Higher Ed Brand Identity: Pennsylvania

by | Jan 4, 2021 | Branding, Graphic Design, Logos

Let’s take a look at logos in the Keystone State.

As a graphic designer, one of the most challenging and fun projects to work on is a brand identity project. The challenge of creating an identity for an organization, person, or product, also carries with it great risk. If you don’t get it right -absolutely perfect- the first time, you may not have any opportunities after its release to change the design. When it comes to branding an institution of learning, the challenge, the risk, and the rewards are very real. In my experience, many institutions hire out their branding work to advertising agencies or design studios, be they nationally, locally, or regionally located. They spend huge amounts of money on getting this work just right. I’m not entirely aware or familiar with any institutions that sourced their brand identity from within with their in-house teams. I’d love to talk to those people. If you know of any, let me know.

When I’m designing a new branding system for a client, I measure the quality and potential success of the design on a variety of technical and emotional parameters. Technical include the scalability or size variation potential, optimal color contrast, style, and aesthetics, among others. Emotional parameters include solving the core identity problem identified in a detailed creative strategy and telling a powerful brand story with emotional resonance and impact. When these few parameters are in alignment, that’s when you know you’ve got a solid brand solution.

Some notable takeaways:

  • 46 out of 128 logos contained the color or variation of red. (~35%)
  • 93 out of 128 logos use serif-styled typography. (~72%)

The highlighted brands below were designs that stuck with me on both technical and emotional levels. The gallery of 100+ logos is displayed at the bottom of the page. Let me know what you think on Twitter or LinkedIn!


As I said earlier, solving a brand identity problem in an optimal way is challenging and sometimes requires risk. This design incorporates a single piano key motif and repeats it into the form of the letter C. The design of the motif, though, creates a lot of appeal through the appearance of moving, which makes sense given that music is action and feeling wrapped into one singular design. This solution is both metaphorical, conceptual, and practically executed. I’d love to see this come to life with some really vibrant and engaging colors or even create a piano piece out of certain keys, if possible, like Milton Glaser’s LaGuardia High School brand identity. 



Without a doubt, the Hussian College logo zigs where every other higher ed logo in Pennsylvania zags. This abstract, multi-color design uses simple geometry to create the form of a lowercase “h” and sits atop an approachable rounded sans-serif typeface. The color palette is inviting, friendly, but not too bright or distracting, which basically means this color palette decision process was likely a very intensive ordeal. Overall, less is more. It is more conceptual than metaphorical at first glance, but a logo doesn’t have to be both simultaneously in order to stand out from the crowd.

Campus Buildings

You know a logo represents a higher ed institution if there is a building in it. Generally, I’m fine with campus buildings being featured in brand identity designs. Identifying a sense of place in a solution creates a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality amongst current students and alums. Moreso, placemaking as a recruitment tactic is important. Institutions are deeply tethered to their location in the world in order to cultivate appeal to prospective students. Where you go and what you do there is important. W&J’s logo stands out to me because it serves the strategic need to identify the character of campus through place and does so by connecting to the two towers with a bridge effectively creating a “W” shape. For what it’s worth, I didn’t even look at or register the vertically composed “college” type at the end, which means the graphic symbol really pulls a lot of attention. 


First impressions are critical. My first impression of this design was that this college had a different way of thinking about things – as represented by the abstract symbol. According to their brand guidelines, “Moravian College is the past, present, and future of higher education. Our brand reflects our revolutionary spirit—always evolving and leading the way toward meaningful change.” I feel that my impression of this design was apt, though not fully clarified, relative to their brand statement. Abstraction is a risk with brand identity design. It takes time for an abstract logo to really take hold. But their risk here is tempered through the control of their color palette. A series of variations on blue creates good contrast while also maintaining playful movement and reinforcing character. It’s good, atypical work. 


I grew up and presently live in the service area of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. This brand is everywhere. It works everywhere it is placed, too: on clothing, on-campus banners, on digital media, wherever. The design of the type has a distinctive blockiness that creates meaningful movement from letter to letter by way of the openness of the strokes. There are a few other institutions that have a similar feel, like Temple University and Robert Morris University, though both rely on pairing their full institution names with the type-based icon.