In 2013, the University of California rolled out a modernized logo developed by an in-house design team. It was a minimalist design, featuring a “C” nested inside a shield-shaped “U” and featuring bright, bold colors.
This lighthearted new logo was meant to be used in marketing and website capacities, while the traditional university crest would remain on official school documentation and letterheads. “They wanted something that would reflect the innovation, the character of California — just more modern, user-friendly,” said Dianne Klein of UC’s Office of the President. “That’s not to take away from the gravitas of the original seal.” Fast Company praised the redesign, saying that the new logo had “surfer charm.” To quote the school, it is “boldly Californian.” According to the Creative Director, Vanessa Correa, “It’s meant to be scalable, flexible, dynamic, and adaptable; something that would let us talk to our diverse audiences while maintaining recognizability.”
However, the implementation of the new logo did not go as smoothly as the creative team at University of California expected. Backlash and criticism came almost immediately. People started saying that the logo reminded them of a loading icon, a flushing toilet, that it was unprofessional, ugly, childish, trendy, and amateurish. An online petition was started in protest of the new logo, demanding that it be taken down – the petition received more than 54,000 signatures.
The backlash became more extreme as members of the creative team were targeted with insults and threats, a point that was addressed by the creators of the petition, “The vitriol and personal attacks being sent to some of the team that helped to design the new monogram is not okay. They care deeply about the university and are greatly invested in ensuring its success. They don’t deserve anger, threats and insults directed at them.” In an open letter to UC President Udof, Gavin Newsom, a member of the Board of Regents at UC, stated:
“Clearly the new logo for the University, even in its limited use, has backfired… it appears the new logo fails to respect the history and the prestige of University of California En [sic] only a few days, almost 50,000 students, alumni and Californians across the state believe so strongly that the logo fails to represent the institution they are so proud of, they have signed a petition calling for its removal… It bears noting that tuition at the University of California has more than doubled in recent years…Perhaps now is the time to return to the use of the old logo and allow the University community a cooling off period to concentrate on the long-term health of the University.”
In response to the petition and the widespread media attention as a result of the backlash, the University of California has backpedaled and removed the new logo from all web, marketing, and merchandise. In a statement, Jason Simon, the director of UC marketing communications stated;
“UC Community, Over the past week it has become clear that the University of California systemwide monogram recently created is a source for great debate, dialogue, and division. In short, it’s too much of a distraction from our broader effort to communicate UC’s value and vital contributions to Californians, and so we intend to suspend use of the new monogram… there are a few things that remain clear—the UC community is passionate in its support of the system as a whole, believes any new directions should reflect the tradition, prestige and import of both higher education broadly…We commit to respecting that feedback in determining a path forward as these issues are revisited.”
So, the new logo is gone and the dissenters have won. What can other schools learn from this debacle?
- First, schools should keep in mind that any sweeping rebranding project will face intense scrutiny from alumni, students, and the design community.
- Second, logos for higher education shouldn’t aim to be fun, modern, or lighthearted – this doesn’t work well for an institution that also attempts to be timeless, serious, and prestigious.
- Third, changing a logo in a drastic manner will have drastic consequences. Instead, schools can look to nip & tuck their current logos so that they are adaptable for implementation at a variety of sizes. The biggest mistake that UC made was to seemingly abandon a logo that already had over 100 years of history, emotions, and context behind it.