Case Study

Out of the stacks:
Chicago Collections

Founded by librarians and archivists at twelve of Chicago’s most notable museums and universities, Chicago Collections Consortium had been flying under almost everyone’s radar during its formative stage. Our job was to launch the brand and position the consortium on Chicago’s cultural landscape.

Executive director Jaclyn Grahl invited Jell to develop a brand strategy and visual identity that would celebrate the consortium’s prominent member institutions while shining a spotlight on their groundbreaking collaboration. We needed to establish the consortium as a new and prestigious civic leadership club committed to academic cooperation and innovation.

We were also charged with designing the user interface and experience for the consortium’s cornerstone initiative: a silo-busting online portal that would allow anyone anywhere to search across all member archives. For the first time, it would be possible to search the archives of multiple institutions to locate all the photos or documents related to, say, the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Each project, considered separately, was enticing. But the opportunity to develop both projects simultaneously was exactly the kind of challenge that we were seeking at the time. After conducting research and a series of workshops with board members, we offered recommendations for a brand strategy focused more on engaging the public (particularly K–12 teachers and students) than higher ed researchers. We advocated for an abbreviated name (“Chicago Collections”) supported by a high-energy visual identity, lively messaging, and marketing collateral to attract new members.

We branded and designed the search portal—named “Explore Chicago Collections”—then developed a commemorative poster and set of bookmarks for distribution at a public announcement event.

The highly coordinated brand launch of the consortium and their search portal garnered both local press (from the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, WBEZ, Chicagoist, ILA Reporter, and media at each of the member institutions) as well as national attention (American Libraries Magazine, College & Research Libraries News, Inside Higher Ed, The American Archivist, and School Library Journal), winning the 2016 Award for Access from the Center for Research Libraries.

The brand rollout, which included a public exhibit at the Harold Washington Library, was exciting not only for Chicago Collections but also for Chicago. No other U.S. city hosts such an innovative alliance of world-class libraries and museums collaborating to share their collections with students, teachers, amateur historians, and scholarly researchers.

Our work with Chicago Collections continued after Jeanne Long took the helm as executive director. Most recently, we collaborated with the consortium’s digital archivists to launch a series of online exhibits.

Chicago Collections has more than quadrupled in size, adding dozens of new member organizations since 2015.

Messaging, web design


Membership brochure

Promotional items

Search portal branding, UI, UX

Exhibit branding

Promotional bookmarks

Promotional poster