Higher Ed Branding in The Badger State

Looking at the collection of institution logos from Wisconsin, I feel refreshed. The logos in this archive have a diverse range of aesthetic style, design strategy, and icon usage. In consideration of that diverse range, there are few logos that push the boundaries or are influenced by some of the more contemporary logo styles, which makes sense considering the long gaps between rebranding. One of the more intriguing logo solutions belongs to the University of Wisconsin and its satellites – which I share more details on below.

Some notable takeaways:

  • 34 logos are built with serif typefaces
  • 16 logos use red as a primary spot color
  • More icon usage, less logotypes
  • More abstract icons than crests, shields, or campus buildings

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

The gallery of 55 logos is displayed at the bottom of the page. Let me know what you think on Twitter or LinkedIn!

Shields

The shield identities in Wisconsin are fairly diverse in terms of design properties and executions, with the latter ranging from complex to minimalistic. The examples featured here stood out to me. The Madison Area Technical College logo appears to be very well built: clean line work, good composition, engaging typography. It’s a solid merger of two higher education cliches – buildings, and shields. The Northeast Wisconsin Technical College logo skews more abstract but still has a general shield design. The interior white shape creates a unique focal point that is bordered by a subtle blue motif. The typography could have more nuance to it, particularly the bottom line. One of the interesting things I’m finding is that technical school branding is can be a bit more liberated than a traditional university or college, which makes sense given the context of the technical aspect of education. Perhaps entirely because of contrast, I’m really enjoying the Maranatha logo. Its minimalism and color palette evokes some memories of the Army’s branding. I don’t know if that comparison still holds up. It feels very serious but can see how the M can be used in a variety of different applications.  

Books

Books are perhaps the most utilized visual cliche found in higher education branding. It’s an organically understood visual metaphor. You don’t have to fight to define its story and your users don’t have to fight to understand it, much like how they would an entirely abstract icon. These two examples use the book icon is perhaps the most straightforward way: flat, no dimension, single-color, acting as a background for another visual metaphor. While these solutions are probably quite appropriate for their audiences, when seen in comparison to other similar executions, they feel uninspired. The wisdom here is knowing that maybe they don’t need to be more detailed or complex and relative to the amount of time they’ve been used, it may be too late to rebrand because the brand equity is so well developed. 

Abstract

When it comes to branding, tech colleges either have the most fun, least amount of rules, lack of resources, or all the above. The two tech colleges featured here as examples are really intriguing examples of branding. Firstly, they feel very dated, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Duration, longevity, legacy, brand equity…all very important. As visual metaphors, I’m not entirely sure they connect with their brand ideals. The Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College logo is an enclosed design with five triangles and an acronym set in serif type. The title of the school to the immediate right is set in sans-serif. The is dissonance here between the two title elements that communicate inconsistency or a lack of cohesion. The Fox Valley Technical College features an icon that is highly abstract. The icon uses primitive shapes to create a multi-element narrative. I don’t know if the rectangles are supposed to be literal steps, like a staircase, or a path that starts in the foreground and ends in the background. When viewing the icon solution in combination with the tagline “Knowledge that Works” – there is a clear visual-verbal disconnect that creates more dissonance between the tagline and the icon. Simply put, what elements in the icon are visual interpretations of knowledge? The Cardinal Stritch logo, by the way, is just fun to look at. It’s very busy, dare I say hyperactive, but it’s all contained within an enclosed circle which creates a focused and contained experience. I’m sure there are multiple interpretations of this design relative to their brand ideals. With the university being religious-affiliated, the metaphors are probably more clear to folks who practice Catholicism. [Not me!]

Buildings

It wouldn’t be a CommCentered blog post without mentioning campus buildings as logos. The examples featured here cover a range of executions from complex to simple. The Marquette University logo is incredibly detailed. While busy to look at in a smaller scale, it gets points for breaking the square enclosure and leaning into the distinctive characteristics of the top of its building. The blue/yellow color scheme creates some character and drama, the latter of which is apparent in the design of the building itself. The triangular composition [icon/title/title] holds up the icon well. Carroll University’s building uses less detailed line work and more primitive shapes. It does have a fair amount of detail with basic shapes, they just featured less articulation in the linework. They’re also breaking the enclosed shield and the top of the building creates a great entry point into the design. Southwest Wisconsin Technical College is the most basic and primitive of the three. The tight lines created in the negative spaces between each square in the grid create the Scintillating Grid/Herman Grid illusion, which is really annoying in a logo…it’s hard on the eyes and lacks focus. If some of the squares were removed, it would possibly weaken the illusion and make it more inviting to look at. 

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