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Designing a scalable brand for a growing startup

The winds of change are blowing. Here's the story of NewCampus’s two-week rebrand

Michelle Shi
Chief Creative Officer

Hey! Do things look different lately?

Oh, it’s just me? It may be that the world looks different after emerging from the cave of living and breathing our brand redesign for the past few weeks, preparing to share it with all of you. Even so, I loved doing it! A personal challenge and a contribution to a company and cause I believe in, the days practically flew by.

The story begins about 3.5 weeks ago when one of our Co-founders Will replied to a message I sent on Slack.

“Are we changing our name?”

Around this time we’d just decided to move our Dubai colearning campus to Singapore, and with this change, a lot of things were up in the air once again (after our pivot earlier last year). The winds of change were blowing! My original Slack message had been about whether we wanted to change our visual identity; after all, it was in this liminal stage where the idea of such big changes could be entertained.

Actually, a name change was something the Co-founders had been thinking about for a while. The problem with QLC—quarter life crisis—was that it called forth a certain profile of the user, their life stage and needs. Not to mention, being a set of initials meant explanations could get lengthy. (e.g. QLC? What’s that? Quarter life crisis? What’s that? What kind of company is it? etc.)

But we (the cofounders and the branding team) were all on the fence. Being a design-driven company, we looked at whether the need was there for the solution proposed.

We examined our mission statement and our What/How/Why and realized that we had in many ways outgrown the name QLC. A quarter life crisis is something people go through, a transitory period. But we wanted to champion an ethos of learning for life, for people of any age, of any background.

For this, we needed a versatile, scalable name for a growing company. And within a day or so, the rebranding began in earnest.

A depiction of an Ottoman coffeehouse by Amadeo Preziosi, 1854

The name game

Renaming a company is not a quick process. But, since we only had a couple of months before launching in Singapore, it kind of had to be.

To guide us a bit, there were a few historical and cultural institutions we drew inspiration from:

These were inviting, comfortable places where people from different backgrounds could exchange knowledge and have intellectual discussions. And that’s exactly what we wanted to build!

The many ‘metas’ under consideration

Cue a montage of our branding team racking our brains/Googling for any and every word, in multiple languages, that might contain all the nuances we wanted to convey about our company, followed by hours-long Zoom calls evaluating each name against another.

In the end, we shortlisted NewCommune, Meta Co., Life Campus, Campus Publica, Mission Statement, and of course, NewCampus.

So why NewCampus? We wanted to redefine what a school is, and of all of them, it was the most accessible, chameleonic name that was also immediately understood to be a school. A new type of school, if you will. (Look forward in coming days for a post from our cofounder Fei explaining more!)

The NewCampus brand

The name itself just sounds shiny and new, doesn’t it? But going back to our influences of Enlightenment-era coffee houses, I felt that there was an opportunity to design something that looked modern and surprising, but felt familiar.

Amazing animations by Henning M. Lederer

Being a huge fan of graphic design from the 60s and 70s, especially the concept of “future” at the time (think The Jetsons, the launch of the Concorde, and retro science book covers), I wanted to blend different influences into a brand that drew from history, but was completely rooted in the 21st century. Cosy but not lazy, modern yet familiar, vibrant but not loud, technical but not cold.

Logo

After using a sans-serif for our QLC brand font for so long, I knew I wanted a nice serif or display typeface to communicate that historical influence (and, let’s be honest, they’re just more fun).

A shortlist of final logos, final logo top right

One consideration I had from the very beginning was that the logo should be the whole name, written out clearly. Eschewing the minimalism of the early 2010s, I loved the idea of the logo having distinctive typography that’s easily recognizable and interesting enough to hold attention on its own, and the blackletter-inspired typeface of the final logo definitely fit the bill.

Typography

Noe Display, Calibre, League Mono

As I mentioned, I was really, really excited for serifs. The thing was to choose a font that didn’t seem old and traditional, as some serif fonts tend to do. But a modern serif that looked too much like a fashion brand wouldn’t work either. Something with personality, but not over-the-top.

My favourite thing about this typeface is the sharpness of its wedge serifs. It looks alert, stylish, but approachable at the same time. Not too wide, not too condensed, it’s nicely in the middle.

The supporting fonts allow the various influences within the brand to shine. A versatile workhorse sans-serif for the body text, and an ultralight monospace for detail text. Combined, they create a sense of modernity and precision with a bit of a twist.

Color & Graphics

With colour, I wanted to recall the warmth of worn vintage paperbacks, which usually have a yellow tint due to age. But to make the NewCampus palette completely faded wouldn’t do—too relaxed. So the accent colours are in there to inject life, to serve as contrasts to the pastels (faded and vibrant, new and old) as well as to make the colors easy to pair together in sets of 2 or 3.

We even named them!

#FCC62B — Canary Yellow
#078230 — Pine Green
#235CE8 — Fierce Blue
#F45719 — Wild Tangerine
#F9E8EB — Baby pink
#F9F6F4 — Baby beige
#C9E0E2 — Baby blue
#F7EDC6 — Baby yellow
#272424 — Coal

Along with these colours come graphic elements—inspired by vintage science illustrations, but with a digital exactness and uniformity.

Photography

This part hasn’t changed too much from our QLC days. We like warm, natural photography that captures our community spirit.

Photography mood board

The main update is that while before we used duotone images, now we exclusively use full-colour photography. Following a trend like a duotone tends to date the design once the trend starts to fall out of popularity. This way, we not only save time on editing but also guard against awkward-looking outdated designs we’ll regret in six months. It’s another aspect that we will need to consider as NewCampus grows and scales to other cities in the coming months and years.

Website launch and beyond

All of that, by the way, from the time we decided the name to the first design of the VI guidelines, was one week! Talk about a fast-paced startup environment. The second week was dedicated solely to getting the website up and running, which was just finished. The whole team has been working hard to build a brand and experience that reflects our passion for this cause—to inspire lifelong learning for curious people from all walks of life.

As for me, my goal for the NewCampus design was to express a future-focused mindset but never forgetting that humans, and the histories we’ve shared, are key to getting to where we are and will be.

We’ve got lots of surprises and fun things happening in the coming months as we head toward our Singapore launch, so stay tuned!

If you’ll be based in Singapore starting February, check out our founding members’ program at NewCampus or come say hi at hey@newcampus.co

February 1, 2019
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