Higher Ed Branding in The Buckeye State

In Ohio, there appears to be a very clear preference for maintaining a traditional style with branding across all of their higher ed institutions with an occasional twist of abstraction. 

The reliance on tradition as a brand personality reinforces impressions of history and prestige. Most of the typographic treatments featured below and in the gallery at the bottom of the page utilize some variation on the two-row block-type composition (essentially laying out the letters to fit within a square or rectangular shape) with the occasional left-aligned or center-alignment solution. The blocked type solution is completely common and necessary within a general branding standards framework. 

Combining the traditional serif typeface style with the inclusion of an abstract icon design makes for a unique combination. As you’ll see in the logos below, many of the institutions prefer to just use a serif typeface solution and nothing more. Including an abstract icon adds some additional personality to an otherwise tired classic typeface solution. The institutions that do pair their title with an icon get a boost from the additional design element. Ranging from coat of arms, seals, religious iconography, banners, abstract motifs, and (of course) campus buildings, each logo has something to offer. 

Some notable takeaways:

  • 65 out of 87 logos use serif-styled typography (~70%)
  • Unique color range: Color usage was mostly either blue or red with some occasional purple and brown. 

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

The gallery of 85+ logos is displayed at the bottom of the page. Let me know what you think on Twitter or LinkedIn!

Abstract Icons

The brands to the left really stood out to me. They were different from the traditional trends found in the collection. CCAD naturally has an intentional, fun, and engaging design that is full of movement. The bold strokes pair well with the lighter density of the typesetting next to it. The kerning on the title is fairly tense while maintaining its legibility. Solid. The Washington State C.C. design has an overall more contemporary style. The repeated “W” letterform in the icon creates an upward visual movement that is perpetuated through the green stroke line that acts as a frame. I think the pairing of the slab-serif and the sans-serif works really well. Slab & Sans typeface pairings require a lot of nuance and instinct for style. It’s a learned skill that plays well here. The Sinclair logo is as contemporary- minimalist-abstract as it gets. Simple, minimal elements in an asymmetrical build creates an ornament free focal point. Pair that with the Gotham typeface (ok, if it’s not, it kind of has to be, right?) optimizes legibility. 

 

Torches

Ohio universities LOVE torches. Literal or abstract, it’s a reasonable argument to say that torches make for a meaningful and memorable visual metaphor. I’ve seen the Eastern Gateway torch in practice and can speak to its usage. The weight of the EG torch maintains its visibility whether up close or very far away. The Mount Vernon torch is simple and more circular versus the more horizontal design featured in the other logos. 

Minimalism

Similar to CCAD, Art Academy of Cincinnati has a really fun brand design. Leave it to art and design schools to get their branding right. The AAC brand is very minimal in approach with using a sans-serif Helvetica typeface with tight kerning. The type composition is compact and fits within a rectangle. The vertical letter stack ‘AAC’ plays well too. The type used here is more illustrative in its build and takes risks but squashing the ‘C’ a bit and removing the crossbar on each ‘A.’ The orange-gray color combo is also fresh amongst all the Ohio institutions. 

Contemporary

The Edison State logo is a full-on contemporary design. Minimalist icon with no ornamentation, sans-serif and bold typeface with tight kerning, and another sans-serif with wide kerning and a classic deco feel all while having each row fairly tight vertically makes for a compact presentation. Do you think they call the elements in the icon either boomerangs or crescent moons? Either way, the direction for this brand deviates from the norm and is paying off as a result. 

Contemporary + Classic Combination

This is the fun one to write about. The combination of a contemporary aesthetic and classic typography can be a difficult balance to create. You have to consider a number of ideas here: the need to appear current, advanced, or on the cutting edge while also referencing and honoring the time-tested history of the university. One end progresses forward the other end pulls that progression backward. I’ve always been intrigued by these solutions. Mind you, these designs work well and for a number of reasons, but it’s always given me the impression on the subject not being truly settled on its own identity. When you create a contemporary abstract icon, you run the risk of it potentially representing anything. The Hocking College icon completes the visual-verbal relationships with Hocking Hills fairly well (though I understand both are about a half-hour apart.) The Daymar College icon is multi-layered: you’ve got the ‘D’ within the shield and the white flames creating the counter (the space inside the D) all while sitting on top of the torch. The difference in blue color with the shield adds additional depth. This is a solid design. Clark State Community College is also well-executed. In particular, the flourish on the ‘K’ in “Clark” adds some fun visual personality. There are many nuances and subtle choice-making in this design ranging from the tight kerning to the leading space between the primary and secondary titles. I have no doubt it went through many revisions. The last point of note with the Clark State logo is that it carries a similar color scheme to other universities in Ohio that use a blue-yellow mix. 

Take a look at the brands below and let me know which one resonates with you!