Higher Ed Branding in The Land of 10,000 Lakes

Minnesota is coming to the table with some impressive branding design. Overall, the spectrum of branding coming out of the state is quite diverse, with a range of contemporary to dated, monograms to illustrated abstract icons, to pure logotypes, Minnesota has it all. There aren’t quite as many logos as they have lakes!

Some notable takeaways:

  • 82 logos
  • 23 use serif-style typography
  • 39 use abstract icons
  • 5 use campus buildings
  • 2 seals
  • 14 shields
  • 1 tribal design

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

The gallery of 82 logos is displayed at the bottom of the page. Let me know what you think on Twitter or LinkedIn!

Abstract

Abstract logo design in Minnesota is fairly limited. When it is used to its fullest extent, as seen in the logo examples, it is engaging and attractive. For the most part, though, abstraction is used in service to highlighting a specific motif (like a flame, a person, door, road, river, mountain, etc.) and is typically done so with a minimalist approach. Abstraction in Minnesota institutions is fortunately minimalistic and maximalistic, or visually overwhelming. Abstract icon design really needs control and nuance to be powerful and memorable as a branding solution…and the freedom that abstraction provides can often be unlimited. For example, the Minneapolis Community & Technical College logo is abstract, but conceptual and subsequently refined and controlled to hint at the concept. The Minneapolis Business College logo is abstraction for the sake of abstraction. The sun-ray pattern is over-used and works against an individualistic representation that stands out from the pack. The North Hennepin Community College logo is an interesting abstract design. Aside from obviously serving the human figure at the top of the design. it is a unique, tightly composed, self-contained design. Would love to see it in more colors than monotone!

Shields

Minnesota loves shields. It’s fairly surprising that many of the universities that use shields may be competitors to one another. How do they differentiate themselves in the marketplace using different variations on a basic shield? Macalester’s shield has a unique build in that it is stripped-down to the basics. It is self-contained from an inversed point of view and highly usable in different contexts, variations, backgrounds, etc. For as simple as it is, it has a ton of versatility and absolutely differentiates itself from the others. It’s subtle in approach and dynamic in use. Using it in multiple colors, though, may be a bit overwhelming or damage the build of the artwork. If two of the diagonal bands were different colors, it’d create meaningful focus and intrigue but suppress the rest of the design. In comparison to Bethel and St. Thomas, who each have their own approach, it stands out. Bethel takes the tried-and-true shield approach with bold, heavy elements. St. Thomas takes the Macalester approach with an inverse design in monotone, but the purple color gives it a lot of energy and interest. 

Good Type

Minnesota knows good type execution. So many of the brands in the state have well-composed thoughtful, and technically proficient type executions. Be it delicately composed like St. Cloud state with a mix of Small Caps and All Caps and intensely controlled kerning in a block format or Northwestern with bold, dynamic type and ragged right, or even many of the examples in the gallery, Minnesota knows type.

Conceptual

There aren’t a lot of concept-driven logo solutions in the Higher Ed sector in Minnesota. The St. Cloud Technical & Community College, Central Lakes College and Anoka-Ramsey Community College logos stood out, though. The St. Cloud logo is really engaging. It has a strong visual foundation (can’t go wrong with a circle) and the cuts of negative space create multiple pathways to the center of the design. Those paths create a fun circular movement that enables attention and interaction to be retained. The use of orange in the upper part of the interior circle does not create a stopping point but instead perpetuates eye movement. The Central Lakes College logo is just obvious fun. I enjoy the minimalistic approach. It’s a great example of how you don’t have to change a whole lot in a design to create a lot of expressiveness. Less is more!  Anoka-Ramsey Community College has a business-centric near web 2.0 approach. A lower-case letter “a” coated in a subtle, soft gradient and a yellow interior accent mark that initiates eye movement. It’s an intriguing design that leans into subtlety, but because of its style, it feels like you may have seen this design before.