The old and new logos of the University of California.

Modern UC logo withdrawn in face of controversy

Published: Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1A

In a promotional video, a hand sweeps away the University of California's traditional logo – the one with an open book and "Let there be light" motto – and replaces it with a version featuring a "C" swish inside a tall block "U."

The video suggests the 144-year-old university system is embarking on a fresh, clean look for the modern era.

Students and alumni instead saw anything from a tulip to a toilet, complaining online for the past week that the image was not dignified enough for the state's elite academic institutions.

On Friday, the UC Office of the President responded to public criticism, announcing it would suspend the new logo because the controversy had become a "major distraction."

In announcing the decision, UC Senior Vice President for External Relations Daniel M. Dooley offered a multiparagraph defense, suggesting the university community never understood that the new "monogram" was not intended to replace the traditional seal, but rather to exist on systemwide communications, especially websites where the old logo did not display as well. The long-standing – and apparently well-loved – seal was always to remain on paper documents such as diplomas and office letterhead where a more dignified look was necessary, he said.

"The controversy has been fueled in large part by an unfortunate and false narrative, which framed the matter as an either-or choice between a venerated UC seal and a newly designed monogram," Dooley wrote.

Students and alumni cheered their victory Friday the same way they had complained – on Facebook and Twitter – all the while calling it a win for democracy.

"Just on an aesthetic level, the new logo didn't appeal to me," said Katerina Mesesan, 21, a UC Irvine senior, in a phone interview. "But what really interested me was how much students were upset and jumped onto the petition."

Mesesan, who is active in student government, lamented that students and alumni have been less quick in recent years to coalesce against tuition hikes.

In a mere seven days, 54,384 people signed an online petition at asking the powers that be to "stop the UC logo." That number is roughly equal to the number of students at UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara combined.

Even Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom took up the cause célèbre, asking followers on Twitter to sign the petition while calling the new logo a "disaster" and an "unfortunate gaffe." In a letter (topped with the traditional California seal), Newsom asked UC President Mark Yudof to pull the UC logo. Newsom graduated from Santa Clara University but sits on the Board of Regents.

"Power of the people!" he said Friday on Twitter.

The new logo actually emerged about a year ago as part of UC's "Onward California" campaign to highlight the system's contributions to the state, said UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein. It has subsequently appeared on systemwide communications.

A news article by the Bay Area News Group last week appears to have sparked the online fire that led to the logo's demise. The story included a graphic showing the two logos side by side, and critics took to their keyboards.

Klein said an in-house design team of 11 employees designed the logo over several months. She could not quantify exactly how many hours had gone into it, saying the team created the logo alongside other work.

In a Twitter post, UC Creative Director Vanessa Correa appeared to lament the decision to pull the logo. Responding to another poster who criticized the decision, Correa wrote, "Lame and really, really sad for the design industry."

Correa, whose team oversaw the logo project, declined to comment to a reporter Friday.

Any UC logo is bound to evoke strong feelings because students and alumni have such a personal connection to their university, said Steve Fong, creative director for Sacramento communications firm Runyon Saltzman & Einhorn.

Fong said the UC stir prompted staff conversations about other prominent logo shifts. He noted how Starbucks has gradually shifted from its words-and-mermaid image to its current logo that features a larger mermaid without the company's name. Microsoft Windows and Apple have done similar progressions, always bearing some resemblance to the original.

"It was surprising when I first saw it," Fong said of UC's new logo. "It was such a dramatic departure. Usually when you change a logo that has been around so long, you do evolutions of it."

While UC officials stressed they intended to use different logos for different purposes, Fong said that is often a mistake.

"Any time you deal with a logo, you want to have one strong, clean mark that represents everything," he said. "Having two logos sounds like a bad idea."

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