Gustavus Homecoming Poster

My senior year at Gustavus, I was a part of the Campus Activities Board (CAB) as a co-publicity chair. My first (and largest) project was to work on the media for homecoming: posters, t-shirts, hats, and other advertising material. I would be solely responsible for the entire look of homecoming, and while I had creative control, I still needed to work closely with my fellow board members to acheive a cohesive look that pleased everyone, along with members of the college administration.

Sadly, due to a hard drive crash and some faulty backups1, I only have the final products — all in-progress work was deleted.

Armed with the pre-approved tagline ("We are Gusties, hear us roar, ready for 150 more!"2) I set off to work. I decided early on that because we were celebrating the school and its longevity, I should maintain strong themes of legacy, its heritage, and elements that would be instantly recognizable to all students. Unfortunately, our mascot was being redesigned and was not allowed for usage in any college media, which left me with few strong icons to use. I considered using the three crowns, but those are strongly associated with Sweden, and I wanted something truly Gustavus to use.

I ultimately decided to rely on Gustavus' two main colors: black and gold. You can't find anything Gustavus-related without black and gold on it somewhere, and students go out of their way to find black and gold clothes to wear. Without a logo or mascot, those colors became our logo, and so I felt that by using them as the primary elements of the branding, the media elements would be both consistent and immediately identifiable as something that belonged to Gustavus alone. I created some sketches and some colored thumbnails and presented them to the board, who were very pleased with the idea and let me start working.

The final poster.

After working with the board, who didn't like my initial clean and modern posters, I settled on a heritage look: contemporary, geometric sans fonts mixed with blocky serifs to evoke a modern Gustavus with strong, chiseled roots and history that really would let us survive for another 150 years. A few simple decorations coupled with ornate, plaque-like lines to give it a sense of permanence finished it off. I made the tagline the primary element primarily so that it would be what people would see and immediately remember. The posters would be everywhere, and in previous years, the tagline had been lost in large amount of scheduling. I wanted the slogan to be on everyone's minds for the entire week, so I gave it a place of honor and prominence.

But people still needed to know where all the events were. I wanted the schedule to be readable from a distance, even if you couldn't read the words. You should be able to look and see how the events were distributed and which days you definitely didn't want to miss. Friday and Saturday were presented in strong fonts, with key information (like event names) made very obvious. I tried to structure the schedule with this kind of hierarchy overall: if something caught your eye, you could get closer and figure out details like time and place, but they wouldn't overwhelm you if you just glanced at or were browsing.

The change in schedule hierarchy between an early design and the final choice.

The focus on color as the primary branding element presented a problem: you can't just sell plain black and gold t-shirts for \$15. They need to have something on them, but with no logo or graphic element, I didn't know what to use. I knew I didn't want to just slap the tagline on the front of the shirts and call it a day. One of the board members, a long-time legacy student whose family members back through her grandparents had gone to Gustavus, suggested I check out the Gustavus archives and see what I could find. That turned out to be an incredibly helpful idea: it was there I found the old Gustavus seal.

Working from some old, blurry pictures and the only physical version of the seal I could get my hands on, I redrew the seal in Illustrator and added a few homecoming elements in the same style. I iterated through several designs, first with my publicity co-chairs, and then with the board at large until we settled on the final design. It ultimately became the iconic mark of homecoming. It was such a powerful, recognizable image, that I used it as the background for all media — a sort of subtle, cohesive thread that pulled everything together.

Homecoming was a huge success that year. Normally, shirts and memorabilia from it are discarded not long after it ends, but people wore their homecoming swag for years afterwards. One of my board members told me that one day she was wearing hers and a freshman wanted to know where to get one!

Two of the colorways for the homecoming t-shirts.