Established in 1868, Oregon State University (OSU) is an international public research university with more than 31,000 students spread across its main campus in Corvallis, OR, as well as in satellite locations in Bend, Newport, and Portland. It is one of two universities in the U.S. to have Sea-grant, Space-grant, and Sun-grant designations (meaning they specialize in that research and benefit from grants from specialized institutions). The university also benefits from Oregon’s kick-ass natural beauty and surroundings. Last month, OSU introduced a new logo and identity designed by Austin, TX-based Pentagram partner DJ Stout (and team).
The state flag and the fact that OSU had co-opted Oregon’s official identity featured on one side of the flag, and had taken the beaver featured on the other side, as its school mascot lead the Pentagram team down the road of exploring a simpler rendition of the crest for the university’s identity. A new heraldic shield that could hold up in today’s demanding, small-usage situations-like online and mobile phone applications.
The resulting academic crest, created in the spirit of the longstanding tradition of using heraldry as identity for institutions of higher learning, references the complex, dated-looking state crest but simplifies its symbolism to represent Oregon State’s four major grants: Land, Sea, Sun and Space. A lone Douglas fir, the state tree and an Oregon icon featured on the state’s license plates, towers up through the center of the new shield. The tree, a traditional metaphor for knowledge, represents Oregon State’s specialization in the area of forestry. A large book, another traditional symbol for knowledge, straddles the tree and represents the university’s commitment to academic excellence. On the right side of the composition, three stars representing Oregon State’s space grant and its three main campuses, rise in the sky above three peaks representing the Three Sisters mountains located near Bend where the university’s sister institution, Oregon State Cascades, is based. The date of the university’s founding, 1896, is emblazoned across the face of the mountain range.
The old logo was fine, getting the job done with no-fuzz typography and placing all of its emphasis on the acronym, OSU, which would seem like a good idea except that there is a much more famous OSU: Ohio State University. Nearing its 150th anniversary, the university went back to its roots, when it had adopted the state’s seal and flag as its own logo, but is now doing it in its own way.
I have to admit that I was going to be mostly negative about this new logo. It was going to be my last post before the break last week-and-a-half and in that time my opinion has changed significantly. I still have some major execution-related grievances but my original reaction of what-the-hell-is-this-? has waned. Reading the story about how OSU had previously used the state’s crest and then seeing this new interpretation has made me warm up to it as it assembles a couple of established traits — mainly the crest’s funky heart-shaped silhouette and the beaver — plus a cadre of new ones that represent all kinds of local and university-related references. It’s a little confusing, like most crests/seals are, and it’s so rare to see a university change into a crest instead of away from one, but there is something unique and charming about it.
My main complaint is the execution… maybe the idea was to make it clunky like a seal designed in the 1800s but it’s 2017 and Adobe Illustrator has come a long way. The elements of the crest all feel different and unrelated… with the beaver standing out the most, with its thick and thin lines, in contrast to the more blunt drawings below it. The line thicknesses seem to all be different (even if perhaps most of them are the same) and looks like a hodgepodge of stock vector files.
Still… it looks good smallish and kinda cool in t-shirts and totes (as you will see below).
Oh, and the wordmark… Klim Type Foundry’s Newzald… although it feels visually detached from the style of the crest it’s somewhat of a good pairing. And it’s a lovely serif. Perhaps it could use a tiny bit of wider letter-spacing as it starts to get muddled in the sub-brands.
One of the main goals was for the institutional beaver to co-exist with the athletics beaver. I don’t know that I would consider them related more than “I get it, OSU’s animal is a beaver and there is a bookish one for studying and an aggressive one for sports”. There is no real synergy but I don’t think there has to be one, as most U.S. universities’ athletics logos are completely different from their institutional counterparts.
Not much in application… just the crest and wordmark in different sizes on different things. The crest does benefit from being isolated from the wordmark and having its own space. The livery, for example, is oddly convincing… like a modern-day horse and buggy. Overall, I appreciate the conceptual approach but wish the execution were more finessed… while also acknowledging that going with a newly-designed crest is an interesting point of differentiation for the university.