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The Brand has Landed:

Northwestern Polytechnic unveils new Curio-designed visual brand

At 12:30 p.m. on March 9, Alberta’s Northwestern Polytechnic debuted its new brand to the world; if you noticed a stiff breeze around that time, that was the design team at Curio exhaling for the first time in nine months.

Since June of last year, Curio has been working with the fantastic team at the former Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC) in creating a complete visual brand to match the institution’s exciting new name and status.

(Animation by the excellent Dominic Lafrance)

Front to back, the process has been an absolute dream for a creative team. And, just like any dream, the process was at turns delightful, anxious, and wildly-unpredictable.

What follows is an EXTREMELY abbreviated version of the Saga of The NWP Rebrand, soon to be a Hulu Limited Series starring, let’s say, Freddie Prinze Jr.

Hulu and Freddy: please return our calls!

May 2021: The Rumours are True

Way back in May of 2021, the Government of Alberta announced that Grande Prairie Regional College would soon transform into the Province’s newest Polytechnic (i.e., a vocational university with the power to offer apprentice education, along with degree, diploma, and certificate programs).

The former GPRC has two gorgeous campuses in Grande Prairie (left) and Fairview (right)

This was (and is) a huge deal—the new designation will make for powerful, industry-led and technology-enabled learning opportunities in Northern Alberta, one of the most vibrant economic frontiers in Canada!

Marshalling the rebrand effort for the GPRC was their Vice President External Relations, Cherene Griffiths. Cherene brought to the project over 15 years of experience in Albertan post-secondary, as well as a patience and determination that would serve her extremely well while rebranding a college over just a few months.

Summer 2021: Curio finds itself in the Mix

One month after the new Polytechnic status was announced, Cherene reached out to Curio (among other contenders) to “develop a new suite of brand elements including logo, typographical treatment, style/usage guide, and other brand elements.”

We very quickly put our collective hat in the ring, crossed our collective fingers, and waited, hatless with digits intertwined, until we got the amazing news in July that Curio had been chosen to develop the visual brand.

Early Fall: A Brand with No Name

In the earliest stage of the rebrand, plans were to have draft logos and typographical elements in place by the end of September. There was just one catch, though: At the time, the College had yet to choose a new name (though names have historically been a non-insignificant element of roughly 100% of all brands).

At the time though, three strong ‘maybes’ for the name had emerged from the College’s extensive research and public consultation, and Curio was asked to develop different logo concepts for each of the three name options.

The official logo of the former Grande Prairie Regional College.

A huge part of the challenge, of course, was that each logo concept we produced would need to be visually-distinct from the GPRC’s former brand (above), as well as the brands of other Albertan post-secondaries and other Canadian polytechnics.

From Sketchy Beginnings…

So the Curio design team got to work doing what we do best: Doodling!

The primordial logo soup, as it were. Kids: Penmanship matters!

As illustrators, each member of our design team starts a visual concept with several sketches. From the bunch, the strongest concepts are put forward to the rest of the team, scrutinized, critiqued, and slowly nudged to death in the name of creating the best possible composition.

Through this process, our team creates what we consider to be incredibly strong, ready-to-deploy brand concepts, with no also-rans or red herrings to pad out the clients’ options [For some examples of great logos that didn’t quite make the cut, please check out our “It Came From the Logo Graveyard” blog series].

…A Champion Emerges

Surviving several stages of cultivating, culling, and curating were no fewer than nine very different logo variations; among them, the basic DNA of what would become the Polytechnic’s new logo was discovered in December:

This new logo-form synced up well with the vision of Justin Kohlmann, the institution’s new President, for the Polytechnic to be a place of constant motion, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

We pitched this new logo with the following rationale:

The visual identity of Northwestern Canada’s new Polytechnic is equal parts unstoppable force and immovable object. Sturdy and steadfast, the strong ‘P’ letterform represents an institution galvanized by industry, technology, and its stalwart people. Running through this forward-leaning and powerful character is an N that conveys the almost-electric energy with which faculty and students will work to make the Northwest a bright beacon on Canada’s post-secondary map.

Some reference compositions we provided to help visualize the brand in the ‘real world.’

By the end of 2021, the Polytechnic had its new name, logo, and colour palette (for brevity’s sake, we will save the story of colour palettes for the 3-hour Director’s Cut). Exhausted but enthused, the Curios at last settled in for a long winter’s nap.

New Years’ Resolution: Destroy All Spare Time

Come January, there were only 10 weeks to bring the brand into the third dimension. The design team at Curio strapped into their halters, put on their blinders, and proceeded to go to work.

 Over those ten weeks, Curio developed NWP brand applications for:

  • Print ads
  • Event invitations
  • Zoom backgrounds
  • Digital website assets
  • PowerPoint Templates
  • Animated logo
  • Social Media graphics
  • Internal communications templates
  • Fleet vehicle wraps
  • Signage
  • Flags
  • Tradeshow displays
  • Table Linens
  • Lecterns
  • Stickers
  • Nametags
  • Pins
  • An unholy variety of promotional merchandise
  • Printed recruitment collateral
  • Business cards
  • Letterheads and envelopes
  • Official transcripts
  • Parchments

And (if you can believe it) even more!

A good client makes all the difference

“It’s been a LOT of work, and there’s still a lot yet to be done,” says Amanda Schutz, Curio’s Artistic Director. “But it has honestly been a real pleasure throughout, thanks mostly to a great work dynamic between Curio and Northwestern. ”

“This was an example of what can be accomplished when you’re working with a client who is considerate and trusting of the design team, who has ambition that matches their vision, and who will take risks to truly stand out from the competition.”

Congratulations to our friends at Northwestern Polytechnic on the new identity—you wear it very well!

This video brought to you by the talented videography team at The Distillery Film Co.

This post was last updated on June 30, 2022 by Matt Steringa