An in-house team at University of California introduced a new system-wide brand and identity this month.

The old UC logo, dating back to the 1800s, provided a basis for the new monogram.

The design team outlined the profile of the book and rounded the bottom edge.

Here’s the new monogram.

“The monogram is but one piece of a visual ecosystem that replaces a hodgepodge of different symbols, typefaces, and colors with a coherent, consistent package,” says UC Creative Director Vanessa Correa.

The monogram is a logo, but it can also be applied as a pattern, a contour, and a framing device for photos.

Its vagueness is its strength--anything more detailed would get in the way of the pastel and neon textures that make the identity “boldy Californian,” in the words of the school.

“It’s meant to be scalable, flexible, dynamic, and adaptable; something that would let us talk to our diverse audiences while maintaining recognizability,” says Correa.

Co.Design

University Of California Rebrands Itself With Surfer Charm

An in-house team at UC unveiled a radical new visual identity this month.

Over the past decade, the fiscal crisis of higher education has unfolded across the University of California system. And when a school has lost many millions of dollars in state funding, engineering a new identity might not be the first issue on the list. Or even the hundredth. Yet the UC system has introduced a sweeping new rebranding this month, engineered by an eight-person team and led by the school’s creative director, Vanessa Correa, and art director, Kirill Mazin.

How did graphic design get the attention of UC’s administrators during a time of fiscal crisis? Back in 2010, they asked Correa to come up with a piece of visual collateral that would help them make their case to then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. She designed a data-driven book that was presented to the governor at a roundtable meeting. The discussion led to the restoration of $305 million in funding to UC.

It was a huge victory--of which the book was only a small part, of course--but it gave credence to Correa’s belief that good design could have a tangible effect on the school’s prospects. “[It] softened the ground for the more holistic change we were envisioning, and helped everyone understand the power of design for social engagement and change,” she tells Co.Design.

A coherent UC brand seemed like a logical next step. “Our unit was formed with the express purpose of improving the university’s ability to tell its stories,” says Correa, who was principal of her own studio in Chicago before moving west. “How can we make them intelligible and relevant to the public?” UC is a hub not only for groundbreaking research, but for the Bay Area’s burgeoning startup scene. The identity would need to reflect all of that.

In the 140-odd years since it was founded, the school has relied on its seal, an open book above a script reading “let there be light,” which appears in thousands of fractious versions all over the University’s 10 campuses. The design team started by pulling out the profile of the book and rounding the bottom edge, creating a monogram that functions as the new logo. “The monogram is but one piece of a visual ecosystem that replaces a hodgepodge of different symbols, typefaces, and colors with a coherent, consistent package,” Correa says.

The monogram is a logo, but it can also be applied as a pattern, a contour, and a framing device for photos (which, yes, look like they came from a Lomo). Its vagueness is its strength--anything more detailed would get in the way of the pastel and neon textures that animate the identity. It is "boldly Californian,” in the words of the school. “It’s meant to be scalable, flexible, dynamic, and adaptable; something that would let us talk to our diverse audiences while maintaining recognizability,” Correa adds.

Does the brand give up some of its legacy in the exchange between 19th-century seal and 21st-century Photoshop gradients? Maybe. But take a look at Onward California, its sleek new fundraising site--with its snappy Vimeo videos and Twitter and Facebook integration--and you’ll see why UC is interested in breaking with the past. Correa (who is a Pinterest power user with more than 500,000 followers) understands the value of relating UC to California’s contemporary reputation as a hub for startups and tech innovation, which she says has had "a strong impact on the visual landscape here in California."

UC, and higher education in general, is in a crisis that far eclipses the scope of branding. But as universities are forced to depend more heavily on fundraising and development, how they present themselves to the public is becoming increasingly important.

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83 Comments

  • Jerome Fishkin Cal '65

     Looks like the heath rating card on a restaurant.  Too bad my alma mater
    only got an average.  Perhaps it can do better in the next quarter. 
    Jerome Fishkin Cal '65.

  • CalBear

    "Surfer charm" shouldn't be the feeling that we want to evoke when one thinks of the University of California. A fine logo for putting on flip flops and tote bags. A totally inappropriate logo for a system of major universities that drive serious work that benefits society.

  • Evji108

    This logo design fails both symbolically and visually to tell a story about the University, nor does it say anything about its mission. It is a non-symbol, devoid of visual or symbolic content.  It looks like they tried way to hard to get away from the old one and in the process arrived at nothing at all.
     "Let There Be Light" is not a religious sentiment, it is about the light of knowledge versus the darkness of ignorance. It's a noble sentiment and why these people would want to literally (in the film) brush it aside is very odd indeed.

  • Artemis Gordon

    Somebody has gotten lost in their own communications rhetoric... Enhancing the brand; enabling it to work in multiple formats, mediums and applications is absolutely necessary, and laudable. (And they're right; the Seal is not a logo or logotype). But this, uh, thing, hasn't an ounce of what makes this university the greatest public institution of learning in the world. It makes no promise, sets no bars, invites no exploration. Makes no statement. Has no dignity. Good lord, it's utterly indecipherable. And hell, even the colors are wrong; chartreuse is no substitute for California Gold...

