What’s in a Name? Student Experience and UofT’s “Brand Story”

By Danielle Lum, Project Assistant &  Liza Brechbill, Integrative and Design Thinking Specialist

Photo of Danielle Photo of Liza

In late June, the Innovation Hub partnered with U of T’s Trademark and Licensing office and external consultants from Sovereign State to facilitate a student feedback session. The topic of the day? Exploring the thoughts, feelings, and stories that students associate with their time at the university, with the goal of better understanding the student experience and informing the development of school branding.

The Innovation Hub was tasked with collecting and analyzing the data for recurring themes and insights. Please note that our participant pool was limited in scope, and cannot be said to be properly representative of a student population approaching 90,000:

  • Prestige: Students frequently noted the reputation that UofT holds as a top university on both a national and international level. Despite the perceived difficulties of studying here, participants overall felt that the challenge was worth it as graduating comes with a certain level of prestige and social capital. 
  • Survival and Perseverance: Faced with a culture of intense academic challenge and competition, students feel as though the UofT narrative is one of constantly proving your worth. Persevering through the challenge often resulted in a sense of pride and accomplishment, but has also inspire resentment towards the competitive mentality of the institution.
  • Fragmentation: Another recurring theme was a lack of one cohesive school identity. Participants shared that “school spirit” often felt exclusive to particular colleges or faculties, expressing that they identified with these smaller spheres much more than the broader university.
  • Seeking Support: In the face of what they felt was sometimes an ineffective official support system, students told stories of relying on one another for moral, psychological, and academic support.
  • Future Directions: While students seemed to unilaterally agree that completing one’s studies at UofT was a proud accomplishment, students were more divided about their future prospects. Some students felt that the university opened doors for them and expanded their professional network, other students felt uncertain about their future in the workplace.

Drawing from these and other insights gathered from the feedback session, the Trademark and Licensing office and Sovereign State will inform the development of a new brand strategy. Their goal is to present students with opportunities to feel connected to their time at the University of Toronto through thoughtfully-designed merchandise. In learning about and empathizing with student stories, they hope to authentically represent what it means to be a student at UofT.


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