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.