Please refer to Insights Incite Change Style Guide to get an overview of what I am talking about.

A few days ago I found the Insights Incite Change Style Guide webpage for Syracuse University. I was temporarily thrilled, for as an alumnus of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications I could not wait to experience a new visual transformation of my alma mater.

My excitement, sadly, lasted only seconds.

As I immersed myself into the contents of the site I was instantly shocked, and then, greatly disappointed with what I was forced to haggle with. I had not even seen the visual details of the project and I was already being thrown the line “…to help apply the… brand in print and online environments.” Brands do not need to be applied. These are born out of a good research and intelligent use. A brand is not a thing that can be placed. It’s a system that grows, shrinks and adapts as needed for its success.

After I clicked on the style guide link, only to find a sophomoric application of the seal, dated and sterile typography, hard to read emblems, restrictive and unnecessary placement strategies, color choices that limit all possibilities for play in a plural university and a clip-artish illustration style that reflects nothing of the school’s history and legacy. The campaign has barely left the ground and these stylistic decisions are already dated.

Let’s just consider typography for a brief moment. What are you saying with Franklin Gothic? Do you know that using this typeface dates the identity instantly?

Robert Bringhurst, typographic historian, wrote “…most, though not all, of the unserifed types of the nineteenth century were dark, coarse and tightly closed. These characteristics are still obvious in faces like Helvetica and Franklin Gothic, despite the weight-reductions and other refinements worked on them over the years. These faces are cultural souvenirs of some of the bleakest days of the Industrial Revolution.”

Is Syracuse University this kind of souvenir? Does it want to be?

I am realistic and I understand that the university has been struggling for many years to find its ideal visual identity. Remember the Orangemen and Orangewomen? But I do not believe the answer lies in superficial facelifts. Contemporary cultural entities have realized the answer to a good brand does not reside in logos, emblems or their use. It relies on research, history and a systematic adaptable visual representation that can grow with the institution as it moves on ahead into the next decades.

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4 Responses to Insights Incite Change Style Guide

  1. Justin Hastings says:

    Alberto

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Needless to say, I was very disappointed while viewing their style guide and subsequent “adaptations” of a new SU look and feel.

    The new use of the seal is embarrassing, to say the least. Some of the color choices (two differing oranges) are headscratchers. And the legibility of certain elements, is, well, nonexistent.

    Coming from the Newhouse school, one that boasts to be one of best institutions of COMMUNICATION in the world, I’m ashamed to see these visual treatments.

    Syracuse University deserves a brand that is sleek and modern, yet aware of its own history. Sadly, this new brand does neither.

    Hopefully, some improvements can be made and a better brand can be reborn.

  2. jamie says:

    can someone explain to me why the only people who are highlighted on the Newhouse mural art are writers? Um…I think we have broadcasters and photographers too. Bah. That school makes me itch sometimes.

    Good job Alberto! The logo was horrendous and the seal with the orange “S” “U” was painful. PAINful.

  3. Lisa says:

    First off, who just highlights two letters on the official seal of an institution in color? I swear I convulsed when I saw it. It’s something straight out of the “What NOT to do with an official seal book” (If there is such a thing. Maybe even the principle of respect?) If they want to “jazz up” the seal, take the time to fully redesign it and not just gloss over it with color for a “modern” touch.

    And speaking of modernity, don’t you think that by the time this is all put up and implemented, it will look dated? ( I couldn’t agree with you more Berto). Sleek new buildings. Chunky old logo. This is not what SU should put forth as their identity.

  4. Chad says:

    So…..

    I saw an interation of this design on an invitation and thought “ok, at least their trying.”

    Much to my damn dismay, this is what they base an ENTIRE identity of one of the most widely seen universities in the country?

    Two oranges? The “logo” is the name? They illude to using large type only to cut off half the letters with stupid color bars?

    Guys, we ALL did this type of shit 4 years ago in class.

    And really? Did they HAVE to use the “letter spacing” button in InDesign to make the “S Y A C U S E U N I V E R S I T Y”?

    I can’t even imagine the money they pumped into this horse apple.

    But hey, at least Futura is alive and well….

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