(a more in-depth description of the Atrium process that we couldn’t force you to read in our case study)

We recently launched our case study for Atrium, a new campus card system for institutions of any size. Atrium started off having no name, no logo, and no branding of any kind. We took feedback from the JSA1 advisory board and conversations with actual administrators, and began brainstorming ways to concoct the most revolutionary card system to ever hit the market. What resulted was an arduous four-month war with lots of shouting, rogue pixels, and the ever-present sound of pops and cracks from mouse buttons being mashed.


It started off with many-a-day interrupted by words being lobbed around the office, followed by their synonym and homonym bombs and derivatives of their Latin/French/German/Swahili/Esperanto counterparts. Our quiet design firm turned into a dangerous etymological warzone; getting hit with a stray word would leave you with a pounding headache for several hours. Walls were splattered with words relating to college, hub, axis, ease-of-use, ebb and flow etc. Finally, amidst the severed arms, ears and tails2, “Atrium” arose and ended the Great Etymon Battle at Rocket Pop Media.

“Atrium” is a central system in either a building or the human body. It reflects strength and reliability while imparting a sense of openness; all elements we found to be perfect for this new ecosystem.


Now that we had the name, our next step was to create the logo. That was another battle (a smaller skirmish amongst us designers that wasn’t nearly as long as the Etymon Battle). We wanted to create something that conveyed the message of Atrium: a single image that could be widely recognized, much like the Nike swoosh or Apple’s iconic symbol. What we ended up with was a circular design to symbolize the constant intake and outtake of information within a central hub, and one that plays off of the “A” in Atrium. We chose a blue and gray theme, which implies strength and stability.


We had spent some time on the typeface, also. We wanted something strong, but not rigid, and something that had movement. After going through two font libraries, we decided to create our own custom typeface. Atrium is supposed to be unique and set apart from all other card systems, so why stick with any ’ole font?


We had a name and we had a logo. Our next step was to present it to JSA Technologies and hope that they liked it. We designed and printed presentation boards, sharpened our X-Acto blades and set to work for two straight nights.

The morning after our two-day design blitz, bleary-eyed but optimistic, we wowed the enthusiastic leaders of JSA with our presentation. They approved the name, the logo, the colors, and the font choices. Thus, the Atrium brand was officially born.


Next, we had to tackle the website, which was a giant beast (but not as large as the monster we would encounter later). The new campus card system is massive: part student identity, part debit, part dorm key, part library card, and so on. This comprehensive system may entail hundreds of systems running on hundreds of devices across acres of campus and multiple buildings to provide services to thousands of users. The design of the website had to reflect Atrium as a product: revolutionary, modular, scalable, and above all, easy.

We did our research and to our delight3, found that all other campus card websites looked like they were built in the 1990’s. With all of the mediocrity out there, we had the freedom to do whatever we wanted! And so, the website was turned into a discovery process for the user. Large campus photos peeking from the bottom of the screen entice users to scroll through and find more information. Site architecture and content tell you enough about the product to pique your interest, and offer some tantalizing details of its functionality, but not enough to give away the ending.

Haven’t seen it for yourself yet? Have a look here.


With a name, logo and website, the people and partners of JSA Technologies were ready to go out and promote this new and upcoming card system. In addition to the conventional business cards and letterhead, we designed a brochure and a clever invitation to a brand launch taking place at a national trade show. Clean, tangible, and interactive, the invitation asked, “If you could wave a magic wand, what would you create?” It invited the bearer to an “exclusive demonstration” without saying what the final product would entail.



Sometimes there was yelling for no reason.

If you’ve ever watched The Apprentice, then you’ve seen the frantic scramble of people as they try to complete their projects and impress the clients, lest they be fired. It all seems over-dramatic: people screaming at each other, large boards falling over, things breaking, others sitting in corners crying, all documented by chaotic camera movement4.

A couple of days before the launch, all hell broke loose as we experienced a real-life reality show5. So began the Brand Launch Battle, where we argued with printers, pulled out some hair, hit each other with Pantone books and yelled… a lot. (I may have crawled under my desk and curled into a fetal position on more than one occasion).

Everything was brought together for a brand launch at an annual conference of card system professionals. There, campus administrators, service directors, and system providers all gather for several days of seminars, product and service introductions, and shopping! The industry giants set up massive booths with displays covering every service and configuration possible. They looked grand and expensive. We, however, designed the Atrium booth to reflect the brand and eventual product. In essence, the booth was powerful, modern, and easy. Simple and clean banners invited shoppers in, and several computers invited them to sit down and take a test drive of our simulated user interface. In addition to an array of print collateral that would serve as a reminder of their Atrium experience, visitors were offered custom Atrium candy bars for snacking!


The two-month design battle was over, and all around the office was a mutual sigh of relief. But just as our defenses were low, the User Interface monster stormed in, reared its head with a mighty roar, and took a few of us hostage (I escaped unscathed).  The User Interface Battle had begun!

We’re currently working in partnership with JSA Technologies and V4 Development on a fully fleshed-out version of Atrium. This includes designing mobile apps and user interfaces for administrators. It will feature a customizable Dashboard, Modules for expanded functionality, and an array of supported Connections that will allow a campus to add or subtract services with a simple, one-time charge. We are also leading the charge for the student end of the system, designing mobile apps and interfaces that will allow today’s iGeneration6 students to manage their own accounts and services with a point and a click. We hope to have a product live and in use at a campus near you (thereby freeing our captive designers!) by the end of 2012.

1. JSA Technologies has been the leading provider of mobile payment and account management on campuses and institutions across the country for over 15 years. ↑ back to top

2. All typographic terms 😉 ↑ back to top

3. Delight was preceded by disgust. ↑ back to top

4. For the record, I’d only seen the latest season of Celebrity Apprentice and had the misfortune of getting sucked into it and watching the whole thing! Clay Aiken and his beautiful voice made it bearable. And now I’ve said too much…↑ back to top

5. It’s only a little bit ironic if you think about it. I mean reality shows are mostly scripted, right? Right?! ↑ back to top

6. iGeneration is a word we have coined for the alternate Internet Generation or Generation Z; common names for the group of people born in the last decade of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. Most members of this generation have spent their entire lives with the World Wide Web, having been commercially available since 1991. ↑ back to top