what ‘Happen’-ed?


Recently the local university, CBU, went through a rebranding. It took a year or so.

At the end of it, just last month, they released their new brand to the media and the public. It’s essentially one word: Happen.

I’m underwhelmed. I’m also confused. I know the university says in a press release that “‘Happen’ encapsulates the spirit and drive that is inherent in CBU today and which will become increasingly clear to the world in the future,” and that it’s about “the journey, the experiments, the things we learn along the way,” but for me as a designer, this feels like the focus groups and the designers just found a slick-looking sans-serif font and came up with a word that could apply to a number of situations, and worked out a vague design rationale for it.

It doesn’t feel like it grew, rooted, from the soul and history of the university, this one or any other, frankly. It feels like it just, well, happened. (Sorry.)

(It also happened to Staples, apparently.)

Mind you, I didn’t go to CBU. Nor was I part of the branding process. I also don’t know enough about the culture of studying or working at CBU, either, to comment on that. So that’s where I’m confused. Since this brand doesn’t really do it for me, as a CBU outsider, I’d love to know more about the process they went through, and why they did go with what they went with. I love branding and rebranding, and I love design. I guess I should qualify that: I love rebranding when it comes from somewhere genuine, and isn’t just a fresh coat of paint. I think the process of designing a rebrand starts way before you pull out the Pantone swatches and the slick fonts — I think it begins with a deep and honest look at what the existing brand is, what people think about it already, and figuring out ways to serve your customers better. The process fascinates me, and I’d love to know more about it in this particular case.

I must also say that I’m disappointed that the university went with a Toronto design firm. Imagine what a bold statement and shot of confidence into Cape Breton’s economy it would have been, if CBU had announced they were trusting a local design firm like Vibe Creative Group with their university’s branding process?

Again, I don’t know what went on behind the scenes. Maybe local places like Vibe submitted a bid and were thought too expensive. Maybe local firms were too busy to take on the work and never submitted a bid. I don’t know. I mean, I want to be supportive of a local institution, CBU, and not just be critical for the sake of being critical. But, I’ve got questions, and I’d really love genuine answers.

What about you? Does this brand speak to you, make you feel excited? Or are you in the ‘underwhelmed’ camp?

This entry was posted in Community, Design, Education, Leah's thoughts and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to what ‘Happen’-ed?

  1. Amanda Burt says:

    Thanks for this post. I am also confused. I was unsure oh whether the new brand was referring to what is going to happen or what has already happened? As an alumni where so I fit? I didn’t fully realize it was a new brand but thought maybe it was a frosh campaign. I don’t think happen supports the image of Cbu but I am curious to watch it develop I suppose.

  2. Brooke Oland says:

    I wonder how much “Happen” cost.

  3. marianwhit says:

    Bravo Leah! Solid piece of criticism.

  4. sherrydramsey says:

    I’m also confused, underwhelmed, and, as a writer, critical. “Happen” is, to my mind, a weak word, a verb without any “oomph.” It’s often a verb without an object. There’s some attempt to make it more active–“You’ll Happen”–but that’s also weak, in my opinion. It’s meaningless.

    Staples, at least, has made it more of a call to action–“make more happen”–but the active part of that phrase is “make”. It’s a “doing” verb. Even if CBU had gone with “Make it Happen,” I could have supported it more. The word “happen” alone? Sigh.

    I don’t know for sure what it cost, but I believe I heard a six-figure number mentioned on CBC radio. I fear that what “happened” is that CBU was soundly ripped off.

    • leahcnoble says:

      I love your comment, Sherry! You’re totally right about how the word “Happen” comes across as a weak verb without much “oomph”. These things really matter!

    • Leanne Flynn says:

      I agree! They were robbed by a thug communications group. I also don’t like the “you have a little voice inside you” sidebar. The all around concept and design is a failure. I strongly question what the administration was thinking when they approved this new ‘branding’ concept. Seems like they’re ‘branding’ us weak voiced and imply we haven’t ‘happened’ yet in some way?!! Not a successful campaign at all. Does anyone have the details on who exactly worked on the communications campaign? And who exactly approved it? They should redo the entire process in my humble opinion and my tiny voice.

  5. Needtostayanonymous says:

    Speaking as someone at the University – we all hate it. It was expensive, pointless, and says nothing about CBU. It is already the laughing stock of other Maritime universities… We were told that we were just “too old to get it” and that the focus groups of teenagers loved it. Not any teenagers we’ve asked! We’re waiting the first graffiti on the billboards saying “s*** happens”…

  6. Krista says:

    I commend you for the restraint you showed with the pun potential of this post. You’re a stronger person than I am.

  7. As an alumni, former instructor, and current grad student of another university, I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable when it comes to university culture both at a student level and a faculty level, and I think this whole campaign is a) ridiculous, b) a waste of money, and c) an excellent example of the complete disconnect between the CEO-management style of university administration currently happening at CBU (as well as many other Canadian institutions), and the ACTUAL INSTITUTION they claim to be running. Rather than talking to focus groups, did anybody bother to talk to the people who would actually “Happen” at CBU?

    PS – Although I love your response, the best response I’ve seen so far are the “Happen” cats – the CBU logo juxtaposed on images of sleeping cats.

  8. It reminds me of when I lived in Korea and businesses would use random English words in their branding that made no sense – it didn’t matter, because, over there, English is sexy and most people wouldn’t understand it anyway. CBU is an English-speaking (as far as I know) institution of learning!

    To me, this reads: If you attend this university, maybe someday, you’ll be AVERAGE (and wouldn’t that be just great?).

  9. AnonymousCBUEmployee says:

    Currently wearing a “Happen” shirt against my will. Pretty much anyone with a brain at CBU hates the new brand, and personally I can think of many places that money would have been better served. You hit on a lot of points that we’re feeling here. The Toronto connection, the embarrassment…

    • marianwhit says:

      Putting in my husband David’s two cents…”They could have had a contest of local talent and got a logo that fits their mission (to develop local talent) for substantially less.”

  10. AnotherAnnon says:

    If you follow the money, you’ll see what happened. 😦

  11. #/Krafts says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. About 25 or so years ago, my alma mater, the University of Minnesota, spent thousands of dollars for a new logo. The end result was a capital M. I kid you not!

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