Expanding and Rebranding

Expanding and Rebranding

A formerly single-curriculum school's president shares how his team did it.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. This rule applies as easily to schools wanting to ensure a thriving future as it does to mutual funds. It also reflects a principle that spurred a complete, five-year rebranding effort at Chicago's Harrington College of Design.

For 70 years, the former Harrington Institute of Interior Design was a single-curriculum school with an excellent reputation and consistent growth. Looking to the future, however, we questioned whether our existing business strategy was hindering our ability to achieve greater success.

What we didn't change was our core strength: a focus on design.

Our answer: Transform Harrington into a school of integrated design. This meant a new name and a range of other sweeping changes. Our experience may be useful to others contemplating similar changes. Here's what went into the rebranding effort:

There were initial fears that diversification could dilute a successful brand known exclusively for interior design. But the team ultimately recognized the potential limits a single curriculum could put on organizational growth and student opportunities.

The first non-interior design offering, a degree program in digital photography, was introduced in 2004. The two fields have a synergy, with designers and photographers frequently collaborating to present interiors to the world. Before then, no program in the region focused exclusively on commercial photography through digital technology. About 150 students are now enrolled in our program.

A communication design program was introduced in 2006; other offerings (which will keep design as the primary focus) are under consideration for the future.

Moving from a landmark building to a contemporary high-rise in downtown Chicago's Loop brought many advantages, chiefly the ability to install the infrastructure necessary for robust instructional technology and to design the space as a learning laboratory. The new campus is much more accessible to public transportation and suburban rail service. Another plus is our proximity to the city's vast design center, Merchandise Mart.

In addition to accreditation by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, we are pursuing regional accreditation, in part because it would allow our students access to additional funding opportunities.

We also established a board of governors, with support from our corporate parent, Career Education Corporation. In contrast to the previous four-member board of directors, the governing board has more than a dozen members representing a range of design disciplines-reflecting the careers for which we prepare our students. Overall governance is more independent.

This step was one of the most critical; it indicated a willingness to change how we did business and made decisions.

For years, Harrington was a well-kept secret, relying on word of mouth from alumni and some newspaper advertising. Now we've ramped up both the dollars and energy spent on getting the word out. We work with an inner-city Chicago high school to create a more welcoming climate for learning and host a weekend seminar for high school photography instructors. We strengthened our online advertising presence as well. The city's vibrant art scene and iconic architecture are highlighted in all materials.

The new name and other changes allowed for a complete transformation of our graphic identity. We seized it, starting fresh to create a look specific to the target student age that reflects our position as a preeminent design school. A style guide assures a well-designed, consistent graphic identity that establishes the unique Harrington brand.

What we didn't change, but rather enhanced, was our core strength: a design focus. Some "rebranding" acts are little more than window dressing. What we've undertaken is a significant change in how we conduct ourselves-and that's ongoing.

Erik I. Parks is president of the Harrington College of Design, www.harringtoncollege.com, in Chicago. Harrington is a member of the Career Education Corporation family of schools, which serve 100,000 students across the world.


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