The Role Graphic Design Can Play In Higher Education Marketing

The Role Graphic Design Can Play In Higher Education Marketing

Great design requires great psychology.” – Simon Norris Managing Director, Nomensa design consultancy.
Norris is not alone. Leading authority Stephen P. Anderson agrees that, “To be a good designer in today’s society, you need to have an understanding of psychology, human behavior, and the little shortcuts, the little quirks, in the way people operate. Then you can use them to make it easier for people to engage with your products.”

Higher ed marketing
What does this design convey? 

If this is true in principle, it must be true in higher education marketing. Principles don’t change. Design is about more than eye-appeal. It must have personal appeal for a website’s target audience. Understanding how to use both can generate enough power to sway a website viewer’s mind before he even reads the content – or if he ever reads it.
Effective higher education marketing understands graphic design
Graphic design is neither art nor science. It is both – and they are inseparable components. Whether it is a website or a printed brochure, the issue is not if the administration likes it. The issue is two-fold:

  • Does it appeal to the target audience?
  • Does it adequately represent the institution?

Meeting those criteria can be a daunting task. At the very least, it means objectively subordinating personal tastes to those criteria.
Colors and shapes
Colors and shapes prompt psychological responses from everyone who sees them. When optimally combined, they create a powerful, captivating force. When thoughtlessly combined, even though compelling on their own, they can drive prospects away.

Higher ed marketing
Red is powerful.

Take color, for instance. What color would be best for marketing higher education to Chinese students wanting to study at American schools? The answer is ‘red’ – it’s a cultural thing. It’s also the color of their flag. On the other hand, college students in general tend to react to red as psychologically stimulating and exciting. (This is especially true of students at the University of Nebraska, the University of Wisconsin and North Carolina State.)
Circles project a sense of relationship, inclusion and stability. Any design with curves tends to be perceived as feminine.
Squares tend to project strength, organization and professionalism. Presented in an angular mode tempers those impressions. However, squares combined with a blue or grey color scheme tend to be off-putting, a possibility mentioned earlier in this article.
Triangles exude masculinity, power, science, math and law. Blame that on Pythagoras.

Higher ed marketing
Combine shapes for greater effect

Vertical lines are perceived as strong. Horizontal lines evoke a sense a sense of calm.
Apply the basics for the most effective graphic design
The point is not to create the best graphic design. It is to create the design that simultaneously projects an accurate image of a particular institution whilst appealing to and evoking the desired response from the target audience. The subliminal power of graphic design is so powerful that it can either attract or repel. The point of higher education marketing is to attract the right students (and donors). Sometimes graphic design can make all the difference.
To learn more about graphic design for higher education marketing programs, please contact us.
Photo Credits: 1) Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at, 2) Image courtesy of SOMMAI at, 3) Image courtesy of dan at
Lou Gutheil writes on a wide variety of subjects, including investments, immigration, technology, NGOs, and, of course, higher education.