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The Sound of Music

Redesigning the San Francisco Conservatory of Music

The choice of a path through higher education is a momentous decision, not only for an individual, but often for their entire family. It can feel like something of a gamble, trying to predict whether this significant investment of time and money will pay off in both personal growth and professional success.

Pursuing an education in the arts can feel even riskier. This is why the San Francisco Conservatory of Music asked us to help them make the case. With beautiful facilities in the heart of San Francisco’s performing arts district, leading faculty, and a forward-looking curriculum designed to teach the whole student, SFCM was ready to elevate their reputation on the world stage.

A music player lets you experience the joy of music played by Conservatory students and faculty.

The President’s strategic vision articulates a transformative view of the future of music education, preparing the whole student creatively, academically, and vocationally. Against this, we balanced the fact that SFCM is a conservatory competing with other conservatories. Attracting the very best required that we make a case for the general excellence and rigor of the program.

From our research, we understood that — unlike the usual prospective undergrads — serious music students often seek out individual faculty first. These audiences look for clues to proficiency and teaching style. The school as a whole matters less than the relationship with an instructor. With this in mind, we designed the individual faculty profile pages to make a solid first impression. Large photos offer a window on lessons in action. The content emphasizes expertise and approachability. Embedded media showcase faculty in their own words and music.

Only after students and their advisors are satisfied with the quality of music education in the specific instrument will they be ready for messages about the curriculum as a whole.

Much of what is exciting and unique about the Conservatory derives from its position in the heart of San Francisco. The challenges emerge from the same source and reflect the same qualities. Small and community-oriented, yet evolving rapidly. Brimming with opportunity, while demanding and expensive. Offering luxurious amenities and impressive beauty with an entrepreneurial spirit. We looked for ways to demonstrate aspects of the Conservatory’s sense of place that are true differentiators, moving beyond San Francisco clichés. The color and visual identity incorporate the International Orange hue of the Golden Gate Bridge and the gold of the golden state. The imagery shows performance happening on location, on campus and out of doors. The overall site design is open and inviting, in contrast with the traditional formality of East Coast conservatories.

We also created a content plan to address and overcome the challenges of living and studying in San Francisco — perceived and real — rather than downplaying them. We can’t make San Francisco cheaper, but we can make a good case for the lifelong advantages of starting a career here.

Voice faculty Deborah Voigt.

The Conservatory offers more performances in its gorgeous recital halls than there are days in the year, many of which are free to the public. This is the best kept secret only steps from the symphony, and we did our best to reveal it. The students work hard to perfect their talent and deserve an audience. We designed a clean, scannable performance calendar that connects to the department information. This allows it to do double duty as an entertainment alternative and a way for prospective students to get a taste of their possible future.

In conjunction with the website, we created a new SFCM logo to boldly distinguish the Conservatory from its peers. The identity speaks to collaboration, musical excellence, and location. The animated logo captures the joyfulness and dynamism of the SFCM brand in media that allow movement such as the web, video, and projection.

On special occasions, the identity system allows variations to the static or animated logo for added whimsy and to reinforce SFCM as a bold, joyful, and lively brand. For instance, adding to a rainbow to the logo is a playful way of celebrating Pride Month in San Francisco.

The site’s been live for a few months now. To rave reviews from staff, teachers, and prospective students. We’ll update this as we start to get data on the success metrics we decided on together at the beginning of the project. We’re confident.

It’s a site the school is proud of and so are we. It feels like the school. And when I look at it, and click through it I can hear the school like I did on that first day I walked into it. Every note. Not all of them perfect. But every one of them aiming to be.

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