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What's in a name (or a wordmark)?

October 16, 2020
Messaging & copywriting

What's in a name? It’s a good question – one that we’ve been thinking about a lot in the Office of Strategic Marketing & Branding (SMB), particularly in the context of wordmarks and how to convey the identity of secondary units. If you used to have a wordmark but now don’t under the new brand guidelines, you might be feeling like your go-to tool was just removed from your toolbox.

We get it! And we also believe that moving away from a dependence on wordmarks not only helps to elevate the university brand, it will free you up to identify yourself in more meaningful ways. 

To illustrate the limitations of wordmarks, I like to think about them like name tags. Remember those days of large conferences and events, back before there was a pandemic? At the moment you walk into a room full of strangers, a name tag can feel like all you’ve got in terms of your identity. It can help you establish your presence and maybe even your place at the event.

But a name tag projects a fairly two-dimensional take on who you actually are (unless you’re famous, that is). If you were to stand in a room with a name tag on and not engage with anyone, people wouldn’t know who you are by the end of the event. In fact, you’d be lucky if they even remembered your name, because there isn’t much that’s memorable about a name tag.

It’s when you begin engaging with people in conversation that they begin to understand who you are, what you care about, and how you define your value, your purpose in the world. It’s when you ask questions of others and demonstrate your interest in people beyond yourself that people’s opinion of you is elevated and etched in their minds.

In developing the new brand, we’ve built in plenty of impactful ways to engage your audiences and say something meaningful about who you are and why people should remember you. Look for a new page on our brand guidelines website in the coming weeks, which will be packed with examples of how you can use typography, photography and messaging to add value to your unit’s identity. We hope that when you see all of the sans-wordmark potential, you’ll forget how important wordmarks once were.

Note: The image below is a design mockup that clearly identifies the unit without using a wordmark – even though the iSchool, a primary academic unit, has a wordmark. Not using it, however, allows the block I to be more prominant while making room for strategic messaging about the iSchool. For more information about the brand strategy to reduce wordmark use, see the Unit Wordmarks page on our site.