UofC Rebrand Controversy

University of California Identity from University of California on Vimeo.

A while back.. well, a while back in internet space/time, the University of California had a new identity system designed – and there was a big to-do.

If you don’t know the story, here’s what happened in a nutshell:
The University of California unveiled a new brand identity. The new system was somehow misconstrued by the public to be replacing the school’s seal. It wasn’t, the seal was updated and was still hanging around for more formal uses while the new identity would be used everywhere else. The design team was able to pull together what had been a largely disjointed amalgam of logos and type treatments and turn it into one unified monogram and brand identity system. There was a backlash from the community (students, alumni, the internet in general), they all signed a petition on Change.org, and the administration pulled the monogram from any kind of usage… until further notice.

For more detail, here are some great write ups that follow the drama on the Brand New blog: post 1, post 2, post 3. There’s also a really nice 99% Invisible interview with Vanessa Correa, creative director of the internal design group in charge of the rebrand, here.

So, I could talk about the identity itself and say that I thought it was a breath of fresh air when it comes to large scale university branding systems, and that it does a great job pulling together many disparate organizations under one cohesive visual umbrella. Yeah, the gradient in the “c” is a little weird, but I could get used to that over time… just like when Nike founder Phil Knight was presented the swoosh logo.. he said “I don’t love it. But it will grow on me.” (quote via Brand New) But I digress…

My point about the UofC rebrand is that I think the design is beside the point when looking at the overall story. The university had confidence in their design team, accepted the redesign, and launched the new system. Then, they backed down because of public outcry over what seemed to be mis-information. Instead of standing behind their decision to move forward with the new identity, or trying to re-explain that they weren’t replacing the seal, they backed down…. and went back to using God knows what… and ended up a little in the same place that they started.

Anyway, I think it’s obvious what I think – they should have stuck to their guns and moved forward. However, that contradicts a lot of what we preach around here in letting the community decide what they want to symbolize them (by vicki dhead). An argument could be made for bad pr (mistaking the monogram for replacing the seal), but at the same time, if this is what the community wants, shouldn’t they get it? Honestly, I think there’s a time and a place when parents should step in and do what’s best for their kids no matter how much they whine. I’d love to hear what you guys have to say. Go ahead, rake me over the WOM coals… I can take it.


Nathan Spainhour Nathan Spainhour is a Designer + Interactive Director at Brains on Fire. Meet him here.

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