Olin College of Engineering

Educating engineer-innovators for a better world


Olin’s mission and impact extend beyond the school’s campus. From the outset, the college has had a dual, intertwined mission. In addition to pioneering an innovative undergraduate learning experience, through the Olin Collaboratory, an initiative to share new, best practices with the wider engineering education community, the school works with other educators and institutions to transform undergraduate engineering education around the world.

Building on existing research and our own investigations––and in concert with a campus-wide steering group that had deep student representation, we collaborated to refine the College’s challenge and brand promise, its positioning, its main messages, its unique model, and desired attributes. We crafted an elevator pitch and storylines, which media pitches and social media efforts could support. We worked together to shorten the school’s original unwieldy name, to build out a brand architecture that better reflected the school’s bipartite mission, and to develop a comprehensive system for visual expression: new logo combined with guidelines for typography, color, imagery, and composition.


Just into its second decade, Olin is the country’s only engineering “lab school” for undergraduates. Immersive and hands-on, students start solving real problems from day one––and both faculty and students are engaged in the continuous evolution of the curriculum. While it’s not Olin’s motto, “Everything has an expiration date” could well be.

Grounded in a culture that embraces innovation, entrepreneurship and design for human needs, Olin values new ways of looking at things, and bases learning on passion, curiosity, discovery and real-world challenges. It inspires and educates engineer-innovators to dream, prototype, build and promulgate innovations that improve lives, communities and, ultimately, the world.

Olin’s brand––its positioning, messaging and visual expression––was initially conceived before there was a school at all, and once the college was up and running it was out of sync with the energy and innovation of the enterprise. So, too, were their admissions materials. We were called in to look, learn, and re-imagine.

Driven by the immediate need to craft new admissions materials, we strategized, designed, and co-wrote the first wave of recruitment materials while we were in the middle of writing our findings and recommendations report: it came together in a design-build fashion. The book tested, and subsequently performed, extraordinarily well.

“We are seeing more and more people coming on to campus with an excitement about the Olin mission and what we are trying to achieve. All of our print and online materials compellingly express our brand in a way that distinguishes us from other engineering colleges.”—Michelle Davis, Chief Marketing Officer, Olin College of Engineering

In focus groups with students, we learned (to our surprise) that prospective college students (even those in the fields of engineering and technology) still want a printed view book. Not only that, they want it to be clever.

Our approach literally cut the inside of the book in-half, allowing readers to recombine spreads at will—an approach that telegraphed Olin students’ ability to fluidly recombine their coursework to create a unique course of study tailored to their interests and talents.

“Applications have been up 37% over the two years since we launched the new brand and admissions materials and we’ve become one of the 10 most selective colleges in the country. Our alumni tell us that more and more doors are open to them because of the reputation of Olin, and parents tell us that more of their friends have heard of Olin when the small school’s name comes up in conversation.”—Michelle Davis

Further, unwrapping the book itself presents a brand-reinforcing experience. The cover is built of two series of words: one that talks to the more technical, “hard” side of engineering education; one that talks to Olin’s approach. Before the book is pulled from its envelope, only the conventional words appear. As the book is pulled from under the red acetate wrapper, the second, complementary set of words “magically” appear. Olin, of course, delivers both sets of attributes.

For the next viewbook cycle, we crafted a deck of cards––22 cards arranged in five ‘suits’: students, alumni, faculty, facts and figures, and ‘Olinisms.’ Each suit is distinguished by a unique color and graphic motif, and connects directly to a section of the microsite we developed (meet.olin.edu). Each card features a personality on one side—a student talking about their academic experience, for example—and the institutional voice on the other (providing the detail and background to the more personal 1st person voice). The cards are bound by a small chain, and mailed in an anti-static bag (a big hit with prospects in the first viewbook cycle).

The entire deck of cards was designed to print on one press sheet, making it economical––and allowing us to produce at no additional cost, a poster version of the view book.

Complementary materials––invitations to open houses, financial aid materials, Olin at-a-glance stats, an e-newsletter, and a general audience capabilities piece––give Olin opportunities to connect to prospects and admitted students at different points in the enrollment cycle.

“Corporate leaders are taking notice and wanting to connect into the college; more than 1,500 people have come from 500 institutions to experience Olin firsthand. There’s a sophistication and energy to our messaging and materials that is attracting attention from the right audiences––and creating a buzz.”—Michelle Davis