ve seen a lot of nice district logos that utilize multiple colors to tell their story. For example, you may use 4 colors to symbolize diversity. which is an important trait of many school districts.
Using too many colors can also be a problem with reproducing. First, many colors can increase the cost for printing. Secondly, many colors will not translate to a black and white version, which is required for many uses.
5. Make it timeless
A great district logo is not dated and can stand the test of time. A district logo needs to appeal to a broad range to people – students, parents, faculty, staff and the community. Therefore, it is important not to be trendy and communicate to the masses. Be careful not to tie your design around an object that may not be around over time or evolves. For example, you may not want to have a symbol of your building, your district may build a new one down the road.
Many school districts may have an old logo that they updated periodically over the years to adapt to the current time. Ideally a good logo will not require much refinement but this is not uncommon. Many corporations and large institutions tweak or update their logos over time with subtle refinements. If you look at a company like “John Deere”, they have evolved the logo over the years but still retained the basic design and colors.
A good school logo is as much science as it is art. Probably even more science, really. If your school needs a new one, check with a professional. But don’t be taken in with an overproduced, too-colorful, complicated execution of a logo that doesn’t tell your school story.
Keep it simple, avoid the cliche, and insist on a distinctive, memorable logo that accurately and artfully reflects your school.
As co-founder of Campus Suite, Steve believes behind every great school is great communication. His tech savvy and passion for design fuel his desire to help administrators understand, embrace and seize the power of web communications.