Established in 1898, Northeastern University is a private research university in Boston, MA, offering undergraduate and graduate programs across more than 50 departments to approximately 18,000 undergraduate students and 8,000 graduate students. It offers a robust experiential learning program, or “co-op”, through more than 3,100 businesses and organizations across the world that offer its students the opportunity to work and learn in real-world scenarios. Recently, Northeastern University introduced a new identity designed by Boston-based Upstatement.
Rather than create something entirely from scratch, we started by hitting the books — scouring the library and Northeastern archives for the graphic roots of the school. We discovered some unique and compelling elements to build on in the history seals, typography and athletics. We started with the seal and its hand-drawn typography from the 1930s, working outwards to define a typographic and expressive system. We worked with Jesse Ragan to craft a new nameplate to anchor a new, flexible brand architecture system. And then expanded that work to develop a custom typeface, Speare, that the school can own for years to come.
We redrew Northeastern’s iconic seal for legibility and balance, and elevated key elements to expand their brand across platforms, departments, and contexts.
The old logo was fine — it could have stayed that way for another 50 years and no one would have complained but it’s always nice to see a thoughtful evolution for these kind of seal+serif university logos. The new seal is a major improvement, keeping most of the elements but making them all more readable, discernible, and enjoyable. The new wordmark, refined in collaboration with Jesse Ragan, is excellent. A simple, traditional, bold serif that doesn’t try to be trendy or cool or clever. The “U” might be a little wide but that would be the only complaint.
Apart from the primary logo that contains the seal and wordmark — both of which can be used on their own — there are three additional identity elements — the motto (which means “Light, Truth, Courage”), an “N”, and a type ring — that can also be used on their own or in combination. All of them are crisp and elegant and I like how each is very different: the motto is a stacked sans serif sitting on curves, the “N” is a high contrast serif, and the ring is full-on type-on-a-circle. The “N” with the motto (or with the wordmark in some cases too) is a pretty nice combination.
The custom font looks great. The uppercase letters are too wide for my taste but that, in no way, means they are wrong or bad — just personal preference.
I love a good university sub-brand system and this one has a strong and useful mix of serif and sans serif, nicely accented by the seal or “N”.
The applications have a great variety to them, with the different elements taking center stage at different times. The big “N” works so well no matter what you throw at it.
Overall, a very solid redesign that maintains the legacy of the seal and the old logo — which means alumni and student emotions are kept in check and no change.org petitions are issued — while introducing a novel set of elements that add variety and a modest sense of novelty.