Cabrillo College

Rebranding a Centerpiece of Education

CC Logo for Cover 2

The Challenge

Cabrillo College opened in 1959. The first community college in the region, it has been a bedrock for training the Santa Cruz County workforce and a leading transfer institution for nearby 4-year universities. Their marketing group reached out to us to rebrand the college itself, design sub-brands for each department, and create a brand hierarchy that includes different fields of study. To match the new branding, we also designed a modern digital experience for the 17,000+ students they serve each year.

The Outcome

The institution-wide rebrand gives Cabrillo College a consistent aesthetic across multiple offerings and connects with students across different cultures and ages. It provides a visual and color palette that unifies the different departments and programs that have developed individually over the past 60 years.


  • Strategic Brand Building
  • Content & Campaign Consulting
  • Digital Infrastructure

Focus Areas

  • Education & Research

Elevated in Stature

The Cabrillo wordmark and crest icon are the result of the College’s marketing and executive teams realizing that the 60-year old brand needed to be updated to better represent the modern institution that they are today.

A primary feeder school for three nearby universities, the brand evokes the elevated place that Cabrillo holds in the regional education ecosystem.


A Complete Design System

We developed a streamlined Information Architecture and user flow that makes it easy for users to find what they’re looking for across a site that’s content heavy and serves the diverse needs of multiple departments. The content design on the main pages of the site is intentionally spacious while providing easy access to the assets and information that educators, current and future students, and the public need.

Using the design system we created for the main pages of the site, we provided a clear pathway for Cabrillo’s in-house development and design team to build upon.

Cabrillo Complete Design System 2

Communicating Progress

The new wordmark is a custom design, rather than an off-the-shelf font, and is an homage to the original hand-drawn logo from 1960. The upward-right slant used on both the shield and letterforms including the alignment of the double l’s in ‘Cabrillo’ and ‘College’ indicate forward movement.

Cabrillo Communicating Progress Logo 2021 03 23 185839
Communicating Progress1 2021 03 23 185851
Communicating Progress2

Extending the Brand System

Variations on the parent brand represent each of the five fields of study — referred to as Career and Academic Pathways (CAPs). Essentially sub-brands, each distinctive icon not only speaks to the pathway itself, but also reflects the ethos of the main college brand.

Multiple iterations were reviewed by faculty and students, to ensure that the symbols resonate with each pathway. The result is a cohesive set of new crest logos that reuses the main Cabrillo crest container shape and includes a unique icon and acronym for each CAP.

For the five CAPs, we selected a color palette that integrates with the primary Cabrillo brand colors.

Cabrillo Extending Brand System

A Hands-on Brand

Beyond the digital realm, the crest and logo can be used in a variety of real-world applications.

The college is often referred to simply as “Cabrillo”. That portion of the wordmark can be used in collateral in a modern and playful ‘cutoff’ style was designed to appeal to the wide student demographic.

Cabrillo Hands On Brand 1
Cabrillo Hands On Brand 2

A Lasting Brand

A detailed set of brand guidelines is in place to prevent the brand from becoming fragmented and muddled over time. Covering everything from the Master Logo and Crest to the color profiles, typography, photography, and more, the guide provides clear details on every aspect of brand usage.

Cabrillo Lasting Brand

Reaching Consensus

When given the honor of rebranding a college and centerpiece of Santa Cruz County, it was critical that the brand and website design resonate with their key target audiences: Prospective & Existing Students, the Local Community, plus Faculty and Staff. It also needed to speak to the inclusive and equitable environment found on their two campuses.

Initial designs were presented to key stakeholders including the Board of Directors and department heads, which led to consensus on the design direction.

Once we narrowed down the visual components and achieved buy-in with internal stakeholders, we surveyed Student Senate members at each campus.

Cabrillo Reaching Consensus

An Inclusive Process

After the initial round of CAP designs were submitted, we surveyed both Students and Educators who head each CAP to ensure that the design direction and CAP icons accurately represent the CAPs and course materials.

The survey led to detailed discussions including whether or not to use ampersands and ‘+’ signs and how to avoid confusion when using acronyms for CAPs, courses, and programs.

Cabrillo Case Study Cap 1
Cabrillo Case Study Cap 2
Cabrillo Case Study Cap 3
Cabrillo Case Study Cap 4
Cabrillo Case Study Cap 5

A Brief Backstory

We tell Cabrillo’s Brand Story using a three-tiered approach. Knowing how people skim online, we distilled their backstory into three sentences. We then focus the narrative on the college as it exists today and express the inclusive nature and extensive fields of study on offer.

The third element is their 60-year history. We updated the narrative to match the tone of the new site, organize it for easy reading, and made it available for people who want the full story.

Cabrillo Brief Backstory

“Whenever we are approaching a brand with a history and heritage, we always start from a position of respect and discovery. We want to make sure we fully understand what we are redesigning before jumping in with new ideas. Cabrillo as an institution has a rich and meaningful history, and we knew that although we wanted to modernize the brand and build something that would better serve Cabrillo today, that also meant understanding more about Cabrillo in the past.”

Eric Ressler, Founder & Creative Director, Cosmic, as quoted in Lookout Santa Cruz
Cabrillo Lookout Press Highlight
Cabrillo's site launch was highlighted in Lookout Santa Cruz, a new local news source that believes in strengthening the community through editorially robust, community-centric news and resources.

A Unified Voice

A five-element foundation establishes the Cabrillo College voice that guides content creators and establishes a consistent tone throughout the organization. We solidified the key elements as being; Inspirational, Conversational, Professional, Welcoming, and Factual.

In addition to designating a tone across the site, we utilized the established Mission and Vision statements to guide the definition of their core values, allowing them to be expressed to the community and to convey a shared internal culture.

Cabrillo Unified Voice

Know Your Audience

As both an educational and cultural center in the community, Cabrillo has five audiences, some internal and some external, that they need to address across the site. Our work with their team identifies and defines each audience and includes Primary Messaging for each one.

Cabrillo Know Your Audience
Cabrillo Gatsby Press Highlight
A blog article on the Gatsby site featuring Cosmic's work on the Cabrillo site which leverages Gastby's drag-and-drop built tools that allow staff to create their own unique pages.

Copywriting Groundwork

The copy direction for the entire site was established by writing 15 core pages. From the Homepage to the About, Students, Fields of Study, Apply & Register, Faculty & Staff, Culture & Community pages to sample Program and Event pages and more, the copy provides a clear framework for future content creators to work within.

Cabrillo Copywriting Groundwork

Press-Ready Copy

Our content strategy is to quickly get site visitors to the pages and information they need via easily scannable copy. From there, we provide options for deeper exploration.

An extension of our messaging work is to provide Core Messaging components that the Cabrillo staff can copy/paste and curate to create quick audience-specific boilerplate content. In addition, we created optional taglines for future marketing campaigns.

Cabrillo Press Ready Copy

Scope of Work

  • Strategic Brand Building

    • Brand Research
    • Visual & Messaging Landscape Analysis
    • Interviews & Focus Groups
    • Survey Design & Facilitation
    • Brand Identity & Design Systems
    • Brand Messaging
    • Content & Messaging Strategy
  • Content & Campaign Consulting

    • Brand Extension, Collateral, & Materials
  • Digital Infrastructure

    • Modern Bespoke Website Design & Development
    • Digital Blueprints
    • Branded Website Content & Copywriting
  • Other

    Related Work

    Book a Strategy Call

    Are you ready to lead a modern social impact organization? Let’s explore our fit for working together.