Before I start I’d like to note that this article contains information about the redesign mixed with my own personal opinion all in one beautiful logo stew. If you’d like to read an article that keeps opinion at bay I recommend you check out this article from our friends over at the Argus first.
So Wesleyan got a new logo. You’ve probably heard about it. You probably also saw the all-school email President Michael Roth sent out where he described the redesign as, “Putting forward Wesleyan’s best self.” Needless to say, there weren’t many around who would agree it achieved that goal.
This redesign is so big there’s no clear place to start. So maybe we can start by noting how Roth told the school in the state of the school address that he doesn’t consider it a logo.
Not a rebranding, not a logo
On Friday, September 21st during the state of the school address Roth was asked about the newly announced logo and redesign, more specifically how he can justify it. The first thing he told the crowd was that “rebranding is not the right name for it”.
He went on to tell us, “I don’t think it’s a logo… I don’t think we should have a logo.” The thing is, I don’t know what to call this then. I hesitate to call it a crest or coat of arms for that implies some level of history that this new thing simply lacks. It’s definitely something and logo seems to be the closest word to describe it.
There’s a strong sentiment that it feels like the logo one might find on a for-profit university or online university. You know, those great institutions that definitely don’t take large sums of money from people in return of a virtually worthless diploma. It follows the style of a college devoid of history. And although the crest we know and love with its classic five scallop shells was only created in the 1950’s it was taken directly from the family coat of arms of our founder John Wesley.
If nothing else, the old crest holds an aesthetic style indicative of tradition. Look at our friends in the Little Three (Williams and Amherst), they seem to understand the value of tradition with their classic seals and crests. Wesleyan, on the other hand, redesigned their logo/crest/whatever-you-want-to-call-it into, as the Wesleyan Groundhog described it, that of “An ambitious tech startup.” It feels as if we’re trying to rebrand as some hip and cool (even woke if I may) cooperation. It’s okay, Wesleyan, to be who you are.
Did someone say $1,000,000?
I’ll come back to the weirdness of the whole rebrand later, but let’s take a moment now to actually look at what is probably the most important issue with this whole rebrand: the cost. To run the rebranding Wesleyan hired the ambiguously described “branding, strategy, and creative communications” firm Lipman Hearne.
The firm boasts 700+ institutions helped, $31B raised, and 52 years of service. They also brag a clientele with institutions including Cornell University, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The firm prides itself in specializing in education. In their own words, “We’ve worked with educational institutions of every size and scope. We’ve delivered on boosting enrollment, engaging donors, and reinvigorating institutional brands.” This sounds exactly like the quest Roth and the school administration were trying to fulfill, at least as it was relayed to us at the state of the school address. Sounds perfect. What we’re left to mitigate however is the cost.
The administration, as in most if not all schools, didn’t release any information on the price they paid for this redesign. However, we can gain some information from Southern Illinois University who hired Lipman Hearne to complete a similar type of rebranding as Wesleyan.
According to their campus publication, the Daily Egyptian, their original contract with the firm was for $1.5 million. A generous estimate for the amount Wesleyan paid, therefore, would be $1 million. With all the issues we are faced with as a student body here on campus like an underfunded CAPS, an underfunded theater department, and a continuing commitment to a need-aware admission policy just to name a few, it seems like a bit of a slap in the face to find out the school dropped $1M on some new logos and website.
A more in-depth article will come soon detailing where this money may have been better spent. The question asked at the state of the school address remains, however: how can we justify this spending?
How? How is it possible that none of us knew about this?
And although the spending would appear to be the biggest issue worth taking with this new branding another point worth looking at, and one that seems emblematic of the administration itself, is that nobody (or at least almost nobody) heard of this development until the day it was announced.
According to our brand new “Core Messaging” page “[Lipman Hearne] conducted in-person interviews as well as surveys and focus groups of thousands of current students, parents, faculty, and staff; prospective students and parents; and alumni.” So apparently “thousands” of people were asked about this and yet somehow not a single student on campus seems to like the redesign. It’d be interesting to see what questions were asked and how that was translated into the final decision that was made.
If the school had made this decision to rebrand a little bit more public before the process was complete, and there was actually some real student input, perhaps there wouldn’t have been such a kickback when it was announced. As Wesleyan students this brand is representing us. As alums it will continue to represent us.
