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Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen is a Peabody Award–winning weekly radio program from Public Radio International and WNYC. Each year, the program explores a culturally relevant topic through the lens of graphic design and branding. The producers ask a professional graphic design studio to redesign a social touchpoint that has grown stale. In the past, they have redesigned Christmas with Pentagram’s Michael Bierut, reimagined the LGBT rainbow flag with Worldstudio and rebranded Valentine’s Day with the Austin-based Under Consideration.
In 2012, they approached Hyperakt with the task of redesigning a profession whose transformative work affects everyone: teaching. The challenge was to rebrand this diverse group of professionals—repositioning teachers from their infantile association with apples, pencils and ABC’s (iconography dubbed ‘Apple Crapple’ by a listener of Studio 360). Our objective was to create a design that could engage the listeners of public radio, incite discussion around teaching as a brand, expose the design process to a new audience and (if we were really successful) inspire new consideration of how educators are reflected in society.
We familiarized ourselves with Studio 360’s programming, their audience culture and the solutions that had been explored through the show’s past redesigns. We also assessed and evaluated the elements that prompted thoughtful, intelligent discussions. After researching our client and their audience, we moved to the audience relevant to the specific topic: teachers, students and then the general public. We extensively researched the iconography and history of the teaching brand.
We also brought on an education consultant, Jenna Shapiro, a graduate of Harvard's Graduate School of Education, a former public schoolteacher and a founding team member at a public charter school in Brooklyn. She helped us
thoroughly understand the challenges and opportunities from within the teaching profession. She also gave us access to her peers and other professionals in the education system to use as resources, vet ideas and better understand the
complexities of the issue.
Because our primary client was an arts program on public radio, we considered numerous approaches to the brief, including making light of the situation by taking a humorous or editorial approach. Instead, we chose to take on the project as if it were an earnest, serious rebrand on behalf of the teaching profession, expanding and solidifying the brief.
We began with a simple premise: education is the key to human progress. The new visual vocabulary should capture the magic of activating the innate potential of every student. It should celebrate the process of developing ideas; reflect
the collaborative, evolving nature of teaching; and pay homage to existing visual tools used within the profession. It should also be accessible and customizable to the wide variety of demographics encompassing teachers, students and the
Our solution is all about connecting the dots. These connected dots form visual maps which, like teachers, help learners brainstorm ideas, reveal relationships, explain processes, tell stories and much more. The visual language of these connected dots already exist in toys, in letter tracing, in classroom brainstorms, on the whiteboards of innovators, in maps, in molecular structures and beyond. This metaphor perfectly reflected our view that teachers don't just dictate knowledge, but are guides that help students connect the dots.
We expressed this idea with a logo, typeface, color palette and practical, easy-to-follow brand guide and various assets that could actually be used by practicing teachers. We created visual cues to possible applications of the brand and showed how it could be molded to the needs of the user. We demonstrated how icons and wide-ranging visuals could spring from the new identity, reflecting different cities, subjects, people and emotions associated with teaching.
Education is a diverse profession and educators vastly differ from one another. Overtly branding a group of people is itself a difficult challenge. A profession that varies from elementary school to college level, from state-to-state and demographic-to-demographic, presented an additional challenge. The profession also suffers from a badly managed public image and countless political, social and institutional stereotypes.
Teachers not only suffer a broken image, but are also in the midst of heated debate, criticism and reevaluation of their very own structures. These problems (and others) leave teachers with a low level of respect and little public regard even though they fill one of society’s most important roles
In terms of design in the classroom, the existing iconography is out-of-date, consisting of inanimate, juvenile objects that apply only to a very small percentage of teaching. It does little to inspire.
Our work prompted an unexpected volume of discussion (mostly positive) around the topic of teachers and their public image. After an engaging radio program on Studio 360, the work spread to other media. The New York Times ran an article discussing the project, as did FastCo Design, GOOD magazine, EdWeek and several other news organizations. We even connected with the design community, who gave us astoundingly positive feedback on our work on the popular branding blog “Under Consideration’s Brand New,” with over 80 percent positive ratings (exceptionally positive for this audience).
In a few short months, the site has been visited by viewers in more than 100 countries. Three thousand downloads later, the rebrand is still spreading and being put to use in schools across America and beyond. The response was beyond our expectations. Not only did it prompt an interesting discussion and fulfill the needs of a public radio program, we were also able to inspire and impact the public and those who shared our respect for the teaching profession.
TEACH was so popular that Public Radio International followed up the radio show with a downloadable e-book, outlining our process and its outcome. Documentary filmmakers from Studio 360 were also interested in our redesign and came to Hyperakt’s studio to film our process. We were inundated with responses from teachers and educators with comments, praise and thanks.
Many teachers reached out to us to request that we make the TEACH materials publicly available so that they could be implemented in real life. We obliged and created the website http://inspireteachers.org, where anyone can download the assets via a Creative Commons license.
This case study is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
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