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99% Invisible: The brief and tumultuous life of the new UC logo


If you’re not from California, or missed this bit of news, the University of California has a new logo – or, rather, had a new logo. To be more precise they had a new “visual identity system,” which is the kind of entirely accurate but completely wonky description that gets met with sarcastic eye rolls from anyone who isn’t a designer, but there it is. But they don’t have a new logo anymore. Because of a massive public backlash, the UC system actually suspended the monogram while we were reporting this story.

In this episode of 99% Invisible, Cyrus Farivar talks to the Creative Director of the UC Office of the President, Vanessa Correa, who led the team that created this short-lived brand identity and Christopher Simmons, principal of MINE, who waded into the UC logo fight with a brilliant blog post called “Why the UC Rebrand is Better Than You Think.”

One of the factors that contributed to the negative public reaction was that fact that the UC monogram was often depicted side by side with the classic University seal in media reports.

Christopher Simmons argues that this image, and the general ignorance of the press, implied that the UC monogram was replacing the seal. Actually, the seal was not going anywhere, but this fact was not always clear. And even if the text was accurate regarding the logo’s relationship with the seal, the visual language of the juxtaposition cemented people’s expectations instantly. The blog Brand New depicted a more accurate representation of the visual identity evolution.

Another piece of the marketing that misled the public was the University produced video that graphically illustrated some of the design elements in the monogram being pulled out of the seal, followed by the old seal being brushed aside. As a stand-alone statement, the video reinforced a lot of the fears that people had about the new logo and what it might replace.

A fourth generation UC Berkeley alum, Farivar takes a look at the new UC logo and chronicles its tumultuous life and rapid death – and ruminates on the topic of how and when a design should be judged.

Click the audio player above to hear the story. 

This story was originally produced by 99% Invisible

Roman Mars is host and producer of KALW’s 99% Invisible, a short radio show about design and architecture. The 99% Invisible podcast recently peaked at #8 in the iTunes rankings for all podcasts, as well as #1 in both the Arts and Design categories. He is also the host, producer and program director of Public Radio Remix from PRX, a 24-hour, experimental public radio story stream broadcast on XM 123 and public radio stations across the country. He was a founding producer at PRX/NPR’s Snap Judgment and Senior Producer at the Third Coast International Audio Festival.