Ewww… ick! Dep’t

The new logo for the University of California ought to be on a line of discount paper products.

The administrators of the University of California, currently presiding over its decline from being the world’s greatest university system to being a collection of very good public universities, no longer trying to compete with the best of the privates, seem to have had enough spare time and free resources to mess with the university logo.

You can guess which of the two images below goes with UC’s glorious past, and which represents its mediocre future.

Here’s the Change.org petition to tell them to stop.

I’d note that if the project had been turned over to the University’s own faculty and students – some of whom are brilliant graphic designers – we might have gotten something interesting. But you can tell from the product it was done by an “in-house design team.” (Could have been worse, I suppose: they could have paid a ton of money to some “branding” consultant instead.)


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

37 thoughts on “Ewww… ick! Dep’t”

  1. Thanks for bring this to my attention. Signed the petition.

    As a Cal alum I have to wonder who decided “Let there be light” was out of date?

    1. What’s wrong with “fiat lux”? Especially with the recent Harry Potter craze for latinate imprecations, it is more fun (and less obviously religious, come to that, at least to my mind) than “let there be light”.

      1. Boy, oh, boy. As a UCLA alum, I can visualize the veritable antics and back flips going on in the ivory towers of academia. Since too few current students can read at the level necessary to grasp the original seal and its motto, and because it was designed by “old white boys,” it’s time to come up with a yellow scrawl, rampant, on a blue shield. Here we are. We’ve gone from utter clarity to muddle. Voila, success. What’s next on the agenda?

  2. It’s a small thing, to be sure, but I think it emblematic both of the university’s larger problems and as an explanation of why UC is in trouble. The university has a large administrator class that lives in its own taxpayer funded bubble. With everything facing the university at this critical time and with money being so short on the academic side, the idea that somebody spent time and money on this is simply appalling.

    There’s too much wrong with the administrative side of the university and I include the Regents who have allowed tremendous increases in the number and compensation of administrators in that harsh assessment. We need to radically change hiring and compensation of administrators and we need to prune out a considerable amount of deadwood. A good place to start would be with the idiot who approved this travesty.

    Seriously, Jerry Brown needs to turn up the heat on the Board of Regents. He needs to make some replacements and he needs to start calling in individual regents to stress how much is at stake and what needs to be done. Also, that useless collection of weeines called the “Academic Senate” might want to take a short break from chablis swilling and CV padding and take some stands on stuff like this. Again, a good place to start would be to demand the head of the fool who green-lighted this atrocity.

    1. The only redeeming thing about the new logo is the claim that they didn’t spend money to create it, that it comes from an in-house design team.

      Of course, that cuts both ways: it means that they have an in-house graphic design team, whom they pay salaries to come up with new graphic designs. This already seems a bit dubious (how often do they need new graphic designs? what sort of work does this team normally do, and for whom?). Worse, they task this team with inanities like this one, and the result is this terribly insipid.

      I’m betting somehow that they didn’t even consider seeking designs from the art faculties of their several campuses, no few of whose members are doubtless excellent at precisely this sort of thing, and might have been proud to volunteer their efforts. Lord knows, the art professors could hardly have done worse than this “disappearing C”, which is one of the worst logo designs I’ve seen lately.

  3. I’m sure it’ll look great as a flash pop-up in their online courses. I’m just reading Neuromancer for the first time and boy was Gibson prescient on the creepy, hollow side of high tech business. The logo looks cheap and fake as any of the new online degree mills.

  4. As an alum, this really angers me. UC is the best university system in the US, and, despite its problems, remains an example of what a public university system can be. UC needs to own that legacy, to be proud of it, and to build on it. This sad, little logo–with the C fading away into nothingness–is not how one owns one’s legacy. It makes UC look like a diploma mill in Orlando.

  5. All I know is that the two founders of the University of California who graduated from my alma mater, then called Franklin College, would not be amused.

    That’s not a “C” but rather a spiral ramp leading into the blue depths of despair and irrelevance and oblivion. Won’t be any more signs that say “Parking Reserved for Nobel Laureate” like those I still see in Berkeley during my periodic visits…And that is a goddamn sin and a shame, as my late grandmother would have put it (without the modifier).

