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Brand Review: Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University Brand Review: A Missed Opportunity

Vanderbilt University is a renowned academic institution that has garnered national recognition through its academic and athletic prowess. However, its recent brand identity redesign has left many (at least me) disappointed, especially those in the South. The oak leaf “V”, which was once a unique and iconic symbol of Vanderbilt University, has fallen from the tree and been discarded.

Upon further research, it seems that Vanderbilt University started a promising design process (made possible by Upsatement, phenomenal typography, UI, and systems design you all) but failed to follow through, resulting in a lackluster brand identity that fails to represent the university's name and reputation. While the university has adopted new typographic standards and refreshed colors, the new logo marks and graphic language have been designed in-house, which is a shame as it forfeits the expertise of professionals.

Previously, Vanderbilt University's logo was a “V” with an oak leaf as its counter—a simple yet beautiful design that was both unique and recognizable. However, the new logo mark, a nondescript “V” with sharp serifs, lacks originality and could belong to any other school in the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, it seems to be designed around sports, which is a worrying trend as academic programs should be at the forefront of any university's branding.

Designing a brand identity around sports suggests that the university views itself as a place for entertainment, which undermines its academic programs. Sports may be a significant source of funding for institutions, but they should not be the primary focus of branding. Vanderbilt University's brand identity redesign is an indication that academic programs and athletic institutions may eventually split, with the latter carrying the financial burden of the former.

And yet, athletic director Candice Lee named what I believe is fundamental and the imperative of all university and school brands in the future—that academics and athletics are one and the same. In an article by The Tennessean, they wrote:

“At a school where the athletics department has often been at odds with the university administration," Lee said "it was important for the school to have the same logo for the university and athletics to signify the two areas coming together under one roof.”

Agreed. But don’t give up such a beautiful heritage to appease a few coaches. Their job is to coach, not design. Let's just say you’ll never catch me giving baseball signs or calling football plays—I’m just a designer.

The new Vanderbilt “V” may fade into the background of a sea of capital “V”s as it lacks the striking characteristics that could have made it stand out—just the opposite of the goal from Vanderbilt to “own the V”. The university missed a valuable opportunity to create a unique and timeless brand identity that could have been a masterclass in branding for other institutions to follow. That poor oak leaf had so much potential.

Overall, Vanderbilt University's recent brand identity redesign is a missed opportunity that fails to represent the university's name and reputation. While the new typographic standards and refreshed colors are beautiful, the logo marks and graphic language lack originality and focus on sports. This is a worrying trend that suggests a shift towards entertainment rather than academics, which could have significant consequences in the long run. Universities should focus on branding their academic programs as well as their athletics, and Vanderbilt University's brand identity redesign is a cautionary tale of what can happen when they don't.

Kaleb Dean
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Vanderbilt University Crest
New Vanderbilt Football Helmets
RIP to the iconic Acorn V.
V Logos Left to Right: Villanova, Virginia, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt White Football Helmet
Vanderbilt Logo Lockup and Spacing
School & Department Hierarchy
Vanderbilt Athletics V and Academics V
Vanderbilt Flag Mockup
Vanderbilt Star Logos for Athletics
Vanderbilt Football

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