Inside the design decisions of Dartmouth's rebranding

by Savannah Miller | 3/29/18 1:45am

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Source: The Dartmouth

In creating a new visual identity for Dartmouth, designers faced a difficult challenge: balance tradition and history with modernity and adaptability, and convey all this clearly to the eye. The result was a new logo, wordmark and color palette — but perhaps unsurprisingly, not everyone is a fan.

The design of the new identity is meant to reflect the five pillars of a new communications framework that emphasizes the College’s liberal arts focus and unique sense of place, among other qualities.

“We established those pillars, and [they] became the guiding framework for our most important initiatives,” vice president for communications Justin Anderson said. “I think we recognized that we needed to have a clear and consistent narrative about Dartmouth when we were communicating.”

To begin that design process, the College enlisted the help of Original Champions of Design, a New York City design agency, and typeface designer Jesse Ragan. Anderson said the design was driven by three goals: strategy, digitalization and alignment.

“We need to get organized,” Anderson said describing the starting tenets of the design process. “We need one wordmark, one color. We need a shield or some sort of icon that’s going to work when reduced to a small size.”

The result of the rebranding is the D-Pine, a new logo of a large D encompassing a more rounded version of the famous Lone Pine symbol. The wordmark accompanying the icon is now in a new typeface known as Dartmouth Ruzicka, modeled after the typeface designed by Rudolph Ruzicka in the 1960s that is used on the College’s Bicentennial Medal.

Anderson believes that the logo incorporates the history of Dartmouth while it remains adaptable to different marketing strategies, like ones used on social media.

“That’s what we’re trying to do — really embrace the place and embrace the history and come up with a visual identity system that helps us tell that story and that history,” he said.

Armin Vit, co-founder of graphic design firm UnderConsideration and an author of the firm’s design blog Brand New, believes that the new communications framework accomplishes its main goals exceptionally.

“The old wordmark, if you shrunk it down, would start to disappear and the thin strokes [would be] hard to render with so few pixels,” he wrote via email. “Both the new wordmark and the Lone Pine have the density to hold up at small sizes, but their overall silhouettes are detailed enough to still maintain the texture of the pine or the flared serifs of the wordmark.”

Vit also praised the inclusion of the Lone Pine in the new logo.

“It’s the history, traditions and lore behind an institution that set it apart, so using that to inform the identity of the university further enhances the sense of place and belonging,” Vit wrote.

But approval for the new logo is hardly unanimous. In a poll conducted by College Pulse, 80.8 percent of 1,123 surveyed students said they either strongly liked or somewhat liked the old logo. Only 10.6 percent said they strongly liked or somewhat liked the new logo.

Randy Zhang ’20, a student who has studied letterforms and is currently working to digitize and finish old typefaces found in Rauner Library, criticized Ragan’s revival of Ruzicka’s typeface. He described Ragan’s lack of parallel stress axes and overshooting as main faults of the design.

“Typeface design is not about what’s mathematically correct but what’s optically correct,” he said. “You’re basically playing a game with the eye.”

According to Zhang, the stress axes of the letters are inconsistent in shape or form.

Zhang also took issue with some of Ragan’s altering of Ruzicka’s original typeface, citing the altered serifs on the “T” and capped top of the “M” as a change that goes against the original calligraphic style Ruzicka used.

“When people write calligraphy, they have to make sure they hold the pen in a consistent way,” Zhang said. “Designs have to mimic that, but [Ragan] failed to do it.”

Those particular changes to the typeface were part of an effort to add to the consistency of the overall rebranding, according to Anderson, and the changes to the typeface were intended to remove elements that could distract the eye.

“How it’s rendered here has a bit more consistency,” Anderson said.

Vit referred to the change in the wordmark as a positive addition to a successful rebranding.

“[Both the old and new wordmark] have a scholarly, bookish aesthetic that convey that this is an [educational] institution, but the new wordmark does it in a more visually interesting way that exudes more confidence,” he said.

Overall, Anderson referred to the new rebranding as a very flexible yet consistent way for the College to adapt to social media and unify the publications and advertisements from different institutions within the school. The new framework includes a variety of different colors, typeface styles and ways to use the new D-Pine.

“Dartmouth is a big place with lots of different people and lots of different constituents, and they have lots of different communication needs,” he said. “One of the things that we were trying to do was create a system that was flexible so that people did not feel like they were being told what to do. They were being given the tools to do what they needed to do.”

Though the D-Pine will replace the shield on social media platforms and official publications, the shield is not going away entirely. Additionally, the collegiate-style “D” that has become a symbol of Dartmouth athletics will remain unaltered.

Anderson sees the new framework as a successful culmination of the long process of rebranding and aligning the College’s communication strategies.

“It looks as good hanging from a banner in Collis as it does on social media,” Anderson said. “It’s a bold, confident representation of Dartmouth.”