Dartmouth Overhauls Branding, School Logo

By Rob Wolfe

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-25-2018 4:19 PM

Hanover — Dartmouth College this week rolled out a new, simplified logo as part of a branding redesign that administrators say will standardize the school’s “visual identity” and present a unified message to the world.

Visitors to Dartmouth’s website or social media accounts will already see the new emblem, a green “D” with the Lone Pine, a symbol of the college, inside it. Along with that logo, which college officials call the “D-Pine,” the school’s “wordmark,” or the visual depiction of its name, has received a standardized font and color.

Justin Anderson, vice president for communications, led a year-long effort with input from students, faculty, staff and administrators to systematize the way Dartmouth and its many subsidiaries represent themselves visually.

“All you have to do is walk around campus and you’re going to see different representations of the Dartmouth wordmark in different places,” Anderson said. “You’re going to see one at Geisel (School of Medicine) that’s different from a sign hanging in Collis” — the student center on the Green — “which is different from what you’re going to see on the website, which is different from what you’ll see sold at (stores) on campus.”

The updated design also is meant to simplify and modernize Dartmouth’s symbols in a world where an image’s compatibility with social media platforms helps shape the success of the institution it stands for, Anderson said.

Administrators enlisted the New York City firm Original Champions of Design to help them pick a new visual framework, according to a Sunday college news release.

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The consultants drafted several options for logos, according to Anderson, and also created a new typeface for the wordmark called “Dartmouth Ruzicka,” after Rudolph Ruzicka, an illustrator and font designer who lived in Hanover.

Anderson declined to say what that work had cost.

The redesign has drawn mixed reactions from the community, with some lamenting that the new logo appeared to be replacing — or at least take precedence over — another commonly used icon, a shield with the school’s founding date.

The shield incorporates several of the college’s past symbols, including the Lone Pine, which refers a tree that was planted in the year of Dartmouth’s founding and came to represent its rural setting. Damage from lightning strikes and storms forced officials to cut the tree down in 1895, but Bartlett Tower, in College Park east of the Green, stands in its place.

The old crest also shows two Native Americans reading from an open book — an image some on campus were happy to see go.

Kendall Christensen, a junior studying at Baker-Berry Library on Wednesday, expressed concern that the depiction of Native people spoke to an “assimilationist” view of their place in American society.

“It doesn’t really help our cause to have that racist, imperialist symbol,” Christensen said.

Zakios Meghrouni-Brown, a senior sitting close by, agreed with that sentiment. As for the new logo, he said, “I think it’s acceptable.”

Both students said they preferred the aesthetic of the shield, the history and academic gravitas of which they felt were lacking in the new symbol.

“It feels a little corporate,” Meghrouni-Brown said.

“Your kids are going to make a lot of money if they come here,” Christensen said, summing up the impression the “D-Pine” gave her.

Those associations — between new and old, futuristic and historical, corporate and collegiate — played into reactions across the college community.

“It’s a shame that with the new logo Dartmouth has turned its back on its history,” Joe Asch, a 1979 alumnus who runs the news site Dartblog, said in an email.

But no aesthetic approach will please everybody, Anderson noted.

“You’re never going to come up with a design that everyone loves,” he said. “That’s inevitable.”

Anderson also said the “D-Pine” was not replacing the shield, per se: Before this new system, Dartmouth didn’t have one unified “brand mark,” he said, and administrators aren’t forbidding the use of the shield now.

Rather than the racial implications of the shield, Anderson said, administrators focused on the difficulty of using the old logo in a variety of formats. The finely detailed shield does not scale down to a recognizable Facebook or Instagram avatar, for instance.

“Of course I recognize that there is the representation of Native Americans that some people don’t like, which I totally respect,” he said. “The shield has been around since the 1940s and it will continue to be around.”

Jere Daniell, a professor emeritus of history who specializes in colonial history, including Dartmouth’s past, said the Lone Pine gained currency as a visual representation around the college’s bicentennial, in 1969.

Historical documents in Dartmouth’s Rauner Special Collections Library show earlier drafts of a similar tree, albeit with a more sharply conical shape — somewhat like the fletches of an arrow.

Native Americans appeared in the official seal that Dartmouth adopted in the late 1700s, according to Rauner’s records. Until the early 1970s, the school used the “Dartmouth Indian” as its athletic mascot, a practice phased out under the administration of President John Kemeny, who worked to make good on the school’s founding promise to educate Native people.

Administrators in coming months will keep working with individual schools and programs under Dartmouth’s umbrella to bring their logos in line with the new imagery, Anderson said.

The already simplified shields used by the Thayer School of Engineering and Tuck School of Business likely will see standardization, Anderson said. The athletics department’s aesthetic may see adjustment, too, although the bold “D” that the college’s sports teams use likely will remain, he said.

Visual changes are not all that the new communications strategy has in store, Anderson added. These adjustments are part of a “strategic communications framework” that identifies five “pillars” of Dartmouth’s brand, he said, including the school’s commitment to liberal arts and the teacher-scholar model that its faculty follow.

Kevin Lane Keller, a professor of marketing and prominent scholar of branding at Tuck, helped advise the creators of the visual and communications strategy.

In an interview on Wednesday, he noted a resistance among faculty and staff at old and prestigious institutions — whether law firms, colleges or elsewhere — to the perceived commerciality of defining and promoting their “brand.”

“Even if they feel that it’s something that needs to be done because that’s the reality of modern education — you’re competing for faculty, for students — there’s some resistance there,” he said.

Nevertheless, Keller said of the new system, “it is literally the visual representation of Dartmouth — all the things we do, all the classrooms and events, all that good stuff that people hear about and read about.

“So making sure it’s consistent and the right look that captures our heritage and what we feel that we’re passionate about — I think that’s really helpful.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.