The University of Rochester (U of R) is omnipresent in Rochester, New York. The venerable name stretches across a private research university, a hospital system and music school, to say nothing of the organization's deep philanthropic roots.
What follows is a From The Hip case study aimed at redesigning and improving the current University of Rochester’s logo symbolism and streamlining its graphic elements for improved legibility. The solutions in this case study present an easily read, contemporary logo system for the U of R and its affiliates. The logo designs and marketing strategies presented here are the property of Insomniac Studios.
The current University of Rochester logo was adapted from the university's seal in 2007. Since it's introduction in 1851, the seal has undergone three revisions. In 1928, the university introduced a version of the seal that closely resembles the 1986 modern revision in use today. The current logo co-opts all of the seal's major graphic elements: a shield, a banner, the university's Latin motto, it's founding year, the university's name and three encircled icons.
On the shield, three icons highlight the university's core disciplines: a book (knowledge), a lyre or harp (music) and caduceus, or serpent-entwined winged staff (medicine). The university's official motto, the Latin word meliora, which translates to always better, appears on a yellow banner which horizontally divides the shield into two blue fields. The upper field includes the book and lyre icons, while the lower field is reserved for the winged staff icon. The shield is outlined in a yellow double border. The university's founding year, 1850, appears in yellow in a gap in the border at the shield's top.
The current University of Rochester logo is visually busy. Presumably because the logo was developed from the seal, the logo sports several superfluous graphic details and icons.
The current logo's striking similarity to the university's seal makes it feel redundant rather than serve to further a cohesive and consistent visual identity. Essentially, the current University of Rochester logo does double duty as a forward-facing second seal.
The type in the current University of Rochester logo creates several unique visual issues. Typically, a second and distinctively different typeface is used to distinguish between typographic elements, should that much type be necessary. In the current logo, the same typeface (Garamond), is used for the university name, motto and founding year. Pairing the smaller, bold type in the word 'university' against the regular-weight type in the larger 'Rochester' causes the two words to appear close to the same weight. Adding the motto 'meliora' in the same typeface, same color and same capital letters as the university name confuses the natural start of the text and creates visual uncertainty. Because of the western tradition of reading left to right and top to bottom, placing the motto to the left of and in relative horizontal alignment to the university name causes the viewer's eye to recalibrate the text's visual starting point further left than is intended. This greatly interferes with the logo's legibility.
The current University of Rochester logo is not symbolic; it is pictographic. It contains icons, but these elements are so many and so overt that the logo's meaning is required to be derived from the parts of its sum, rather than the sum of its parts.
A logo should serve as symbol for a person, company or organization. It's elements should have relevance to the organization, but remain vague enough that the logo's audience is able to overlay their own emotional interpretation on it. The relationship between the logo's visual ambiguity and the audience's experience and emotional participation with it is key to establishing a brand. Think Nike's swoosh, McDonald's golden arches or Apple's, um, apple. An organization owns its logo, but the public owns the brand.
The current logo's overwhelmingly didactic and literal visual information takes brand ownership away from the viewer, and, from a place of authority, instructs its audience on what it is and how it is to be treated. This removes important brand-building symbolic vagary in favor of dogmatic edict. The current university logo ceases to be a symbol and becomes, well, a sign.
In considering the University of Rochester logo revision case study, Insomniac Studios sought to remedy the following issues affecting the current logo:
Improve logo legibility and clarity
Distance the logo from the seal
Reduce the number of graphic elements
Streamline and contemporize logo aesthetics
Strengthen logo symbolism
Pay homage to organization's history, seal and current logo
Many of the current logo's elements--the colors, shield, circles, border and the serif typeface--return, albeit modified, in the revised concept. Noticeably absent are the icons, founding year, motto and banner.
The traditional shield element is replaced with an equilateral shield-like shape. The unique shape, and position of the white circles within, allow the shape to rotate 120 degrees in any direction and appear as it did before the rotation. Visually, this serves no purpose. Symbolically, it de-emphasizes the organizational hierarchy of the book, lyre and staff icons, and therefore, the hierarchy of the university, music school and medical divisions within the University of Rochester. Conversely, the empty rings permit the viewing public to project onto the logo the whichever division of the university they are familiar.
Each ring symbolically, rather than overtly, represents each of the university's three divisions. The empty rings, by virtue of being empty, are free to be given context either with the university-defined symbolism or the viewing public's perceived symbolism. Because no prescribed icon occupies each enclosure, the University of Rochester is free to expand into new business avenues or to grandfather in previously existing businesses that, by virtue of the previous literal icons, were ostensibly omitted from the logo. The three rings, in conjunction with equilateral shield shape, come together to form a secular trinity; symbolically representing knowledge, the arts and medicine.
By visually including less, the revised logo symbolically includes more.
From The Hip Case Studies
From the Hip case studies are thought-provoking, what-if explorations of a concept or theme. They do not represent a contract or partnership with the entities, real or fictitious, presented in this section. The designs presented here are property of Insomniac Studios.
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The designs presented here are the property of Insomniac Studios and its clients. If you like the thinking behind this logo design project and would like to put it to work for your company or organization, contact Insomniac Studios.