Friday, October 22, 2010

Looking good...

Does anyone else's university have a visual identity?

We do. We paid some consultants a lot of money. Apparently the new look is professional, modern and attractive (it looks OK. But the one we had three identities ago, when I arrived here, was my favourite). We are forbidden to use up the old headed writing paper, and the new stuff is only available in large orders. We are not supposed to make our own conference posters, we have to use the corporate powerpoint template... (needless to say, most academics continue to ignore this).

Now, it wouldn't be SO bad if we could at least download the templates etc. for local use. But no. We have to send everything to the Marketing Department for approval and layout. And there it gets a job number, paperwork is filed etc., and it can take three weeks to make an A4 poster with a paragraph of text on it. I need to make a poster for a series of campus activities involving students, and I stupidly asked where to download the university logo. Which means I ended up in a queue for a poster design.

The first event was two weeks ago, the poster is designed, and it looks quite pretty. Like an A4 sheet with my text on it in their preferred font with the logo added. However... now I learn that they can't send it to me in a printable form, so that I can use the local colour printer (charged at 5p per sheet, allowing me to print as needed over the year when the activities are running, and the department will absorb the cost). Because they use special design software, it has to go to the print room (24p per sheet and the cost has to come from a named budget, i.e. one of my grants). And they can't POSSIBLY output a pdf, because that would have a little white edge, and look unprofessional. No, I cannot use the guillotine to trim off the white edge, because then it won't be A4, and that looks unprofessional.

All of this is supposed to make my job easier.

Anyone else suffer from visual identity crises, or is my uni especially 'blessed'??


  1. I've just learned that our administration is creating a centralized department for marketing. Thanks for showing me my future.

  2. I'm confused. Isn't the only Marketing Department at a university supposed to be the department that actually teaches students the ins and outs of marketing?
    Actually, if the students care to look, there is a lesson to be learned here. Develop processes and practices that are proprietary so that no organization will get rid of you due to the ridiculous cost that will be absorbed to reinvent the wheel.

  3. Take down one of the super special marketing approved posters and cut the images you need out of it. Paste (the old fashioned way) it to your poster and go make however many copies you need. Voila!

  4. "visual identity"? I thought I knew which university that was from, but no, that one still has its old visual identity. So yes, there are more than one of them.

    The current university I work at has its own branding too, but doesn't make such a fuss that it extends to cost and time implications. It provides (for example) a Powerpoint template, which has a perfectly ok front page, but the rest sucks. So I copy out the first slide and use some nice plain ones for the rest of my talks. The university hasn't made a fuss yet.

    But on the other hand, this university makes an IMMENSE fuss about exam papers. If your printer prints out a bit different and make the font slightly too small, the exams administrators seriously expect you to figure out how to increase a font size by 5%. They want 12pt and they MEAN 12pt and no matter how much you may have set your font to 12pt, that's not acceptable because your 12pt isn't their 12pt. They will send your exam paper back if it isn't right. Or if you've missed a full stop. Or you've used (a) for your question sections instead of a).

    I do appreciate that exam papers need to be produced to a high presentation standard. Fine. But when you can't spot the difference between two 12pt fonts without the aid of a magnifying glass....*(&^&!??!!! And in the next batch, they change all the specifications. So you can't just re-edit the document that they were ok with last time. It makes we want to scream.

    The result of the smacks we keep getting from the administration is that a ridiculous amount of time is spent on formatting exam papers. Not setting. Just the formatting. In the last batch, several man-days of effort were spent in our dept alone, trying to get the formatting to their exact specifications. It's such a stupid waste of valuable time of skilled professionals, over such a small matter.

    I see the same thing happening to you with the visual identity - there is a disturbing tendency for universities to waste ridiculous quantities of precious resources (time & money) on matter which are trivial, or the wrong thing. Universities particularly tend to do it when their precious BRAND is at stake. They way too often confuse uniformity with quality, and they don't give a stuff about how their processes impact on individual academics, who produce the very things on which the university depends!

    Btw, at a university which did do various stupid things with its visual identity, and was completely stubborn about fixing problems, I gained a small modicum of revenge by setting exam questions on the very topic of visual identities, with the result that I noted with satisfaction that even some of the less able of my students were smarter than the wonks in university admin.

