Alma Mater's Redesign

My alma mater (George Washington University) recently hired two very expensive firms to redesign its logo and "visual identity." The new design features sans-serif font and a digital portrait of George Washington. A vast majority of students and alums (like myself) dislike it, while the school's administration loves it. What are your thoughts on the redesign (and use of sans-serif), everyone?

Links to new look:

Here's the old look:

Nick Shinn's picture

Wow, "THE GEORGE”, “WASHINGTON” and “UNIVERSITY” have the same number of letters!

hrant's picture

To me that "W" is ruining everything. Also they seem to have made no effort to balance the densities of the three lines. Ergo: it looks cheap, not expensive.

Nick: Are you thinking they should've used Panoptica? :-)


John Hudson's picture

Where I come from 'The George' would be the name of a pub. My mind automatically punctuates this as 'The George, Washington University'.

Any branding firm worth its salt would have ditched the 'The'. Even the article is inconsistent in its naming of the institution: 'George Washington University Unveils New Visual Identity ', and William and, I suspect, most other students and alumni simply refer to it as George Washington University.

JamesM's picture

> A vast majority of students and alums (like myself) dislike it...

I used to do design work for a large university. Students and alumni develop a nostalgic fondness for the university's logo and changes can create a strong negative reaction. I respect your opinion and can see why you like the old logo, but an initial negative reaction is common and doesn't necessarily mean that the change is bad in the long run.

No matter what the administration says, the new logo wasn't designed for the alumni or current students anyway. It's designed for the kids in high school who are considering attending your university. When they went to your website on their iPads and saw the old logo, it created an impression (fairly or unfairly) of a behind-the-times university. There is fierce competition for students and the administration believed the old logo was hurting more than helping.

> very expensive firms

I'm sure they were, but people often don't realize the vast amount of work that goes into redesigning a university's identity system. They think you just make a few sketches and you're done. Actually you've got endless meetings with university committees that can't agree on anything, tons of research, redesign after redesign, plus you're not just designing a logo, you're also redesigning their publications, website, signage, vehicle graphics, etc. It's a HUGE amount of work.

As for the logo itself, I can't say that I love it, and I understand your fondness for the old one, but if their goal was to create a more contemporary logo they succeeded.

Nick Shinn's picture

Hrant, you read my mind perfectly!
(I must have been thinking in Legato.)

This kind of squared-off layout, typified by Peretz Rosenbaum’s renaming of self as Paul Rand in the early 1930s, is quintessentially Early Modern, producing a neat, reductive, geometric layout element while not yet accomodating the High Modern sophistication of ragged setting and full asymmetry.

A symbol for training people to think inside the box?

The monochrome image of Washington is more “airbrushed” than “digital”.

… the old, dated logo … created an impression of a behind-the-times university.

Yes, I imagine that the rationale would have been: Keeping the squared-off layout provides brand continuity, and switching to a sans updates.

Joshua Langman's picture

Well, since you asked, yes, I liked the old branding much better. The typography seems much more sophisticated, and I really like the fact that they went to the trouble of producing a "woodcut" version of the portrait for B&W uses. However, without seeing the standards manual for the new branding, it's not really a fair comparison. What does the "digital" portrait look like in B&W? What supplemental typefaces are meant to go with the new logo? The new campaign seems to involve mixing blocky sans serif caps with a classical italic (Hoefler?) for emphasis, which is an interesting nod to the classical typography of the pervious branding. Maybe, if the quote in the article about how "each department had its own identity" is true, all they needed to do was actually read the existing standards guide.

hrant's picture

James, although I agree that engaging prospective students is very important, you can't ignore the people who are already on the inside, because you want to leverage their pride. Also you most certainly shouldn't ignore alumni since a lot of money and connections come from there - in fact apparently the chairman of FutureBrand (that co-created the new identity) is an alumnus!


JamesM's picture

> you can't ignore the people who are already on the inside

I agree, and ideally you want students to love the new logo.

But if they don't, they may grumble but they are unlikely to leave because of it. But high school students may indeed decide not to attend if the university's old logo -- along with the look of the publications and website -- creates the wrong image.

> shouldn't ignore alumni since a lot of money
> and connections come from there

Totally agree. Alumni are extremely important.

But you can't run a university without displeasing alumni sometimes. Tear down a cherished (but outdated) building and there will be howls of protests from alumni. Fire the coach and some alumni will never donate another penny. Heck, I even saw an alumni go ballistic because an old tree that he loved was cut down. You can't please everyone. Sometimes alumni offices have to smooth ruffled feathers.

hrant's picture

they are unlikely to leave

But they (at least some of them) are likely to under-perform. Same for people who work there.

You can't please everyone.

So true!


Bert Vanderveen's picture

I have seen worse, far worse… And I have seen better, a lot better. It is already dated on the day it was presented — it is the look that the Obama campaign of 2008 launched. And even he and his advisers have turned away from that, right?

If one of the designers is an alumnus, the place must have had a terrible graphic design faculty when he was there.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I second James’ words of wisdom. However, I don’t see how that portrait could appeal to “kids in high school”.

aluminum's picture

"If one of the designers is an alumnus, the place must have had a terrible graphic design faculty when he was there."

Or it was design by committee. Even the most brilliant designer can be foiled by a process involving committee approvals.

Nick Shinn's picture

Frode, continuing the Obama ’08 theme:

JamesM's picture

That's great, Nick!

John Hudson's picture

Nick, you need the slogan: 'Oligarchy we can believe in'.

zeno333's picture

As was already mentioned, the "W" is all wrong...It is as if they could not find a "proper W" so they put something else in...That's how it looks. And that stern angry face on George is not good at alll..The old face was pretty bad, but the new face is worse....It's like he is angry or something.....

bartd's picture

It may be just me, but I'd say UNIVERSITY is in need of some kerning.

russellm's picture

The 'new portrait' of George is hideous.

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