In an age where perception can mean everything, the University of California had a rough week trying to put a new foot forward. Although I had reservations about the final product, I thought it made sense for the university system to try something bold to attract future students and leaders.
Here’s where perception comes in — for something that caused such sudden outrage, the UC had apparently introduced the logo quietly months ago with nary a word. Also, it wasn’t meant to fully replace the unofficial seal,* as some made it out to be. It also wouldn’t replace or surplant the identities or branding of the individual campuses (UC Berkeley’s or UCSD’s “look” would remain the same).
As a university statement pointed out, the new monogram and overall new look were intended for use on systemwide documents and presentations, but not diplomas or similarly formal documents.
While a handful of people liked the new University of California logo, a great many more vocally hated it. When I shared the new logo on Facebook, a couple of friends quickly pounced on how the half-finished, yellow “C” placed at the bottom of a stylized, blue “U” looked like either a loading graphic or a birds-eye view of a flushing toilet.
I had mixed feelings about the design — it was difficult to tell at a glance what the “U” was and the “C” looked incomplete. I felt better about the monogram and what it meant after watching a slickly produced video introducing the new look. However, if you need a video to explain the changes, it may be a sign that your effort has missed the mark.
However, the monogram had been designed with several variations to work in different contexts. In one variation, it could be superimposed over a photo — something that would be nearly impossible to pull off with the older seal.
After poking around the UC’s currently defunct branding website, I saw several versions of the logo that seemed to be improvements over what had been circulated. At the same time, I can understand why they went with the logo they did — the one- and two-color monograms may look a little too simple. The “C” looks a little too cartoonish by my eye.
Whatever my reservations, I also tried to look at this logo from the eyes of a high school junior or senior looking to enroll at at UC campus. When perusing through paper brochures and online info sites, what would stand out more — the new logo or the older seal? Even then, some have pointed out that the quality and type of school matters more than a simple logo.
That would seem to be the biggest potential impact of the new logo. Otherwise, I think a lot of the other concerns are overblown. The new logo would have appeared on systemwide documents and marketing materials. Most people probably don’t encounter such things very often, and it’s hard for me to see how much harm the new logo would do if people noticed it.
While I hope the UC develops an identity that people will like, it may be a difficult row to hoe. In general, it seems difficult to implement a logo that isn’t simply a wordmark, given today’s design aesthetics and need to work on a variety of media.
I hope there is a way for logos to survive — I’m not huge fan of simply putting your name in a fancy font and calling it good. I don’t have logos for my sites, but I wish I did.
Although we’ve had the current seal since 1910, the university has tried several variations over the years, particularly for anniversaries or special uses. Many of them simply aren’t that great and underscore the difficulty in trying to come up with a simplified or stylized variation of the seal.
To me, the variations that stand out are the 125th anniversary logo (which may seem too similar to the current California State University system logo) and the university flag (which is echoed in the presidential medal).
The flag and medal design include a large “C” enveloping a book with the university motto. Both elements are placed atop a horizontal ribbon. The flag includes an arc of stars to represent each individual campus, which I thought was a nice touch.
I would be happy if a variation of the flag/medal were adopted into a logo to supplement the past and current seal. It may not be as bold as the now-defunct logo, but the “Big C” flag/medal design stands out more than the current seal and is fitting for a university system like the University of California.
Image 1: The older, unofficial University of California seal is displayed to the left of the system’s recent monogram logo. Use of the new logo was suspended Friday amid complaints from alumni and others.
Image 2: A variation of the University of California monogram.
Image 3: The design of the UC’s Presidential Medal, as seen on an archived version of the UC website.