  5. Midwest May - that's the way to go! I managed to bully them into putting the logos online. It turned out the font cost money per computer to install, so I requested that my faculty get a bazillion licenses but refused to pay because I didn't order the dance. We have special dispensation to use Verdana.

    I set up .dot files for the necessary stuff, put it on our faculty web server, and ignore the press office (they are the ones who get their knickers twisted when I dare to print something that is not Approved By Them). So I printed posters that aren't the exactly correct shade of blue? Isn't that what I bought my own color printer for?

    Dean Suzy

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  7. Damn...the computer ate my reply, and it was long, too. Okay, then. Shorter version.

    A university I attended went through a rebranding process while I was there, and more than one disaster cropped up.

    The first disaster was the university's new, official PPT template. It was supposed to be an all-purpose template for administrators and academic conference presenters alike, but the design rendered it unusable. The school's colors are really, really dramatic, and the huge swatches of color overwhelmed the tiny, white text area. Paying attention to content was literally impossible. After much hooting, the design was redone.

    The second disaster involved the school's logos. Yes, both of them. One is a fussy shield design that's used for official business, and the other is a simple design primarily used for athletics, but since it's so well-known, it crept into the school's publicity and marketing materials, as well. In their infinite wisdom, the rebranding consultants decreed that the practically-unknown shield logo would henceforth be the only one used for publicity. Dumb idea. And then they had an even dumber idea: they redesigned the shield.

    The shield logo contains a handful of odd blob-like shapes, and the consultants decided to remove them, claiming that the blobs cluttered the design, and "nobody knows what they are, anyway." Problem is, those little blobs are the reason the university even exists. The school is a land-grant agriculture school, and the blobs represent the region's main--and almost only--agricultural product. Shrieking ensued. Both decisions were quickly reversed, so other than a splash of color, the shield logo remains unchanged and appears only on top-level administrative material, and the university's distinctive athletics logo appears on everything else.

    The third rebranding disaster involved going to a content management system. The CMS was a good idea, really, as it replaced an unsightly and unprofessional hodgepodge of independent websites. However, the consultants seemed to forget that the university doesn't just consist of check-writing administrators; the university's real work goes on in its departments, so that's where most of the design effort should go, right? Wrong. The consultants didn't create a sufficient number of lower-level page designs, and departments couldn't post anything, nor were they allowed to create their own pages, as they had before.

    To the consultants' credit, though, they did publish a website containing detailed information about the school's visual identity, and tech-savvy faculty can create official-looking materials if they like.

  8. Suggestion: get a printout of the poster, scan it, and save it as a PDF. You can then print it to your local printer as you require without having to pay the high price of color printouts. If you are handy with Photoshop, you could save it as a JPG, trim out any white border that you don't like, and even change the date if you have another event that is similar. If you don't have a scanner, a local Kinko's or copy shop should be able to provide one for a fee.

    As far as Marketing Departments, yeah, they may seem useless, but I work for a communications department, which is kind of similar, and we do all this stuff for our faculty. We would never expect a faculty member to create a poster for a campus event. Likewise with reserving the room, booking speakers, arranging for catering, parking for visitors, videotaping of the event, promoting it everywhere, and so forth. We do all of that for individual events without any credit or citation; the events still 'belong' to the faculty and they are the ones to receive compliments if the event goes off well. So, I don't agree that marketing departments (or communications, PR, external relations, or whatever they might be called) are totally useless. They can save the faculty a lot of time and aggravation and money for stuff like printing posters comes from the marketing budget, not an individual professor's grant.

  9. Wow, I thought that was my university for a moment. But it can't be, because you would have mentioned that the marketing department requires us to us a specific font for all flyers and posters, and CHARGES US MONEY to install this font on our computers. (It is not available elsewhere).

  10. For crying out loud. This is a new one on me. There's no end to the new abominations they come up with, is there? I wish someone had channeled this imagination into a more constructive direction.

  11. They did this at my last job. It was almost exactly like what Mindbender described--the traditional crest/shield was partially supplanted by a logo that is associated with the athletic programs. I found it baffling and was able to ignore it.

    But it is clearly becoming common now. I've been noticing at conferences that people are turning up with these school-branded power point presentations. I hadn't put two and two together until reading this post, but I guess this is a joyous look at all our futures.


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