There was much to learn about the world of Ralston College and higher education in the 2020s. We were lucky to have kind and generous teachers, who provided many mind-expanding, goosebump-making encounters with their favourite works of the past. While exploring topics of freedom of speech and cancel culture, we confronted our own assumptions and understanding of human nature. Throughout the summer of 2020, we Zoom-terviewed students and educators, donors and fans of the intellectual movers-and-shakers behind this college. In-depth research, audits, journey maps, empathy maps and audience questionnaires all fed into our insights. These insights then informed the brief for both the brand and the website’s purpose and design, ensuring seamless synchronicity.
With an educational institution soon to be operating both remotely online and on campus in Savannah, Georgia, plus a well-regarded series of podcasts on philosophical debates, and a live event to incorporate, we helped the client reach clarity as to how their architecture should flow. Simplicity is our preferred way, even for clients who comfortably inhabit complexity.
The insights we gathered were truly unexpected and challenged our thinking. This brand’s reach stretches across human experience from Gen Z mental health to social justice to Handel and Homer and Ingres and Alan Garner. Reminding ourselves we were not attempting to rebrand the Humanities, nevertheless, with all those references, nuances and intellects to do justice to, it felt like trying to bottle a thunderstorm.
Soon, happily, clear lights of truth started to constellate, and illuminated brand territories, or conceptual worlds. One was positioning the brand as a beautiful paradox, one as a restorative agent of change, one as a discovery-filled adventure, and one was about harmonious connections and friendship. These merged together into a brand that felt more like a movement, a stirring call to action. The values were articulated as believing in Freedom, Truth, Beauty and Fellowship - broad enough to cover all Ralston wanted to stand for. And their personalty was defined as Challenging, Courageous, Inspiring and Deep-thinking.
With a brand essence all about Demanding Thinking, we crafted a brand identity that did exactly that. It was a fine balance to achieve because of the college’s anti-elitist stance. Full of contrast, it needed to be grounded in the past, but relevant and appealing to a very modern audience. It needed to be beautiful but also truthful, not always the same thing in the age of Instagram. It needed to celebrate the output of the greatest minds in history, while expressing the deep humility of the founders’ aims.
Having explored the world of the arts, culture, religion and the education system, we were able to position the brand as something new. Influences were drawn from historical references and masters of the art world, such as Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro, and tones from Turner’s landscapes. Letterforms, imagery, and graphics all had subtle meanings behind their choices to present a deeply nuanced and beautifully crafted brand.
A client of such erudite fluency meant the Tone of Voice needed to capture and complement their communication style, not dictate it. With clear guidelines for targeted marketing and a few creative ideas for creating a welcoming atmosphere, the verbal identity did not impose itself upon the college, but brought its message and its world to life.
The discovery and insight work called for an online destination ‘for those who seek the truth with courage’. Perhaps not your everyday brief, yet one we tried to meet courageously. The challenge was to bring all aspects of the brand - discovery, revealing, intellectual thinking - across in digital form, while balancing accessibility and user-friendly simplicity. The design incorporated online learning and course registration, a library of podcasts and articles, and an introduction to the college and the people behind it, identified as a compelling draw for this audience. Navigating clearly through these different experiences to encourage participation and interaction was a primary goal for our UX design.
Drama and interest was delivered through an animated searchlight device that intrigues the viewer with glimpses of the works Ralston College explores. The experience of visiting the website suggests a thought-provoking browse through a library or art gallery, encountering different views, conversations and ideas. The intention of the site, the brand and the college, to challenge thinking and inspire questions, are now all aligned.
Since going live in Spring 2021, we have continued to collaborate creatively with the Ralston team on their upcoming launch. Retained to provide technical support in the form of Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) and brand guardianship, we look forward to helping Ralston College carve out its rightful space alongside Ivy League universities and intellectual forums worldwide.