Some People Like the New UC Logo!

Or at least one person, and he claims not to have been part of the paid design team. We'll get to him later on. Let's build the story step by step.

What we're talking about. Check it out below. On the left is the previous Official Seal of the University of California system. On the right, the snappy new version.

Background on the flap. Check it out here. Summary of my argument: if you prefer the new version, you are "challenged" when it comes to visual IQ. And here is a bonanza of comments from the San Jose Mercury News

It's not just the UC system. A reader who is a proud Carnegie Mellon alum sends this report:
When I went to Carnegie Mellon in the 80's, they decided to update their logo with the infamous "tilted square."  It was dreadful and was universally panned, even though it cost the university a fortune. [JF note: Here it is.]
Happily, they gave up on it in favor of a plain wordmark, and today you can barely find any remnant of it.  [JF: Here's the current version.]

So, perhaps there is hope that UC will see the light.
From another proud CMU grad:
Ah, I feel better now.  When I was attending Carnegie-Mellon they decided to come-up with a new logo/branding to replace the very traditional court of arms/shield logo etc.  As I understand it, something like $2 million dollars (early 80's) were spent to have as a logo a square, tilted at 14 degrees, with "Carnegie" and "Mellon" starting from inside the box and going outside it.  Adding insult to injury they dropped the hyphenation.  I think they have since moved-on to other imagery, but your posting of what the U.C system is looking to do makes me feel much better for it makes that horrendous decision by CMU look so very much better.

The Cal alums strike back. I have received many notes to this effect:

Cal's fundraising letter arrived in my mailbox right after I first saw the new allegedly-pre-approved-by-alumni graphic travesty. So, I've been suggesting an easy protest to all my UC alum friends: tell UC to get rid of that hideous logo.  Run the new one by us first. Then we'll resume sending checks. 

On the other hand, maybe this was to be expected from a school where one of the ugliest buildings on campus houses the architecture department.  [JF: Here's the building the alum is talking about, Wurster Hall at UCB.]


. Another reader points out:

I know it is more poignant when it strikes near home, but there has been an epidemic of bad university logos recently.

I vacation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and last summer was confronted with this for the first time (on a sign on M-28).
With no text, I might add. 

Between this and the fiscal cliff, I fear we are doomed. [JF note: Hey, the fiscal cliff is not that bad.]

The obvious inspiration for the new logo. A UC professor connects the dots.

We here at Berkeley seem to uniformly hate the logo as well. I thought you might appreciate the following interpretation. A ... professor here at UC Berkeley, Mike Eisen, has added a pretty good take down of that monstrosity:


What many readers say. Many readers had reactions like the one described here:
As a UCLA alumnus, I read your recent post on the new UC logo with interest and shared it on Facebook with friends and family (many of whom are also UC alumni or supporters).  The consensus view was clearly negative.  My hunch was that the logo had "designed by committee for a large consulting fee" written all over it.  Other UC friends commented that the fading "C" represented diminishing educational standards or funding.  But it was my brother who voiced probably the most concise and pointed assessment:  "It looks like a toilet flush."

I wonder if the designers didn't see what my brother perceived in mere seconds?

. A reader with some constructive suggestions:

The problem with the new one is the fading letter "C", and the shield-like "U" (which might be that way to suggest solidity) that doesn't obviously scan as a U.

I think a solid "C" and a more readable "U" isn't all that bad.

Attached are six possibilities along that line.

And in the spirit of full-and-frank exchange of views, in tasteful after-the-jump placement we have some comments in favor of the new look.

And, again, it's NOT just UC

'I can live with it.' Here is the closest thing I got to a "you're being unfair" message. It's from a graphic designer who list his credentials at the end of the message. I don't agree with him -- but, hey, you realize that by now, and we might as well hear this side of the story.

The original UC system "identity" was a seal. This is not the same as a brand identity in higher education. Most big schools have a seal (for diplomas, plaques, presidents stationary, proclamations) a brand identity (to market the place and identifier for signage, etc.), and an athletics identity (the UC Bear, the UConn Husky, etc.). But this was about the UC system. It just needed a brand identity. For the first time.

Identity and brand design is more than just a logotype or symbol these days. It involves color, motifs, shapes, as well as type and symbols. Even sound (car exhaust tuning) and smell (retail). Showing just this one blue version in your article really does not show HOW it will be used and the variety of applications.

Higher education is always slow on these kinds of things but, many campuses and systems have updated identities for decades. Check out the identities of Vanderbilt, UConn (which oddly, used to use the CT state seal), and University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. These are some nice redesigns all done in the past 15 years by living designers. But, compared to a system as large as the UC, the objective was simpler. The UC system is more complex than even a big state campus like UIUC. The UC has many more constitancies. Many campuses and facilities. It would be impossible to please everyone. So the objective cannot be to find some magical sweet spot but rather, use a design process to work toward a solution that the UC leadership, working with the designers, chooses. You can't do design by committee or by voting.

Before you write any more on brand identities, you need to call and talk with some experts on the subject! The head of the AIGA national office in NYC or the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum or the curator of design at MOMA or Stephen Heller of the NYTimes and prolific design book author and design writer. Maybe the head of the team who did the design! Somebody who knows the subject.

Here is a whole site dedicated to looking at brand identity changes - for better or worse. 

Here is the article on that site on the UC identity change:

It shows some of the applications - scroll down (trucks! totes! mugs!) and does a good overview of the design.

If you hire a plumber to fix a pipe or a mechanic to fix your car or a lawyer to help you in court or an architect to build you a home or a fireman to save you from a fire or a doctor to cure you, how often do you question the methods used or solutions offered and decided upon by the proper authority? In this case, the UC system chancellor and an in house team of professional, award winning designers? [JF Note: I've added emphasis here. But donnez-moi un break! The "experts" are always right? Generals never screw up wars, and financial whizzes never bring the economy to the brink of ruin? I am more likely than not to believe a doctor when she tells me what a lab test or X-ray shows. That is in the category of "things an expert knows and a layman doesn't." But when we're talking about how something looks, I am supposed to disbelieve my eyes and say that because consultants approved it I have to think it's "good"?]

If there were ever an article to write, it is about the dangers of design by novices, the mob, or design by committee! Nothing, nothing, ever good came out of that way of designing. Look at architecture in N. Korea, and you will see one kind of design by committee.

I am not a total fan of the UC system identity design. But there are applications where it works well. I think they missed a few things in the design process (I think the team was too young and needed an older designer to guide them a bit). A design process was followed. The old seal was really limiting and hard to brand from. As an expatriate Californian, I can live with the new design. 

[List of standing-to-speak details from this reader, which I have slightly vagued-up to avoid Google-based discovery of this person's name:]
Fulbright Fellow in design
MFA Graphic Design [prestigious East Coast design school]
BFA [prestigious West Coast design school]
20+ years experience as a graphic designer and art director
15+ years experience as a design professor at 5 state university design programs (one in CA, two research universities in midwest, two research universities on East coast) and two top rated design schools (RISD and MICA)
Multiple international design award winner for individual and team design projects for print and digital media.

Thanks to all.

What might have been

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

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