Duke Does Digital Swag

By Elysia Pan and Cara Rousseau

On December 11, 2015, Duke welcomed 811 Early Decision students to the Class of 2020. Along with their acceptance letter, the admitted students and their families were given the gift of Duke digital swag – a collection of Duke images displaying the hashtag #Duke2020 and #DukeFamily for mobile and desktop backgrounds, social media sharing and posting in online spaces.

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Under guidance from Duke’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the Office of News & Communications, the project was executed by DiDA, a Duke student-led, full-service marketing agency. Four students were involved in creating/updating the site and creating themes that would appeal to admitted students and their families.

The site garnered more than 40,000 page views, 10,000 unique visitors and 3,000 total downloaded files.

Why Digital Swag?

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The project helped us reach three goals:

  1. Create a virtual community for admitted students and their families

By creating the digital swag, we fostered an intimate online community for the incoming class as soon as admits received their acceptance letters. Students and their family members were able to use these graphics as a digital marker that they joined the Duke community (think “online bumpersticker”).

  1. Create engagement between current and prospective students

Our approach was to showcase Duke in the best way possible: by creating connections between current and prospective students so that they end up recruiting each other. This project was a way for admitted students to interact with current undergraduates, and vice-versa.

  1. Show off cool student work and organizations

We always want to show off the talents that our undergraduates possess! We also were able to show design/media-savvy students that there is a community here on campus for them.

Lessons Learned

We learned a few things that can be applied to other digital media projects in higher education:

  1. Make your project easy to update in coming years

When you’re working with student teams, it’s important to think ahead on projects that will need to be updated in coming years, as students graduate and study abroad. We created a generic Gmail account for the Squarespace site we built and we saved the graphics on a shared box.com space. This way, we were able to work with a new graphic designer the next year and he was able to access the website and all of the files he needed.

  1. People prefer iconic/beauty shots to images featuring people

We created a heat map of the images that were downloaded and learned images showing people typically performed the weakest. The most popular downloads were Duke spring, #ForeverDuke buttons and Duke ducks.

We’ve seen that people shots are effective on social media when the audience can identify people who they know in the shot. For admitted students and their families, they probably didn’t identify with photos of current Blue Devils. But, they were eager to share pictures of iconic Duke places and things.

  1. Make projects accessible to as many audiences as possible  

By creating the suite of #DukeFamily graphics, we made the site appealing to people beyond the incoming class. Alumni, staff and faculty were excited to be able to show their Duke pride on their devices and social media profiles, too.

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We’re excited to evaluate how Early Decision students receive their digital swag this year, and perhaps tweak the site based on their reactions for Regular Decision students.

Now, go swap out your cover art and show your Duke spirit!


The project was led by Duke’s Office of News & Communications and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, and was implemented by the student-led Duke Innovation Design Agency (DiDA).

Elysia Pan is a Duke alumna and works as an admissions officer in Duke’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, where she focuses on yield activities, recruiting in the arts & humanities and manages in-house design. 



  1. February 2016 Duke Communicators Newsletter – Duke Communicators Network - December 5, 2018

    […] a recap of Duke’s digital swag – electronic gifts for early admits and their […]

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