retiring an element

As our university rebrands for independence as the University of Suffolk, it is time to thank the UCS logo for its service. A square emblem bearing large sans serif characters, the old logo seemed to belong to a class of homages to the periodic table [1]:

scichanfive aliveSkolkovobrba

That concept carried attractive entailments for a research based enterprise. It suggested we were real, pure, basic, verified, perhaps precious, part of a limited set, possessing group affiliations and other properties that could be measured and used as dimensions for ordering. All reasonably true if you think about league tables. Units in this metaphor are not only tiled for easy viewing, sorting and ordering, but can also be combined into compounds. We were that with our parent institutions, UEA and the University of Essex, albeit in the role of a minority element with loose ionic bonds.

Playing cards work on the same principles of isolation, ordering, and recombination. The isolation and vision of order is what makes the Tarot appealing: the reduction of the chancy mess of life to hand-sized chunks. Each card shows an open allegorical image, but it is contained by a boundary. The Canadian literary magazine Alphabet, an early publisher of Margaret Atwood‘s work, used a classical myth as a unifying theme for each issue, which is not that different from a Tarot [2]. For text-centric applications too – business cards, baseball cards, note cards, PowerPoint – the card deck is the listicle of information shape and the card a key structuralist token, even when used in Oblique Strategies.


The UCS logo also made use of non-typographic elements. It showed a network of threads with small squares at the points where they intersected. These could be interpreted to show a mythical Suffolk road scheme with the positions of the universities in our network, not to scale of course. It resembled a spiderweb, which was also a good metaphor for a university (intricate, purposeful, beautiful, creative, connected, sticky). Nobody seemed to exploit this other than me in my staff picture, which I got Helga to take specially in the Tomás Saraceno installation in Taidehalli. Another shot from that visit, postprocessed to the point of blur, became the logo for my draft School of Arts and Humanities newsletter.

The old logo was somewhat diluted by the color scheme: we were provided a choice of colors, but none seemed to be primary, and come to think of it, the individual colors were mostly not primary either. Hail to thee, Alma Mater! Three cheers for the mustard and mauve! Or the grass-green and turquoise, if you looked at a different prospectus. [3] There was also some confusion with the other UCS, which is a prep school in London.

There are good things about our new branding, not least the clear color scheme – three cheers for the graphite and gold! – and its compatibility with the deep slate grey display walls made by Tom Owens and the other photography students a few years ago, which instantly upgraded our spaces to galleries. We need to think about what metaphors it suggests and how we can relate it to our theme of change and adaptability. So far, I’m thinking of it as turning a new page.

[1] The first one I came across was a Texas Gulf logo that was just Tg in Helvetica or similar, designed by George Tscherny. No oblong box around the Tg but the analogy was clear. Can’t find an image online.

[2] And indeed, what is an alphabet, syllabary or other writing system? Paradigm and syntagm, on multiple scales.

[3] Colors are difficult, so it’s perhaps good to try out a lot of them. Those of my own alma mater, MIT, founded during the Civil War, are cardinal and grey: cardinal for the red blood of engineers and grey for steel. This was close enough to Harvard’s crimson and white to permit the Coop to buy bulk lots of dark red and off-white gear to sell on both campuses. I am fond of silver and grey but not looking forward to the 50th reunion cardinal jackets which make the alumni look like old-fashioned bellhops at Radio City and also highlight gin-blossom skin. The color of Columbia University, home of my J-school, is sky blue, which made the graduates look as if they were wrapped in bedsheets when they were robed for graduation. UCS has a very attractive cyan-yellow-magenta graduation gown trim, which would be worth keeping if we could fit it into the symbol narrative.

Posted on by Diana ben-Aaron
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.