NC State University Brand Refresh,
Technology as a force for good
While in the midst of the nuts and bolts of building the new NC State brand, it was important to understand the possibilities of how we could communicate ideas across platforms.
Preliminary Explorations - Immersive Impact
Through market research and internal consensus-building, it was agreed that NC State is uniquely positioned ahead of its peers brand in the following areas:
- World-leading faculty at the forefront of interdisciplinary innovation
- Cutting-edge, solution-driven research, technology and scholarship
- Extensive partnerships with business, industry and government
- Leader in experiential education
It only made sense that the university positioned its marketing materials to reflect these core brand drivers.
But how could we communicate this "Think and Do" attitude and reinforce these ideas to a wider audience in which we hoped to build a strong foundation of creating economic, societal and intellectual prosperity?
We needed vehicles that not only told our story, but by their very nature reflected this forward-thinking engagement through tactile technology that is reflective of the way NC State operates on a day-to-day basis.
time to move past the traditional ways of talking to people
"Researchers from NC State University have developed a technique for creating high-density ceramic materials that requires far lower temperatures than current techniques – and takes less than a second, as opposed to hours. Ceramics are used in a wide variety of technologies, including body armor, fuel cells, spark plugs, nuclear rods and superconductors."
This is a great story to tell. But how to get the word out in a meaningful experience?
The well most often visited by higher-education when it's time to talk to an audience is to go down the path of printed and digital advertising. So we started there.
We examined the broad topic of NC State's ceramics research and focused it into something that a wider-range audience could easily identify with, something they would see day to day on television, the internet, or even use themselves. In this case, a creation of a lighter, stronger body armor to protect military personnel. It was imperative to make the subject the real-world results of the research and not the tediousness of the academic lab jargon.
For this exploratory magazine ad, the philosophy behind our design conventions is simple: Let the content speak. Legibility and simplicity are the essence of the NC State approach to design. Function counts here, not flair. Like the faculty and students we spotlight, our goal is to clarify the complicated for our audiences.
Of course, the next stop on this traditional communication train is the creation of on-line advertising. The same approach of simplicity of content was taken with this as well.
This is all well and good, but there is no reason to stop here. Providing a user even clicks through the ad, most of these approaches will do something like link to a web-based feature story or throw the user into an open-ended homepage with not much else to do. And that would be the end of it.
But that's not how we mean for the brand to communicate through our messaging. We wanted push the user to take this clear and precise subject, become involved in the experience and understand how it connects back to the way NC State behaves as a whole.
We want something more immersive
It was time to take the next step.
We established that ceramics create better body armor. But how does NC State use its strength of interdisciplinary research to play into the life of this soldier?
Body-armor ceramics may have been the entry point, but we'd also like to talk about how NC State is working to equip this soldier as a whole. It was necessary to dissect this and reinforce how all of the colleges and research entities work together to improve economic, societal and intellectual prosperity.
The microcosmic example of this soldier becomes a macrocosm of explaining how NC State exemplifies "Think and Do" as a whole.
So how does NC State work to better the well-being of the modern American military?
These are only a fraction of the ways that NC State's research is having real-world impact in this field:
- Materials Science and Engineering at NC State are building better body armor through leading ceramics research.
- Using the College of Humanities and Social Sciences to teach and immerse military officers and personnel in foreign languages and cultural understanding. Other concentrations that aid in intellectual development include International Studies, Political Science, Psychology, Social Work and History.
- Through leadership instruction, programs like the Shelton Leadership Center and the Center for Student Leadership, Ethics & Public Service work to inspire, educate, and develop values-based leaders committed to personal integrity, professional ethics, and selfless service.
- The NC State Department of Military Science also trains college men and women to become commissioned officers in the United States Army, Army National Guard, and United States Army Reserve, in addition to motivating young men and women through caring leadership and positive influence to be better citizens for life-long service to the community.
- Working with the U.S. Army Research Office, researchers at the College of Textiles are designing military uniforms that will protect soldiers better by sensing and responding to the surroundings. The college’s Textile Protection and Comfort Center tests specialized fabrics on a flaming mannequin and in controlled climate conditions.
