Our View on Viewbooks

With over 98 universities in Canada, 1,845 in the United States and over 23,000 worldwide, these academic institutions are in constant competition with each other and are challenged not only with publishing compelling and robust research in the most prestigious journals, but also with developing a unique brand voice that is loud enough to be heard by students across the globe.

With over a decade of experience working with some of the premier educational institutions in Canada, we understand the student recruitment challenges that the industry faces today. Leaner budgets, grants and scholarships have contributed to abatement in student enrollment. The nebulous dynamic of stakeholders, competitors and, of course, students is becoming increasingly challenging to navigate.

With that in mind, every communication piece must be strategically designed to overcome these obstacles and secure admissions and investments. Perhaps the most obvious communication piece is the viewbook, otherwise known as a course catalog. Universities publish these both online and in print each year as a way of both enticing and informing prospective students on the academics and amenities offered on campus.

In 2016, adHOME had the express pleasure of creating viewbook after viewbook for some of the top post secondary institutions in the country. We’re also thrilled to have won some very exciting awards for our work on viewbooks this year.


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We’ve enjoyed getting the chance to explore how Universities use this industry-specific media to win market share in the competitive education field. After having seen all of these glossy books come to life, we can’t help but reflect and ask ourselves, what makes a good viewbook?

Surely the answer to that question will depend on whether or not you’re in charge of enrollment at a University, a Creative Director at an advertising agency or a prospective student. We’ve gathered insights from all three:


Our Associate Creative Director, Michael Crusz says:

“Make it experiential and ephemeral- otherwise, you risk being overlooked. If we’re talking print, production shouldn’t be an afterthought. When it comes to paper stocks, weight and texture are crucial. Despite the old adage, people will judge your book by its cover. So make use of clever printing techniques to bring visuals to life. If we’re talking digital viewbooks, interaction and accessibility can create a vibrant and engaging user experience. Above all, good design that is easy to read and understand will make all the difference.”


Our intern and prospective student, Ciara Maynard, says:

“It’s really intimidating when our guidance counselors come in with stack after stack of viewbooks. There are so many different schools and programs. It gets really overwhelming. But, as a theatre kid, I always find myself going for the viewbooks that look really artsy, have lots of colour and that highlight the extracurriculars.”


Our client, Sheldon Grabke of the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (U of T) says:

“I’m so impressed with the quality of the design work. We’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from students and peers and we can barely keep the viewbooks on the shelves! I attribute their popularity to the design- I just love it!”


The Breakdown

When it comes down to it, a good viewbook will tell the story of the campus from the student’s perspective. The inclusion of student stories, testimonials and even “day in the life” pages that show what a student does on campus each waking hour of the day allows prospective students to really envision themselves in those same classrooms, labs, dorms and recreational spaces. The more detailed, the better. It’s best to include everything from the student’s favourite coffee spot, snack, pub and even their favourite scenic route to class or study spot will really bring the stories to life.


Get social

The ability to share these individual student stories in either video or blog form through social media can work synergistically to inspire prospective students to immerse themselves in a welcoming campus vibe. Below are some examples of day in the life videos we shot at the University of Toronto:


uoft-viewbook_2017                                                u-of-t