We have watched with interest but not surprise at the social media reaction among some students and alumni to the recent introduction of an updated university identity system. As passionate Penn State alumni — who together have decades of experience introducing national and international brand and identity campaigns for public, nonprofit and educational enterprises — we wanted to share our thoughts.
We were both asked to provide input at various stages of development and found the process to be refreshing. The university consulted widely and deeply with many members of the Penn State community, including administration, faculty, alumni, board of trustees leaders and other constituencies. Multiple concepts, including the final, were developed, tested and refined through a rigorous process.
We couldn’t be more pleased with the final, updated identity. And it was something that had to be done.
Nearly three decades old, the existing logo and shield served us well, but it simply no longer met modern digital needs. It has led to a costly and time-consuming process for university entities attempting to work with the antiquated identity system. In fact, some have eliminated it altogether, which has led to a confusing patchwork of logos, color schemes and fonts that do not serve Penn State’s needs.
The new architecture is an important evolution. It does an excellent job communicating the strength of Penn State as a world-class institution by revealing a unique perspective of the Lion Shrine, a symbol known to Penn Staters around the world. We prefer seeing the lion take a more bold and prominent position in the shield. For us, it better reflects the strength of Penn State and our community.
As alumni and veterans of branding and identity campaigns, we certainly understand and respect the love Penn State has for its traditions. Traditions help us maintain our emotional tie to places and things that we love. That’s why any evolution of the university mark is going to elicit strong reactions. We have seen similar charged responses to changes made to other iconic images from Starbucks to Microsoft to the London Olympics.
Penn State also made the right decision to hire a renowned designer who has helped refresh some of the world’s best-known logos, including AT&T, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Touchstone Pictures and Cisco Systems, among others. Some have suggested the university conduct a student design contest, or hold a public vote, but neither is practical or a good way to develop an enduring identity.
A good identity, like this one, will succeed over time. We know this through experience. And we know this because the current university mark was also criticized when it was introduced. Today, people love it and some can’t seem to conceive life without it. When the Intercollegiate Lion face was introduced, many panned it. This fall, it will be worn by thousands of Penn State fans at Beaver Stadium.
So, have patience fellow alumni. Change makes people uncomfortable, and that is natural. This evolution better captures and conveys the pride and confidence of being a Nittany Lion.
And kudos to the university for seeing the need for it, involving hundreds of Penn Staters in the process, and doing it right. Make no mistake, university officials knew they would face intense social media criticism at the outset, but they forged ahead and created a new and dynamic identity system that will serve Penn State well for decades.