That's a lot to take in.
But there are ways to connect an audience and encourage them to examine NC State's work without overwhelming them all at once.
explore to engage
Using some of the above real-world impacts as catalysts for user exploration, a process began to best figure how to engage an audience in exploring NC State's influence on the life and well-being of the military.
Once again, we used a characteristic of NC State's brand to to influence the vehicle for storytelling.
Using the technology-rich immersion abilities of a tablet device, the audience was presented with a way to dive as deep into the content and to explore as many facets as the user wished to.
As previously, we decided to let the content speak for itself. While the user may have begun a journey investigating ceramics, they are allowed a chance to make their own choices and decisions based on a fluid sense of discovery.
Prototyping a tablet-based experience
Let's take this into a public space and start a conversation
How could we take this web-based experience and even further expound on it, maximizing the relationship between exploration and engagement in a life-sized environment?
We began by thinking about how an audience might interact with someone they were interested in. They would want to walk straight up to them, ask questions, get answers and feel as though they have actually gained something meaningful.
Of course it would be impractical to have a constant gathering of real-world individuals to field these inquiries, but there was no reason that we couldn't think about doing it virtually.
This would give us a chance to explore not one, but several different types of people you may meet in "your neighborhood" and understand not only the impact they have on the audiences' daily life, but how NC State is the constant connection between thought and action. Each drives the other, always moving together.
We think actively and act thoughtfully.
We invest in outcomes that serve the greater good. We pursue research with purpose. Our work results in clear, tangible, meaningful applications. We teach in order to make better thinkers who transform ideas into reality.
Breathing life into virtual interaction
It began with just a soldier in a tablet.
It grew into something much more complex, yet still approachable. We could build a community of people who could share their personal stories and how the cross-pollination of NC State's research enterprise reinforces our core message of of creating economic, societal and intellectual prosperity.
From these ideas, opportunities for an even more immersive experience began to develop.
As this idea of a creation of virtual community interactive began to evolve, there were necessary considerations to keep in mind.
- It should feel familiar, but open to possibility. Tho the user would be interacting on a flat space, it must always feel like there is a dimensionality and a tactile nature to the exploration. The human must feel a psychological warmth and fluidity in order to best stimulate the imagination.
- Design with purpose. Like NC State's brand, the interface must be bold and avoid unnecessary flourishes that would inhibit or intimidate the user to engage and learn more. A hierarchy of type, graphics and icons are imperative in the organization of telling the story. Spaces of content must be clearly delineated and purposeful.
- You are never lost. Interaction is simple, yet elegant and intuitive. A user should be able to clearly understand how to move from point A to point B to point C, and then back. Use of gesture and motion is important, not only to obtain information and to understand a given narrative, but also to feel total control over the experience.
When the digital world is brought to life on a human scale, the effects are immediately personal.
Imagine that the people on the immersion tiles are standing there, lifelike and inviting.
Perhaps they have a subtle gait and loop that makes them feel like they are there, pleasantly awaiting you to interact and to ask them questions. When an audience can experience learning together in such a human scale, it becomes all the more immersive to the user.
Users are free to touch and explore. Data should be accessible and easily understood and sharable. There would be opportunity not only to input ideas into the system, share on social media, but the most important aspect would be the live conversations that the participants in the public space would have with one another.
Spurring action through thought is not only a key element in the brand of NC State, but it is critical to the intellectual growth of society.
This was but one road of exploration down a path of investigation into the impact of immersive exploration. It opened the doors to many people at NC State to postulate on how every aspect of our communications should connect thinking and doing. Make sure every choice — logo, font, color, language, design, imagery — is purposeful. We must show how NC State always combines thinking and doing in everything.
Using technology as a force for good. That is how we will solve global challenges and create economic, societal and intellectual prosperity.
"With more knowledge comes a deeper, more wonderful mystery, luring one on to penetrate deeper still. Never concerned that the answer may prove disappointing, with pleasure and confidence we turn over each new stone to find unimagined strangeness leading on to more wonderful questions and mysteries - certainly a grand adventure!"
- Richard Feynman, The Value of Science