Higher Ed Branding in The Sunflower State

It’s always a cool experience to visit colleges and universities in another state and see how they implement the various brand applications. I had a great opportunity to speak at a conference at Pittsburg State University in 2018 and when I was there the red and gold gorilla was everywhere! Having had that exposure, I was curious to see what the other Higher Ed brands from Kansas looked like in comparison to PSU. Take a look at my note and insights below and let me know what you think! 

Oh – and special thanks to Rion Hufman for inviting me to speak at the GCEA Social Shift conference!

Some notable takeaways:

  • 32 identities use serif typography
  • A surprising amount of logos use sans-serif, which is great to see.
  • A trending use of red freshens up the overall color palette used across the identities in the state
  • Overall, Kansas displays a lot of design diversity and range

The highlighted brands below were designs that stood out to me.

The gallery of 56 logos is displayed at the bottom of the page. Let me know what you think on Twitter or LinkedIn!

Abstract Icons

There are few truly abstract brands coming from Kansas. What they do have covers a range of styles. The Pinnacle Career Institute solution is really interesting to me in that it feels like sports brand Adidas. I have no doubt that is a frequent comparison they receive. It’s not a bad comparison, either, unless you’re focusing on the different demographics then that is a different story entirely. They’ve rebranded since their logo was initially archived. Take a look:

Same design, new color, new type – but the immediate comparison to Adidas is removed a bit. The Pinnacle logo is the only one I found in Kansas that utilizes basic geometric shapes. 

The Salina Tech icon is also very abstract and very fluid. There is a lot of movement in the icon though the focal point tends to remain in the center-right of the design with the two larger red squares. It stands out from other logos in the Kansas archive because of its distinct qualities. The tight negative spaces between the shapes within the icon create some visual tension and scalability issues. 

Johnson County Community College also uses basic ‘leaf’ shapes set on top of one another with either an opacity drop or overlay filter. The bottom leaf with the open-fill is a unique choice that creates a lot of attention but not enough to win over the competition created with the yellow and green leaves, the brightest elements in the design. I have a sense of what the visual metaphor could be. I’m curious if this is inspired by the ‘Sunflower’ in their state nickname.

Mascots

Mascots can be so much fun. Especially when they are crafted with care. Conforming to the standards of good design helps augment typically detail-intensive mascot brands. Pittsburg State is balancing subtlety and detail with a smart two-color solution using positive shapes and negative space to create the image. As an enclosed brand, it’s also going to work in a variety of applications, color schemes, and more without fear of foreground-background contrast issues. Cowley College has a really interesting mascot design – a side-profile of a tiger. The pointed triangular details make for a visually kinetic design. However, the number of details within the tiger design reduces focal point capabilities. The letter “C” is not particularly noticeable but evident enough to connect to the title of the college. Fort Hays State University’s mascot, interestingly enough, is also a tiger. It has a very direct and aggressive tone, which is apt for sports. I really am inspired by the use of white as the primary color of the linework. Utilizing a black fill with white strokes in coordination with the details and the overall facial expression of the tiger just creates an engaging image. I’d wear this on a shirt. 

Campus Buildings

There are not as many campus building brands in Kansas as you’d think, at least, in comparison to other states. Only five were archived. The three featured to the left are each in a different style, ranging from minimalist to detailed to dramatic. The Southwestern College logo utilizes a minimalist approach with basic rectangles and a triangle. The downside to this execution is that (without considering the local/regional cultural awareness) it feels homogenous, it could literally be a campus building at any campus anywhere. This frankly could be said for nearly all campus building logos, though. The typography in the Southwestern College logo is very purposely composed with some of the serifs of each letter blending into the letter next to it. Kansas Wesleyan fits the typical trend of overly-detailed campus building logos. Scalability is obviously a concern. As an icon, though, it is well built and features a comfortable symmetry. The negative spaces between each shape element at a larger scale may create some focal point issues or optical illusions, but at this scale, it’s just large enough to break down each element and understand the icon as a whole. Unlike other campus building icons, the Sterling College solution is not flat! It’s dramatic, has character, creates intrigue. By rendering this building form a 3/4 angle you get to literally see a different side to it and the perspective (figuratively and literally) is appreciated. The danger though with icons such as this is that the negative elements can be so small they become obscured and break the holistic composition of the icon. If you look at the inset windows in the design, you’ll see they aren’t as effective. Furthermore, if you remove them to maintain the overall integrity of the design, it may feel like it’s missing something – so it’s a double-edged sword situation: remove elements, lose character. maintain elements, compromise interpretation.

Logotypes

Kansas loves serif-type treatments. But, they also utilize slab-serifs and sans-serifs, but not in as high a number. Most of the logotypes from Kansas are fully justified block solutions, which are common and frankly expected. I’m focusing on these two solutions because they deviate from the standard or trending. Washburn University has a very delicately composed and compelling solution. The kerning is tighter, the W and R have unique exaggerations, the baseline shift is evident, and “university” rests comfortably within the descending W and R. It’s a great solution. The Kansas State University solution is more representative of many of the other logotypes in the state: block-justified, all caps/small caps, and a thin horizontal line separating the name of the university. There are many variations on this style theme, but the basic components occur frequently through the archive. I chose KSU because I love their use of purple and it stood out from the rest of the logotypes. 

Take a look at the brands below and share your thoughts with us on Twitter! #CommCentered