Higher Ed Branding in The Old Line State

Higher Ed institution logos in Maryland hit me differently than that of other states. When I collect logos for each state, I typically hit either the Wikipedia entries for each university or in some cases visit their websites. I’ve learned several things through this process: institutions do not keep their Wikipedia profiles updated and for whatever reason some institution websites do not work. It’s actually very enlightening to see how little supports there may be at the marketing-level for website maintenance. At any rate, where I was able to collect a logo – I did. When looking at my collection in aggregate, Maryland has a lot of similarities to the traditional approach toward branding that Ohio institutions have. There is one noticeable difference, though, and that is a noticeable evolution towards more contemporary styles such as Folded Style. Other styles include abstract-geometric, shields, campus buildings, and clean typesetting.

Some notable takeaways:

  • 34 out of 48 logos use serif-styled typography (~70%)
  • 19 out of 48 use blue.

The highlighted brands below were designs that stood out to me.

The gallery of 45 logos is displayed at the bottom of the page. Let me know what you think on Twitter or LinkedIn!

Folds

 This style can be really tricky to execute on as you’re typically relying on either the individual letters in your institution name or the structure of the icon. If the letter forms or icons have curves or over-lapping features, then it is likely primed for this style. Some of the concerns, though, with folding include optimizing color contrast, clearly defining foreground/midground/background relationships between the elements, and being mindful of color choices. This latter concern is especially prevalent in the Allegany College logo. At face value the logo appears to use 5 colors. I’ll assume that the darker tints use elements of the blue to create a darker value versus those shades being their own colors. Nevertheless, the folding style is simple, in some cases elegant, and visually appealing.

Shields

I’ve written about shields before. Many institutions in every state have them. In some cases, the shields act as visual metaphors that either suggest or reinforce historical, sentimental, or other emotional traits. Johns Hopkins is one of the most recognizeable shields not just in the state but perhaps the entire country. At the scale that it is at, you can barely make out the details contained within the shield. Such is the downside of trying to fit a lot of detail in a small space. But, in their defense, they are really leaning into it, scalability concerns and all. The Coppin State U design is bold and striking despite the motifs within the shield having some vague qualities. Color also makes a difference with shields. Coppin’s approach here is very proactive versus Johns Hopkins being passive or subdued as a single-color solution. 

Abstract

There are several Maryland institutions that have abstract icons in their brand identity solutions. The Carroll Community College stuck out to me because of the smart use of what is essentially the same shape but rotated a bit and flipped. Doing less with more. In my travels, community college brands don’t typically have the high-level of polish to that of a university or 4-year college. Carroll’s approach can probably rise above that trend.

Rectangles

The Lincoln Tech and Harford Community College logos really diverge away from the standard style of branding for higher ed institutions. These actually feel like corporate solutions – more specifically, abstract corporate minimalist solutions. The Lincoln Tech brand is a conservative design with a simple configuration and foundation. The symmetry is appealing to our brains because it makes sense visually and mathematically. I don’t have the context of knowing the brand personality of Lincoln Tech, so I hope that it makes sense. The Harford logo is wild. I love it for a number of reasons. Firstly, great typesetting. Second, let’s talk about these rectangles. If you’re trying to convey a sense of diversity in color – nailed it. Rotating the rectangles to create visual diversity and/or suggest diversity amongst the student community is an interesting choice. Offering various scales of rectangles makes sense relative to suggesting diversity of people. I’m hoping that this logo actually changes its composition based on different aspects of the college: athletics, academic units, programs, etc – there are quite 40,000 or more compositional possibilities. 

Serifs

There are a lot of serifs in Maryland. Many of the logos I collected featured serifs in their institution name or tagline. History is really important to recognize visually in institution branding especially if you are in an older state on the east coast. If you look at the logos collected below, you’ll find a variety of serif compositions that are very nicely designed and some that are just block-justified. St. John’s College and St. Mary’s College are standout examples of great serif executions.

This St. Mary’s brand is beautifully composed. The designers put a lot of concentration into the scale, position, and structure of each letter form. The amount of concentration put into this design I hope would merit it to be used in practice for decades. The apostrophe is slightly tight following the Y and I’m sure the designer(s) really struggled, labored, stayed up late at night designing this in their minds. Kudos to you all, design team.

Take a look at the brands below and share your thoughts with us on Twitter! #CommCentered