Exploring Trends in College Marketing Materials

College book

Symbolic mascots, expansive viewbooks, and interactive user focused designs.

On a rainy afternoon I met up with Jeremy Spaso and Kirsten Fedderke to look over boxes and bags of materials collected at college fairs and by our colleagues with college-age kids (shout out to Kay Logan!).  After poring over the samples and sorting and resorting them, we identified some trends, found a few things that stood out, and reconfirmed some watchouts.

The Trends

We’ve got a tower! Photos of the tower subconsciously conveys stability and strength in tumultuous times.  But, as a cover shot, it can blend into a skyline of towers (more below).

We’ve got hammocks! In an era of mental health concerns, it appears to be a way to convey that these colleges have balance.

Mascots are being recast as spirit symbols for the whole institution—and using a different subject appears to inspire a different tone and look/feel for the materials.

People have left the covers—and those who do have people have groups of three. Text only (mostly bold san serif), graphics, logos, illustrations, and campus/tower beauty shots are the norm.

Cost/tuition is increasingly being framed as a focus on “your investment.”

What stood out

The pendulum has swung away from the minimalist viewbook. Viewbooks with 30+, 40+, 50+ pages (even one with 166 pages) were spread across the table. More including content that we used to send people to the web for—making it a one stop shop with majors, outcome stats, etc. Many had pull out posters, and a depth of testimonials.

People are moving beyond the traditional diecut. Interactive elements that engage the reader and convey the brand through the content can make the reader pause, smile, and potentially share.

Designing across the user journey can make each piece more impactful. Those that helped the reader understand the first touch was an introduction and referenced back to previous touches created an immersive experience.

Two Quick Watch Outs

Testimonials are compelling. Testimonials that are obviously written by the institution are… obvious.

Broken links are a massive let down. If someone is interested enough to scan your QR code, they’ll be extra disappointed with a 404.

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