Established in 1982 (although with roots as far back as 1858), the University of Illinois at Chicago (most commonly known as UIC) is the largest university in the Chicago area with over 27,000 students — approximately 61 percent undergraduate and 39 percent graduate and professional — across 15 colleges granting a combined 241 Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees. Additionally, UIC operates the state’s major public medical center and serves as the principal educator of Illinois’ physicians, dentists, pharmacists, nurses and other health-care professionals. This past Fall the university approved a new logo and identity to be implemented this year designed by… wait for it… students from UIC’s School of Design in their Design 440 senior capstone course headed by Cheryl Towler Weese of Studio Blue.
The current UIC brand is the result of a yearlong project undertaken by students and faculty in UIC’s School of Design during the 2013/14 academic year. Students spent two semesters gathering insights into UIC and developing a visual verbal identity system for the university. In all, nearly 200 stakeholders were interviewed during the process to ensure that the new brand accurately represents UIC and its future direction. Once the students completed their designs in May 2014, the Chicago design firm Studio Blue went to work professionalizing the concepts so that campus units have the resources they need to execute the modernized brand.
Chicago is as much a part of UIC as UIC is part of Chicago. In the university’s new logotype and mark, a strong typographic representation emphasizes the fact that UIC is, indeed, Chicago’s public research university. The vertically oriented logotype reflects the city’s dynamism, skyline and diverse population; emphasizing the transformative quality of a first-rate university education for students and of a top-tier research institution for scholars. The UIC mark references the historical Circle Campus and is closely tied to the university’s previous mark, forming a bridge between old and new. The identity system is designed to be stable, yet flexible and versatile.
The previous UIC logo wasn’t much but in its simplicity and ubiquity throughout the city of Chicago and all its publications and ads it was highly recognizable. The new circle mark keeps the same vibe as the old one but, hey, it’s in a circle and it’s a change that almost goes unnoticed. The biggest change is the new sideways wordmark, typeset in Theinhardt by Optimo. It’s quite disconcerting at first. University wordmarks are not set sideways. Ever. Especially not ones with really long names. But it’s the length of the name and that of the words themselves that make this work in a surpassingly compelling way. The first thought is of a skyline and since Chicago has one of the most amazing skylines in the history of skylines, it’s an apt appropriation. Using the UIC circle as the punctuating mark anchors the wordmark with unexpected tension. In less words: this is really good.
The always challenging structuring of colleges and groups and institutions within the university works rather nicely in the sideways system, although the tinted solution is a little weak. The image above reminds me of these responsive logos.
In application things get slightly tame which may not be the most terrible of approaches, letting the sideways typography command all the necessary attention. But even then, there is still some focus missing from the color palette and gradients. Perhaps it will settle with time and use.
So there you have it folks. The age-old question of “Why wasn’t the logo designed by the university’s design students?” finally answered in a positive light. This isn’t the most outstanding university identity… actually, it’s pretty outstanding… the logo is sideways! I guess my point is that it’s not as polished as it could be and the applications are a little undercooked but from research to concept to proposal this is a darn good evolution carried by the students and faculty. I am the first to argue that students and staff should not be designing their school’s identity but this makes me 1% less skeptic about it.
Thanks to Brian Pelsoh for the tip.