New Dartmouth Logo & Identity: A Serif Less Favored
PREVIOUS WORDMARK AND NEW WORDMARK COMPARISON
Established in 1769, Dartmouth is a private, liberal arts, Ivy League university that consistently ranks among the world’s top academic institutions. It has approximately 4,300 undergraduate students across more than 40 departments and programs, along with 2,000 graduate students. Recently, Dartmouth introduced a new visual identity.
As Dartmouth approaches its 250th anniversary, it made the decision to redesign its visual identity. The new wordmark, icon, and applications would draw upon Dartmouth’s historic elements. The custom font, designed by XYZ Type, was inspired by Dartmouth’s bicentennial crest, while the “lone pine” icon is an updated graphic of a famous tree that was a student gathering spot in the early 1800s. A new secondary font was also developed for the identity system.
The previous wordmark was not particularly unique nor distinctive, but it did feel more traditional and Ivy League-ish. I would even concede that the old wordmark needed to be refreshed. Unfortunately, the same lack of distinctiveness is apparent in the new wordmark. The design rationale references Dartmouth’s history and artifacts, and is based on lettering crafted by renowned type designer Rudolph Ruzicka. Apparently, this history only extends to artifacts created in 1969 – Dartmouth’s bicentennial year. Sure, to many 18-year-olds, this may seem ancient, but in looking at Dartmouth’s entire history, the last 50 years is quite young.
The lettering for the new wordmark is indeed beautifully crafted. Yet although it is custom-designed for this institution, I think for the brand it represents, its beauty is easy to overlook. Frankly, it’s too reminiscent, stylistically, of something you may find at a school that may be trying a little too hard to prove their sophistication, without the prestige of the Ivy League. Dartmouth’s insistence on using the wordmark in various green-on-green applications, furthers a more modern feel of the new branding, which doesn’t jibe with the rationale for the identity update. I can’t help but think that Robert Frost (a Dartmouth grad) may have opined something like this.
The Serif Less Favored (A pathetic recreation of ‘A Road Less-Traveled’)
Two marks diverged but green serifs shared,
I’m sorry I could not care for both
And be one reviewer, perplexed I stared
I looked at the new, as long as I cared
And read its change described as ‘growth’;
Then I looked at the other; a stylistic norm,
Its dignity easy to recognize
Because 'twas upper and lower in form;
Specifically crafted to outperform
When grasping meaning through ones’ eyes.
Some prefer the first, and may say perhaps,
The newly formed font is beyond critique;
Its beauty is true, designed in all caps
And, making this choice is no fatal lapse,
But for a traditional brand it feels too chic.
This is my two cents – no attempt at guile,
I believe the logo, is key to ones story;
These two marks diverged in treatment, and while
I prefer the oft-overlooked, less modish style
Alas, the first is now Dartmouth’s allegory.
But the new identity doesn’t start and stop with the wordmark. A key component in the visual branding is the redesign, or reintroduction, of a graphic of the lone pine. Like the wordmark, this bold, stark graphic draws its inspiration from some imagery from the Dartmouth bicentennial. As an icon, it is great. The subtle attention to details – rounded-corner limbs, slightly flared trunk, and curved trunk bottom – all work beautifully together to create a stunning mark.
But as beautiful as it is, the style of the mark only subtly connects with the institution's history. It is a modern-day retelling of the visual story. One that doesn’t even immediately and solely read as a pine tree. I’ve seen others describe it as a leaf or a pine cone – and I definitely see a pine cone. However, this may be intentional. The tree is the symbol that is deeply rooted (get it?) in the history of the institution, but a pine cone is the fruit that the tree bears. It represents the beginning of new life, or new learning. And as such, it meshes nicely with the new wordmark.
But then comes the applications of the identity, and so much falls apart. The pine icon and D-Pine are most effective in their uncluttered simplicity. The combined logo works nicely. The Brand extensions are logical, if uninspiring. But the social media avatars are horrid, and the multi-pine pattern destroys any conceptual connection to the “lone pine”, not to mention its impact on readability. It becomes just an icon.
DARTMOUTH "D-PINE" LOGO
BRAND EXTENSIONS, MULTI-PINE APPLICATION, AND SOCIAL MEDIA AVATARS
I guess the crux of my uneasiness with the redesign does not lie in the quality of the execution of the wordmark, or pine icon. I think both of those are done marvelously well. It’s just that in its overall application, the new identity does not say “Ivy-League”. It relies too heavily on existing awareness of the Dartmouth brand. Ultimately if your visual branding doesn’t convey the distinctiveness of your brand, maybe you should have considered another road.