July 6

Design Planning: Build a Framework Around Your School’s Identity


by | Jul 6, 2023 | Featured, Strategies, Podcast

Uncertainty hangs over everything we do in higher ed marketing—and that trend is probably here to stay. Design planning is an incredible framework to help you manage constant changes.

The compounding effects of the pandemic and the Great Resignation have left a lot of schools looking for answers. 

Unfortunately, concrete answers are in short supply. 

While there are good sources out there with ideas and creative approaches, there are no guaranteed approaches with the rapidly shifting demographic and technological landscape.

So with all the uncertainty, is there no good way to plan ahead for your marketing campaigns and messaging?

There definitely is.

Design planning may be just the solution colleges and universities need to get a broad perspective of their marketing constraints in 2023 and beyond.

Errol Wint teaches us how design planning can help education marketers in these uncertain times. That’s because, as Errol Wint, Founder of Mara Bridge Consulting Solutions, points out, your school is a business, and your marketing team needs to start treating it as such.   

In this episode of The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, Errol explains how design planning can help you find non-linear solutions that will help solve your prospective students’ problems and empower your staff.

Building Bridges in the Market

Errol has a broad background in the enrollment space. 

At the beginning of our conversation, Errol shared with us the connection between all that he does in higher ed marketing.

It is my passion to leverage higher education to be a vessel for social, economic, as well as developmental mobility. 

[The agency I founded], Mara Bridge Consulting Solutions, is here to step into the market and think about how we can create bridges not only with colleagues across higher education, [but also with] the vendor world and the faculty world. 

We also build bridges within organizations in terms of leadership development in terms of design planning and reimagining what diversity means in [higher education].

I appreciate Errol’s passion for building bridges. 

Colleges and universities are complex institutions with a tendency to operate in silos. 

It’s easy for departments to fragment, retreat to their own corners, and not speak to each other. 

Most of this fragmentation occurs when there’s no overall strategy for growth.

During the pandemic, most colleges and universities lost the overall strategy that would have brought them together. 

Even before COVID, the massive shift in demographics and decline in enrollments was causing a lot of higher ed marketers to throw out their previous marketing strategies. 

The rules had changed. Nothing was working anymore. 

But how can you plan when there is so much uncertainty in the market?

For Errol, the answer is to engage in design planning. 

What is Design Planning?

This is a term also known as design management. 

According to Monday.com, it is a growing discipline in various industries that “draws upon the principles of project management, organizational strategy, and collaboration to control a creative process.” 

Errol defined it this way.

[Design planning] is a nonlinear, iterative process that teams use to understand user challenges, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and to test. 

Typically, campaign design is straightforward and direct. But as Errol points out…

The key word in there that really stood out to me was “nonlinear,” and “iterative.” 

When my marketing and communications team brought this to my attention during the pandemic, it didn’t register with the way that I had been trained in higher education. 

But once I started researching it, it was clear that the ability to think about problems in a pandemic context requires a new way of thinking, moving us from predicting what students would like towards designing what will solve their current and future problems. 

By nature, the design process is already nonlinear and iterative. 

The core idea behind design management is to add these two ingredients to the planning process as well as the design piece. 

Not everything you launch is going to work, or at least it may not work as well as it could. 

You’ve got to continually be iterating on your plans as well as your designs. 

Honestly, everybody had to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdowns of the campuses. 

But pivoting should be a way of life. It should be by design. 

Change by Design

As we talk about design planning, Errol wants us to know what he means by “design.” 

For him, this concept goes way beyond web development or graphic design. It’s about the “transformational college experience” that we are promising to potential students.

This is a “product” that we must design with our target audience, the end user, in mind.

In his book Change by Design, Tim Brown writes about the core principles of design planning for a wide range of industries. 

Errol summed up the benefits of design thinking this way.

Constraints can best be visualized in terms of three overlapping criteria when you’re trying to design whatever your product is. 

Number one is feasibility. What is functionally possible within the foreseeable future? 

The second is viability. What is likely to become part of a sustainable business model? 

The third is desirability. What makes sense to people and for the people? 

I spent my time as a director of admissions selling the promise of this [transformational college] experience. 

Traditionally, you take the Don Hossler framework of Enrollment Management [to manage] a high number of students that are coming in. [With this framework] we’re trying to make sure we figure out where we place them all. 

But then the 2009 recession happened, and people stopped having babies. We know there’s a great enrollment cliff that’s happening. 

Now, we have to complement the historical trend data (it is still very, very important to look at big data) with something that will allow us to get that desirability to achieve that viability to achieve that feasibility. 

So design planning brings that iterative, nonlinear process and says, “Okay, we’re going to acculturate your teams to think about things and prototype. We’re going to introduce interventions, streamline resources, ensure that there’s differentiation, and make sure that the product is relevant.” 

This is actually speaking to the needs of the market [while recognizing] the reality of the capacity of your university or your high school.

If we’re going to stay ahead of the ever-changing curve, higher ed marketers will have to adopt “nonlinear, iterative” strategies like design planning now and into the future.

It’s been said that the only things sure in life are death and taxes.

But also change. 

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Errol Wint to get even more insights into:

  • How design planning can help prototype marketing solutions (5:13)
  • Helping disempowered individuals work to their strengths (17:35)
  • The diversity imperative and leaning into changing demographics (25:33)

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Featured image via marabridge.com

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