The fact that we had virtually no input on our own public representation seems strange to say the least. Right now it feels as if the administration and the office of admissions decided they wanted something new and just built that based off what’s most appealing to seniors in high school who may apply.
Rumblings about Lipman Hearne
According to the Daily Egyptian’s article that came out of Southern Illinois University, the school didn’t have a great track record with Lipman Hearne, citing that they weren’t seeing great returns from the firm.
The university’s board secretary had this to say about the firm’s lack in creativity and failure to drive results, “I’ve seen some of that creative work – billboards that say ‘brain meet heart at SIU’ and I fail to see much creativity in that,” Lowery said. “I haven’t seen anything that seems to implement students to come here. … I don’t think [the firm] has performed. I think they’ve sat in Chicago and decided ‘oh, we can do this.”
The quote seems reflective of the redesigns and rebrand we’ve received here at Wesleyan. The creativity seems lacking. We went from a fine, maybe boring, .edu website with a crest that served its purpose, to one that makes you feel as if you’re about to start your online degree.
It is worth keeping in mind this is the only public criticism I could find of the firm but it’s an interesting one, and one that feels already very familiar.
Will anything change?
Roth in his state of the school claimed he was open to hearing feedback and reassured the school that nothing is set in stone yet. Maybe there’s an opportunity for change, but with the work and money that’s supposedly been put into this, it would be surprising if anything actually got changed. An online petition against the new logo was created and as of right now it has more than 2,000 signatures.
At the base of it what’s lacking in this redesign is
transparency. An argument going around is that people should be out getting mad about things that actually matter, not just the picture that represents the school. The thing is however that the logo and rebrand is a massive change fraught with all the issues we’ve been seeing in the administration over the past few years.
The fact that this happened the way it did tells us about the way we as students exist in the eyes of the administration.
If you’re going to spend a million on a new logo you’d hope that people are at least behind it.
An idea that could have made this better
I’d like to finish by offering this idea: why couldn’t a student or a group of students have designed Wesleyan’s new visual brand?
Lipman Hearne could have done all their research which I’m sure is valuable to the school, but imagine how powerful it would have been if it was students who got to take that data and create the logo. Money could have been exchanged in the form of a grant or an internship or job. It wouldn’t have been an easy task, but neither are senior theses for example.
This is a school filled with incredibly talented students and talented artists. I’m sure many of them could have made something the student body would have been proud to stand behind. If the school wants to rebrand behind the message of “bravery”, that would have been actual bravery.
Links worth checking out:
- Our Director of Editorial Content Strategy & Creation, Christian Camerota, Wesleyan blog post “Wesleyan Launches New Home Page”
- Wesleyan’s Visual Style Guide
- The new “Be Brave” admissions microsite (the video on this page is something else and I’ll have an article up for it soon)
- A cached version of our old website so you can remember the beauty of what it was before (plus it’s the Wes traditions page so you can look at the old crest too).
- The new “Core Messaging” page with info on the new redesign.
Full text of Roth’s all school email:
Last week, our home page featured a photo of new faculty welcomed to Wesleyan. An image of both change and continuity. Today, our home page looks and feels different. This redesign is one piece of a broad effort, incorporating input from all our university constituencies, to capture Wesleyan’s “best self.”
Unguarded curiosity, a drive to activate good ideas in the world, seeking to understand and attend to our role in the greater good – these are enduring Wesleyan characteristics. They describe the people, the programs, the projects that make us a courageous community doing such vital work. And they deserve to be shared in ways that are both authentic and impactful today, and will continue to be into the future. This is what this core messaging effort is about, and we are confident that our new communications strategies are going to do it.
From a new suite of Admission materials (see the microsite here) launched this summer to the new home page today and a new academic seal and University word mark; with a redesigned magazine, new signage and Athletics marks coming over the next 12 months—how we represent Wesleyan in image and word is changing. It’s an exciting process that many faculty, students, alumni and staff have had a significant hand in already; it’s an important, ongoing process that we will all be part of going forward.
Over the coming year, these new visual elements and messaging will be incorporated across the university. We look forward to your help in bringing them fully to life. If you want to find out more, please see the core messaging website or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with further questions.
Michael S. Roth
Senior Vice President for External Relations