New York University’s Clean & Modern Logo Stands As An Iconic Symbol (slide 1)

New York University Logo Design: A Case Study

New York University is a renowned institution of higher learning. It consistently ranks among the nation’s top universities as ranked by US News. Founded in 1831, the University has enjoyed wide success with its doctoral programs in fields such as law, medicine, education, and dentistry. Today, the University has a total enrollment of 50,500, making it one of the largest universities in the nation. As befitting a great institution of higher education, NYU has a well-crafted logo full of meaning and ethos.

Below we look at the NYU logo, what it signifies, and how this is accomplished in the logo design.

New York University’s Clean & Modern Logo Stands As An Iconic Symbol (slide 2)

NYU Logo Typography and Minimalism

The NYU logo uses a sans-serif font, which gives a very modern, clean and simple aesthetic to the brand. Sans-serif fonts have become popular, not just with universities, but in the corporate world as well.

The use of sans-serif became widely adopted as part of the minimalist movement which started in New York in the 1960s. Minimalist designers tended to avoid the dramatic and emotional design of the 1940s and 1950s. The earlier style was called Abstract Expressionism and focused on the richness of symbols.

The use of a minimalist style for NYU lets the focus be on the underlying object, which is the university itself, rather than the flourishes of the design. The effect is a nearly timeless design that stands its own even when design trends change. 

New York University’s Clean & Modern Logo Stands As An Iconic Symbol (slide 3)

NYU Logo and the Color Choice of White Against Violet

When it comes to colors, the University’s logo has two primary colors: violet and white. A white torch is set against a darker, violet, background. The white color signifies the university’s role as a leading light. The logo borrows from classical Athens and Greek concepts of light as enlightenment. Indeed the torch is modeled after those used in that world of antiquity, rather than a more modern design of a light.

Likewise, the choice of violet is rooted in the ancient Greek world. The Greeks had a tremendous role in the development of Western civilization. Their ideas inspired our widely-held values around education and learning. Violet, in the ancient world, according to the university’s historiographers, was identified with Athens, the center of learning in its time. Hence, it is an appropriate color for the university given this association. NYU, according to the logo, is the new center of learning for the world.

NYU's Logo and Brand Image - Do They Go Together?

According to its founders in 1831, New York University started out as a university that was “in and of the city.” Since then, both New York City and the University have evolved. NYU now places great importance on its reputation as an international leader in education.

When you take into account this evolution towards a global leadership position, then the torch logo serves the university’s destiny superbly. From being in and of the city, the university is now a torch, or a light, shining education and knowledge far beyond the country’s borders.

New York University’s official seal portrays a group of runners carrying a “torch of learning.” The seal is the background against which the logo must be measured. Not only is it older, going back to the early days of the university, but it boldly proclaims what NYU is about as a university. Since the logo mirrors the same “torch of learning,” there’s a high degree of agreement. The two branding parts are a natural fit.

The university’s motto is “Perstare et Praestare.” This is Latin. Translated into English, it reads “To Persevere and to Excel.” It’s about as succinct a statement as possible about the NYU brand.

Remarkably, taking the logo with its ethos of progress and learning side by side with the motto, both are remarkably apt. The short and concise phrase of the motto is matched evenly by the equally simple but crystal-clear image of the light-giving torch.

It’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is to create a logo design that so succinctly captures what an institution is about, but do not be fooled. This logo is the work of an expert designer, and it is the result of careful thought to distill the brand’s essential qualities.

New York University’s Clean & Modern Logo Stands As An Iconic Symbol (slide 4)

A Multi-Purpose Logo Design With Numerous Variants

The NYU logo design is adaptable. For most internal purposes, the university’s style guide indicates that it uses a short version of the logo with the lettering “NYU.” This suffices because an internal audience knows what the university is all about.

For external communications, however, the university uses a long logo with the words “NEW YORK UNIVERSITY,” in full. This helps communicate the full brand of the university to outsiders. In addition, the variant with the full name of the university works better for more formal occasions. Not only is the lettering adaptable, but so are the colors. Instead of a violet and white palette, other versions of the logo use black and white. This version is suitable for black and white, as opposed to color, environments. For example, certain black and white print leaflets or posters can use this version of the logo.

Another remarkable show of versatility is the logo’s adaptation across the various NYU professional schools and departments. The idea of the torch is always present in these variants, but it is combined with the different names of the schools or departments. Each school branch may add an element that best represents its unique focus, such as NYU Shanghai (above).

NYU's Logo Development and Motivation

NYU’s iconic logo was designed by Tom Geismar. Geismar is an award-winning designer who has worked on logos for other top institutions and companies. He has designed logos for, among others, Chase Manhattan Bank, Xerox, and Princeton University Press.

The designer gave an interview with NYU’s student-run blog in which he revealed the design choices that went into the New York University logo.

According to Geismar, the logo needed to serve a practical purpose, which was to identify NYU buildings. The school’s buildings were interwoven with the city, to reflect the “in and of the city” ethos.

Geismar looked at the university’s shield for inspiration, which he found in the torch of learning that symbolized much of the university’s identity. According to Geismar, the torch represents light and knowledge.

While he considered more abstract representations of a torch, he finally settled on the image of a torch in light color against a dark background. This simpler version was chosen because it was easy for any audience to understand.

How To Apply Lessons From The NYU Logo To Your Designs

There are many takeaways from the NYU logo that you can apply in your own designs. First, simplicity can be an effective tool. Though Geismar had the skills to come up with something quite complicated, he settled for a simpler representation of a world center of knowledge.

In addition, when working on pre-existing brands, rather than entirely new brands, you need to take care to integrate the previous brand concepts into your design. A great logo design will resonate with the existing brand assets of the institution unless a radical departure is needed.

NYU extracted a small part of a big whole and created a logo out of that. The logo and the university shield that inspired it, therefore, share the commonality of a torch. The language is the same, adding unity and clarity to the university’s visual communication.

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