Creative Direction

Steven’s Institute of Business & Arts is a small, vibrant college in St. Louis. They offer five degree programs in one four-story building. There are no sports programs or Greek societies. There is no quad or union. Their approach is lean yet rich. Every teacher is accomplished and actively working in their field. Classes are small, and students receive abundant one-on-one guidance. Tuition is far less than state and private schools that have more overhead and bureaucratic structures to support.

For career-minded students who gravitate toward small schools and a streamlined learning experience, Siba has much to offer. But they have struggled to be seen and heard amidst fierce competition from larger schools. And while they believe that small is a great destination in and of itself, they wanted to create more interactions with prospective students, increase enrollment, and cultivate a more diverse student body. They needed help, but weren’t sure where to start.

The first time I visited Siba with my former colleagues, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hadn’t seen any pictures of their campus ahead of time. I’d only seen their website and their branding. The website was outdated, difficult to navigate, and illegible on a phone. Likewise, their brand identity lacked originality and distinction. The logo had a somewhat dated, Victorian feel, and there was a lack of coherence in all of their visual communications. 

When we first walked into the building, we were greeted by tall ceilings, concrete floors, and exposed brick. Tasteful, contemporary lighting fixtures and bright, beautiful paintings added warmth to the space. Common spaces and classrooms were also well-appointed, with large windows and ample natural light. Tons of character, and quite different from most college buildings. I was amazed and pleasantly surprised. The things I’d seen online before that visit had told a completely different story.

We realized in that moment that Siba had two problems: an image problem and a communication problem. That initial intuition was confirmed when we met the staff and listened to them talk about their hopes and dreams.

We proposed a complete overhaul of Siba’s brand identity, website, and core collateral. During the discovery process, the core client team described themselves as a band of misfits. They were proud of their urban environment and no-nonsense approach. They were open to change, but the one thing they asked us to keep was some kind of graphic representation of their building.

We met with the client to discuss brand values, attributes, and pain points, and start to explore how the new brand identity might address those challenges. The following design strategy emerged:

Create a shorter, memorable graphic signature for Siba.

Move away from the acronym, and own “Siba” as a word.

Keep the building symbol, but redesign it.

Build the brand identity around two core elements: a logotype or a custom typographic setting of Siba, and the building.

The logotype would become the primary element in terms of brand hierarchy. The logotype will appear by itself when the context is clear, but there would also be a contextually-agnostic version with the full name spelled out underneath or to the side.

The secondary element would be the building. We would use it as a sign-off or seal of authenticity – e.g. the footer of the website, the back of a brochure, the bottom or back of letterhead, etc. There would also be a larger version to be used as an illustration in collateral, on t-shirts, and the like.

The result is a flexible brand identity that isn’t so much about a logo as a system of interdependent elements. The new system as a whole is confident and collegiate yet bright, contemporary, and a little quirky.

A delightful web experience

We created an all-new responsive website that immediately gives visitors a sense of the school’s physical space and culture. A looping video at the top of the homepage walks you down a hallway toward the cafeteria. Visitors can immediately apply or watch a full-length video about the school.

We thought it was important to quickly and prominently highlight what sets Siba apart. For example: as of 2015, 100% of their graduates have found jobs in their field within six months of graduation. Such stats are immediately found below the intro video in playful thought bubbles that invite investigation.

Whether you’re on a laptop or a phone, the new application process is a breeze. People can subscribe to Siba’s email newsletter from anywhere on the website, and a revamped blogging schedule gives them reasons to return on a regular basis.

Siba now boasts a website that looks and feels exactly like their school and the people within. More importantly, it’s a tool that is helping them increase enrollment and foster ongoing engagement with current and future students.

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Enticing collateral

Business cards and stationery remain important for making first impressions and connections – especially for a small school that prides itself on small classes and personal care. We designed business papers for Siba that are professional, crisp, and, like everyone else, a little peculiar.

We also designed a dual-audience, dual-purpose brochure. Siba wanted to create a memorable piece that would resonate with parents as well as prospective students. Our solution was a small, unorthodox brochure with vibrant images of the school and students. We made sure to highlight the impressive job placement results of recent graduates. Brief program descriptions and testimonials illustrate how Siba can help students develop their interests into careers.

Siba wanted to use these brochures as front-desk and job fair takeaways, as well as for targeted mailings. To that end, the back cover doubles as a mailing panel.


All of this work was done in partnership with Grain, and it was a full-team effort that unfolded over the course of a year or so. Throughout the process, I supported and guided the design team. I also dove in at a hands-on level during several phases, worked closely with the client, helped write and edit copy, and provided direction and reviews for the web developers.

Visit Siba online at

Next project: Anova Portfolio

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