Rethinking your school's visual message
Image: Baxter & Bailey
With planning underway for the new academic year it is essential to visually communicate your core message to your teachers, students and the wider community. Taking the school website as an example, there is a certain similarity across the hundreds of school websites that I have reviewed in terms of 'look and feel'. Indeed, the school website has not really evolved in layout since it became a standard tool in the 2000s. There is a generic template within the sector that school teams cut and paste from to construct their own site. There is no doubt that this process in itself is a huge amount of work and seeking to change this tried and tested model will certainly add more work at a time of great uncertainty. Creating a visual message requires a deep skill-set that most educators have not been equipped with. In addition, any change requires funding, which may be a challenge in the new normal. Here are a couple of suggestions you might find useful to help you with this process.
Know what you want to communicate and then try and engage with individuals outside of the school context to help you revamp your visual communication. If you use the same photographer or graphic designer to create content for you, could you discuss a different approach? Have you considered working with a photographer from a different sector such as fashion? All professional networks take time to develop, so it may seem a difficult task to locate a creative individual outside of the school network. I would begin by asking staff and students who they know. In addition, cultural organisations within the borough will normally have a list of individuals who could help. Last year I started to develop a project entitled Luton2050 that explored how the topic of photosynthesis could be used to address the challenge of food poverty in Luton. When talking about my project to the Departure Lounge gallery in Luton, they expressed an interest in developing connections with local schools and agreed to fund a professional photographer (Catrine Val) to visually document the final outcomes. The final visuals were of exhibition standard, something I would not have been able to achieve on my own.
Second, the local FE college will have links to industry and this is certainly true for higher education settings. It may be worth contacting the widening participation unit at a university to identify appropriate supports. Universities are under pressure to attract home students, so investing in this relationship could realise benefits for both parties. In addition, courses at art and design universities often have live briefs as part of the teaching and learning process. Here students are asked to engage with a local challenge and devise a number of creative solutions for the end user. Effective collaboration with an FE college or university could yield some interesting results.
You need to consider engaging with diverse voices in the consultation process. Engaging students is critical. Tasks could be created across subject areas to elicit their thoughts on the school’s communication strategy ranging from social media to the school’s website. Ongoing feedback and iteration is essential. A diverse feedback and iteration process will ensure the development of visuals that captures the aesthetic of your school.
A digital communication strategy takes time to plan, design and execute. It also needs to be evaluated regularly. It should also contain the aesthetic of your school and the learning voice that emanates from your classrooms. The above image on the theme of “interconnected” identity was designed by Baxter & Bailey for SOAS’ recruitment drive. In a time of real upheaval for the universities, SOAS is attempting to distil its core identity for a competitive market place. In a time of real financial challenges, schools will need to think and act creativity to achieve an authentic visual communication strategy.