Ringling College of Art + Design

Variables and Constants × Strategic Design = Visual Voice

One of North America’s most respected schools for visual artists, Ringling College of Art and Design had a long history and strong heritage when it embarked on an initiative to update its own visual identity. Timed to coincide with Ringling’s transition from ‘school’ to ‘college’, its steering committee conducted an extensive search for a design partner to help develop a solution. Given that Ringling itself counts many, many accomplished designers among its faculty and alumni, we were both thrilled and humbled to be awarded the project.


Framing the Challenge

Working closely with Ringling’s President, board members and the identity program team, we first identified the key challenges inherent in the task, most notably:

  • The desire to develop an identity that could reflect the diversity of instruction Ringling offers, from fine arts to computer animation to film, sculpture and interior design
  • Sensitivity to an ‘outside’ firm undertaking such a task

Early in the process we determined that in order for any new identity system to gain a degree of acceptance among Ringling’s faculty, students and alumni it would be important to offer opportunities for people from those groups to engage in the project if they so chose. That strategy ultimately underpinned every design decision in the creation of the new identity system.

In order to help define Ringling’s ‘persona’ (and to pave the way toward broader engagement) we began by conducting a web-based research program, surveying more than 900 current students, faculty, staff and alumni (as well as existing and potential employers). We collected and visualized both quantitative and qualitative data that helped paint a picture of Ringling across a broad range of dimensions. That data (shown below in genericized form for reasons of confidentiality) shed considerable light on a number of issues specific to the visual identity challenge, but also provided illumination relating to Ringling’s competitors, and revealed opportunities to bridge perception gaps.

Next, we conducted large-scale ‘town hall’ meetings with Ringling staff and faculty and personally interviewed students in order to gain their perspectives and to engage them directly in the process. Through these processes, we were able to identify a single key theme that helped guide the thinking that led to the eventual solution:

  • The ‘institution’ itself simply provides a framework—or serves as a crucible for—the creativity that the students bring to it


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Articulation and Execution

Focusing on the single guiding thematic statement that emerged from the research phase, we set out to develop an identity system built around the concept of ‘constant’ and ‘variable’. Everywhere we looked around the campus we saw two things:

  • the rectangular forms of physical structures, classrooms, whiteboards, computer screens and monitors, canvasses, drawing pads, etc.
  • the vibrancy, color and variation, motion and human creativity those rectangles struggled to contain

The decision to somehow combine those two things, and the desire to engage and include as many Ringling students, faculty staff and alumni in the solution as possible took us to the next step. Through an online mechanism we engaged more than 100 self-selected participants in the creation of a collection of original artworks, words and other elements—the ‘visual voice’ that forms the variable heart of the identity system.


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The new identity system provides Ringling College of Art and Design with a unique, flexible but consistent visual system that reflects the two strongest attributes of the college itself. And while it’s true that we created the idea and framework for the identity, the unique vibrancy inherent in the system was clearly created by the people whose artwork brings the new identity to life.


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Ringling College of Art + Design

This visualization illustrates the full extent of our engagement with this particular client, broken down by the percentage of specific capabilities we provided during the relationship.

Learn more about our capabilities »


  • General
  • Individual
  1. I Understanding / strategy
    1. A Research
    2. B Data visualization
    3. C Brand strategy
  2. II Conceptualization / articulation
    1. D Naming / nomenclature
    2. E Positioning / message development
    3. F Copywriting / content development
  3. III Communication design / execution
    1. G Corporate identity
    2. H Video / motion graphics
    3. I Web design / development
    4. J Physical spaces
    5. K Collateral / publications
    6. L Events / experiences
    7. M Digital media / marketing
    8. N Social media
    9. O Packaging
  4. IV Measurement / consulting
    1. P Search engine marketing
    2. Q Creative consultation
    3. R Innovation workshops