The mention of “art school” as a choice in higher education carries with it the stereotype of a classroom full of high school outcasts sketching a nude model. Yes, a sarcastic and outdated notion easy to refute, but a real hurdle nonetheless. And the newly named Ringling College of Art and Design knew that its previous moniker, Ringling School of Art and Design — coined in 1933, two years after the college was originally established as, big breath, The School of Fine and Applied Art of the John and Mable Ringling Art Museum — was not the best option to represent a thriving private institution that has grown from a 3-building campus to one that houses more than 80 in 35 acres and serves 1,090 students. Ringling must also realize that it faces stiff competition in the boutique undergraduate education in design from the likes of RISD, Art Center, SCAD, MICA and others who also happen to have strong visual identities of their own. So this past April, Ringling changed its name and unveiled a new identity that will be ready to roll at the start of the upcoming school year.
Designed by Chicago-based SamataMason, Ringling’s new look joins the rank of other ever-changing identities that hinge on one strong visual identity and then mutate in several, controlled ways. The premise behind this one is the following:
The new identity system is built around the idea that Ringling offers both the constant foundation of an academic institution — a structured, stable, nurturing environment for learning and unique personal experiences — brought to life through interaction with creative, eclectic and energized people.
Consisting of a constant — represented by the classic form of the golden rectangle, and made visible by a set of variables — through an infinitely changeable assembly of images.
The Ringling identity expresses the diversity of individual experiences by incorporating the visual voices of Ringling students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have provided vibrant expressions of its creative heart and soul.
Like the college itself, the Ringling identity is constant, yet always changing.
Unlike other rationalizations for identities, and despite a basic notion that any college in the world could claim, Ringling and SamataMason turned this into a cohesive execution that distinguishes the college from others and, in my own interpretative way, manages to capture what a design school in Florida feels like. The identity is also able to translate the duality that most designers face of the meeting of creativity and structure — both necessary to excel as professional designers — handsomely embodied by the changing texture (referred to as the “Visual Voice”) behind the strict rectangle accompanied by a rather nicely spaced rendition of Scala Sans.
While an art and design education may not be what our parents had in mind when they pictured us as lawyers and doctors, Ringling’s new identity makes a strong case for the seriousness that our silliness can fully develop through. And, if in the process, we can sketch a nude, why not?
Logos courtesy of Ringling College of Art and Design.