The Australian schooling system is broken - 20% of kids are chronically disengaged with mainstream school, but now they have somewhere they can go. In 2023 Headjam collaborated with North Academy to open its doors and provide a refuge for kids that didn’t fit the mould of traditional education.
In this Spreadable episode, we cover why we created the brand the way we did, explain the purpose of our digital development and how it encourages enrolments and talk about the incredible results we jointly achieved. For those that are new here, Spreadable is where we deep dive into some of our favourite projects together to talk in a bit of detail about how and why the project came to us in the first place and how we solved the problem through creative work.
Sarah: Hey, welcome to Spreadable. If you are new here, we are a Headjam Creative Agency based in Newcastle, Australia. And Spreadable is where we get to deep dive into some of our favourite projects and talk about how we made them and how we got to the creative work that was the output. Today, we're speaking about North Academy, which is a new school we launched across Australia, and we did the branding and the naming and a whole lot of collateral for that project. My name's Sarah Cook. I'm the chief creative officer here at Headjam and one of the owners. And I've got the project team or some of the project team with me here today, and we're all going to introduce ourselves.
Ben: Good day. I'm Ben. I'm the developer at Headjam and I worked on the North Academy website.
Leanne: Hello, I'm Leanne. I'm head of client service at Headjam.
Benji: And I'm Benji. I'm the junior designer here at Headjam.
Sarah: All right. We're actually going to start with you, Leanne. Can you tell us a little bit about why there was a need for this new school in the first place and what are the problems we were trying to solve?
Leanne: Yeah. Cool. The team at North Academy, based in the education team at Allambi Care, they've been providing education services at Allambi since 2015. They had a really super-duper massive goal of having their own independent school that was accredited and of course achieve the funding that they needed to have great outcomes for students. So their team came into us. We learnt all about the large disengagement amongst youth. Basically stats have shown us that 20% of youth are highly disengaged with school. So North Academy was born out of that.
Sarah: Yeah. One of the things that they said to us was that they were finding that there's a certain mainstream model, and if kids aren't fitting in that, then there's really no solution in the mainstream system. So North Academy was trying to solve that.
Leanne: Yeah. Absolutely.
Sarah: Yeah. I guess the other thing that they did was Allambi Care, who is the backbone of North Academy, had this real teaching model that was all about the individual and supporting them, and it was a different take on school, which was interesting to see. And they also incorporated a lot of sport and outdoor activity and I think more individualised kind of care.
Leanne: Absolutely. Yeah. It's about that need space approach. It's a lot of the philosophy behind Allambi Care. It's about leaving nobody behind in education. The ultimate goal for students who come into North Academy is to reintegrate back into mainstream school, but it is a landing place where there is more resources, more openness to different ways of learning, and it's awesome. The team is so passionate and we're truly blessed to be able to work with them on this project.
Sarah: And did you folks find that when we were looking into our research phase at the different schools that are already out there, were not maybe incredibly inspiring? What did everyone find?
Benji: I feel like schools are very on the back step for looking cool. You know what I mean? I think a lot of schools tap into a heritage look or an emblem from decades ago.
Sarah: Which isn't always super relevant for somebody that was actually going to school.
Benji: No, not all.
Leanne: There was probably a few brands in America that we looked at.
Benji: There was a few very top level schools that I remember we looked at that we were like, these are stunningly, very contemporary brand pieces that look really exciting to go to. And I think that's what we tried to apply to North Academy was trying to make something that's not regimented and stuffy. We wanted something that's really exciting and vibrant and alive.
Sarah: Yeah. I think there was one in the Bronx that was kind of getting there.
Benji: Oh, yes. Arena, Bronx.
Sarah: Yeah. And even the imagery that they were using was actually people doing, like school kids doing interesting things like creating art, et cetera. But most of them were smiling in their school uniforms, looking really preppy. But I don't know that that's exactly attracting kids to be going to school, especially kids that are potentially not always going to school as it is.
Ben: Well, that's a big point of the schools, like Benji mentioned, they tap into the heritage because they're selling themselves to the parents that are enrolling them, not necessarily the children that are going to be involved in them.
Leanne: Totally, and I think that's a really good point. One of the challenges of the brief was our target markets, we needed to appeal to youth who were disengaged. They don't want to see another school brand that's got an emblem that they can't relate to or a motto that doesn't mean anything to them.
Benji: A little bit of Latin.
Leanne: A little bit of Latin. I don't even know what that means. And then the other part that we needed to really appeal to that was incredibly important to the team was about that accreditation and appealing to the education department and making this place look reputable, built on stability, having a reputation and how do we do that and solve that in design. Yeah, was a big part of the brief.
Sarah: I think that's it. I think that second bit about looking reputable is from a design point of view, almost easier. Any professional logo that we make is, I think you can position it to look reputable just by the sheer fact that we make professional logos every day. But that trying to target it to the younger audience, I think that was the bit that, well, at least for me, I had to think twice. I think that's where we started with the inspiration, looking at adventure brands and sports brands and things like that as a launch pad.
Yeah, so some of the things that we looked at was even the Premier League in the UK, much more adventure brand style stuff. This is a mood board that we worked on that we actually presented to the client as part of the presentation. And then I guess from there we explored a lot of different options. You did a lot of logos?
Benji: I did a lot of logos.
Sarah: I did a lot of logos.
Benji: I do remember us having pages upon pages of sketchbook logos.
Benji: This was a big one.
Sarah: So some of the logos that we developed internally. So we have quite a robust kind of process internally at Headjam where we'll explore a lot of different avenues. Benji and I work quite closely on this as the design team, and then Mike, our creative director, we would've sent a mood board like that kind of off to Mike with a few different options. It's really good to have that person that's not always working so closely, take another look at it. I think that helps that Mike is always part of the overall picture. We get into the details and then he can really help point in the right direction there.
