I’ve been embroiled in a bit of a kerfuffle (more of a tempest, really) recently. In case you’ve missed it, there is some uproar about a new visual identity for the University of California that my team has designed. While the general public has in large part taken an extremely vitriolic position, I’ve received, too, a lot of comments and support from folks involved in different areas in marketing and design. This came in the electronic post today, and I wanted to share it more broadly.
Rob Duncan is the Creative Director at Dowling | Duncan, a very highly regarded multidisciplinary design firm with offices in San Francisco, New York and London.
Here, then, are his thoughts:
As the Creative Director of branding agency in San Francisco, having worked at Pentagram Design London, San Francisco and at Apple as an Art Director I would like to offer my support in favor of the new University of California identity system. As designers, we know that a brand is much, much bigger than the logo on its own. A logo is just one element of the entire system. The general public do not understand this.
More often than not, the press will put a new logo up against an old logo without any explanation about why it has been designed this way and also without showing any other parts of the identity system. A perfect example of this was when the London Olympics logo was first revealed in the UK. The whole country/world was up in arms about how awful it was. Once the games came around and the public were able to see how well the symbol worked as a flexible device, changing color, with images cropped inside, working on television, and in social media, many of it’s harshest critics (including myself) changed their mind.
When I first saw the new identity system on ‘Brand New’ which is one of the toughest design blogs in terms of criticism and honest opinions it was very favorably written about. I thought is was fresh, creative, inspiring, forward thinking, flexible and above all it was memorable and ownable by UC. It felt Californian. When doing a google image search for University/College logos in America the results are extremely bad. They are generally crests or shields with extremely conservative or collegial (slab serif) typefaces. This new identity stood out and above the crowd to me.
Times have changed now, audiences expect more out of an identity than just a static logo (which many University/College logos are), rules such as ‘does it fax well’, have been replaced with ‘does it work as a twitter icon?’ ‘How does it animate or stay fresh on the screen based devices?’ I think this new logo and identity achieves this very well.
In recent years it has frustrated me with how easy it is for everyone to have an opinion on every piece on design. Yes we need to listen to public opinion and know when it’s wrong and when it’s right. The Gap logo redesign for example was terrible, but this is not terrible, in fact I think it’s very good.
No we don’t need to do consumer testing, it’s the death of creativity. Henry Ford said ‘ If I’d asked the public what they wanted they would have said faster horses’. It’s up to us as designers to push the boundaries, move things on, be creative and tell people what is good design and what the future of design will look like. Steve Jobs was, and Apple still is, a great example of this thinking.
This is one of the freshest and most creative education identity schemes in a country full of boring institution logos. I commend the University of California for doing this and sticking with it. Hopefully this will encourage other designers not to do the standard update-the-crest-and-stick-a-conservative-bit-of-text-next-to-it.
There are countries all over the world, with education institutions many many years older than those in America doing much more creative, modern design. It’s time for designers and the public here to wake up and catch up with the modern world.
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AIGA San Francisco