SME hosts first listening session

SME Inc., the firm hired to design the new Fighting Hawks logo, held an open forum Tuesday at the Empire Arts Center. 

This meeting was held in order to better understand what the UND community wants out of the new logo that is being creating. 

Present at the Meeting were roughly 30 UND alumni and faculty and Interim President Ed Schafer.

This public meeting was led over by Conor O’Flaherty, the director of brand strategy and development at SME, and Jonathan Hans, brand manager. 

O’Flaherty established this meeting was the second step of their five step brand identity development process, which consists of assessing, listening, expressing and engaging.

“We want to deliver an identity that represents not just UND and the athletics department, but the whole state,”  O’Flaherty said in regards to the ideal product his company would like to create.

“As we embark on this, what are the elements of North Dakota we can infuse in this identity?”  O’Flaherty said. “How does the spirit of North Dakota get reflected in what we do? It’s not just a hawk, it’s not just simply a design, it’s something that has to be more for this to be successful.”

O’Flaherty made a point in his presentation that his New York based organization has helped colleges successfully transition between names before, specifically Native American themed names. This list includes the University of Miami, Ohio’s transition from Redskins to Red Hawks, Quinnipiac University’s transfer from Braves to Bobcats, and Saint John’s transfer from Redmen to Red Storm.

“Each of these shows an identity which evolved to something new while not losing the DNA of what has come before,” O’Flaherty said.

“A brand is not a logo; we’re not here to just design a logo. We’re here to build a brand,” O’Flaherty said. “A brand is not a product; a brand is that gut feeling you have about a product, an organization, or service. It’s ultimately not what we say it is, it’s what you say it is. And if this is going to be successful, this is going to have to be an identity that is built on the university, its people, its stakeholders and a meaning that each of you holds true to your heart, and if we can reflect that, I think that is a successful process for us.”

After the presentation O’Flaherty opened the forum for the audience ask questions.

These questions included:

What does UND athletics represent to the people of North Dakota?

What did the old Fighting Sioux logo represent? What did it stand for?

List five characteristics that need to be captured by the new Fighting Hawks logo.

What graphic elements, icons, and imagery should be explored by the branding process?

Should the new logo feel more contemporary or traditional?

The branding process for the new Fighting Hawks identity should explore what additional colors? Why?

These questions were met with a wide assortment of answers, a crowd favorite being that “my biggest worry is that we’re just going to be another bird,” which was voiced by a concerned audience member.”

Many people share this concern, but for those who missed the forum, there is a survey which SME has made available at

“This is an exciting time for the University of North Dakota,” Interim President Ed Schafer said. “We have a new name, we’re going to have a new logo, we’re going to have a new president and we’re going to have a new budget. It really is relaunching and reshaping our whole university and a really important part of that is to try to reflect the 133 years of history, of pride and care for our university, into a new graphic visual.”

SME Inc. was on campus for three days and held another open forum at the Memorial Union on March 3.

After this visit, SME Inc. will deliver a creative brief to its colleagues at the New York headquarters over the following week.

This will be followed up by four weeks spent doing a full exploration on potential design options. On March 30, it plans to deliver phase one logo options, offering a “wide exploration of potential looks.”

From there, the team will narrow down the choices to three “identity programs,” gauging public interest, then will reducethe choices to a final option by the same process. The deadline for the release of the new logo is May 30.

David Satre is a news editor for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]