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.”