Having shared some very snarky jibes on a UC listserv about the new UC ‘logo’ that Mark deplores, I’m now feeling some remorse. As a piece of graphic design, I think it’s not a success on its own or for its purpose. But it’s not a replacement for the seal, in fact the designer says “our goals were two-fold: first, to reinstate the systemwide seal’s authority and gravitas after years of casual, indiscriminate use; and second, to create a coherent identity that would help us tell the UC story in an authentic, distinctive, memorable and thoughtful way” and these are not silly or trivial objectives. And as an erstwhile architect and current designer of non-physical environments, I am sensitive to the long, sad history of people who should know better lambasting new stuff–from the Eiffel Tower, that was universally despised for its first forty years, to Wagner’s music and Bird’s (maybe Byrd’s, too, back in the day), to the Nude Descending a Staircase–by making fun of it because it’s easier than making a fair effort to engage, and because dissing something gives you a quick hit of feeling superior and sophisticated.
As a mea culpa, here are some serious comments about the project and the design. First, a logo is not a seal, and a seal is not a coat of arms. A logo is a symbol in between school colors and arms/seal. As it happens, the University of California has no arms, a graphic device originally intended to make a knight quickly identifiable in a chaotic battle by illiterates, so we’ve been using the fairly undistinguished seal instead, and Corréa is right to try to find something better suited. Each campus has its own colors, most observing heraldic rules about not putting a metal (gold and silver, usually indicated by yellow and white) against a metal or a color on a color It’s not clear why a university should have something so martial as a shield as a symbol, but many do and some, like Harvard’s, are such recognizable, relevant, and simple constructions that they serve as logos. (Most are an impossible jumble; google “university coat of arms” for pages of fussy, complicated, historicist claptrap.)
The current effort at UC went off the rails by trying half-heartedly to recall a shield; depending on the letters UC which aren’t unique and almost always a weak graphic crutch; and reaching into the seal for its least distinctive symbol of learning (the obsolescent book) and then trying to recall it by giving the U a little Paul Ryan widow’s peak. (There’s a Vimeo that explains some of this design process here. Apparently they also extracted a pattern of diagonal blue and white stripes to go with it but it’s not clear how these are supposed to be used.) I ridiculed the result as a C dissolving at the bottom of test tube, which is unfair, but that I could do it I think indicates that its associations and symbology are confused. Graphic design is a subtle business: I think the C stumbles because if your eye follows it the way you write it (counterclockwise), it fades away instead of leaping brilliantly into the sky.
It’s not easy to generate a logo for something as complicated as a university system. Trying to use initials in some new typography, like a monogram, worked for IBM when Paul Rand did it, but especially as our initials aren’t unique, it looks to me like a blind alley. Each UC campus has an animal mascot, from Berkeley’s bear to UCLA’s bruin (is that different?) to Santa Cruz’ immortal banana slug, so the bear paw that actually serves pretty well for Berkeley and recalls the state flag, isn’t appropriate. This is too bad, because bears are smart, fast, and strong. An owl would be nice, but it’s been done.
The logo is not likely to have a lot of use in competition with campus-specific logos or symbols (I think our Berkeley letterhead would be smashing with the bear paw). If the president’s office would abandon the idea of giving this enormous conglomerate of free-standing institutions a “comprehensive visual identity”, for example not requiring all letterhead and the like on all campuses to use a single UC graphic (as of now we’re required to use the seal), and let ten flowers bloom, a simplified distillation of the seal’s book and star would work fine for the university as a whole. So would something completely new: it’s hard to show light (from the motto) in an original way (candle, sun, radiating lines, yawn) but (for example) a Fresnel diffraction pattern of fuzzy concentric circles, something only light makes and that illustrates its real wave/particle nature, is simple, distinctive and timeless.
I hope they take another crack at this, especially if they (the president’s office) have the idea of making everyone use it the way they flog the current seal. They may have the idea that each campus can elaborate it, or use it in its own colors, which is not crazy if we get the logo right in the first place.