Penn State’s New Academic Mark Is Just Awful
You know that feeling of unique frustration that accompanies attempts to fathom the unfathomable? Like trying to wrap your head around the size of the universe, for instance?
It is that very feeling that’s forced me out of Onward State retirement to complain. That feeling is bred from this disaster:
Above, we have Penn State’s new academic mark, which will replace the familiar shield you’ve seen on every classroom podium and in countless other places around campus. Penn State claimed the need to rebrand existed because the old mark didn’t translate well digitally and was not uniformly employed across Penn State’s various enterprises, so it sought to create a mark “strong, distinct, memorable, enduring, visually appealing, meaningful, and legally available,” as delineated in this cringeworthy PowerPoint presentation. After five months of work, consultation with more than 300 faculty members, research, and $128,000, Penn State’s branding team revealed what you see above, the “single most visible representation of our university.”
Perhaps you’ve found my introduction dramatic, but, truly, my brain is not able to understand how a team of people supposedly proficient in this industry gathered, toiled, critiqued this new mark, and concluded, “Yes, this will do nicely!”
It’s flummoxing on levels varied. Penn State owns an empire of untapped, free student resources on its very campus. Every year, Penn State students create unforgettable logos for THON and Homecoming. A competition to rebrand Penn State and have your work displayed all over campus would certainly bring out the best in the more creative among us; I am certain that our students could create a logo far superior to this one, a logo that the university could own as self-made. Instead, Penn State outsourced this project to create some embryonic emblem in which a should-be-proud Lion appears to have caught his girl cheating on him. He truly appears aghast at his inclusion on this shield, does he not? Maybe the Lion is so stunned that it cost $128,000 to create him, with future costs untold for his implementation all over Penn State’s 8,556-acre campus and digital landscape. For an added level of pain, consider that the design team modeled the Lion after the one who poses in such a stately fashion on our Shrine. A re-imaging of the Shrine should be regal, not bashful, like this version sent to me by an alumnus following this column’s original publication:Rival schools’ jabs are well-deserved.
Moving along the mark…what the just absolute hell is up with that font selection? Is Penn State a bank? For heaven’s sake, the marketing team’s PowerPoint included benchmarks to which the new Penn State logo cowers:
The other marks are proud and bold, while our new Lion is downright spooky. They all use almost all capital letters and include some recognizable mark. It’s also clear that their designers know what a space bar is. Word to the wise, Penn State: If you want to update your university mark for the digital age, perhaps you shouldn’t pick a font so similar to comic sans.
But what baffles me so consummately isn’t that the Lion may have just pooped himself or that the font is more appropriate for a kindergarten. No, it’s that we’ve been here before. Poignantly. Recently. Every Penn Stater knows the abject embarrassment of our Penn State Lives Here campaign, canned after months of ridicule and some fantastic irony. After such failure, the parallels are purely inexplicable. Penn State wanted to epitomize some bullshit buzzwords in the Penn State Lives Here campaign, just as our new mark seeks to represent more bullshit buzzwords. Both campaigns could have been homegrown and relatively cheap. Both were met with immediate disapproval.
My disappointment compounds when I consider the impressive debut new Vice President for Strategic Communications Lawrence Lokman made at Penn State. Until now, Lokman really did spearhead a bold new attitude for Penn State’s public relations department, responding aggressively yet tactfully to the NCAA’s email leaks and Olbermann’s vitriol. It stings to see backtracking on such refreshing competence, but it’s encouraging to know Lokman is certainly better than this and shouldn’t be judged for one failure. Indeed, the university’s reasons for a refreshed brand identity are perfectly reasonable — the outcome, of course, is awful.
The community’s near unanimity in disapproval of the new mark should not be taken lightly. Please, ponder for a moment how hard it is to get Penn Staters to agree on anything nowadays. Now that you’ve done that, scroll to the comments section of our original story on the new mark. As I write this, there are zero positive comments! None! Everyone hates it! This kind of uniform agreement is usually reserved for Keith Olbermann scenarios. At the time of this writing, a petition to change the mark has almost 2,000 signatures.
All of this hubbub may strike some as trifling, but the marketing team got one thing right in its presentation: The university’s mark represents indelible imagery of what it should represent. This mark fails.
At least we still have our chipmunk.