Marketing-oriented visual identity for University of Waterloo brings chaos

Branding an educational institution would definitely be challenging, if I could imagine. There’s pressure to stay classic and academic but not too ‘old’ vs. taking a risk to make it modern but not too ‘cool’ and unprofessional, to begin with. Case in point: University of Waterloo.

In the spring of 2009, the University of Waterloo announced plans to re-brand and update their image. They wanted to start by simply putting up banners in the summer – however, their new logo design was leaked and has since caused an incredibly outcry from students and the community. There was a Facebook group called Students and alumni against the new University of Waterloo logo that had over 5,000 members in its beginnings and now as over 9,000.


As the design blog Under Consideration writes, the main complaint throughout is that the new logo is not dignified enough and it does not represent the school.

Since September, the school’s opinion site has been flooded with comments on the logo, and a Facebook page has been created to collect opinions on the logo – all of this serious consideration taken after the original plans were to be officially launched this fall.

Now, the university seems to have been left with only one choice: to accept and review feedback. The team then went through 131 iterations of the logo. As of July 24, 2009 they have begun to “share the new visual identity system with campus groups” and are preparing for a reveal in the November issue of Waterloo Magazine. On August 28, the University of Waterloo’s identity task force announced that they would have to re-evaluate the prototype logo.


From the very start, the University officially described it as part of a way of “How to better tell the Waterloo story“. I wish them luck in doing so, while keeping all of their students from transferring schools!

If this is the reaction Waterloo (a school recognized for sciences, engineering and quantum computing) is getting, I could not even begin to imagine the feedback OCAD (the university of design, art and imagination) will get when they re-brand their logo in the near future!

So, Waterloo student or not, what do you think?

[Update]: MJ Braide, the Lead Brand Strategist on the project, shares what they would do differently next time: “Perhaps we would not have taken no for an answer when we invited the entire student community to engage and only 11 obliged. As she reflects on it Meg observes that she might have stood her ground a bit harder on the logo. It was was a great design with real integrity.”

[Inside Perspective]: Lead Brand Strategist MJ Braide shares the inside story on her blog here.