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The pro­posed logos for Hills­dale’s depart­ments.
Arnett Muldrow and Asso­ciates | Courtesy

After more than two months working with res­i­dents and city offi­cials, design firm Arnett Muldrow and Asso­ciates rolled out new logos, color schemes, and typeface for the city of Hillsdale as part of rebranding efforts at Monday’s city council meeting.

Paid for by the state of Michigan for cities in Gov­ernor Rick Snyder’s Rising Tide ini­tiative, the designs are intended to help Hillsdale’s devel­opment by uni­fying the city around a con­sistent ‘brand.’

After the initial pre­sen­tation at Monday’s meeting, the city council and offi­cials will review the designs to determine what of the port­folio meets the city’s needs for future mar­keting efforts.

Mary Wolfram, Hillsdale’s director of eco­nomic devel­opment, spear­headed the design efforts for the city and worked with Arnett Muldrow throughout the process. She said the designs will function as a mar­keting tool to help sell Hillsdale to the outside world, adorning brochures, for example, to educate and inform those inter­ested in Hillsdale but unfa­miliar with the city.

“It is an effort to answer the question ‘What is Hillsdale?’,” Wolfram said. “The idea is that we are our own little entity; we’re not a part of some­thing else and we’re not a suburb.”

Ben Muldrow, partner at Arnett Muldrow and manager of the Hillsdale design project, answered that question after five public focus group ses­sions with res­i­dents and a public meeting at city hall during his three-day visit the week of December 12, 2016. He told The Col­legian that he found most cit­izens wanted Hillsdale to pre­serve its small-town values as its economy expands, all the while demon­strating its acces­si­bility and vis­itability.

“As we started to narrow down the infor­mation from people in the city, some things became obvious,” Muldrow said. “Small town values were cer­tainly some­thing people cher­ished and Hillsdale’s close prox­imity to other cities.”

Instead of casting Hillsdale as one location in the vast rural land­scape between other points of interest, Muldrow decided to reframe the nar­rative and show Hillsdale as a des­ti­nation worthy of vis­iting in its own right.

“There are a lot of things bringing people to this com­munity — the college being a huge one — and we have to do every­thing we can to get them to come here,” Muldrow said.

City Manager David Mackie explained the slogan emerged from this sense of closeness expressed by a con­sensus of par­tic­i­pants in the meetings con­ducted by Muldrow.

“People living in Hillsdale can find shopping and other such ser­vices within a dri­vable dis­tance — in Jackson, Ann Arbor, or Indiana, for example — so the concept for the slogan is just that,” Mackie said. “We’ve main­tained our core values while still being just, probably, hours or less away from larger locale.”

Some have crit­i­cized the slogan and designs, saying they do not rep­resent the people.

At Monday’s meeting, Hillsdale res­ident Penny Swan said she found no sup­porters of the designs or slogan on a Facebook page she manages ded­i­cated to dis­cussing the con­tro­versy sur­rounding the ‘It’s the People’ signage.

“One person said… it didn’t seem like a whole lot of imag­i­nation. One… thought it was pretty awful and didn’t under­stand it,” Swan said. “I hope you give the people of Hillsdale an oppor­tunity to speak when it comes to a new city slogan.”

Wolfram told The Col­legian that although res­i­dents are cer­tainly allowed to express crit­i­cisms of city deci­sions, people must remember that the designers met with res­i­dents to attempt to capture the spirit of the city.

“There are always com­plaints about the public not being included in the decision-making, but it is not true that nobody was invited to comment during the devel­opment stage,” Wolfram said. “Lots of people had voices in this.”

According to Wolfram, the city uti­lized radio adver­tise­ments, posters on the city website and Facebook page, and inde­pendent depart­ments within city admin­is­tration to spread the word about the public meetings to as many people as pos­sible to brain­storm ideas for the new designs.

“There is no demand for con­formity here. I love these logos, but nobody will force them on anybody,” Wolfram said. “This can be a uni­fying effort among the com­munity, and we need everyone working together.”

Michelle Loren, director of Hillsdale’s Parks and Recre­ation department, one of the seven receiving unique logos in Arnett-Muldrow’s port­folio, said she thinks the new designs are refreshing and speak directly to their rel­evant depart­ments. She does not yet know if her department will adopt the logo, however, having only seen it briefly during a pre­sen­tation.

“From what I saw, they bring us up to date and into the future, yet allow us to hold on to our small-town appeal,” Loren said.

In terms of timeline, Mackie said he antic­i­pates a con­crete plan as to when the city will offi­cially roll out the design will come by the first of July, after monthly meetings with the department heads and input from the city council. His intention for the design, like Wolfram’s, focuses on the idea of cre­ating a uniform brand of Hillsdale, which does not require each department to adopt their spe­cific logo.

“It’s all about cre­ating a con­sistent brand,” Mackie says. “That does not nec­es­sarily mean the same logos, but a brand con­sistent with typeface, color, and theme, to kind of pull things together with the city and its depart­ments.”

Mackie stressed that the city will retain the official seal on doc­u­ments, but will try to incor­porate the brand across its various forms of com­mu­ni­cation. Having designed brands for nearly 450 com­mu­nities, Muldrow, who per­sonally took charge of the Hillsdale project, said he always rein­forces the role of branding as a com­mu­ni­cation tool.

“The biggest initial byproducts when a com­munity rolls out a new brand is an increase in the effec­tiveness of com­mu­ni­cation, the bol­stering of com­munity pride, and the re-engagement of cit­izens within their com­munity,” Muldrow said. “I don’t give too much credit to the branding itself for a town’s success after its imple­men­tation — branding is simply the invi­tation to an event the com­munity planned.”