The Cornell Logo That Failed

13 01 2015

Let me start with a rhetorical question: What makes a college? Academics? Athletics? The physical facilities themselves? The logo?

The last one doesn’t really seem like it should be a contributing factor. But there have been claims that it made all the difference for Cornell, causing it to lose prestige in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

It seems like the silliest thing in the world, but here’s the argument. In 1999, Cornell was 6th. By 2004, it had dropped to 14th. One of the reasons for this was brand image – a clunky website, bland brochures, and the logo.  Quote:  “Imagine a flag of the old Soviet Union: a field of red, and in the middle in plain white letters, Cornell.”

Most folks familiar with the 1999-2004 logo not-so-fondly describe it as the one that looks like a J.C. Penney knockoff (J. C. Penney had a similar logo from 2000-2006). Well, funny story about that. From the 2006 NPR interview:

Ms. HEATHER GRANTHAM (co-chair, Cornell image committee): The company that designed that logo originally was the same company that designed the almost identical big red box for J.C. Penney. It’s not Cornell. It’s not Ivy, it doesn’t have that history, and so we really wanted to make that push to revert back to some form of the original crest.

It must have been a busy week for the logo designer (who oddly enough, I can’t even find the name of online). Given the complaints above, and J.C. Penney’s market tumble, I’d be hesitant to hire this company.

The student-led Cornell Image committee made it a priority in the mid-2000s to bury that logo in favor of something more traditional and “Ivy” – the simplified emblem by Chermayeff and Geismar Inc. that Cornell still uses today. It was hoped that it would make Cornell look less like Michigan and more like Harvard. The committee also had goals of reducing class sizes, limiting enrollment and increasing financial aid to minorities, all ways to game the rankings.

Some of those things may have happened (Cornell improved its financial aid, but enrollment has climbed), but rankings haven’t really changed much, hovering between 12th and 16th since the logo was changed at the end of 2004 (for the record, Cornell is currently ranked 15th by U.S. News & World Report). The rankings the NPR interview used were cherry-picking anyway. Cornell spent most of the 1990s hovering between 10th-14th; 1999 was an anomalously good year. So the change isn’t very effective on paper, but I do prefer the current logo to the old one.


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2 responses

13 01 2015
kay

Cool article. I see the old logo around and it really is terrible. Most of campus has updated thankfully. On a similar note: I wish the athletic logos were standardized a bit. Lacrosse wears just the shield itself, soccer a full-color crest, football and wrestling wear a classic C, squash wears whatever t-shirt they can find, and swimming wears nothing. And then the rest of the gear has the C with a bear popping through it. Seems like every team is just doing what it wants and there is no clear aesthetic. Tough to relate with everyone if we all seem to be representing different things.

18 06 2015
Seven Years Later | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] incoming madam president, a history of Cornell’s ladder-climbing provosts, Cornell’s logo failure, and dogs at Cornell. There were also some new fast facts entries, including a couple for Ithaca […]

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