New University of Kentucky logo stirs discussion

The new University of Kentucky logo.
The new University of Kentucky logo. Lexington

The University of Kentucky has sometimes been criticized for being a campus of independent units, with academic, athletics and health care divisions operating more separately than together. On a symbolic level, UK officials have decided that will no longer be the case.

They’ve unveiled a new logo, one that replaces the classic silhouette of the Memorial Hall steeple for the bold interlocked UK of athletics. The new logo and accompanying font will serve all three units and all the colleges and divisions contained within them.

Previously, all colleges have had different logos, from the sleek and modern logo of the College of Design to the rounded capital letters of the College of Fine Arts.

UK announced the change last week, and it has already prompted plenty of discussion on campus. UK’s student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, published a story that has become one of its most read ever.

Kernel editor-in-chief Will Wright said he thinks people took notice because the logo changes are also symbolic of the massive infrastructure change on campus, with dorms, academic buildings and a new student center currently under construction.

“I think people are interested because the logo is an easy change that people can see,” he said.

Many of those who commented on the story don’t like the logo because it replaces the academic symbol of UK — Memorial Hall — with an athletic one.

“I think a lot of people are upset that it’s taking away from the tradition of the place,”Wright said. “But it could be a good recruiting tool for UK; They go to a high school and it has the UK athletics logo, kids would get more excited about that than a Memorial Hall logo.”

Oscar Combs, the founder of Cats’ Pause and a sports commentator who co-hosts the UK Radio Network basketball pregame show, said that, as with many things, people should “follow the money.”

“I don’t have a problem with this, but I think when all is said and done, it’s obviously going to create more dollars in some form, probably from royalties from the new logo on merchandise,” he said.

More merchandising money helps athletics, but athletics also contributes money to academics. UK Athletics is paying about $65 million in debt on the construction of a $100 million science building.

But Mike Brassfield, a UK senior from Hebron, said the logo change is symptomatic of a deeper problem.

“The university is focusing its resources on things that look nice but don’t do anything that is nice for the students that are there,” he said. “A new logo makes everything look flashy, new dorms look good to high school seniors, and UK dining is really nice, but none of these projects will bring any equipment to labs or new professors. I don’t see how, despite all the money, the education I’ll get in 2015 is any different than the education I was getting in 2009.”

Jay Blanton, UK’s executive director of public relations and marketing, said the New York graphic design company Pentagram evaluated 300 different logos under UK’s umbrella. Pentagram also designed Big Blue, the blue horse that is part of Lexington’s official logo.

“The University of Kentucky is a strong brand but now the entire institution will be unified under one well thought-out, universally recognized identity system,” said DJ Stout, a partner at Pentagram who worked on the project. “This is a smart move by the leadership of the university.”

UK paid Pentagram $80,000, although that does not include the cost of eventual changes that will be made to everything from signs to stationery. Blanton said the changes will be made gradually, as needed.

Nike helped UK Athletics design the interlocking U and K as part of its contract, and Blanton said it made sense to bring UK’s most visible symbol into the school’s logo.

“To that end, it is important to be consistent in the message you present to students, donors and all stakeholders. It’s just as important to express the brand visually in a consistent manner as well,” Blanton said. “That’s all a logo is — a visual expression of a brand. When people think of the University of Kentucky, we want them to understand that this is a special community, dedicated to the success of students and to solving Kentucky’s most pressing challenges. As a design issue, that means finding the balance between units, departments, colleges and programs expressing what they do in a creative and compelling way with the need to express the UK brand in a consistent, unified way.”

The Memorial Hall logo was created 35 years ago by advertising executive Mary Ellen Slone.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford