[Ed.’s Note: This redesign is from early 2009, so I realize I am breaking one of our rules, but I thought this was a very intriguing solution that deserves discussion. — Armin]
Aarhus University (AU), established in 1928, is Denmark’s second largest educational institution and ranked in the top 100 universities worldwide. AU is a lively, modern university, which collaborates with the business community, cultural centres and other universities throughout the world. At the end of 2008, AU underwent a visual identity change in response to a consolidation of the Danish higher education system and to strengthen the University’s international competitiveness, shifting the visual identifier of the University from the traditional seal to a more modern logo as well as updating the design of all paper and web materials and creating a new typographic element.
The design is anchored in modernism, resulting in a distinctly modern, clean and simple design based on the geometric forms square, triangle and circle and identifying with the period in which the University was built. The new visual identity also takes the fundamental meaning of AU’s motto, “solidum petit in profundis”, (“seeking in the depths of the solid ground”) and combines it with a distinct graphical element. The graphical element, called “The Fifth Element” is comprised of a simple geometric, abstract alphabet that also derives its origin from modernism. The new visual identity was developed in cooperation with design agency 1508 A/S and has won silver at the Creative Circle Awards 2009 in the category “Corporate Identity”.
— Paraphrased and translated from AU’s Design Manual
While I am not denying that the University needed a visual update in order to unify the merged institutions, is this design really appropriate for an educational institution? At the time of the makeover, an unofficial poll was taken of 800 people associated with the University including students, staff and lecturers which resulted in 7 out of 10 people showing dislike (PDF, page 2) toward the new visual identity. These negative reactions focused mainly on the new logo and fifth element which people simply did not understand in relation to the university. Other aspects of the redesign such as the new website and updated informational materials were not criticized but praised. The circulation of jokes (about the logo, you figure it out!) and negative comments aimed at this visual identity have reduced in the past year, however, I will not assume this is a reflection of public opinion, but rather a general acceptance that this design will not change.
Without a doubt the University was in need of an updated visual identity, but was the addition of the “fifth element” necessary? Does the new logo represent an educational institution with history and culture? In case these questions can’t be answered there is at least >a great site with all the details on the identity and various other examples of the identity in action.