Recently, the University has been quietly trialling its new branding. It may have been slightly overshadowed by that tiny little national controversy over in-person exams, but it was important nonetheless. Now appearing on the scaffolding surrounding the new construction site (and future car park of your dreams!), and adorning the Student Hub newsletters defending said in-person exams, is the brand-spanking-new university logo! What a sight to behold.
Gone are the days of the boring, generic, unmemorable serif font in anaemic teal. Now we look to the future… a boring, generic unmemorable sans-serif font in anaemic teal. But now it has a little Fisher Price coat of arms of a deer attached. Oh, and an empty book. Because nothing screams a successful academic journey like an empty book!
I don’t know about you, but I think it’s design genius. It’s the new Nike, honestly. Just so quirky and memorable.
Now usually when companies go for a rounded sans-serif font, it’s to appear that bit more human and friendly. And I feel like that’s what the uni is going for here. They want to give the impression of being a human university that cares – which admittedly would be a little easier to believe if the management listened to the thousands of students who protested in-person exams. But regardless it still feels soulless in a way that only a single colour, mentally invisible, logo could. There’s no human element or there’s no prestige either to cling to with the baby’s first crest. It conveys nothing – at least WordArt has an aesthetic.
But to say the logo is disappointing would suggest it’s any way worse or better than the last one – it’s more of the same, and the same being bland corporate detritus. I genuinely think no one will really notice that the logo’s changed unless you point it out to them – and even then they’re probably more annoyed you interrupted them to do it.
It’s ultimately a very petty complaint, given the state of the world, but my disappointment comes from a earnest place. Because until extremely recently, we had the perfect mascot and the perfect logo: the dolphin.
The dolphin, for those unfamiliar, was the university’s old logo. First used in the early 90s and phased out about 10 years ago, everything Southampton-related was christened with the little black-and-blue dolphin. Buildings, workbooks, academic publications, keyrings, you name it. Even now, some clubs and societies formed during this time still have the dolphin in their logo somewhere. Growing up around the uni, I always thought it was a nice little logo that had a lot of personality. And look at it – isn’t that way better than a stag? Which, by the way, Surrey has been using as its mascot since it was founded in 1966 – the campus is literally atop Stag Hill. Why bother competing with that, especially when we had something way more interesting in the first place? What other uni uses a sea creature – please answer me that!
The University started to pivot away from frankly the best logo ever at the end of the 2000s. Despite thousands signing a “Save the Dolphin” e-protest, the University ignored them – quelle surprise. And the rebranding ended up costing £360,000 – back then the price of two houses instead of half of one. We’ve yet to find out how much this logo cost (and when we do find out, I’m sure it will be another article in the works soon!) but rest assured every penny was worth it – hundreds of thousands well spent on a logo people would at best see and go ‘oh, didn’t it used to be a bit different?’.
By 2012, they had changed to the bland soulless corporate logo known by all, and started the process of making sure the dolphin went extinct. They still kept the dolphin in the window of the Pret and Costa building – which I’m sure has a real name, but don’t pretend that you know what it is either – until fairly recently. And that brings us to today – no dolphin, all deer.
Sure, the dolphin looked a bit tacky in today’s world, but I’d argue that keeping it and giving the dolphin a refresh would have been better than deleting it from Southampton’s branding. Ultimately, the logo doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to the groundbreaking research and fantastic people that study here. But I would argue that having branding that’s just so visually empty, conveys nothing, and is no better than clip art, all while using our tuition fee money to do it, is just a little bit of a waste.
Especially when we got it right the first time.