  • duncangraham

    After reading the other comments, It seems like this whole campaign was poorly managed. 
    A costly invention of a new "surfer" logo/imagery in times of budget cuts and tuition hikes is an awful idea. Rather than strengthening the brand admins have negatively affected it by effectively communicating, "Our priorities are with our image, rather than our substance".The University of Maryland went through a similar ordeal a few years ago: http://www.nbcwashington.com/n...

  • TheEconomist79

    (Yes... I know that the seal isn't being done away with, but the new "modern logo" is horrible. It's served just fine on media and is completely recognizable.)

    http://i.imgur.com/UxzfO.gif

    It's making me more angry by the moment! I understand the reasoning behind having a "new, fresh, unified" logo. This logo is certainly new. It's also horrible. It looks like a "loading" icon; as in it is only half-finished.

    It Is just plain bad, and I am truly saddened that this was the choice that was made.

    I have three degrees from the UC system: BA, MA and PhD; and this logo looks like something my daughter would come up with while drawing with her crayons. What's the message? What's the vision? Seriously! An unrecognizable "U" and a half-written "c" that prints BADLY in black and white? Common. Seriously UC admin... you can do better.

  • NotQuiteThere

    I think the essence of the re-branding is in the right direction... And I'm glad the UC system understands that tomorrow's society will be drastically different than today's... and I think the re-branding is an effort to address the shift to the digital age.  Unfortunately, the brand they ended up choosing does look like a newborn chimp drew it.

  • X_marx

    The logo is terrible. What's worse, though, is this completely uncritical article. It demonstrates no independent thought or evaluation, and reads like ad copy for the designers or propaganda for the UC. At the very least, you could have solicited feedback from any of the tens of thousands of people affiliated with the UC System--you know, the ones who this logo is meant to represent.

  • Evilsnowflake

    This is not the worst thing the UC system has ever done, but it's still wildly insulting and a waste of time and resources. I would go so far as to call it demoralizing to hear that our University system is making a joke of itself during finals week. 

    Here's hoping you figure out a way to back this up, UC folk, and undo it as opposed to discrediting your own students, who seem to very heartily detest this dumbass 'modernizing' idea.

  • Guest

    Please no, I am a senior at UCB and I came to this school, I applied for schools in the UC because I valued the academics and opportunities of their institutions. I chose to attend Berkeley because of it's stature and it's legacy. I am proud of it's history. I identify with the seal which is embedded into campus architecture and I like that it has a history, a sense of officialness.

    I do not want to be represented in any way with a logo that reminds me of all of the endless "marketing" strategies employed by online universities and minor institutions in desperate need of decent students practically begging me to just submit an application. I do not want my institution to be associated with an image of desperation, of noobness, instead of the importance and history of it's contributions to the world.

    I've worked/interned in government before and worked on campaigns. Prestige, history, legacy, and legitimacy carry much more weight than a pretty design. Pretty designs are treated with suspicion and doubt as they usually convey that they are trying to avoid giving you actual content.

  • AngryAlumnus

    This design is truly horrible. My friends at the University of Washington are mocking us. It looks like a toilet flushing. I hope that my daughter's diploma is not affixed with this abomination when she graduates next year.

    As long as this logo remains, UC will not see another dime from me. And I have given tens of thousands of dollars in the past two years alone.

  • taylor

    As a UC Davis alumnus and current UC law student, I think the new logo ruins the image of the University of California as a respectable institution. This makes the UC look like a new, online unaccredited school. Please do not change the logo.

  • Guest

     I refuse to let myself be related to something this disgusting. Successful campaign or not, Vanessa, you botched it on the logo. We so need an initiative in the next election to revert this.

  • QueTico

    The saddest part is, your author was THOROUGHLY DUPED by the UC press people and Vanessa herself. The governors office CLEARLY STATED that a bullshit, ugly book designed by this hack was NOT the reason money got restored to the UC system in 2010. Just because the UC says it's true and designer wants to grab unwarranted credit, does not mean you should go around posting UNVERIFIED AND UNVERIFIABLE FACTS!!!! If you had kept up with the REAL problems at the UC (not its fake "branding" problems), you would be able to write a critical and well-researched article.

    AND I QUOTE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES: “Those protests on the U.C. campuses were the tipping point,” the governor’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, said in an interview after the speech. “Our university system is going to get the support it deserves.”

  • Concerned

    This looks like absolute crap, and not only that, it is forgettable. It will be outdated in a year, and then you'll just have to come up with some other trendy design that looks like it belongs on some dating site. 

  • John Holland

    If you look at the linkedin profiles of the designers, they're not brand identity specialists, and it shows.

    Designing a brand identity is a very rigorous and complicated process. Obviously, these team did not know what they were doing. It was unfair to ask this team to work on this project. The University should have hired a real brand identity firm.

  • mike mike

    I hope the author of this piece is getting the mental counseling they surely need after dealing with the trauma of being forced to write positively against their will 
    about that horrible new logo.