Rhode Island School of Design Introduces New Brand Identity

September 28, 2022

Created by Gretel, an independent strategy and design studio, with ON ROAD, a research and insights agency that focuses on BIPOC youth and underrepresented voices, the new visual and verbal framework includes a family of typefaces custom-designed by RISD alum Ryan Bugden 

PROVIDENCE, RI – September 28, 2022 – Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is introducing a new brand identity reflecting the institution’s vision, values and priorities. Under development since last spring through a process that involved hundreds of community members, this visual and verbal framework harmonizes how RISD presents itself, amplifies the voices that make RISD whole and articulates what RISD stands for, where the institution is headed and how it is uniquely equipped to realize its ambitions. 

“At RISD, we are educating artists, designers and scholars to challenge and create the ideas that shape the future and to design a more just, fair and sustainable society,” notes RISD President Crystal Williams. “By strengthening how RISD presents itself to the world, this work will enable us to more powerfully share the incredible ideas and expressions that emanate from our community and more clearly demonstrate the critical role art and design play in the world.”

Through multiple open forums and a microsite where everyone at RISD was invited to track and participate in the process from start to finish, the institution took a public approach to creating its new identity. By the end of the process, hundreds of community members had taken the time to share thoughts and ideas. The resulting visual and verbal framework includes a family of typefaces custom-designed by RISD alum Ryan Bugden and introduces a redrawing of the institution’s 70+-year-old seal, which will continue to serve as RISD’s logo.  

RISD’s new identity was created by Gretel, an independent strategy and design studio based in Brooklyn, which RISD selected after a comprehensive search, along with ON ROAD, a London-based research agency that specializes in understanding the next generation with a focus on BIPOC youth and underrepresented voices. 

“Our main objective was to co-create RISD’s identity with its community—a unique opportunity to design an inherently transparent process inclusive of all inputs,” says Kasia Galla Barrett, Gretel’s strategy director. “Crafted together with RISD, the resulting framework is meant to offer structure while creating new space for expressions from designers, artists and scholars alike.”

Gretel and ON ROAD began this work with an extensive research and discovery phase during which they sought to uncover what RISD was and is and where it is heading by speaking with scores of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members. As part of this process, ON ROAD facilitated ethnographic research with BIPOC students at RISD and with self-made creatives who chose to pursue a creative career without a degree in order to understand the contextual dynamics around the changing perceptions of post-secondary art education. The work then progressed through strategy, voice and design phases. 

“Bringing the identity of a 144-year-old design institution into the 21st century requires an ambitious approach to spark change,” notes Tarik Fontenelle, director of ON ROAD. “Interviewing faculty members, students and young aspiring creatives led to an incredible body of work.”

The resulting identity that RISD is now launching centers on a guiding idea: “question to create, create to question,” which reflects a shared mindset of the RISD community and the college’s approach to pedagogy. It further reads, “At the heart of everything RISD does is an insatiable curiosity that drives us to understand and to improve ourselves, our creative practices and the world we live in. What we make is always an invitation to participate in the dynamic exchange between interrogating what is and creating something new.”

The guiding idea is expressed verbally through a tone of voice that poses big questions. It orients towards ideas and actions instead of status and prestige, looks to the future with deep curiosity, and listens to others with empathy and an open mind. Visually, “question to create; create to question” comes to life through a simple and modular layout system whose main goal is to champion the work of RISD's artists, designers and scholars. 

The foundational tool powering the design system is a family of custom typefaces that are able to flex in style while creating cohesion. Designed uniquely for RISD by Bugden—a 2014 RISD graduate—in close partnership with Gretel Creative Director Andrea Trabucco-Campos, RISD Serif is a set of display faces that ranges from complete to incomplete, telling the story of designers, artists and scholars who make the invisible visible through their work in a cycle of questioning and creating. RISD Sans is a complementary neutral workhorse for everyday use.

The cornerstone of the visual identity and the institution’s official logo is the RISD seal, which was designed in 1951 by sculptor, stone carver, calligrapher and late RISD faculty member John Howard Benson. In consultation with the Benson family, Bugden redrew RISD’s long-serving mark to lessen its density at small sizes, improve the clarity of letterforms and bring back some of the calligraphic character that had been lost over the decades. 

“It was an honor to contribute letterforms to the place I first learned to love them,” says Bugden. “We delved into the iterative history of the Benson family’s seal and worked to both honor its roots and give it a new finish. We brought that same iterative spirit to the typeface development process, in search for a dynamic typographic voice that could express the philosophies underlying RISD’s pedagogy.” 

RISD Trustee Joe Gebbia, cofounder of Airbnb and a 2005 graduate with a BFA in graphic design and industrial design, served as an advisor to the project team throughout the process. “RISD is comprised of a deeply creative and expressive community with so many unique voices,” Gebbia says. “As such, it was important that its most important stakeholders –the members of its community– be part of the process from day one. This openness resulted in work that captures the ethos of the community, and feels recognizably RISD – rooted in the institution’s history but fresh and forward-thinking.”

Fellow Trustee Todd Waterbury, Chief Creative Officer at Target, also played an advisory role and adds, “I’m pleased to have been a part of this very thoughtful process with the team at RISD, their exceptional agency partners, and fellow trustees who are leading experts in the areas of design and branding. The cumulative effect of this disciplined work will help to further establish RISD as a relevant and dynamic brand. I look forward to how its foundational beliefs become a source of clarity that guide decisions, not only on what RISD does, but –as important– how.”

RISD will take a phased approach to bringing the new identity framework to life across its physical and digital campus. To begin, a number of touchpoints have been translated into the new identity including admissions materials, social media accounts, stationery and merchandise in the RISD Store. Coming next will be campus flags and banners, campus vehicles and a redesign of the institution’s central risd.edu website, which RISD is working on with Code & Theory, a digital-first creative agency, and Mediacurrent, an Open Source product agency.

To view and learn more about RISD’s new identity, visit identity.risd.edu

About Rhode Island School of Design
RISD (pronounced “RIZ-dee”) is a creative community founded in 1877 in Providence, Rhode Island. Today, we enroll 2,620 students hailing from 59 countries. Led by a committed faculty, they are engaged in 44 full-time bachelor's and master's degree programs and supported by a worldwide network of over 31,000 alumni who demonstrate the vital role artists and designers play in today’s society.

Beyond facts and figures, what is the spirit of this community? Through a cross-disciplinary curriculum of studio-based learning and rigorous study in the liberal arts, RISD students are encouraged to develop their own personal creative processes, but they are united by one guiding principle: in order to create, one must question. In cultivating expansive and elastic thinking, RISD seeks to activate a critical exchange that empowers artists, designers and scholars to generate and challenge the ideas that shape our world. RISD’s mission, at both the college and museum, is not only to educate students and the public in the creation and appreciation of works of art and design, but to transmit that knowledge and make global contributions.


Jaime Marland
Senior Director, Public Relations / RISD
401 427-6954