Reimagining the Harvard Library Digital Experience Using Brand Archetypes

May 9, 2018 · 7 min read

Authored by Nathan Tia and Sarena Douglass

In today’s digitally-connected world, we are now — more than ever before — both consumers and contributors of knowledge. We can access information at the touch of a button from pretty much anywhere. People are increasingly connected, with a growing need for on-demand and highly-automated services. The future of research library services depends on their ability to grow, flex, and remain current — to create enduring value.

The Harvard Library houses centuries of learning, history, and information, and has a tremendous opportunity to preserve and disseminate this knowledge in innovative ways. The Library offers educational resources and answers to important questions that people can’t otherwise find, and space for them to discover great ideas. The Harvard Library is much more than volumes of books. So, what does this mean at a time when being digitally-connected shapes the way information is discovered, consumed, and shared?

We believe that the Harvard Library should focus on communicating its ability to provide exceptional support at every touch point. Delivering personalized experiences within physical and digital spaces as well as social media platforms is paramount. In order to facilitate this, we partnered with them to gain alignment on a brand vision as part of a larger digital design initiative.

Identifying the Brand Vision

For this project, we tapped into the brand archetypes framework to help set the narrative and establish a brand persona unique to the Harvard Library. We understood the need for the Library to have its own distinct brand persona, while building off of Harvard brand at large. Our brand exercise, in close collaboration with the web team, introduced the possibility of new colors, typography, and a distinct personality for the Harvard Library, distinct from the larger University brand.

Using the Archetypes Framework

The idea of archetypes was a concept conceived by psychologist Carl Jung to describe universal patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious. The idea of archetypes has since been adapted and used in marketing. The concept is that people inherently relate to people or characters over inanimate objects. So, it follows that when a persona is put behind a brand, it’s easier for people to relate to that brand. There are different models for marketing which identify anywhere from 10 to 15 unique archetypes. We use the model that outlines 12 main archetypes: the Innocent, the Orphan, the Hero, the Caregiver, the Explorer, the Rebel, the Lover, the Creator, the Jester, the Sage, the Magician, and the Ruler.

We were drawn to the idea of archetypes when examining the Harvard Library project because of the unique branding challenge we identified with their team: How could they find their niche within a larger, well-established brand?

Harvard University, both by our research and their documentation, has been identified as a Sage brand. By working collaboratively with the Harvard Library team, we decided to take a multi-dimensional approach to identify archetypes that better aligned with their longer-term vision.

Multi-Dimensional Approach

Very few brands fit into just one archetype. Just as people are not one-dimensional, neither are the organizations and businesses that we create. Thus, brands often have a primary and secondary archetype, and sometimes even more.

In the case of the Harvard Library, the results of the archetype exercise surfaced elements from the Creator (wanting to create something that is innovative and has enduring value), the Sage (wanting to be the voice of knowledge — the teacher), the Caregiver (with its genuine desire to help people), and the Outlaw (wanting to start a revolution). Archetypes can be dynamic and fluid; therefore, this framework is appropriate for this project.

Each archetype has attributes (adjectives, keywords, desires, goals, and a primary objective). The multi-dimensional approach of drawing upon attributes from various archetypes allows for the development of a unique brand.

Harvard Library’s Primary Archetype: The Creator

Style Tiles for the Creator Archetype

The Harvard Library’s primary archetype is the Creator — the Creator cares about doing what is right and transferring that knowledge to the people it interacts with — inspiring them to think in new ways. While the creative aspect leads the way, ideas are tested, evaluated, and grounded in research.

Harvard Library’s Secondary Archetype: The Sage

Style Tiles for the Sage Archetype

The Harvard Library’s secondary archetype is the Sage — embodying the voice of objectiveness and wisdom. The Sage is trustworthy, factual, and wise. Although the Harvard Library desires a distinct brand under the umbrella of Harvard University, the Sage is still an important reflection of the Library’s values. Drawing upon the Sage keeps a connection to the University but using the additional archetypes — the Creator at the forefront with some attributes pulled from the Caregiver and the Outlaw — allows the Harvard Library to differentiate its brand.

How Archetypes Apply to Style Tiles, the Color Palette, and Designs

Since we’ve started this process, we continue to refer back to the Creator and the Sage archetypes, so it is only natural that we created two sets of style tiles — one that leaned more towards the Creator and the other which leaned more towards the Sage. Style tiles are a design deliverable made up of fonts, colors, and interface elements to communicate the visual aesthetic of a site. After contemplating both options, the Harvard Library team chose the Creator style tile, staying aligned to their primary archetype.

While the overall website aesthetic has been based on the Creator archetype, the Sage has made appearances throughout. The primary color palette includes bright, vibrant colors (Creator), but the Harvard crimson and a slate blue (Sage) are also used as secondary colors. The Sage colors are used in areas where the Harvard Library wants to convey their knowledge and magnitude. For example, the Harvard Library houses a number of distinguished collections, and we use the slate blue to help communicate the value and esteem they carry.

Another way archetypes came in handy throughout this process was during the selection and design of icons. For example, the team chose a to-go coffee cup (which has more of a Creator feel) over a traditional coffee cup (more of a Sage feel) to represent a café.

From a visual side, archetypes provide a reference point that everyone can relate to and quickly check in with. They serve as shorthand to talk about the overall feel of a brand. Archetypes are not rigid rules to be adhered to, but instead are nuanced and, to an extent, open to individual interpretation.

Next Steps: Creating a Culture of Use

In our work with the Harvard Library narrative, we determined that a key initiative was to establish a Culture of Use for the Library system — helping users understand all the ways in which they can access the Library system. Using the Library encompasses both physical and digital spaces, serving as meeting places to work on group projects to addressing students’ and researchers’ needs online.

“Establishing a Culture of Use for the Harvard Library required that we anticipate and address emerging and future roles of the library experience across various focus areas.”

We are doing this by working to develop awareness in the minds of users. Establishing the connection that libraries are not only centers for knowledge, but a sanctuary for learning, sharing, and the discovery of new ideas — and that everyone can tap into this shared knowledge, is imperative to this goal. By improving available tools and resources, we are able to showcase how to take full advantage of new and exciting ways to access the Library’s services. We strive to amplify this perception by delivering an on-brand and cohesive user experience in visually attractive and compelling ways.

We envisioned a website experience that facilitates this shift by delivering a highly-accessible and discovery experience — one that effectively communicates the values and benefits of the Harvard Library. The Harvard Library site redesign project is ongoing. Through our involvement in the strategy and design work, we aimed to identify and impart the right combination of archetypes to set the stage for the Harvard Library’s continued efforts as well as create the foundational aspect of the Culture of Use to help guide the branding and messaging to follow. We can already see that the work the Harvard Library team has accomplished thus far sets the stage for the evolution and growth of the new Harvard Library brand.

Are you interested in learning how to use archetypes to inform your site’s rebrand process? Join the discussion via the comments below or Tweet Us @Velir, and feel free to reach out to us with questions you may have. We’re passionate about the topic and we’d love to provide any insights we can to help you out!


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