The undergraduate sister of world renowned IE Business School, 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 sibling, who Studio Banana also collaborates with. This has required a long-term process of strategic co-design, 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 co-design 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 university 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 130 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 IEU in the eyes of the public— that’s where we came in.
A university in the midst of transformation
Our collaboration with IE University began at a time when the institution was immersed in a process of profound change and expansion. The institution was in great need of a guiding visual strategy and fresh communication guidelines to represent the identity it was seeking to establish.
First, it was necessary to understand the population the university was attempting to reach. IEU’s marketing department had enlisted the help of consulting firm BMC Strategic Innovation to conduct a consumer segmentation study. As the basis for our conceptual strategy we used and then expanded on these results with our own research, analysis of the industry, and informational interviews with alumni from IEU and its competitors to better understand potential challenges and opportunities for engaging students.
Ideation & Design
Co-design: 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 this ecosystem was key in developing the brand, so we initiated a co-design process with IEU to analyse the insights and experiences of students and parents, 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.
This user centric approach then allowed us to design the student journey, which spans the first moment they learn about IEU through graduation and their eventual role as an alumnus. By identifying key moments along this journey, we were able to subsequently craft cohesive experiences and pieces of communication to support them. Revised each year with the university’s marketing team to make sure these tools are adapted to fit current needs, these efforts allow IEU to create awareness, spark interest, and improve its impact on potential students.
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 university 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 instances in which each one should be applied.
Visual system: Creating a real, cohesive, and flexible identity
Once we had defined the tone, we started by creating a visual system that would be applied across communication for the undergraduate degree, dual degree, and global programme. 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.
In order to create cohesion, certain design aspects are present across all of the materials, and to convey multiple types of hierarchical information, a layering strategy was adopted. The juxtaposition of colours, textures, photos, and text creates a rich and memorable visual system that is consistent and easy to read.
The visual system we implemented is simple, effective and above all, appropriate for the messaging IEU wants to convey. Regardless of the medium, elements like photography and bold colours are utilised to emphasise the diversity of its academic offerings and the richness of its community. At the same time, each piece of material is personalised to reflect its written content and to clearly distinguish between the different programs and degrees.
Photography: 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.
Illustrations: Visual synthesis of complex information
Our knowledge of the academic market gave us essential insights 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 served to complement the text, making it easier to understand.
The power of the page
Besides the digital marketing strategy we have developed for IEU, printed materials are still an incredibly important tool in communicating and engaging with potential students, both those who attend events and live far away. As tangible pieces of branding, elements like pamphlets, booklets, and prospectuses provide the opportunity to create memorable and longer lasting impacts on an academic audience. From prospective students to prestigious projects, our print portfolio for IEU spans audiences and moments along the design journey while staying true to its core branding.
The Welcome Pack
To further address the pain points detected in the student journey, we created the Welcome Pack. This experience 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 water bottle and a guide to Madrid and Segovia (the two cities where IEU has campuses) that we specifically tailored for the IEU’s target audience. The intention is to inspire excitement about the upcoming experience through attractive, practical, and on-brand visual material.
IE Foundation Creative excellence in the humanities
As part of our collaboration with IE University, we were entrusted with one of its most prestigious initiatives, the Prize in Humanities. Awarded every year by the IE Foundation to the best written and audiovisual work produced by IE students and alumni, the prize is a testament to IEU’s prevailing spirit of excellence in the humanities. To honour these awards, we created a premium, limited-edition book that collects the winners’ work.
Discovering new touchpoints
In an increasingly digital world, our strategic student journey and visual system constantly need to respond to the new needs of IEU’s global target audience. Beyond creating materials that appear in both print and digital formats, our offerings include one-of-a-kind digital experiences to boost marketing and engagement efforts. From helping students “step” into IE’s world, and campus, by using augmented reality at events, to creating resources like Path to IEU, which makes the application process simple and friendly, these tools have helped its marketing department boost conversion and increase engagement.
You can find more information about our digital work with IEU here.
Immersive experiences in the university spirit
Events and campus visits play an important role in introducing students to a university and can greatly influence their decision making process when it is time to enroll.
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 positioning.
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 the university.
The experience never ends
When a student enrolls, the recruitment process may have ended but their experiences at IEU are just beginning. From their time as a student to their eventual graduation and role as an alumnus, our student journey covers touchpoints and moments of impact that not only facilitate their time on campus but also build a lasting lifelong relationship with the institution.
Simple experiences like our hierarchical visual system of wayfinding, which spans signage, directories, facilities, classrooms, student flow, and inspirational quotes, are one of the ways our work has improved orientation and user experience.
IEU began its journey just a few years ago with 25 students, and since then more than 8.000 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 have proven to be critical tools in opening new business channels and accelerating the university’s growth.
It has been highly satisfying to see how our work with IE University has contributed to its growth, international recognition, and success. We are part of the institution’s digital evolution, 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.