The University of California’s funding woes are well-known. Not a month goes by when there’s not a rumor of yet another tuition increase for undergraduates, and if you want to see an example of austerity in action, I’ll show you the bathrooms in the huge social science building at Berkeley which are cleaned maybe once a week. They are foul. But once a week is still better than what I get in the office I share with five other PhD students (which doesn’t have enough desks for all of us) – that room has never been cleaned since I moved into it over the summer.
Yet despite all the real problems, the UC system decided to throw away a good chunk of money on designing a new logo, needlessly rebranding what is arguably the best group of state universities in the world in an embarrassing attempt to look hip and down-with-the-kids.
You may be wondering what was wrong with the original logo. The answer is, nothing. It looked like the standard, formal logo of any United States university established earlier than the 20th Century. A book, a star, the motto “Let There Be Light,” the year of its establishment…perfectly good logo that immediately communicates that the schools which make up the UC system are serious places for learning and research:
Here’s the slightly more elaborate version (which appears on my business cards!):
Because there are multiple UC campuses across the state, sometimes the logo is altered slightly to give the name of the individual institution:
(FYI: While there are many campuses of the University of California, only one of them is abbreviated “Cal,” and that’s UC Berkeley.)
So, what do you do when you have a perfectly good logo that communicates everything it needs to communicate? You ruin it in the name of trying to look contemporary and cool. The new logo is really, truly horrible. “Let there be light?” Nah, let there be the symbol you get when your YouTube video is buffering:
I…I can’t even. It’s like the design team deliberately did its worst. It looks like a flushing toilet viewed from above – and in light of the continuing state funding fiasco, plenty of people would say that is a propos. This logo plays right into the hands of everybody saying that the UC system isn’t what it used to be.
Dumbed down. Style over substance. Unsophisticated. Vague. Commercial. That’s what I think when I see this logo. NOTHING about it says “university” or “California.” It could be a logo for anything – but the last thing I would expect it to be associated with is a prestigious university. It’s not fresh, it’s not exciting, and the gradient looks like it was made in a primitive computer paint program. Not a good look.
I’m not convinced this isn’t an elaborate prank. I mean, a team of designers didn’t think, “Hmmm, this looks a little bit like a flushing toilet, and somebody might connect that to the current problems with UC system funding”? Nobody realized that it looks vague and basic and doesn’t have any kind of symbolism that would tell people what it’s for? It seems like most of us viewing the new logo thought something along those lines after about five seconds. Reactions from students and alumni have been universally negative, often including comments like, “I can’t believe we paid money for this,” and, “If only you’d consulted us first, this would have been immediately scrapped.”
But wait! It gets hilariously better/worse! The designers created a video to introduce the new logo, and it (probably unintentionally) reinforces those negative messages. The video has the unfortunate symbolism of a book being shoved aside THREE TIMES in the first 46 seconds in favor of items like a tote bag and a mug, which isn’t exactly the best move for a university that needs to communicate, in the face of a funding crisis, that high academic standards are being maintained. Watch it here: http://vimeo.com/53530934
They…actually…thought…it was a good idea to show people pushing away books…in a branding exercise for a university.
Admittedly, it’s a nice video. I like the hand-crank/light switch parts. Those are quite cool. Too bad it’s advertising a horrible image. If this new logo is all about branding, then the video makes it look like serious academics are being pushed aside for the sake of slick marketing and commercialization. Professional designers (who are supposed to look for this kind of thing for a living) didn’t notice that and think it might not be the best message? I noticed this after viewing it ONCE! Plus, if you have to explain what a shape is meant to be – e.g. the top of the new logo is meant to look like a book, as outlined in the video – then that means the symbol can’t stand on its own and it fails at doing its job. You shouldn’t have to explain something as simple as a logo – the logo itself is supposed to communicate that kind of thing automatically. I understand that designing an image that pleases everybody is really difficult, and I don’t want this to be taken as a personal attack on the creators, because they have a tough job. I’m certainly not perfect – for example, in calling out some Internet Racists (TM) today, I accidentally wrote “Asian-American” instead of “Asian” and made myself look pretty dumb. That was embarrassing. Mistakes happen. But this is some serious public money and it should have gone through several layers of testing before it got approved. How do you possibly make something that communicates the total opposite of what it is meant to represent?
I’ve never taken one marketing class in my life. I’ve never worked in advertising or brand identity. Neither have most of the people commenting on the logo. Yet nearly ALL OF US agree this is amateurish and ineffective for communicating the mission or the features of the University of California. Didn’t they hold a focus group or at least ask for comments? Test the logo on students or alumni before making it public? This is honestly the best that paid professionals could do? The problems with it are so, so obvious (Kind of like in the UC system! ZING!) that it is kind of embarrassing that this got the green light. It means that UC decision makers thought this logo was a good idea, and that students and alumni would like it. If none of us looking at the image are professional designers and we immediately see what’s wrong with this, I find it really hard to believe that the people being paid to make the logo and who presumably have experience designing this kind of thing didn’t anticipate that this *might* not go over well…
When you’re making a logo, you do need to imagine what your lay audience will think of it. You may be the pro designer, but you are trying to convince other people of something with your marketing technique, and if the audience hates it, then it doesn’t work.
Argh. UC paid good money for this. And my shared office still never gets cleaned, and we have to bring our own sugar for coffee and tea…
In other news, today is my 28th birthday. I can’t believe it, either. My oldest friend is getting married – I got the save-the-date card a few days ago – and I am still a student. Yes.
UPDATE: Over 43,000 people have signed a petition to ask the University of California to please not use the new logo. For once, I think the term “epic fail” is truly appropriate. http://www.change.org/petitions/university-of-california-stop-the-new-uc-logo
ANOTHER UPDATE: It has been suspended! After reaching 50,000+ signatures, UC decided to axe the new logo. SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE WORK TOGETHER? *high-five*