Higher Ed Branding in The Silver State

Some notable takeaways:

  • Most of the 11 logos are typography-based with little reliance on a graphic or illustrated icon.
  • The use of single-letter icons or monograms is quite prevalent.
  • Typeface usage split primarily between Serif and Sans-Serif.
  • A majority of brands use some shade of blue.
  • A minimal amount of institutions exist in Nevada.

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

The gallery of 11 logos is displayed at the bottom of the page. Let me know what you think on Twitter or LinkedIn!

Mountains

Nevada is certainly known for its mountains. It makes sense to use them in a brand, especially when trying to appeal to residents of the state. The mountain-focused designs to the left are not overly complex illustrations and each communicates different perspectives. The single-colored TMCC logo is very basic in the sense that it is a relatively simple design with no heavy or moderate detailing. It makes sense and likely looks good on all manner of ephemera. It takes a low barrier-for-entry approach. The Desert Research Institute (DRI) absolutely appeals to those that are more science-minded and is fairly balanced with all of its visual elements, be it the detail in the clouds or the initials to the right of them. The asymmetric design of the icon provides for some unique visual interplay and intrigue. The icon has a lot of movement to it. The “ribbons” at the bottom have a tight taper in the center just as they begin to arch out into the bottom-right quadrant which suggests that the illustration of the clouds could use some improvement. I’d love to see different iterations of this icon with different cloud formations, each representing a different department. The SNU logo is very well constructed. It’s contemporary, clean, and clever in its minimalistic rendering of the Tahoe mountains. The well-controlled gradient is also a nice touch. 

Single Letters in Squares

When I was in design school, I once had an instructor who told me “when in doubt about your logo design, wrap it in a box.” Mind you, these are not necessarily cases of design exasperation. These are very deliberate and well-intentioned designs. The University of Nevada and Western Nevada College are not the first institutions to lean heavily into a single-letter brandmark. It’s common in every state. I think what is really worth focusing on is not so much the box or the use of blue but the design of the letters themselves. Using a single letter like they are, you want the design to have some unique features or accents. For example, the downward angled crossbar on the University of Nevada “N” calls a lot of attention to itself because of its proximity to the bottom-left serif creating a tight pocket of negative space. The line density on the second bottom serif also appears slightly thinner than that of the downward crossbar. Nevertheless, this “N” is as close to a regular N as you can get…and trying to make dynamic what is by default not dynamic is less of a challenge in design but brand application. The Western Nevada College “N”, alternatively, is wild to look at. The design, as a whole, is a monogram design: the “W” and “V” merge in a really interesting way. The right-sided stroke of the letter is distracting but in a good way that decodes as the letter “V” but is also distracting. There is more emphasis on the opposing stroke positioned directly in the center. Essentially, for those without an eye for detail, this design is a strange-looking “W.” It takes risks and asks a lot of the viewer to decode and understand, which I appreciate with simple-but-complex designs.

Monograms

The Nevada State College and Touro University-Nevada brands are such a great case study in problem-solving and contrast. The two designs are worlds apart with Nevada State College using a more traditional and serif-focused style and Touru University-Nevada leaning full into a minimalist-contemporary style. Both use the same solution-approach but are rendered completely differently. To me, this calls into mind the reliance on monograms as an institutional branding solution. Personally, I think monograms tend to work better as serifs as the finer details within a serif can make for a really dynamic visual solution when two serif letters are merged. The “NS” absolutely has more personality. The “TU” monogram, however, is just such a mathematically-sound and well-structured solution. I enjoy both and can’t choose one over the other. 

Serifs

Clean serifs with a variety of densities make for compelling visual solutions. You can see in the UNLV logo that each letter was painstakingly analyzed. I would absolutely believe if there were hundreds of versions of this logo that were intensely deliberated. It is well composed and has a strong foundation but also has energy and movement. I find myself really honing in on the negative space between the bottom-left serif in”L” and the bottom right stroke area of the “N.” I’m sure a designer somewhere is cursing that tiny spot of negative space. The College of Southern Nevada uses a very contemporary serif that evokes a sans-serif style with minor serifs to give it a distinctive character that is legible, readable, and doesn’t require too much brain-work to decode. 

San-Serifs

The Sierra Nevada University brand is so well built. It’s visually compelling because it aligns style, visibility, and character up into a single package. While I do have a tendency to gripe about the Tahoe mountain motif obscuring the full form of the letter “U” (and making an incidental “J” stand out slightly more) I’m still a fan of their solution. The Great Basin College is as intriguing as it is refreshing. It’s a really interesting execution. There have been many instances where I don’t suggest using a serif and sans-serif combination in a logo. The styles are too dissimilar at times and make for a lack of visual cohesion and overall confusion. The GBC logo is confusing but refreshing all the same in that you can tell a lot of energy was spent in creating a meaningful graphic solution using the initials. The design, though, appears to be based on starting with a base typeface and then modifying it versus just designing the initials in its own unique typeface.

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