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New, simpler UC logo draws derision

This image shows the old logo of the University of California, left, with the new logo. The university's original logo — with its open book, 1868 date stamp and "Let there be light" script — will still be in circulation, appearing on president's letters and official university documents. But marketing materials and websites will feature a radically simple and more contemporary symbol: a little "C" nesting inside a shield-shaped "U." AP photo

By
From page A1 | December 12, 2012 |

By Carolyn Jones

Since 1868, the University of California’s motto has been “Let there be light.” Now the university’s new logo is bringing plenty of heat.

Critics have compared the recently unveiled logo — a yellow, half-realized “C” inside a stylized blue “U” — to a napkin doodle, a bidet or a banana label. One online commenter said it “looks like it’s still loading.”

The logo would be appropriate for “a shady online startup, not one of the top universities in the world,” said Jacob Horn, a medical recruiter in Arcata and a Berkeley native who is among 40,000 signers of an online petition asking UC to scrap the new logo. “It devalues the university totally. If they had done even a little research, they would have found that people don’t like it.”

And like it, they don’t. From the fields of Davis to the beaches of San Diego, students, alumni and staff have resoundingly voiced their disapproval.

The gist of the complaints is that the logo resembles a corporate brand and is a symbol of the university’s continued trek toward privatization.

“It is everything our school is against. Might as well have slapped a McDonald’s ‘M’ on top of it,” Sheila Lam of Berkeley wrote on the petition. “It looks so corporate, and it looks cheap.”

But the logo is not pervasive, and if it looks like a corporate brand, well, that’s the reality in which the university finds itself, said Steve Montiel, media relations director for the university president’s office.

“We’ve seen $900 million in cuts over the last four years,” Montiel said. “We need to reach out directly to the people of California with a simple, creative, flexible logo that symbolizes the university as a whole and how it affects their lives.”

For more than a century, diplomas, acceptance letters and a multitude of other official UC paraphernalia have been emblazoned with the traditional “Let there be light” seal, a circle around an open book illuminated by a shining star.

That logo isn’t going anywhere. It will still adorn diplomas and other UC documents, Montiel said.

But about a year ago, the university’s communications office found the seal had too many details and small print to reproduce well on small screens, such as the smartphones and tablets favored by prospective students.

The university also saw a need for a logo that would appeal to those who are not necessarily affiliated with UC as a way to drum up support for the entire system — not just its 10 campuses, but also its medical centers, agriculture projects, laboratories and research centers.

The new logo, created in-house at minimal public expense, Montiel said, was vetted among prospective students, parents, alumni and some of the chancellors, and is the result of much effort and consideration, he said.

About six months ago, the new logo started appearing on the UC admissions website. No one complained. But then a news story brought it to the public’s attention last week, and the boom landed.

“There’s been a brushfire of opinion,” Montiel said. “It’s not surprising that people feel passionately about this. We are paying attention to the feedback. We are listening.”

But UC has no plans to drop the new logo, he said.

The logo has several versions, but the one most widely circulated shows a blue U shape, topped with a silhouette of an open book. At the bottom of the U is a yellow block C fading into the blue.

Mark Fox, a graphic design professor at California College of the Arts who designed that school’s logo and has done work for UC in the past, panned the new effort.

“The visual language is generic, commercial and utterly forgettable,” he said. “It is a complete mismatch for the university’s history and reputation. (It) has no visual or conceptual gravitas.”

A good logo should be distinct and memorable, create positive associations, reflect well on the company and work easily and inexpensively in all media, he said.

“The new UC logo,” Fox said, “fails in most of the above criteria.”

— Reach Carolyn Jones at carolynjones@sfchronicle.com

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