The faces, names, and stories of a medical powerhouse

As the largest and highest-funded department in the Duke School of Medicine, the Department of Medicine set out to leverage the power and depth of its network by carving out a distinct look for its marketing communications. We introduced an abbreviated logotype and distinctive photographic “wallpaper” motif featuring a new, signature teal color paired with Duke’s trademark royal blue. Bold typography provides a visual edge for their brand voice — emphasizing the unrelenting dedication and leading-edge science that fuels the department. Initial design applications included a printed alumni report, an enewsletter template for This Week in Medicine, divisional eblast templates, and a detailed style guide.


Duke University is the kind of institution that attracts and inspires the level of die-hard fandom typically reserved for rock bands, and its Department of Medicine is no different. With such fervent alumni, faculty, and staff, the department’s communications needed to be just as high-caliber as its people and the work they do. An immense amount of news and information needed to be communicated across the department and within its twelve internal divisions. With this in mind, the Chair and her staff engaged Thinkso to create a framework for their communications that would connect their community and stand out from the noise — while complying with institutional guidelines and quintessential “Duke” brand.


Working with the Department of Medicine’s communications team, we came up with an approach we referred to as “faces, names, and stories” — identifying the top three items that would be of relevance  to all of their distinct audiences. Similar to the messaging style of a magazine on a newsstand, we would look to develop a system of visual treatments to quickly communicate and celebrate leading-edge accomplishments — and the people responsible for them.

To achieve a unified look and feel throughout every communication — printed, electronic, or otherwise — the first step was to identify a visual house style for the Department of Medicine. We selected a vibrant shade of teal as its signature color, marrying it with tried-and-true Duke Blue for a strikingly colorful impression. Bold, sans-serif typography — which Thinkso introduced on a previous project for the department — was preserved for its ability to convey confidence and strength.

Since professional photoshoots are typically an occasional luxury, we proposed a treatment that would make the best use of the assets in hand — whether shot by a photographer or a lab assistant. We developed a distinctive “wallpaper” motif of blended photography, overlaid with a wash of teal and blue. We produced them in a variety of iterations and sizes, and provided guidelines and digital templates so they could be updated with ease.

As we considered the logotype and other branding components, we recognized the word “department” was consuming valuable visual space. To remedy this, we introduced an abbreviated logotype that is smarter and more brand-friendly. After refining the logo, we used it as the anchor for the “brand space;” a labeling device that consolidates critical information such as department, division, date, issue number, etc. The sophisticated treatment helps carve out the department’s niche while staying true to the pillars of the institutional brand.

“It can be a real challenge to create communications that do justice to an institution like Duke University. Thinkso was able to infuse vibrancy and life into our communications while still honoring the gravity of our work.” Anton Zuiker, Director of Communications, Duke Department of Medicine


The new communications framework has empowered the department to connect with their constituencies with a newfound sense of style. Beginning with the announcement of former department chair Mary Klotman’s promotion to Dean of the School of Medicine, the weekly enewsletter, This Week in Medicine, has established itself as the go-to source for up-to-date departmental news. The 2017 Alumni Report set the standard for alumni communications and is proudly acclaimed as an example of creative collaboration between the department’s communications office and creative agency, Thinkso.

Together with the department’s communications team, we articulated “faces, names, and stories” as the focus for the new communications framework. The Alumni Report was the first item produced in the new scheme. The cover features generous use of the wallpaper treatment, the signature teal color, and the retooled departmental logo. Interiors show how these elements may flexibly be combined in different ways.

We revised the logotype by shortening “Department” to “Dept,” freeing up valuable space. We then anchored it within the “brand space” along with other important publication information to help orient the user. The result was a snappier and more polished appearance that conveys authority and understated elegance.

Enewsletters were a core deliverable of the project. While using the same component styles, headers can be swapped in and out of the responsive templates depending on whether the publication is being sent by the department or one of its 12+ divisions. Some newsletters had distinctive names of varying lengths. Others were very straightforward and descriptive. We designed the template to accommodate them all.

To codify the system, we created a style guide that could be used by internal and external groups to create materials within the new system. Specifications were laid out for type, color, and imagery—for both print and digital applications.