Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Tom Shepansky looks back on retiring NAIT's "Flying N"

tom shepansky, rethink communications, nait, techlife magazine, edmontonThe first thing Tom Shepansky (Marketing ’83) notices when he looks at the 2007 inaugural issue of techlife, where he appears on the cover, is that his hair has more salt than pepper in it today.

The second thing he notices is how well the NAIT shield, in the top left corner, has aged over a decade. The logo, designed by Shepansky’s ad agency Rethink Communications, was introduced at the time as part of a full-scale rebrand – the polytechnic’s first in 40 years.

Then-president and CEO Dr. Sam Shaw helped lead the process to bring Shepansky on board to update NAIT’s visual identity.

"Your logo is so dated, it’s almost coming back into style again – but not quite."

“I said to Sam, ‘Your logo is so dated, it’s almost coming back into style again – but not quite,” Shepansky says. Indeed, everyone agreed the 1974 “Flying N” logo was as retro as disco.

In 2007, Rethink was charged with, well, rethinking that logo to match NAIT’s status as a modern post-secondary institution with a focus on applied learning.

Shepansky’s team sketched ideas, settling on a shield as timeless as it is simple: a smart serif font for the name and a globe with interlocking rays symbolizing a connection to the world of technology and knowledge.

“Even the font we chose is timeless,” he says. “In 20 years, the NAIT shield has the ability to be as relevant as it is today.”

Shepansky admits it’s not just his hair that’s changed since that cover shoot. Rethink now has 130 employees across three offices – in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. The ad world, meanwhile, has evolved as digital and social media have transformed how people consume information. But his job is still to cut through the clutter and get his clients’ messages to people, even if, as he puts it, “the clutter has changed.”

What hasn’t changed is Shepansky’s pride in the project and what he describes as “his very small role” in the logo’s success. He has a soft spot for his alma mater and keeps reminders of his time there close by. There’s a NAIT mug at his office and a school pin stuck to his bulletin board – naturally featuring the current logo.

The only retro keepsakes? Yearbooks and his NAIT diploma – and, of course, that techlife cover with his face on it, which is proudly hung above his desk at home.



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