November 14, 2003

Lehman to Judge Logo's Future

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President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 told The Sun in an interview on Tuesday afternoon that he will evaluate Cornell’s logo and determine its fate by the end of the academic year.

“This is one of the things I hear a lot about,” Lehman said. “I’m thinking a lot about its future.”

The current Cornell logo — a solid red square containing the word “Cornell” — was designed and implemented in late 2000 by a team of University graphic designers in consultation with Lippincott Mercer, a design and brand strategy consulting firm, according to Sally Dutko, associate director and art director of communication and marketing.

Katie Wharton, in Lippincott’s corporate communications office, could not confirm to The Sun last night how large of a role the company played in the University’s logo design.

According to University documents, “The Cornell Logo … is simple but elegant. It uses Cornell’s traditional color [Cornell Red] with great impact, makes Cornell clearly visible, and builds on the typeface that has been a University standard for fifteen years.”

The logo, in addition to Cornell’s website and public relations strategy, has recently come under fire by the Committee on Improving Cornell’s Image, an ad-hoc Student Assembly group headed by Peter S. Cohl ’04. The committee’s report, released to the S.A. and community on Oct. 2, urged Cornell to return to its traditional shield crest logo.

“The Big Red Box might be an adequate logo for J.C. Penney, from which it was likely adapted — but, it is not an enticing visual for those interested in studying … at an Ivy League University,” the report stated.

Multiple phone calls and messages left with J.C. Penney were not returned in time for publication last night.

The logo has also been scrutinized by University administrators and officials. In a 12-page letter to the College of Arts and Sciences faculty in September 2002, Philip Lewis, the former Harold Tanner Dean of the college, wrote that “[former Cornell president Hunter R. Rawlings III] summoned me to his office and stated forcefully his objections to the rhetoric of e-mails I had sent to Vice-President [Henrik N.] Dullea [’61]” raising questions about the Cornell logo.

The new logo was implemented after what Lehman characterized as a problem with the “radically decentralized” image of Cornell. Lehman said that a lack of consistency across departments and divisions of the University was creating a “regime of chaos.”

Different Cornell units used different images, from McGraw tower or the University seal to graphics with their own typefaces and sizes.

A desire to unify Cornell’s image was the driving force then behind the new logo, according to Lehman.

“There was a correct sense that we need something consistent,” he said.

Lippincott Mercer’s client list also includes Rowan College, Columbia Business School and the Universities of Illinois and Virginia.

Archived article by Marc Zawel