Designing a new visual identity for a university can be a daunting challenge at any time, but if you’re an institution devoted to art and design, that process can be particularly fraught. If nothing else, there are going to be a whole lot of students, faculty and alumni with very definite opinions on the final result.
That was the situation facing the former Ontario College of Art and Design, which embarked on a process to update its visual identity after receiving official government assent in June 2010 to change its name to OCAD University (the institution was given degree-granting status in 2002).
“We’re an art and design school, and one expects a certain level of engagement,” says Sara Diamond, president of OCAD U. “So it was very important to have both an excellent design process … and also to develop a new identity that we felt was the epitome of design excellence.”
The university hired Toronto-based Bruce Mau Design to guide the process. The firm set up an office on campus to get a feel for the place and held a series of workshops to allow participants to share their stories and brainstorm ideas. “It was a very rigorous and collaborative process,” says Dr. Diamond.
The new logo was inspired by the university’s Sharp Centre for Design, the iconic box-on-stilts designed by Will Alsop. Playing on the look of the building, the logo has three squares of different sizes, with the main one at the top right serving as a blank frame to highlight student artwork. Each year, graduating students will be invited to contribute to the logo – whether a sculpture, a painting or other graphic work – providing a set of logos for the following year. “As OCAD U grows and matures, a living library of identities will necessarily emerge, recording the ideas and aesthetics that have shaped our culture over time,” says Bruce Mau Design.
The new look was unveiled at the university’s annual graduate exhibition on May 6. The logo pictured at right on a ceramic coffee mug shows the work of 2010 illustration medal winner Adrian Forrow.
The university, the arts community and the media have responded very positively and enthusiastically to the new design. “I have to say it’s been really successful. Phew!” says Dr. Diamond, with evident relief.