Ben: I did notice from all those logos you had on screen that they all from a very early stage, looked like they had that arrow focus throughout all of them.
Sarah: Yeah. True. Which I guess the starting point for that was we actually had to name this company as well. At the time, they were kind of just the Allambi Care education arm.
Leanne: The learning center.
Sarah: The learning center was something that they were unofficially called and with the launch of the... They got a new location and a new premise, and they're actually becoming a school, they needed a name. So the Allambi Care logo is kind of this compass shape as you can see on the left there and the compass points north. It also showed us the symbolism of the circle of courage, which was kind of the backbone of how Allambi do their programming. And it also, when we did the Allambi Care brand, that was like seven years ago now, they also needed kind of a badge of honour that they could wear for their uniform. And Yeah, I think that really informed where we went with the North Academy work.
Leanne: I think the other thing to acknowledge there is that from an audience and target market perspective, that students didn't necessarily relate to a Allambi Care as a brand. They related to the learning center or a phrase that didn't necessarily link them directly to the Allambi Care brand, which has been providing out of home care services for over 40 years. It has its own brand and everybody has an expectation of what that does. So there was a need to have something that gave a nod to the heritage and the backbone of what a Allambi stands for, but also have its own identity that youth could absolutely hold onto as something they could own.
Sarah: Yeah. And for the name, so for the name, the North came from that idea of a true north or a compass, which is also a really personal thing on a journey as well. If you are holding a compass on your journey, it's something that you're holding and you are watching and you're navigating and you're kind of choosing to take that journey. And then the Academy part of the naming came about because, well, we wanted it to not feel like just another school. It was like, you have been accepted into this academy. So I think that really elevated the idea of a new place for these young people to go.
Sarah: Yeah. What else did we look at? I guess when we did the logo suite, we had to make it adaptable for lots of different applications. So we had kind of a stacked version and a horizontal version and then just an icon version, and then we were able to use that across the website and on uniforms. Uniforms was a big thing. Yeah.
Benji: True. Actually, I really love that icon that we did. I remember when we first started doing it, we were looking at a lot of athleisure references just because we were thinking about what youth actually wear. They're not forced to. And I remember we were looking at stuff like Nike and Everlast and Umbra, just things that we would see kids wearing a lot. I think we really tapped into that with this logo mark. It feels very sport. It feels very powerful.
Leanne: I think, I mean, just to tap on uniform in general as it's importance as part of this brand was about that unity, about feeling part of something from a strategic point of view that was about kids owning the brand again, feeling proud. Also, it also gives them an easy option for when they don't want to think about what to wear that day. It's like, "Hey, this is cool. No one really knows that I'm going to an independent special education school." It's a brand that could sit alongside your Umbra at a desk, whatever. I'm proud to wear this.
Sarah: Yes. And we did put the logo on the t-shirt without the words so that it kind of, like you say, it didn't have to be so obvious that it was an identifier for a school. Yeah. We then, as you can say, we took lots of photos. These were then used on the website and across all the collateral. I think the other thing that we were trying to do with the photos is have the students engaged in doing things at school. So not just smiling at the camera, but making art, doing science, playing sport. And they were on the website.
Ben: They were on the website.
Leanne: Thank goodness.
Ben: Great segue there, Sarah. No, the website had, well, we featured a lot of imagery, but we also really tapped into the icon. We've got a suite of different icons, not just the North Academy, but they're all very standalone, sort of strong, powerful imagery that we can use across a bunch of different collateral. But yeah, no, I found working with the North Academy team was probably the most rewarding part of this experience. Just getting them to come in and tell us what they needed the website to do, and working with them to drive enrollments basically and get all the information that they need front of mind to parents who are trying to enroll their students in it. Things like, just the little things you usually got to go digging for on a website, like eligibility requirements or where to get uniforms or semester dates and that sort of thing. And just having them all working with the team to make sure they were all just there and easy to find.
Sarah: Yeah, less faffing around on the website, more just... And even on the homepage, it's all about enrollments. There's a big enroll now button. There's one in the header that's on every page. And we actually did quite well with the enrollments, didn't we?
Leanne: Yeah, absolutely. We're one year in. They commenced operations early in 2023, 100% enrollment waiting list, which is fabulous, and looking to expand, which is awesome.
Sarah: Yeah, I think we did quite a clear website that made it easy for people to get on board with that. We also rolled out a whole heap of other collateral pieces, so there's kind of flyers and advertising on top of the merch. I think that the whole idea with all these pieces was that it felt more like an elite sports academy, just so that these young people felt like they had that real sense of belonging and that it was something to be proud of to be part of this school.
We also got some really good feedback from the students that are there now. I think we have a couple of quotes that came from Parker Jackson, the principal there. So some of the things that he said was, "We can't stress enough how right you guys got this. The North Academy brand is an identity that our Gen Z Young people identify with." Which was great to hear. And they also had a quote about the uniforms, which I liked. "I wish you could see the eye-roll when we talk about uniforms in our interviews and then how much their eyes light up when they see them." So yeah, overwhelmingly we got a lot of great and positive responses, especially from the young people, which was kind of like our whole aim for this.
Leanne: Yeah, totally. And I think, I mean, yeah, beautiful, the young people, but if we talk about, go back to the other primary audience, which was education and reputability, the guys are absolutely stoked and we're incredibly proud of them to achieve five years accreditation as an independent school, which is really an honour basically held for really established schools. So that has probably been one of the highlights of the year for us to share in that success with them. It's fabulous.
Sarah: I love it. Leanne, you're always bringing us back to the strategy. That's really good. I think that's really all from us today. Thank you to Allambi Care. Thank to North Academy and thanks for watching.