Along with the grand opening of the University’s new bookstore, R.J. Julia, came a line of clothing and apparel unique to the store. Nearly all of the store’s branded goods can be recognized by a new and modern logo, which uses the font Verag Black and is made up of a large “W,” with the word “WESLEYAN” written all in capital letters underneath it.
While some have lauded the new brand for its fresh take on the classic school logo, others have been quick to criticize it for its lack of aesthetic appeal. Nevertheless, concerns that this logo is supposed to replace the current logo are unfounded. This logo was created to give R.J. Julia a special appeal during its launch and allow it to sell items that customers can’t purchase elsewhere.
The University is making significant rebranding efforts and is currently in the process of designing a new flagship logo, distinct from the school’s other two affiliated logos, which include the R.J. Julia logo and the athletic logo. Key Nuttall, the Chief Communications Officer at Wesleyan, was clear to differentiate the school’s broader rebranding efforts from the new R.J. Julia logo that was released last spring.
“[The R.J. Julia logo] was more of an opportunistic thing,” Nuttall said. “When the store was launched [we wanted to] to try out a new thing. We didn’t do that as phase one. There was no connection [to our current rebranding efforts].”
The new R.J. Julia logo has not been as successful as anticipated.
“The more traditional athletic logo, even without the bird, is more popular,” said Director of Marketing for the University, Deb Katz. “When [alumni] come into the store, they’re familiar with a certain thing and this is a new thing… The traditional mark has been more popular so they’re probably going to stock less of [the new] mark.”
Whether the new logo’s limited success is a consequence of the design itself or general resistance to change is hard to discern.
Steven Jacaruso, the Art Director of the University’s Communications department, designed the new R.J. Julia logo.
“This is also a font that we used in the ‘This is Why’ campaign, so this is something that we have some equity in,” Nuttall explained. “We wanted to see if it could come to life…in a non-print form.”
The department hired ‘Nail,’ a creative ad agency, to help design the new logo. Nail, which is based in Rhode Island, boasts a variety of well-known clientele including Keurig, Stonyfield Organic, Honeywell, Brown University, and New Balance. Creating a new brand, Nuttall explained, is a complicated and difficult process, something beyond the capacities of the university’s four-person in-house design team. Some have questioned why the launch of the new official logo didn’t coincide with the opening of R.J. Julia, and whether the new R.J. Julia logo was created in its place as a sort of interim logo, causing unnecessary confusion and disunity in the overall image of the school.
“The bookstore opened before the firm had been selected,” Nuttall said.
This confusion concerning the University’s branding is something the Communications Department is hoping to correct through the release of the new logo next year.
“We need to create a system,” Nuttall said. “It’s not always consistent. [Departments] say ‘I’m a part of Wesleyan and I want to look like I’m a part of Wesleyan,’ but they don’t know how to do that because we’ve never made it easy… You’ll see a facilities truck go by and they have [the athletic] logo on there, [but] that doesn’t make any sense.”
Academic departments and school facilities aren’t the only part of the University affected by the confusion surrounding the various logos. If a customer wants to buy a Wesleyan T-Shirt, they can choose between three sellers: the Athletics Department, Cardinal Tech, or R.J. Julia.
“[But] if you bought something at the store downtown and you came up here to return it…they’ll say ‘you didn’t buy that here we can’t stock that here,’” Nuttall explained.
He is hoping this will change, as the stores begin to communicate with each other and stock common items.
“Our organization shouldn’t be [their] problem,” Nuttall added.
The creation of the new logo will inevitably mean the phasing out of the current mark. The current logo, which the Communications Department refers to as ‘the stamp,’ simply isn’t as dynamic or engaging as it needs to be, Katz explained. Designed in 2005, in the pre-digital marketing age, it wasn’t created with social media or web design in mind.
There are no plans to discontinue or replace the current athletic logo.
“[The athletic logo] is highly successful, there’s no desire to change or affect that,” Nuttall assured.
Despite the logistical difficulties the University has faced in unifying its image, the Communications Department is excited for the creation of the new logo.
“The new logo [should] enhance the reputation of Wesleyan,” Nuttall said. “Wesleyan is a great place but we haven’t always told our story very effectively… That’s our whole job here: to tell Wesleyan’s story as effectively as possible. What things look like can really help or hinder that. We want it to be easy for people to connect Wesleyan with the mark. We need to make it clear that this is Wesleyan, this is our Wesleyan. This a distinctive place, it’s not boring.”
The design team is hoping the new logo will mark a departure from tradition and reflect Wesleyan’s unique character.
“We want to represent that in the mark so you see it and say ‘that’s Wesleyan,’” Katz said. “Especially because we have this very traditional [logo] and I think that gives us room to have something that’s maybe less traditional. [We] want it to be more modern and distinctive.”
While it is impossible for a school’s story to be fully encapsulated in a mere logo, Nuttall and Katz are hoping to at least capture the essence of Wesleyan in the new design.
“What is Wesleyan? The logo should be able to show that,” Nuttall said.
“[It will be] more modern with probably a little bit of a twist in there because the folks here at Wesleyan and the culture and everything…” Katz said. “We’re not standard by the book, we paint outside the lines.”
The Communications Department is hoping the new logo will be ready by June when admissions gear will be sent to incoming students.
“You could never write or create something that could ever come close to explaining what Wesleyan is,” Nuttall admitted. “But we’re [still] hoping to make something that is authentic and reflects the University.”
Sasha Cohen can be reached at email@example.com.