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"Your Logo Looks Like a Toilet"

Visual branding magnifies the truths about your organization -- good and bad. Here are three lessons from one organization's missteps.

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When the University of California introduced a new logo last year to unify its 10 distinct campuses, the effort was met first with public disinterest, then ire, then outright revolt.

The modern, corporate logo was never meant to replace the venerable UC crest on diplomas or most other external documents. Yet, some 54,000 students and alumni signed a petition to "Stop the new UC logo" within months.

Haters took to Facebook and Twitter to mock the design. They debated whether the logo looked more like a toilet, a Swedish roll cake, or a nuclear bomb. Then, in early January, UC officials officially suspended their use of what some called 'University Corporation' branding. Just like that, the potty logo was flushed.

So, what can we learn from the UC's visual branding stumble?

1. Even a Good Logo Cannot Create Cohesion.
Graphic design--no matter how brilliant or evocative (of which the UC branding image was neither)--cannot create cohesion where there is none. The UC system tried to encapsulate a loose collection of unique and sometimes rivaling universities--the hippies of Santa Cruz, the preppies of Westwood, and the astrophysicist nerds of Berkeley--under a single visual identity. Bad idea, says Fast Company and Wiredwriter Mary Catherine O'Connor in her blog "Teachable Moment: The University of California's Logo Debacle."

2. Invite Users to Contribute--Or Invite Disaster.
You cannot escape social media. In the University of California's case, a Facebook campaign launched by a few angry graduates six months after the logo's introduction was almost solely responsible for its demise. Had the university used social media to engage students and alumni from the outset, involve them in the branding conversation, and communicate its motives for undertaking the project, the end result may have been quite different, argues Sarah Sloat in the Pacific Standard.

3. Not Everything Is a Job for Design.
Want to communicate a new mission, initiative, or brand? Logos are no longer the solution. Other media can better show (vs. tell) your constituents how you can change their lives. A good example: Levi's convened a series of community-based workshops that gave consumers the opportunity to learn creative skills for free. The company then showcased the best results of their efforts online, to the benefit of the brand.

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Last updated: Jul 24, 2013

THE BUILD NETWORK STAFF

The Build Network staff curates provocative, actionable leadership advice for executive teams running sustained-growth companies.




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