Our main challenge with IE University has been to construct a well-defined, coherent and unique visual identity that defines the brand during a moment of total transformation—while simultaneously setting it apart from its older, more established and globally renowned sister organisation, IE Business School. This has required a long-term process of strategic codesign, as well as a profound understanding of the brand’s key stakeholders: potential students, parents, high school counsellors and strategic allies (such as universities, business schools and public institutions).
Since 2012 we have applied our knowledge of strategic design to redefine IEU’s communication across four levels: experiential, digital, print and spatial. By applying an extensive codesign approach, we have successfully helped the university establish a strong position in the market. Along the way, we have also become an important partner in communication, storytelling, branding and service design, allowing the school to excel in its objective of redefining uniqueness in education.
IE University: Driving Innovation
IE University is an innovative educational institution with a pioneering spirit, a student-centric approach and an international outlook. Its academic model is based on innovation and entrepreneurship, and over 100 nationalities are represented in its student body. As the younger sibling of the prestigious IE Business School in Madrid, one of Europe’s leading institutions, it was vital to distinguish the school in the eyes of the public—and that’s where we came in.
A university in the midst of transformation
Our collaboration with IE University began at a time when the school was immersed in a process of profound change and expansion. The institution was in great need of a guiding visual strategy and fresh communication materials to represent the identity it was trying to establish.
First, it was necessary to understand the population the school was attempting to reach. IEU’s marketing department had enlisted the help of consulting firm BMC Strategic Innovation to conduct a consumer segmentation study. We used the results, as well as our own research and information from the institution itself, as a basis for our conceptual strategy moving forward.
Ideation & Design
Codesign: Constructing the stakeholder journey map
One of the greatest challenges in academic marketing is the multifaceted target audience; educational institutions like IEU must appeal not only to students, but also to parents, counsellors and other organisations. A deep understanding of all of these groups was key in developing the school’s brand, so we initiated a codesign process with IEU to analyse student and parent insights and experiences, as well as the knowledge of counsellors and strategic partners. This allowed us to establish a hierarchy of needs and a long-term plan of action based on a consolidated strategy.
Strategy: Design drives distinction
Once the basic plan had been defined, the next question arose: what needed to be done at that moment to put IEU where it wanted to be in the future? It was vital to construct a visual identity that differentiated the institution from competitors, while also lending it credibility.
Additionally, the school needed a communication strategy that took into account its segmented target audience. To meet this demand, we developed two distinct tones of voice—an emotional style to appeal to students and a rational style to appeal to parents, counsellors and strategic allies—and identified the instances in which each one should be applied.
Visual system: Creating a real, cohesive and flexible identity
We started by creating a visual system to be applied across the undergraduate degree, dual degree and global programme brochures. These are dynamic materials that are updated every year, but we knew that it would be crucial to maintain the established brand identity over time.
The visual system we developed is simple, effective and above all appropriate for the messages the school intends to convey. Photography and bold colours are utilised to emphasise the diversity of its academic offerings. Each piece of material is personalised to match its content in order to clearly distinguish between the different schools and degrees. The content itself is also highly customised, adopting either the emotional or the rational tone according to the target audience of each piece.
On the other hand, certain design aspects are present across all of the materials in order to create cohesion. To convey multiple types of hierarchical information, we opted for a layering strategy. The juxtaposition of colours, textures, photos and text creates a rich and memorable visual system that is consistent in overall style.
Capturing the reality of student life
One of the pillars of IEU’s new identity is the artistic direction of photographs. It allows the visual system to grow and evolve, while strengthening its connection with the brand’s experiential positioning.
Through a carefully constructed catalogue of photographs of students, campus life and campus spaces, we made it possible for the target audience to connect with the IEU experience both visually and emotionally. These elements help paint a picture of university life in the minds of prospective students, parents and other stakeholders, contributing to the perceived identity of the institution as a whole.
