In defense, more or less, of UC’s new logo

UC Berkeley students walk through Sather Gate in 2011.
(Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

Something was noticeably absent from the group of three letters in Wednesday’s paper taking issue with the University of California system’s new but not necessarily improved logo: a counterpoint. The following submission from UC Irvine English professor Julia Lupton would have run had it been sent to us before the letters page’s deadline Tuesday afternoon. Lupton wrote:

“The new logo cleverly derives a large ‘U’ from an abstracted version of the seal, which is itself based on the form of an open book. The ‘C’ emerges out of the ‘U’-- a nicely narrative use of gradient color to dynamize a static form.

“A lovely online video art directed by Vanessa Correa shows viewers how the two marks (seal and logo) relate to each other. The mark is not perfect -- the U does not immediately read as a letter form, and the association with the ‘program loading’ symbol is unfortunate. Rather than retiring the symbol, though, we should let it evolve.


“Rage and uncertainty over the UC system is being displaced onto the new logo, which many associate with the ‘corporate’ and ‘privatizing’ tendencies of the last few years. In making these quick identifications, people are failing to see the role that intelligent, systematic and (yes) stylish branding and design can play in successful advocacy, not just retail culture.”

In another letter that arrived after deadline Tuesday, Scott Mires, creative director at a San Diego brand design firm, also noted the logo’s shortcomings but spoke up in defense of a rebranding effort that “combines tradition and legacy with a fresh and modern look.” His letter contrasts with those who decried any effort at all by UC to rebrand, a group whose numbers are well represented in the inbox. Mires wrote:

“As the country’s largest, and arguably greatest, university system, UC is smart to refresh its brand to stand out among increasingly competitive public universities. While its ‘Onward California’ campaign strikes the right balance between tradition and modernity, its new logo fails the brand test. Overly modern, the design lacks any visual connection to the iconic traditions alumni, students and donors hold dear. And the use of the new logo in conjunction with the traditional ‘let there be light’ seal makes it even less relevant.

“The video and website produced to announce the brand initiative, on the other hand, successfully reflect the strategic campaign and are powerfully emotive in telling the UC’s story of progress: ‘UC students, faculty and staff continue to move California onward.’

“It will take more than a new logo to refresh the UC brand, but one that effectively combines tradition and legacy with a fresh and modern look will be an important first step.”

Lupton’s and Mires’ letters deserve special attention because of their novel defense of UC’s rebranding efforts -- and certainly not because their opinions are shared by an emerging preponderance of readers. In fact, of the two dozen letters on the logos, theirs were the only two that shunned indignation.


(Full disclosure: As a UC Berkeley alumnus who regularly walked under the ‘fiat lux’ star perched atop Sather Gate for years -- and if I must pick a side -- I’m partial to the university’s original logo.)


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