“I think design has a really massive role to play in university branding, much more so now than it did a few years ago,” says Ben Duckett. As co-founder of the London studio that has designed the recruitment campaign for Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon colleges for the last three years, he seems well placed to make a case for design and its role in university recruitment. “The whole student landscape has changed over the last few years, and a lot of universities don’t like to admit it, but they are completely aware that students are now customers really,” Ben continues.
“Students are incredibly savvy and competition is really fierce," he says. "In the past I think many universities rested on their laurels but many more are upping their game in terms of creating really engaging and compelling communication materials. They’re actually reflecting the personality of place, and trying to get students to really buy into that experience.”
After meeting while working at Wolff Olins, Ben and Simon Clark set up Spy Studio in 2003 in one of their conservatories. Now based in the Clerkenwell, the studio has built up its name by working for a number of institutions spread across culture, education and charity, such as Goldsmiths College and Northern Ballet. “It sounds very romantic really; a couple of guys leaving a big agency and working from a kitchen table.”
Although most agencies are only contracted to design university campaigns for two years, Spy Studio has in its third year created what is arguably its most successful work for UAL yet. Its strategy was geared toward capturing the art school experience, the student community and the distinct characters of Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon colleges, collectively known as CCW. That idea of communicating the experience of art school is told through ephemera collected from each college, which was then assembled in colourful digital collages and printed using CMYK as a nod to the fundamentals of the printing process.
“The brief was to effectively represent each college and its own personality, but also to make it feel very much part of one family,” Ben explains. “Quite simply, we feel that art school is a place to really experiment, to make mistakes, to have fun. We visited all the colleges, collected loads of stuff, took loads of photographs, and then came back and scanned in all the different source material we’d found. It was fragments of stuff from the letterpress, pieces of weaving we’d found in the textiles studio, paint that was peeling off the walls; stuff that was kind of the flotsam and jetsam of students’ mistakes to a certain degree.”
The bright campaign was rolled out across adverts, posters, the prospectus and way finding around the campuses, and is a testament to UAL’s spirit. “Some universities will create great websites but there’s a disconnect from the actual experience on campus,” says Ben. “It’s important that designers are still given that chance to have autonomy and integrity, and to make sure that the whole customer journey for the student is true from start to finish.”