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Monday, December 7, 2009

Let Sleeping Dawgs Lie

UMBC is looking to change its athletic logo, and is currently letting students, faculty, staff, and alumni vote for one of three choices for the new logo. After carefully examining all of the options set before me, I cast my vote--by writing to my dear alma mater and requesting that they keep the current logo.

I don't necessarily hate the new logos; I just don't think any of them are demonstrably better than the current logo. But to me, there are several issues with the thought of making this change.

The first two are procedural. This may or may not be a tenet to logo redesign, but it's one that I believe in, and I personally think is somewhat intuitive. Rule number 1: Go hard or go home. Each of the designs presented features the same design elements as the current logo: The "UMBC" arc with the retriever's head in front of it. IT would seem to me a small change is no change at all. For a contrasting example, I arrived at USF right around the time that they were changing  from the "Iron Bull" logo to the new "Iconic U" logo. This change was significant, and even included a change in the school colors--from green and gold (yellow) to green and gold (tan/metallic). It was truly a rebranding, as opposed to the current proposal which is, at best, a reorganization.

My second issue I hope will not offend anyone. I mean no disrespect to the folks in creative services at UMBC, at least one of whom is a friend of mine. They do great work and always make UMBC look good. But for a logo redesign, I think it would be prudent to go with someone from outside the university; someone who can look at the opportunity to rebrand with fresh eyes and from an outsiders perspective. it may be that the team responsible for the redesign was already quite close to the situation, both as employees and potentially as alumni as well. This could be part of the similar looking options.

That said, I realize that we don't have the easiest logo to overhaul. We lack one identifying characteristic that is utilized in a lot of university logos: A "power letter," or single identifying letter. We are a university of four letters, no one more important than another. Even emphasizing the "BC" highlights the fact that we are the only non-community-college with "county" in our name, not to mention looking like Boston College. It also doesn't particularly help that we are a very specific breed of dog-- a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and as such our logo being at least a distinctive likeness is important.

Nowhere have I seen it said why there is a need to even change the logo, but if I had to guess, I would think that part of the reason is that they feel the current logo looks too "friendly." Granted, it's not the fiercest, but hey, it's ours. What's more, if that's the concern, there are derivatives of the logo that can be used: Simply the UMBC arc, or an unsanctioned but sometimes used alternate logo: A dog's paw.

This brings me to another point: UMBC has never really utilized a "logo family" concept--that is, several related logos that are derivatives of the same piece. Here at UNCG, where I work, the logo family concept is in full effect; USF supplements the iconic U with the USF wordmark and the bull shield. UMBC really only has the arc as an offshoot.

In each of the proposed new logos, white is a prominent color. While white is used by nearly all athletic programs (often for away football uniforms and home basketball uniforms), the issue comes with the fact that athletically, UMBC's colors are black and gold, while Towson University across town utilizes black, gold, and white. Why would we want to be so close to the school in the Baltimore metro area that is probably the most like us?

The page that shows the options for the new logo also links to logo trends as a means of justification for the change. If the double-stroked text is important as they say (and mind you, the options here are triple-stroked, or perhaps double-stroked and shadowed) why not either stroke in black-gold-black or use the white simply as one of the interior strokes?  The logo trends page also points out that schools are using more cartoonish and proper-colored mascots, which explains the brown dogs on the options. In addition to further serving to de-emphasize our colors as black and gold, this poses a problem for cheap reproduction in the form of one-color imprint t-shirts. I own UMBC shirts that are a one color black imprint on a gold shirt, which suffices for an accurate display of our logo while still keeping the cost down. This is no longer an option when black, gold, white, and brown all need to be incorporated.

Now on to the selfish pieces. As an alumnus, I stubbornly want to see the logo stay as it was when I graduated (though I would welcome a marked improvement). As a donor, I donated a custom bass drum head to the pep band a couple years back and would rather not see it rendered obsolete. And I've got a good amount of UMBC merchandise which, of course, bears the current logo.

Interestingly enough, the page that shows the options also shows the current logo amongst logos from the area and from the rest of the America East conference. In both cases, our logo fits quite well. Why, then, is there a need for a change? While I mentioned in this post a change I'd welcome, I see no reason for that or another change that this point. Still, at the end of the day, I love my alma mater, and I'll support whatever new logo we may have. Here's hoping they hold on to what we've got.
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