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The Logo: Hanlon Hates Dartmouth

New Old Dartmouth logos and Stanford.jpgThe new College logo and overall re-branding strategy have been reported on in The D (here and here) and in the Valley News. On-line commentators have noted the symbol’s bland, generic look. In fact, you can almost see the filter through which the logo determination passed: “Above all, don’t offend anyone.”

Other writers have observed how we mimic Stanford’s long-held “tree symbol” (above right), which is not an official logo, but which has served as such in Palo Alto following the termination with extreme prejudice in 1975 of that school’s erstwhile symbol, the Indian. Sound familiar?

At first glance, note how the little tree in the logo’s green ground doesn’t tell any kind of story. I guess that it is true that the College is in the woods, but does that fact inspire anyone? Compared to the College seal, the new graphic is thin gruel. The seal gives us Dartmouth’s founding date — one of the oldest schools in the nation; the motto in Latin forcefully signifies our individuality in an ancient language; and depictions of Dartmouth Hall, the Bible, light from above, natives coming to education, the Lone Pine, the Connecticut River (the wavy lines) and a deciduous tree from the great northern forest complete our identity story. Each of these elements means something. In short, the seal states that there are elements of real substance in Hanover, and they have been here for centuries, too.

Regrettably the word “College” is still nowhere to be found in any of the new graphic elements (see the Office of Communications’ official style sheet here). Arguments have been made over the years, particularly in Carol Folt’s now long-forgotten strategic plan, that not being a university hurts us in overseas recruiting. Not only did Folt want to excise the word “College,” she was in favor of replacing it with the vanquished-by-history title “Dartmouth University.” But then, really, how much does the administration care about international students? After all, we withdrew their access to need-blind admissions several years ago. Returning “College” to our iconography would indicate that we once again had confidence about being the only non-university in the Ivies. Don’t hold your breath.

Take a look at our new image as compared to the online visuals used by other Ivy schools. Are you, like me, unthrilled? Do we stand out in any way compared to our peers? Sheesh. The new logo shows all the flair that a dull mathematician might bring to the visual arts:

Ivy Logos2.jpg

And when we go to the full Monty, the classic image that stands for everything that the College stands for, how do we look against the rest of the Ivies? Double sheesh. Not a big, bold Dartmouth by any means:

Ivy Crests.jpg

Beyond those esthetic arguments, the new logo just doesn’t speak in any way to history. As we approach the 250th anniversary of Eleazar Wheelock’s founding of the College — a courageous act that was not without risk in the northerly reaches of New England — does the logo give students and faculty any sense that they are standing on the shoulders of consequential men and women, people who built a school that, while a small college, has always punched well above its weight in competition with the other Ivy League schools and the world’s leading universities?

Do special snowflakes hear the message from this symbol that their responsibility is not simply to receive a good education; it is to continue a long line of achievement by people who approached Dartmouth with the utmost seriousness — as they now should. A logo should incite humility, an outward focus, a sense that personal problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, not when the College’s alumni over the centuries have ventured forth to do great things in war and science and the arts and industry.

In the end, the new logo is no more than a weak effort, the result of unimaginative work done by people who lack a liberal arts education. Phil Hanlon and his team just don’t know how to appeal to a person’s heart, to inspire people to understand what the College was and what it could be.

But more than that, Hanlon & Co. have turned their back on Dartmouth. By breaking any ties to the past, they seem to take the stand that they cannot learn anything from it. They evince an embarrassment about what the College was and still, for the time being anyways, is. They want to flee as fast as possible from anything that has made the College distinctive. Mediocrity here we come.

We all deserve a lot better.

Addendum: For a deeper historical understanding of the evolution of Dartmouth iconography, see the proposal drafted by Jonathan Good ‘94. He also adds a few comments on the new branding on his blog.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

It’s got to be the height of irony that the College has decided to emphasize the Lone Pine in their “rebranding” efforts, while the administration and trustees are planning to build a mega-dorm on the site of the Lone Pine that will destroy the only undeveloped parkland remaining on our campus. Another triumph for Phil in his unending questing to turn Dartmouth into Generic University XYZ! Well done, Phil!

Please, someone on the Board… Anyone?? Show us you’re listening!

Addendum: And another:

Just saw the new “D-Pine” logo. Strikes one as visually clumsy and an obvious rip-off of the stronger Stanford University “logo tree.” Is the message here that Dartmouth’s aspiration is to become a second-rate, me-too university? If so, it succeeds.

Addendum: And another:

The new branding is taking some heat based on the facebook posts. Some alums seem very disturbed — calling it cartoonish and amateur. One person aptly compared the new “D-Pine” to a summer camp logo. Others have pointed out the similarity to the Stanford tree logo. I personally am not a fan of any of the changes (including the new wordmark), and have always felt that the Dartmouth shield should be more prominent in our branding and website (like most of the other Ivies). I guess it takes time to accept change, but this seems to me like another ill-conceived (and costly) initiative of the Hanlon administration. We seem to be drifting further away from our roots — while distancing ourselves from the other Ivies in an unflattering manner.

Addendum: And another:

My son sent me the new logo which he (hah!) calls the “lone pine cone.” How much did this cost to dream up??? This “brand” certainly doesn’t speak to an institution that thinks seriously about itself. Golly, it is difficult to bear witness to the continued erosion of our dear College.

Addendum: The commentary on social media has been brutal:

Logo Social Media Comments.jpg


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