Higher Ed Branding in The Old Dominion

Vermont’s population is under one million people, nearing 640,000. It is a small state. But, despite its population, it still has 17 higher ed institutions. The brand marks representing these institutions fall within the typical trends you see in Higher Ed, although there are two solutions that stand out from the rest, listed below.

Some notable takeaways:

  • 58 of 90 use serif typefaces.
  • Red is the most common spot color (28 logos) with blue coming up second.
  • A wide array of logo solutions, though a surprising amount of them are just logotypes.

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

The gallery of 90 logos is displayed at the bottom of the page. Let me know what you think on Twitter or LinkedIn!

Logotypes

It can be quite a confusing experience to have three logos from three different universities within the same state and markets looking very similar to one another. Such is the case with the Sweet Briar College, University of Lynchburg, and Radford University logos. Each design is a well-composed logotype. In particular, the descending “R” in “Briar” and the word “of” before Lynchburg create personality and intrigue in an otherwise straightforward type composition. Radford takes no risks with embellishments or emphasizing characteristics. Are the three different shades of red enough to differentiate them in the minds of prospective students? Is it easy to confused Lynchburg with Radford?

Monograms

Virginia has few monogram solutions. The Virginia Union University and Bridgewater College logo designs stood out to me, though. The primary difference between both designs is the typeface style (serif vs. sans-serif) and perhaps more importantly the legibility. For example, someone looking at the VUU logo my struggle to interpret it clearly as the “Stem” of the U’s (within the V enclosure) don’t contrast well and create a singular shape, forcing the viewer to look at the negative space created by the vertex of the V (where both stems meet) and the stems of the U’s. The Bridgewater College logo is much more minimal and subsequently more clear, though it lacks in personality and feels more like a common monogram solution than something really unique. 

Abstract

Virginia does not have a lot of abstract branding solutions. What few that it has though makes up for the overall lack of them. The logos to the left represent the more interesting abstract solutions. Southwest Virginia Community College uses a bird motif combined with what I presume to be flames from a torch. There are a few noticeable logos within Virginia that do use bird motifs, this one is by far the most engaging. I think this icon would be better paired with a sans-serif. Reynolds Community College has a very minimalist approach, stripping down its icon to its most basic fundamental shapes. I don’t know the genesis behind the design, but its visual-verbal connectivity isn’t connecting. I don’t know what this is a visual metaphor of. It is confusing.  Camp Community College has a lot of energy and movement. It creates engagement through its kinetic lines that overlap and bleed off into the void. The overlapping lines do create some visual noise/confusion that may deter someone from looking at the design for longer than a second.

Hills

By far, the use of hills is the most prevalent concept direction or motif choice for higher ed logos in Virginia. It’s quite surprising how many of them there are, despite the hills of Virginia being a staple to the identity of the state itself. The logos to the left all use triangles (fitting) and not necessarily different ways that help each institution define itself from the rest of the pack…with the exception of Virginia Highlands Community College, of course. Ironically, it is the community colleges that are leaning into the concept of the hills the most.  Newport University’s logo is perhaps influenced by the hills, but the overall solution feels lacking for a university. Mountain Empire Community College’s solution is a nice execution overall. 

Campus Buildings

The selected logos featured on the left are unique amongst the campus building logos within the state. The University of Mary Washington introduces a three-quarter angle that creates depth and motion but also a sense of anticipation. Nestled comfortably within the columns, the type layout integrates really well to make an overall solid design. I can imagine the designers struggled with placement to get this just right. The University of Virginia’s logo is just as intriguing but for different reasons: its color, flatness, and near-diagrammatic approach make it more than just a logo. The design mixes straight lines with a single curve that offers subtle shape contrast while also making that curve have more emphasis like it’s a critical and necessary part of the design. UV’s type treatment is wild. The serif on the “f” of “of” blends right into the other type. It’s simultaneously hard to read but unique enough to be interpreted as intentional – and invested in to read out the whole title. Randolph-Macon College’s campus building design has a lot of detail, but it’s the heavy shadow that creates a lot of interest and drama. Set in front of a yellow background, you can feel the beginning of a narrative with this design – what it is is up to the viewer, but it may be something like “the foundation for a better tomorrow/future/career, etc.”