University Branding in the 21st Century

My university’s website has for as long as I remember been a rather poor affair, run on the inflexible and altmodisch CMS known as ‘SIAB’ (Site-in-a-Box). Besides the logo itself, the only graphic element has always consisted of a banner image with very poor pixel quality… In short, it looks horribly outdated. That is apparently about to change as the rector revealed a new ‘visual identity’ for the university on Friday. I found this to be a very worthwhile development, but when one sees the results, there will always be divided opinions. So, to begin with the logo:

I guess university logos should signify profundity and expertise, but this, I do believe, is the epitome of blandness and anonymity. I also think that the AU-part looks like a wave which in addition to the blue colour of the logo itself gives me some maritime associations that have nothing to do with the university. However, what really got me going was the introduction of a brand new University of Aarhus alphabet, cunningly entitled ‘the fifth element’. The ‘fifth element’ consists of some rather awkward-looking letters and numbers that can be put together in a ‘visually appealing way’.

Yes, all very clear and useful….Here’s one example of the ‘fifth element’ in action in a pair of advertisements for ‘Find en Forsker’ (‘Locate a Researcher’) where the letters have been superimposed over each other:

Let me think. The university wants to appeal to ‘common people’, and then they introduce an alphabet that may as well have been hieroglyphs to most people, only to create an ‘interesting’ visual effect. To me, the ‘fifth element’ suggests a dusty old place where one studies superfluous dead alphabets that have as little to do with reality as possible. Are they going to introduce courses where people learn to read ‘the fifth element’? Who ever thought this was a good idea? And what happened to simple and effective design without any cheap (or perhaps, as is more likely in this case, very expensive) tricks?

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1 Comment

  1. Much as I enjoy the academic environment of universities, I am forced to say: as usual, academics are completely cut off from ‘the real world’.

    As you said, they may as well use hieroglyphs. However, hieroglyphs at least have a meaningful history and give an air of academia; this ‘fifth element’ only brings to mind early 80’s technological logos.

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