All Viewbooks Have an Expiration Date

If someone picked up your viewbook 50 years from now, what would they notice? Would they recognize the latest design trends? Would they understand what is important to prospective students of the time? To society? To the institution’s community?

I had the opportunity to try to answer some of these questions for my alma mater. With the digitization of Georgetown University’s viewbooks and student prospectuses from the last half century, I flipped through the equivalent of digital time capsules for the University. I chuckled at the bright (somewhat garish) pink, green, yellow, and blue covers of the 1970s as well as the tiny images used in the early 1990s designs. After having a good laugh at the design choices of the past, I more closely examined an early 1950s Georgetown University viewbook titled, “A Visit to the Georgetown Campus,” to see what I might learn that could be applied to admissions marketing today.

The first thing I noticed about this old viewbook was how different the people looked (and I’m not talking about the clothes and hair of the 1950s). The photos exclusively show the all-white, all-male reality of the University in early 1950s, which prompted me to think about the transition to the more culturally diverse, co-ed institution that Georgetown celebrates today. Even though some of the clubs and extracurricular activities are a bit different these days, I saw my campus experience represented in the black and white photos, from the clubs highlighted to the “Hoya hoopsters” prominently featured. Most interestingly, I saw the parallels between the description of the University in this mid-century viewbook and the University’s current website — both descriptions promoted the Jesuit education, a “complete” education of the whole person, and a global experience.

While fun, this examination prompted further reflection on questions (and sometimes tensions) about the significant investment in a viewbook. Looking forward 50 years, who knows what your campus viewbook will look like—or if it will exist at all. But, while viewbooks continue to be a staple of many university marketing/admissions materials, acknowledge that, for the most part, your viewbook will never completely stand the test of time. Viewbooks are a snapshot in time and are an amazing reflection of shifting design trends and an ever-evolving student body that responds to societal needs. However, your viewbook can—and should—always honor the core of your institution, hopefully reflecting an inspiring brand that endures.

As your current viewbook approaches its expiration date and you itch to overhaul everything, I’ll leave you with the following questions:

  1. What trends or innovations can help you achieve the goal of the viewbook? Should you consider a shorter book with less text? How can the piece work with your website? How can this piece incorporate augmented reality? How can you personalize the viewbook and incorporate knowledge from your CRM? Should this piece even exist?
  2. What do prospective students (and/or their parents) want to see? How do they want to receive information or interact with you? What do they find important during the stage of their search or of their consideration process? How can you motivate them to engage with you further?
  3. What makes you relevant and responsive? Are your stories and proof points relevant to the current job market? What are people concerned about given the economy? What are the societal tensions that you help alleviate?
  4. How can you reflect what is important to the campus community? What are your brand pillars? What are the key stories or proof points to illustrate those points?
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