I recently started working for a client near my alma mater and former employer, the University of Notre Dame. When the project team and I visited our client’s campus, I couldn’t help making a special trip one evening to walk around my old campus and take in the nostalgia. And at Notre Dame, you’re hit with it almost immediately.

The first thing you see when you’re driving up Notre Dame Avenue is the golden dome of Main Building, that night glistening in the moonlit rain. To the left, the unmistakable spires of the Basilica. To the right, the rising stands of the football stadium. All around, the gothic architecture of buildings both new and old.

The campus is saturated with iconic visuals just like these. But it was during this trip I noticed the smaller things, too.

I had just finished walking through a new campus building, and as I reached out my hand to push open the door, I was hit with something that screamed, “This is Notre Dame”: the door push plate.

Now, this might sound silly, but it was at this moment that I realized almost all Notre Dame buildings, especially the newer ones, have the same gothic-style push plate on the inside of every exterior door. Putting my hand up to it, I could remember what the intricate curves felt like under my hand. I remembered walking out of classroom buildings, leaving my office at the end of the day, and late-night study sessions in the library. All from pushing open a door. That’s a branded environment. That’s branding at its finest.

A Notre Dame architect once said that everything on the university’s campus is designed to further the school’s mission. It shows. And it’s something that more schools should—and are starting to—consider.

When institutions are revamping their brand, they think of taglines, fonts, colors, design elements, writing styles, etc. And those things are important—essential, in fact—for a brand to be successful. Often times, though, the bigger details are overlooked. What does the layout of your buildings say? How do room decorations, furnishings, landscaping, and sidewalk paths speak to what your stand for, what you value? How does the entrance to your campus set an immediate good or bad impression?

Last year, I worked on a brand master plan for a university that employed Stamats’ services in conjunction with a landscape architecture firm. The school wanted to completely overhaul their campus look from buildings to flowerbeds so that it more accurately reflected their institutional values and mission.

We worked with the other firm to redo everything about this institution’s campus—from changing out signage, reflowing pathways, and adding gathering and reflective spaces for students to razing buildings, erecting new ones, and creating new vehicle traffic patterns. At the end of the project, this university had a long-term campus brand master plan in place that will take them step by step through how to change their environment over the years to come.

I would love to see more campuses start to think like this. It’s a great way to impress upon prospective students and their parents the mission and vision of your institution in a different way. It builds school spirit among your current students, faculty, and staff. And it stirs up within alumni the great memories of the time they spent on campus, which can lead to greater post-grad involvement and donations.

It’s the embodiment of your brand working for you. Who wouldn’t want that?

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