Visual synthesis of complex information
Our knowledge of the academic market gave us essential insight into the content consumption habits of prospective university students. Through the conceptualisation of complex information, we developed and synthesised straightforward graphic design elements. Content-rich illustrations and infographics serve to complement the text, making it easier to understand.
Leading the way for the digital generation
After several years of collaboration with the client, we identified an area of opportunity. The target audience was demanding a smoother, clearer experience from the initial application process to the start of the school year. We realised that a lack of clarity and ease in this process can strongly influence students’ choice of university.
To overcome this pitfall, we simplified the process and presented it in a convenient digital format. The new strategy we developed consisted of offering all the necessary information in a simple and user-friendly way, with a personalised visual style. Through our own journey of design and innovation, www.ieujourney.ie.edu/ was born.
IE University app
The prospectus in your pocket
The IEU prospectus is an extensive document that includes all of the institution’s academic offerings. While targeted primarily at high school counsellors, it also plays a fundamental role in constructing strategic alliances. It is the main source of information that the university’s international development team utilises when meeting with potential partners. Well aware of the editorial implications of creating this kind of material, we decided to transform it into scalable and user-friendly digital content.
The key was to design an informational structure according to user navigation habits, which allowed us to turn one of the most complex documents for students, parents and other stakeholders into an intuitive, practical and easy-to-use app.
A spatial identity to improve campus life
Another challenge was the redesign of the wayfinding strategy at IEU’s Madrid campus. Our objective was to improve orientation, according to different user experiences.
To achieve this, we constructed a hierarchical visual system integrating signage, directories, facilities, classrooms and student flow. Throughout campus, we inserted inspirational quotes from iconic personalities, which serve as aspirational content for students.
An immersive experience in the university spirit
The IE University Open House was conceived as an experiential event, where prospective students would get a glimpse of the entire campus experience in just one day. Naturally, it was imperative that every aspect of this event expressed the new IEU identity.
With this goal in mind we developed a name and a visual identity, and designed the event’s look and feel, as well as its promotional materials and merchandising. This allowed us to create a unique personality for the Open House while staying true to the brand identity and overall strategic direction of IEU.
Start the countdown
To further address the pain points detected in the student journey, we created the Countdown Pack. This element makes the brand’s promises tangible, inspiring confidence and reinforcing the decision to study at IEU, which involves both students and parents.
In addition to a personalised message, the pack contains an exclusive guide to Madrid and Segovia that we specifically tailored for the IEU target audience. The intention is to inspire excitement about the upcoming experience through attractive, practical and on-brand visual material.
Developing a visual identity for university clubs
The new IEU brand continues to be expressed beyond the application and decision-making process, extending throughout the academic experience and university life. To ensure consistency, we developed a bespoke branding strategy for six IEU student clubs responsible for organising extracurricular events and activities.
The design is based on a triangular visual system that we used to create six distinct—yet coherent and cohesive—identities. Informational materials and merchandising can be derived from these images, promoting recognition and increasing the clubs’ visibility among the student body.
Creative excellence in the humanities
As part of our collaboration with IE University, we were entrusted with one of its most prestigious initiatives. Every year, the IE Foundation awards the Prizes in the Humanities, recognising the best written and audiovisual work from IE students and alumni. To honour these awards, we created a premium, limited-edition book that collects the winners’ work and reflects IEU’s prevailing spirit of excellence in the humanities.
An ongoing partnership in constant evolution
IEU began its journey just a few years ago with 25 students, and since then more than 1,000 pupils have passed through its halls. While we started out by fulfilling a need for distinctive design, we soon became broadly involved in areas including marketing, admissions and academics. Materials such as brochures, the Student Journey website and the IE University app are critical tools that open new business channels and promote the university’s growth.
It has been highly satisfying to see how our work with IE University has contributed to its results and success. We are part of the institution’s digital growth, and we are proud of the fact that whenever a new project emerges that impacts students, Studio Banana is called on as a strategic partner. This reaffirms our belief that design can be an extremely powerful tool in creating relevant, differentiated communication for brand stakeholders.