in Digital Web

When edgy branding reaches the edge

When Canada’s University of Waterloo’s unveiled it’s new brand identity was leaked, students revolted to the only place where they know to scream — Facebook — arguing the new identity doesn’t befit a proud, venerable institution of higher education.

From their Facebook group:

The University of Waterloo is undergoing a rebranding campaign starting in Fall 2009. The new logo has been leaked, and we, along with many other students and alumni, do not believe it represents UW’s prestige and degree of professionalism properly. This group is a place for students and alumni who are against this new logo representing our University to join and voice their opinion.

Please note these new logos will (according to reports) replace the current UW logos in all applications, with the exception of diplomas and convocation ceremonies (where the official seal is used instead).

The logo design blog Brand New covered this issue and I’m not going to attempt to rehash his good analysis.

But the hoopla over the logo ignores the fact that the re-brand — even if it’s a bit jarring to look at — is really edgy. And in the staid world of higher ed design, I can appreciate some thinking outside of the box and given the logo was leaked, we’re not even sure what the entire campaign was intended to communicate, so how can those protesting it, really assess it on its merits?

Then again, why should we let an opportunity to protest get in the way of a little fairness? Though I wonder if there was any token student representation as part of this process…

  1. Jesse, you are right. But it’s just one of the political creatures of higher ed that’s not likely to disappear, unfortunately. I think there are ways to do the committee thing right and ways to mess it up. I’ve been (and have led) both kinds of processes and when it works, it can be pretty good and when it doesn’t, well…it can be slow and plodding.

    Andrew, I recalled that blog of yours when I saw this. I think that’s a much better way of giving people access, even if in the end…it’s not going to entirely change the way things are done. But I think in some cases, it’s just a way to expose yourself early and get people and their rancor going before you’ve even unveiled your new look. In the case of Rolla, you all were changing the whole brand..so I think that was a huge need. But for Waterloo, they were probably damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.

  2. I think the problem is that is likely the best the committee process can come with given the requirements. You can’t design by committee… sure interested folks were involved but if you cut costs and get only those willing to volunteer their time you are more likely to end up with something that doesn’t look professional. I think Brand New article is making some assumptions that are wrong but my take was posted shortly after the FB group started:

    http://whoyoucallingajesse.com/past/2009/7/22/branding_in_higher_ed_observations/

    I have another one on committees in higher ed in the works… this is a great example of how the overuse of committees is degrading the quality of the work done by what are actually talented staff. Not to mention it makes it difficult for them to react to social media based feedback with any speed ;)

  3. Maybe Waterloo should have done something like we did with our name change/rebranding effort: create a blog to involve people in the process (or a Facebook group might be a better tool nowadays), then share design concepts, then the final design for students, alumni and other stakeholders to see. Of course, then you run the risk that people will actually grumble on your blog (or Facebook group). But they do that anyway. Why not give them a forum, on your turf?

    I kind of like the Waterloo logo design. It’s a damn sight better than the mundane crest. Like you, I think it’s edgy — or as edgy as you can get in higher ed. ;) And like Armin at the Brand New blog, I hope the folks at Waterloo stick with their campaign. I’m sure they will. Looks like they’ve spent a lot of money on it so far.

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