2023 Orientation design is an encouraging message to new students (and existing ones)

Some messages are just more elegantly expressed in imagery. The 2023 Orientation design speaks to a way of viewing one’s university experience that I think is very powerful. Reading time ~ 2 minutes, 42 seconds.

Until I started working more closely with graphic and communication designers, I was ignorant of the work that goes into a design, especially the development work that seeks to clarify what message the design is intended to convey. Good design is much more than aesthetically pleasing. It embodies certain values. It communicates important messages. It has meaning which the person experiencing the design can extract.

Jess Nicole, the media officer with FUSA, and someone I got to work closely with on the Good Vibes Experiment, gave me a peek behind the curtain on the development process for the 2023 Orientation design. Over five workshops with student creative advisors, the team at FUSA explored themes, colours, fonts, messaging and events to arrive at the Astronaut/ Space themed design (see snippets below).

I was particularly taken with the thematic process. It started with student creative advisors reflecting on their experiences as students, highlighting those they wished to convey to new students.

From that, they needed a visual metaphor that could capture these experiences, whilst providing an appropriate narrative for the orientation experience in a visually appealing way.

“Taking into consideration what the students were seeking when it
came to aesthetics, the feelings elicited when beginning Uni and the
narrative of Orientation itself – exploration, adventure, journey and
looking to the future – we decided on space as the direction.”

The final Astronaut/Space 🐱‍🚀 theme combines these elements in a way that made me think of mindsets.

A mindset is a collection of beliefs, attitudes and expectations we have about a particular object or situation. One of the goals of Orientation is to equip new students with an adaptive mindset about university. There isn’t a single magical way of thinking about university that guarantees success. But there are useful ways to frame the experience that can help manage the inevitable ups and downs. For example, it is useful for new students to be aware that university study is both challenging (i.e. difficult at times) and also opens up many new opportunities. Another example is that universities are large and hence sometimes anonymising, but there are also many support and community services to help students not feel alone.

I think the Astronaut/Space theme speaks to a potentially helpful way of viewing one’s university adventure. The Astronaut is an explorer and adventurer, seeking out new destinations and experiences. They are taking risks and facing fears but doing so with the trust and safety of the people and technology that are helping them on that adventure. They experience life-changing excitement and challenge along the way. That seems to me like a really good way to view the university experience.

What is so powerful about good design though is that such messages/themes are subtly embedded into the design itself. Someone interacting with the design can simply appreciate how it looks, all the way through to analysing what the design says about the university experience and extracting deeper meaning.

Contrast this to if I gave a talk on mindset during orientation and listed the things above explicitly (kinda like I am doing in this blog post 😂). I suspect it would be a far less engaging/ enjoyable experience, but also potentially a more alienating one as well. What if a new student didn’t have the mindset I was pushing? What if a student didn’t feel excited or adventurous? Success at university is the result of many interacting factors – mindset being only part of the picture. Articulated too bluntly, the message might be lost or worse, have the opposite effect.

In visual design, messages and themes are implicit and quieter. There is room for interpretation. There is room for each person to extract from the design what they need. There is room for each person to take the design and interpret it in their own frame. This is a wonderful medium for someone like me working in a relatively blunt industry like psychology with a focus on words. Visual design has such a capacity for nuance.

So, hoping that I haven’t ruined the whole design for you 🤦🏽‍♂️ – whether you are a new student just joining us in 2023 or an existing student on campus during orientation, I hope when you see the orientation design that you are mindful of the care and attention that went into designing it, as well as taking a moment to ponder the messages it contains and whether the themes can help you in your university journey.



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