How Duke University Rooted Its Centennial Website in Heritage

When Duke engaged History Factory to support its milestone planning, one critical question to answer was: “How do we want it to look?” Developing a visual identity for an anniversary campaign can be an overwhelming endeavor and the subject of much debate. To feel authentic and justified in its approach, an organization’s visual identity requires proof points—why choose this color, this font or that visual device? 

Duke University knew its centennial in 2024 would be a historic opportunity to recognize its extraordinary past, communicate the impact of the present and look toward the potential of its future.

The Duke University brand, though internationally recognized for its signature Duke Navy Blue, faced the challenge of extending its iconic look into a celebratory milestone visual identity. The centennial website that would serve as the central hub for all anniversary activities required a visual identity that was celebratory and exciting but also distinctly Duke. For inspiration, we turned to what is perhaps the most memorable feature of Duke’s signature architectural style: Duke Stone. The stone, with its unique and identifiable blue, brown, gray and ochre colors, serves as the raw material for many campus buildings. Duke Stone has been sourced solely from a local North Carolina quarry since 1924. Shaped and laid by hand, the multicolored stones create a unique and beautiful mosaic—an apt metaphor for the diverse stories and people that make Duke what it is. 

The angled geometry of the Duke Stone, a result of being shaped by hand, inspires graphic elements throughout the centennial website.

Visual identity development—whether for an anniversary or in general—is a process. Although the specifics may vary, there are some basic steps to keep in mind: 

  1. The creative brief: What is the North Star of the project? Articulate this in a succinct, comprehensive document communicating your audiences, objectives, success measures and any other crucial considerations or parameters.
  2. Visual research: Allow the designers and researchers to do what they do best—explore every aspect of your organization to identify symbols, artifacts, features or other visual elements that can underpin the concept you’re trying to convey.
  3. Concept design: Taking inspiration from your visual research, begin to develop one or more concepts for the visual elements of your brand. These elements might include a logo, graphic treatments, patterns or even some rough sample compositions to assess how different elements combine to create an overall look and feel.
  4. Design development: Put your final concept to work by developing the applications of the design. When developing the design, ensure you think about all forms and formats where it might be used—from full color to black and white, from digital to print, from projection onto a big screen to screen printing onto a hat or mug.
  5. Final production & delivery: The final product is ultimately what you’ll be graded on—and while this can be the most anxiety-inducing aspect, a thoughtful and thorough visual strategy puts you in the best position to adapt to any new creative challenges that might arise.

Brand heritage design is rooted in authenticity and built on a structure of curated moments from your past that can help lay the groundwork for your company’s desired future goals. It is not uncommon for concepts rooted in brand heritage to bleed into other design applications, even if they are not used as originally intended. Leveraging historical research, we can build a multifaceted story around an organization’s past that can inspire creative applications throughout the anniversary and beyond. Since our heritage-based anniversary design components are aligned with an organization’s past and current principles and values, it’s only natural that some of our clients end up extending elements of their anniversary branding into evergreen components of their organizational brand language or corporate narrative.

While we continue our work with Duke University, we’re thrilled to have partnered with them to develop the centennial website to reach a global audience and create momentum ahead of what will be an extraordinary moment for the organization. For more information on how to plan for your upcoming anniversary year, download our free guide to get started.

If you like what you’re hearing, reach out, we’d love to talk. Drop us a line.

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