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A mature expression of freedom follows the discernment between desire and need. It follows then that liberty must follow education, not the other way around.

The University of Waterloo’s New Logo

UWs new marketing logo

UW's new marketing logo

So, there’s been a lot of buzz about the proposed new logo for UW, but I haven’t written anything substantial about it because for a long time I didn’t hear anything about the university’s response to the outcry.

Recently, I came upon a Facebook video of UW’s Meg Beckel explaining all of the expensive research that went into developing UW’s change of image. The main defense of the logo change was that research showed that the university associates itself with such terms as:

  • Innovative
  • Creative
  • Courageous
  • Connected
  • Critical-thinking
  • Unconventional
  • Risk-taking
  • Collaborative

…while a survey of outsiders associated the following with UW’s current marketing logo:

  • old
  • staunchy
  • uppity
  • royal
  • imperialistic
  • academic
  • rugby/athletic
  • ancient
  • smart
  • boring
  • passive
  • proud
  • mythological
  • hard
  • formal
  • old fashioned
  • Harry Potter/British

First of all, the univerity should applaud their target audience for their innovative/creative/unconventional/risk-taking use of the word staunchy. Also, as a student, I would have replaced collaborative with relentlessly competitive in the university’s list, but the first list of adjectives otherwise does a good job of representing the university’s self-image. I am somewhat skeptical of the second list. Not that those adjectives were made up, but I’m willing to bet that they were hand-picked from a very young sample space.

Anyway, the argument is the following: “we want to be associated with the first list, but right now we’re associated with the second list”. Combining the above evidence with this argument is misleading. The second list of adjectives is based on people’s first impression of our logo, not their overall impression based on the reputation and marketing they’ve experienced from UW. It’s entirely possible that most people already associate UW with most of the adjectives in List #1. I am sure that surveying young people’s impression of most Ontario university’s largely classic and traditional marketing logos would yeild similar associations, which brings me to my next point.

While I agree that UW should strive to market itself according to how it wants to be perceived, the issue of being an exciting, innovative place should be subordinate to the issue of being a prestigious university. If I were a parent or youth considering UW, I would first want to know that it is a post-graduate institution of high repute, then I would concern myself with its goals, look, and feel. Using a marketing logo that makes UW look like an 80s night club undermines the first and more important concern.

Another argument made in the video can be summed up as follows: “it’s okay to have a flashy and tacky marketing logo because we’ll still use a classic logo for ceremonies such as graduation and certification”. As a student, I am much more concerned with the marketing logo that my university employs. The marketing logo will represent to others what type of institution I attend. The ceremonial logo will collect dust along with the accompanying text on my degree certificate.

Following the marketing/ceremonial argument, Beckel goes on to show how the new logo will be branded for faculties and institutes, which is nice, but shows nothing about the flexibility of the logo itself. In the brandings, the logo is the same, but the faculty/institute is written in a particular colour beneath. This marketing strategy can, of course, be applied to any logo, including the current coat of arms. In fact, the coat of arms is sufficiently simple to dye the logo itself a different colour for reach faculty and institute making the effect more dramatic and memorable. Many people have also complained that purple was not used for engineering; personally, as an engineering student, I don’t care, but I can appreciate that others do.

The next part of the video is perhaps the most laughable. The university practically underscores the complaint of students by putting the new logo up against the marketing logo of other universities. With the exception of the University of Windsor, all the other logos are slightly modified, still classy revisions of the ceremonial logo. UW’s? Still rockin’ the 80s night club look.

In conclusion, I would like to make it clear that this discussion is not intended as an attack on UW or its marketing team. As a student, I appreciate all the hard work that they do; I simply wanted to convey why I feel they happen to be way off-base with this particular decision. The need to convey a prestigious university as hip and exciting should be subordinate to the need to convey it as a prestigious university. I just wish UW’s marketing team had considered this hierarchy of concern in designing a new visual identity for the school.

The rumour is that the marketing plan is too far along to change the logo now, which is perhaps what I find the most disappointing. Why on earth did the university pump so much money into surveying prospective students, alumni, and other target markets for selecting a logo without consulting the students whose institutional identity will be affected? I wish I could say this is the first time UW found a way to put students last in their agenda, but unfortunately it’s not. More on that another day.

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