GW nears unveil of new logo

Two years of work by two top-notch branding agencies will culminate Sunday when GW releases its new logo.

The University brought on FutureBrand and 160over90 – companies that have headed up high-profile branding and marketing campaigns for clients like the London 2012 Olympics and Mercedes Benz, respectively – to craft a new “visual identity.” It will be revealed publicly for the first time at a showy celebration in University Yard, with free food, music, giveaways and a mobile studio that will record students’ GW stories.

Within weeks, the University’s marketing brochures, websites, videos and advertisements will reflect the new image and message.

Associate Vice President for External Relations Sarah Baldassaro declined to comment on the details of the contracts – including the cost – related to the two agencies. She said the bill was footed primarily out of the Office of External Relations budget, and the pocket of a donor whose name was not disclosed. She also declined to release the price tag for the unveiling event and mobile studio.

Michigan State University paid 160over90 $478,000 for a similar rebranding campaign in 2010, according to its student newspaper, The State News.

Air Malta paid FutureBrand just over $501,000 in July for that the airline’s new logo, according to Malta Today and the Times of Malta, two of the country’s newspapers.

McCann Worldgroup, FutureBrand’s parent company, billed the U.S. Army $1 billion for its “Army Strong” slogan and advertising campaign in 2006, according to USA Today.

At GW, FutureBrand was tasked with the big-picture design work. The company created the logo, developed the new color palette and selected a typeface from the sans serif family – which includes fonts like Arial – rather than a serif font like Times New Roman. In an initial litmus test, the firm interviewed students, faculty and staff on what they felt the University stands for.

Mark Thwaites, creative director at FutureBrand, said one-on-one conversations helped craft GW’s new brand.

“The crux of that work was defining the fact that it is in Washington D.C., but more than just being a pin on a map, it is really the epicenter of policy of the world, so we tried to bring a bigger story to that,” Thwaites said.

Once the team identified GW’s most unique features – which he would not discuss – Thwaites said they became the “pillars” that will unify the new message across different media platforms and the University.

160over90 determined how to apply FutureBrand’s ideas to materials like the signs that deck Foggy Bottom’s streets to identify the campus and mark apparel and marketing materials.

The current logo, which features a solemn right-facing George Washington, is not easily replicated on online platforms – a problem University officials have noted as messaging moves further into the digital world.

“[The old logo] tended to create a bit of a ransom-note type feel in application, so we really wanted to clean that up and bring a science to when you use the typography – when you use certain colors and color palettes – so we did all that,” Thwaites said.

John McGlasson, assistant director of visual design, created a new portrait of George Washington based on a bust created by Jean-Antoine Houdon, a French sculptor. The statue of George Washington in University Yard is a cast of that work.

The new portrait will feature a serif font and a sepia-toned George Washington facing forward with an upward tilt.

While the old logo was emblazoned with “The George Washington University,” the new logo refers to the school’s shortened, colloquial name: GW.

The University quietly revealed the logo to a group of about 100 faculty and staff members in March. Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles said the audience had a generally positive reaction, with criticism like the boldness of its logos too extreme. She said the comments were taken into account as the design process continued through the summer.

The new brand will not change athletic gear or apparel, although members of the Department of Athletics and Recreation were on a 75-person feedback group made up of students, faculty and staff that met throughout the process.

It could take up to a year and a half for the full rollout of new marketing materials. Banners across campus and web tools will change immediately after the Aug. 26 event, but other materials such as brochures, business cards, apparel and advertisements will be phased in over time as offices restock their materials.

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