Carnegie Mellon's new "Brand" rollout comes alongside new campus signage

If you’ve been on campus at all this semester, you might have noticed the new and improved signs outside campus buildings, with handy elements like the building name, its SIO abbreviation, the address, and a red square reading “Carnegie Mellon University.” Not just a refresh of old and worn out signage, these markers signify a new era in the Carnegie Mellon brand. The webpage for the newly-defined “Brand” defines it as “the perception formed in the mind of our audiences at every point of contact — verbal or visual,” reminding us that “words and images used to represent the Carnegie Mellon University brand reflect who we are as an institution.”

Brian James, the Senior Director of Creative at Carnegie Mellon, told The Tartan that the development of the brand, which officially launched a few weeks ago, was a process that took “in its entirety, about two years, just shy of two years.” The impetus for the brand refresh came with the formation of the Marketing and Communications group at Carnegie Mellon in 2015, with “an overall objective to increase the awareness and reputation of Carnegie Mellon University globally.”

For the first step in this development process, Carnegie Mellon contracted an “external research group” to review “the current state of our reputation and the current state of our awareness,” speaking with students, alumni, faculty and staff, and members of the general public to get a sense of the “different personalities that are strong within our university.” These personalities formed a set of three archetypes which form the general idea of Carnegie Mellon. According to the “Personality” page on the brand website, “CMU’s character, defined by our rich history and personality traits, is equal parts SAGE, HERO and OUTLAW,” meaning that not only is Carnegie Mellon “INGENIOUS,” “PASSIONATE,” and “QUIRKY,” but also “BOLD,” “VISIONARY,” and “ENTREPRENEURIAL,” that last trait one of the signature “OUTLAW” characteristics.

These archetypes help guide the general mood of the brand, the purpose of which is to “create the foundation for the communications from the universities,” whether those be blog posts, news articles, or general media releases from the university. The very public nature of the brand and its guiding principles seems to be unique to Carnegie Mellon. Other universities in the same vein, such as MIT, Yale, or Stanford, lack even basic materials about their messaging and media.

In contrast to the bare-bones offerings of other universities, the brand page includes a full gigabyte of university materials, from variations on the mascot, Scotty, to an abstract, waving graphic of Carnegie Mellon’s signature Tartan pattern, to the previously-mentioned Carnegie Mellon square that adorns the new signage.

According to James, that square is a new inclusion in the “visual identity downloads from the website,” since designers in the past “had to create it on their own,” resulting in some inconsistencies. The expanded visual identity downloads were a result of “really thinking about the students, [who] do some fantastic work…always trying to create pride and use the brand.” The university sought to “really be collaborative with everyone that’s trying to use the brand,” and hopes that access to these materials will allow people to “do the things they need to do with it.”

The sleek, comprehensive brand identity seems more in line with tech companies like Uber or Google, with breakdowns of the various branding elements and motivations. According to the brand website, “as a young university, [Carnegie Mellon] is free from many of the silos and bureaucracy that harden over time, dimming ambitions and slowing momentum,” and “whether it’s from Silicon Valley or Broadway, Wall Street, Washington, D.C. or Pittsburgh, innovators and disrupters come to work with CMU, because we get things done.”

This youthful vigor and close collaboration with outside forces seem to exert a corresponding pressure to be as much like the hip new startups as possible, moving fast and breaking things. After all, we Carnegie Mellon outlaws are “rule benders. [We] veer away from conventions, challenge authority. Make new rules and do whatever it takes to achieve the goal.”