Justified Juror Comments: University of California Branding

In 2013, for “Justified: AIGA Design Competition,” a distinguished jury chaired by Clement Mok selected 14 case studies that each serve as an effective tool to explain the role of designers in conceiving and implementing solutions.

The following are individual jurors’ comments on the selection “Case Study: University of California Branding.” To view all 14 selected works, visit: aiga.org/justified-2013-selections/

Jessica Hische 300x200

Jessica Hische, letterer and procrastiworker, Title Case, San Francisco, California

This is such an adventurous rebrand for a university, it’s impossible not to commend them for it. It’s easy for an institution steeped in tradition to see baby steps as a more suitable move in a brand refresh, but they made a bold move to completely reposition the university.

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Brad Johnson, VP, executive creative director, Second Story (now part of SapientNitro), Portland, Oregon

I wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding this project until reviewing the design in the context of this competition, which catalyzed a lot of spirited discussion amongst the jurors. What I found most interesting was the role a (now hidden or restricted) video played in the controversy. The design team had created a “visual explanation of the redesigned UC system-wide logo” that was believed to be a main catalyst for controversy surrounding the now-retracted logo. The behind-the-scenes video revealed the design team’s process in a way that implied that the logo would replace the original heritage seal, when it was, in fact, merely inspired by it. This gets to the heart of a recurring theme the judges discussed throughout the competition process: the difference between understanding, interpreting and evaluating a design versus perception of the design as expressed through a video proxy of the thing itself. This was a persistent challenge for entries that were environmental or interactive and therefore incapable of being experienced natively during the judging process. In other words, is a project great or does it appear great because the designers made a powerful video about it?

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Clement Mok, design and business consultant, The Design Office of Clement Mok, San Francisco, California

Game changer. Moved the needle. Inspirational. A smart and progressive identity program that got lost in media hysteria based on misinformation and false narrative. The submission illustrates the scope of the intent and rebranding endeavor. It might be old news for some, but for others, I think it offers an important lesson about launching rebranding efforts. Great brief.

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Christopher Simmons, principal and creative director, MINE™, San Francisco, California

Lost in the uproar over the logo component of this new identity is the fact that it is a bold, distinct and thoughtful identity program that addressed a very specific need. Indeed, given the unprecedented public and media backlash to this rebrand it may seem like a controversial choice. However, once the identity is considered in the context of its challenges and goals, its achievement becomes apparent. From start to finish the internal design team did almost everything right (and, in fact, went far beyond what most outside consultants would consider due diligence with regard to stakeholder engagement and rollout). The result is a unified, progressive and distinctly “Californian” identity for one of the foremost educational institutions in the world. It exudes optimism and breathes vitality and purpose into the visually beleaguered university system.

Alina Wheeler 300x200

Alina Wheeler, author, Designing Brand Identity, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

One of the best briefs that we saw in the competition. This project was enormously complex and the team conducted a responsible process. I was reminded how emotional symbols are, and how we all need to prepare ourselves for a world in which the crowd has power, relentless energy, a strong-yet-sometimes-uninformed opinion and a voice. Ironically, the media frenzy happened a year after the work had been launched. Thankfully, the vast majority of the integrated brand identity system proved itself to be sustainable, and the university system continues to benefit from a better set of intelligent communications tools.