Established in 1949, Northland Community & Technical College is a two-year community and technical college with four campuses in the state of Minnesota. Offering more than 80 program options in fields like Aerospace, Business and Marketing, Education, Information Technology, Law and Public Safety, Manufacturing and more, Northland serves over 4,500 full and part-time students with nearly 200 faculty members. Its sports teams, the Northland Pioneers, compete in the NJCAA Division III athletics program. In case you are wondering, no, there is no reason you would have heard of this college before. Recently, Northland introduced new academic and athletics identities designed by Minneapolis, MN-based Object.
We conducted surveys, focus groups and held several discovery sessions with: students, faculty, community members and alumni. The discovery sessions were informative to what the current sentiment of the brand was. Overwhelmingly, what we heard was that people wanted change. There was little affiliation with the existing logo & wordmark and there was an appetite for something innovative and expressive. Our challenge was to reimagine the brand with a new logo and holistic design language.
As noted in the introduction, Northland isn’t a nationally-known college neither for its academics nor its athletics — which is not meant as a put-down but with the insane amount of high-profile higher education institutions in the U.S., there is an equally insane amount of institutions that fly under the radar — but I thought, in part because of this particular reason of low-profile-ness, the two identities were remarkably good. I’ll kick things off with the monogram that represents Northland at the top level and can be used for both academics and athletics. While the explanation of the monogram makes sense as a comfortable backstory, the monogram is able to stand on its own as a simple, bold, angled “N” with a semi-hidden extra “N” that has a strong and energetic presence that manages to work for both sides of the institution.
The main academics logo is a bold and confident wordmark typeset in Dinamo’s Ginto Nord (with a nice tweak in the “LA” pair) paired with Ginto Normal underneath. It’s as straightforward as it gets but the type choice is excellent, giving the college an industrious, no nonsense vibe.
The applications extend the straightforwardness of the logos in a confident way, relying on the strength of the typography and a simplicity in layouts and compositions that keeps the messaging clear, concise, and attractive. The orange and blue color palette can be a little jarring at times but I like it a lot — I feel like it’s the exact right shades of each.
Northland contacted us to update the visual brand for their athletics program - the Pioneers. Before jumping into design we explored if they should keep the name or not. The outdated settler interpretation of a pioneer from the past didn’t resonate with students & faculty and was not inclusive to race or gender.
In order to keep the name, we needed to redefine what a pioneer is. We set out to reimagine the old settler pioneer into something that was more innovate, inclusive, and forward-thinking - an astronaut, the space pioneer. We also wanted to create a solution that would fix the consistency problems from the past.
The previous athletics identity was really all over the place — the image above isn’t an exaggeration. In my image research I could not find a consistent use of anything.
If you were wondering where the color palette came from: ta-dah! Space!
With a newly updated college visual identity system, we wanted to use this as an opportunity to bring more equity and affinity to the the new monogram. The monogram becomes the primary logo for all athletic teams as well.
While the monogram works on bringing cohesion between the academics and athletics departments, it doesn’t address the need to change the meaning of what a pioneer is. So we created several spirit marks to help redefine the Pioneer name with space motif visuals.
The athletics system is what caught my attention the most about this redesign, in part because, yes, it looks cool, but also because they were able to transform the “Pioneers” nickname from the vestige of a dated white man person in a beaver hat to something much more aspirational and future-facing. That looks cool. The main Pioneers wordmark has a fun, 1980s-esque computer vibe that’s playful but also looks like a logo NASA would put on the side of a rocket. The badge spirit mark is a little heavy on the Aaron Draplin style but, yeah, it looks great and I like how they use the big star from the Pioneers wordmark in there as well. The helmet spirit mark, comes a little out of left field but, sure, why not? Sign me up for a t-shirt with it on it. I’ll admit that the set of logos and marks don’t quite make a lot of sense together but as a way to create pride and emotional investment into the athletics program they are great.
In addition to updating the brand, we also updated the teams’ uniforms. We modernized the jersey numbers using a blocky, digital-looking typeface that had a space-instrument vibe to it and exaggerated the size of them. We created sport specific patches as a nod to space mission patches used by astronauts. Each sport’s unique patch is embroidered onto their jersey and is also used for fan merchandise. For home uniforms the team wears Flight Blue as a reference to the flight blue suits astronauts wear. For away games, the teams wear white as a nod to the Extravehicular Mobility Unit suits worn by astronauts.
Cool, simple uniforms, non-spiky numerals, and kick-ass patches. I’m on board.
To help increase engagement and excitement for sporting events we created a slogan for the Pioneers. The new slogan, “We Are Go” is a shortened version of the phrase “We are go for take off” used for space flight launches. This helps further build the new meaning behind the Pioneers space direction and gives fans a phrase to chant and student athletes a phrase to embrace.
If the whole space theme has worn you down, you might be rolling your eyes at the slogan but I’m all in at this point and I like how they took something familiar from one industry (space) to another (sports). The execution is fun too, with the giant letters interacting with the silhouetted athletes.
Overall, what I like the most about this redesign, particularly about the athletics stuff, is that it makes Northland look like a top-tier institution. The “We Are Go” campaign could easily be for Duke or North Carolina but, no, forget them and their giant budgets, this is an underdog performing at its best and winning.