Guest Column - May 2010
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Design Corner

Your Cognitive Dissonance Is Showing

By Mark Schmitz

Connecting History

Founded two years before Wisconsin became the 30th state in 1846, the Wisconsin Historical Society ranks as one of the most diversified state historical societies in the nation. Its collections, resources and antiquities are matched only by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

The Society owns and operates 10 historically significant but diverse tourism attractions throughout the state. The problem was how to visually integrate these unique facilities under one credible brand, while cross-promoting them to tourists in Wisconsin. The goal was "If you experience one attraction, you have to experience all 10."

The design team developed integrated brand architecture, to bring clarity to a disjointed group of amazing and authentic places where visitors can actually touch history. Starting with the redevelopment of the Society's identity, the team carefully created a series of marks that supported the general missions of the Wisconsin Historical Society, but were uniquely rendered to articulate their unique place in time.

Visitors now "get it" that the 10 sites are a consistent trail of American history all brought to them by the reputable Wisconsin Historical Society.

The marks were then integrated into a new color palette and Web site design that truly gives the general public an experience before they arrive. In time, signage, retail fixturing and print collateral will come on line to support awareness and marketing efforts. Up until this branding was completed, visitors really didn't understand how the 10 sites and the Wisconsin Historical Society were connected.

Multiple Venue Imaging

When you have multiple venues that make up the delivery of your products or services, a consistent brand plan for signing, interiors and retailing is critical to your overall success. The University of Wisconsin Athletic Department recognized this and embarked on a multi-year plan to integrate their student athlete and fan experiences.

How to do this? The team defined a graphic vernacular that was true to the historical significance of the university and to the legend of Wisconsin athletics. The program has plans to continue to the tennis, swimming, track and woman's hockey facilities over the next few seasons.

In the age of digital disconnection, the handheld media circus has its grip on us. The only way you can differentiate yourself is by creating a space that is truthful to the human spirit. Give your visitors and customers a reason to connect and they will come back again and again.


Mark Schmitz is the president and creative director of ZEBRADOG, a passionately unique environmental brand design firm located in Madison, Wis. For more information, visit