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School symbol: why the cardinal?

... and not the tree of endless discovery or the bell of clear insight or the library of newfound knowledge?

Journey Group, a local consulting entity with clients like The Nature Conservancy, the US Postal Service, the Smithsonian Institution, and now Free Union Country School, helped us understand ourselves and create a logo or symbol that sums up:

The bright pop of color, the design element that echoes block shapes, and the quickly recognizable nature of the graphic coupled with the list above all began to make sense. In the words of a Free Union teacher, "Wow, that's awesome! In a world of warm green tree logos, ours really stands out!"

The full Journey Group/Free Union Story

The Journey Group, located right here in Charlottesville but doing national and international work including the design of the majority of the US postal stamps, accepted the challenge to help us tell our story.


How did this happen? And how could the school afford such experience and expertise?

It all began last year when, after being alerted to the program by a school parent, we applied for and were chosen from among thirty applicants as Journey's 2014 pro bono project.

What did we ask for?

We wanted them to look inside (and out) the school and help us tell our story in a fresh way -- to counteract the image that we are the too-far-away crunchy school in the country that is academically light. How can we let it be known that Free Union excels in a broader educational milieu that has not changed in 100 years?

How did they go about this?

Journey's process was exhaustive. They read all our printed materials, considered the many good logos that we have used, thoroughly studied our web site, spent days on campus and in classrooms, took many photos, and met with staff, students, and parents. Journey Group also considered the thoughts collected at the Town Hall Meetings which were part of the strategic planning process. They learned that when they asked about “stakeholders” and we answered “everybody” -- that we really meant it.

Was there wrangling?

Maybe a little. There were many elements that felt near and dear to us and they had to be discussed. The precise color of red (Howard), accurate wording (ElizaBeth), and the art of our kids (Jolee). We showed them our school instagram account for art, we talked about not looking too slick on paper/web and we learned to accept that people study design and graphics and advertising for a reason. We practiced letting go (a little).

What's with the bird? And what happened to the bell? The tree?

Here is what made us warm to the idea of the cardinal. The cardinal captures:

the idea of children spreading their wings
the delight found in nature
the simple design using geometric shapes
fundamental ideas or cardinal virtues
positivity -- cardinals sing all year round, brightening the world with song
parental involvement -- cardinals are considered fantastic parents, sharing duties of raising their young
community -- cardinals do not migrate; they remain in the communities in which they live

The bright pop of color, the design element that echoes block shapes, and the quickly recognizable nature of the graphic coupled with the list above -- it started to make sense.

So there you go, a single symbol, a shorthand for our story, a mascot. Journey considered many images, including the library, the bell, and the tree, and whittled the options away to a simple, geometric cardinal.

Will everybody like it?

This did worry us. And to that worry, Zack, our project manager reminded us that there should be a reaction if the symbol does what it's supposed to do. Our brand should be uniquely identified with our school and instantly recognizable.

Did they really understand us?

We think so. This is how they summed us up:

More than 30 years ago, Free Union Country School was founded out of an ideal: that parents are partners in their children's education; that a school's job is to nurture a love of learning, not compromise it; and most of all that a student is a person, with interests and passions that -- when ignited -- can drive a lifetime of learning and leadership.

Please take a moment to peruse the online view book that Journey created for us. It incorporates the brand images and textures that come from the study of our school. We are eager to take flight and hope you will share this link with others.