The Penn State Debate

Aug 11, 2015 | Branding, Education, Public Relations

As many of you know, change (big or small) can cause a lot of controversy in today’s digital age. Recently, Penn State took the hit with its new logo design.

First, let’s evaluate the situation.

The Problem

Penn State was in need of a new logo to complement a shift to digital and bring cohesiveness to its brand identity. With a logo that dated back to 1980, and implementations that lacked consistency, Penn State decided it was time to transform its mark.

The Approach

Penn State sought help from an identity consulting firm, Jerry Kuyper Partners, and paid a reported $128K to move forward into the modern era.

Pulling inspiration from other well-known company logo transformations, they created standards to keep the logo usable in all formats it is found in today. According to a release from Penn State, the identity team — who engaged more than 300 staff, faculty and administrative groups — wanted to ensure the Nittany Lion was prominent in the design:

The Public Reaction

A lot of people are, shall we say, “unsupportive” of the new transformation.

Although multiple levels of faculty and staff contributed to the process, many students and alumni are feeling left out. A petition lead by a class of ’95 alum claims “the new logo does not represent our heritage in the same way,” and gained 620 supporters in 24 hours. We’re also seeing a lot of comparisons to children’s artwork and even Storm from X-Men on Twitter. Philadelphia Magazine calls it a “zombie lion logo.”

Our Take

While some of the reactions may make you chuckle, public reaction is something every brand has to consider when launching a new logo or updating its visual identity. Proper messaging is key to bring audiences to an understanding as to why this logo fulfills Penn State’s original goals.

The previous Penn State logo lacked balance between typography and its icon. Even at larger sizes, the logo looks like a collection of letters and a blue shield, and the line draws your eye away from the logo into an empty white space. A re-design was definitely in order.

From a designer’s perspective, we’re always aware that we can’t please everyone. But from where we stand, the new logo does just what Penn State was looking to do: Emphasize the Nittany Lion and balance out the logo mark and the typography.