Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Picture: SUPPLIED
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Picture: SUPPLIED

Rebranding a university in an environment of protest over fees and exclusion is no easy task: the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth has had to take a sensitive approach in changing its name to Nelson Mandela University.

It wanted to recreate the university’s identity to reflect a "dynamic modern African institution".

Albert Engelbrecht, CEO of Creative Caterpillar, a boutique Somerset West design agency responsible for the change, believes the Mandela image and name have been abused, overcommercialised and not properly monitored.

The starting point, he says, was to re-establish what Nelson Mandela stood for.

"To ensure freshness around the Mandela name and image we had to ensure it tied back to who he was and what he stood for, allowing the name to transcend him as a person, focusing on his legacy and what he believed in." He says the use of an emblem was not necessary. "Nelson Mandela didn’t need an emblem because the name itself is so strong and it speaks for itself. There was no need to add any other extra elements but focus on keeping the design simple, clean and modern." The "O" in Nelson and the "A" in Mandela have been turned into a circle and triangle and "symbolise the values of Nelson Mandela University: diversity, excellence, integrity and responsibility".

The circle represents the globe, openness and approachability and the triangle stands for growth and forward thinking. The colours, too, have meaning. The university’s blue "representing maritime, wisdom and stability, while yellow gives the sense of freshness, positivity, intellect and loyalty".

Another critical aspect was the direction in which the university is heading. "This is an institution that is recognised for its leadership and contribution to regional sustainability."

New design aesthetic

The student body has been an integral part of the process. Says Engelbrecht: "The university’s brand council through the SRC, canvassed the opinions of students. They were asked what Mandela means to them and how they relate to the brand. Not surprisingly they said they related to the young Mandela who agitated for change."

The agency believes its work on the renaming is part of an emerging SA design aesthetic. Engelbrecht says work coming out of the country now is bold, eye-catching, authentic and revolutionary.

"The philosophy is design with an open mind. It is vibrant, celebratory and multilayered with colours, patterns, materials and textures."

The rebranding also led to the university’s sports teams being renamed "Madibaz". This was an existing name. "We simply integrated the brand elements to create a pattern that is used on the clothing which also ties in with the university’s brand colours," says Engelbrecht.

The key in the new branding exercise was to create awareness around the university and to attract high-calibre students. "It is important that the target market relates to the design and is proud to be associated with that brand," says Engelbrecht, who believes SA businesses do not take brand design seriously enough. "Many businesses don’t understand the power of good branding and are unaware that they are not efficiently and effectively reaching their target audience," he says.