  6. The fact that it is, essentially, Ouroboros re-imagined as a gaudy, commercial, hyper-modernist penis, is so spot-on that if it were parody I would decry it as cheap and obvious.

  7. Although I only graduated from the humble UC, Irvine, I have many relatives who are old blues. All I can wonder is WTF was the marketing arm thinking? It is fuggly I’m the truest sense of that word. Either stay Witt the tried and true or develop something truly enlightened.

  8. As a twice UC alunmus, this new possibility is awful in so many ways! Unrecognizable, diminishing, THE WORST I could ever imagine…please prevent this from happening!!

  9. I think there probably is a truth in advertising sort of rationale for this … Oregon has a law about how many members of the “original” band you need to tour under the band’s name. Since running one of the planet’s biggest gulags is chewing up all the money and killing the old UC system, maybe it’s good that the logo change, provided that the new one appear on degrees and such, kind of as a caveat emptor to the prospective employers.

      1. clearly right. I’m not local enough to catch the reference. I agree that it is all the more powerful!

  10. I signed the petition, and left this comment: “I have no dog in this fight as I have never attended a UC, and not being in the 1%, never will. However, I can not stand idly by and let such an artistic travesty unfold.”

  11. I don’t think “keeping up with the Joneses” of US academia is a worthwhile use of state taxpayer money. I also find the UC faculty to be rapacious. Not in because of any demands for higher and higher salaries, but for their demands that they be allowed to teach less and less for the same money. This is directly to the detriment of students in huge classes taught instead by adjuncts and graduate students, two more groups the tender faculty show an appalling lack of solidarity with.

    1. I don’t know where you live, Igloo, but here on planet Earth faculty are struggling to avoid teaching more for less money. Enrollments go up, faculty lines go unfilled, faculty salaries stay flat. If you don’t want classes taught by adjuncts or graduate students, then hire faculty to keep pace with enrollments.

  12. That particular logo is terrible, but I understand why UF formalized a simpler signature a few years ago. The old seals were never designed to be legible/recognizable where a lot of logos now have to go, and if you don’t set guidelines then people make up their own (terrible) logos or just shrink the seal down to where it’s totally illegible.

    I actually think this turned out well for UF because their identity guidelines ensured a more reliable and dignified look in all the contexts people need it in.

  13. Everybody on this thread should keep their priorities straight. The new logo looks a lot better on a football helmet or a basketball jersey. And what else could be important?

    1. I hadn’t thought of that, but Ebenezer may be right about the motive — what looks good and memorable to a national football audience when the camera zooms in on the offensive line?

    2. Cute – and definitely not unprecedented, my undergraduate alma mater the Univ. of Washington redid its logos a few years back in order to be able to sell memorabilia to their fans all over again, or something (the logos were of fairly similar levels of complexity. I preferred the old ones, FWIW).

      On the other hand, there is no such thing as a football or basketball team for the whole University of California system, and the individual UC schools that do think long and hard about marketing their sports memorabilia already have simplified logos for the purpose.

  14. Oh, but they are paying ‘branding consultants’. am acquainted with person hired to do photography. Just wait!

    I find it astounding that they felt the need to do this now, when they could be hiring more professors. As a Cal grad, I am flummoxed at someone thinking this was a great idea.

  15. My grandfather – an old Bruin, but a Bruin none the less asked “Is it a tampon pregnancy test all wrapped up in one?”

  16. Hmm, my SO liked the moving one: A swirling test-tube with a book atop it. I don’t know if I could un-see that one.

  17. I dunno. It’s got a stylized U and C. The U conjures the images of a test tube with a book at the top (in fact the book top is nearly identical the book in the old seal) and the C looks like a current within the tube suggesting some activity is happening.

    The icon vectorizes easily and isn’t big as a bitmap meaning their website will load faster for people on lower-speed connections, supporting the idea that the UC is for everyone.

    The old one is a seal. It was designed for the days of wax seals and rubber stamps. It’s very dated. And let’s not mention that ‘Let there be light’ is technically a biblical reference (albeit a very benign one IMO) but it may not appeal to everyone.

    All in all, I think it’s pretty clever bit of graphic design. Regardless, it seems like a silly thing to get bent out of shape about. Judging books by their covers and all that…

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