University of Colorado

22 January 2011

Buffaloed in Boulder: University of Colorado’s New $780,000 Logo

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Logo Design Undercharger; photo by Johntex via Wikimedia Commons…

I had no idea I was leaving so much money on the table.

I help clients develop new brand identities, including logos and look-and-feel guidelines. For this I charge a few thousand dollars, depending on a few variables, but never more than $10K. At least, not until I came across this article about the University of Colorado’s new logo

University of Colorado officials have unveiled a new logo and branding of the traditional CU logo after a two-year, $780,000 effort. The four-campus system will now use a lighter gold interlocking CU logo, with a consistent typeface instead of the “hundreds” of other logos now in use, according to campus officials. “Everyone has their own look, feel, messages,” university system spokesman Ken McConnellogue said of the various logos used by departments on campus. “It’s inefficient and ineffective.” The project was not paid for with tuition, state or donor funds, according to McConnellogue. Instead, money for hiring an international marketing and design firm came from the president’s initiative fund.


I knew Pepsi had spent $1 million on its new logo – but PepsiCo enjoyed $108 billion in worldwide retail sales in 2009, so putting a new face on their legendary flagship brand cost them less than 5 minutes worth of sales.

The University of Colorado? Well, they just jacked up their undergrad tuition by 9%, inspiring one CU student to pay his fees in $1 dollar bills. Here’s how the university justified that tuition hike (quoted from the university’s own website):

Board of Regents Chair Steve Bosley said unprecedented higher education funding challenges are forcing CU and other public universities around the country to explore every option when it comes to providing access to all students and keeping important academic and research programs in place. “CU is a public university. We have to honor our commitment to Colorado citizens by providing access to students of all backgrounds, and by offering them a good education without compromising the quality of our programs and services,” Bosley said. “We have world-class academic and research programs in place that are contributing to Colorado’s economic, social and cultural well-being, and we can’t risk losing them.”

Apparently, a new logo is critical to Colorado’s well-being. And I thought California had problems.

The jaw-dropping part? Check out the difference between the new and old logos:

Old University of Colorado Logo

CU before…

New University of Colorado logo

… and CU later!

I can see the improvement (though some see a swastika in the new logo), but I can’t say I see six-figures or two years worth of design. (Pepsi was mocked for spending five months on its new logo.) Even at my greediest, I would have done a little tweak like that in, oh, a day or two for a thousand bucks tops. For $780,000, I would have thrown in an independent film about CU. Clearly, I’m selling my services way short.

A commenter at named usapatriotinco had an even better idea:

“Couldn’t they have asked their graphic arts students to design a new logo? It would have been a lot cheaper, and allowed the winner to have something to place on a resume.”

I second that emotion.

While no tuition, state or donor funds went into this masterpiece, CU’s president could have used his “initiative fund” (whatever that is) for something more useful, like, say, “providing access to all students and keeping important academic and research programs in place.”

The greatest irony? A new logo is supposed to improve one’s brand; instead, this marketing mishap has dinged CU’s reputation. Rather than symbolize university greatness, this new logo has critics seeing nothing but dollar signs.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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