Did you just make a decision that’s documented on the internet?
Bad news: an indiscriminate number of people are quite upset with you.
(If you’re a bit wet behind the ears on the phenomenon known as WWIC (Why Wasn’t I Consulted?), please stop and read Paul Ford’s now classic post.)
A fairly common offshoot of WWIC (though it’s been around longer), is the phenomenon in which non-profit donors, like alumni and church members, wonder why a decision was made without their consent. Never mind the insanity that would result from having a meeting with everyone who’s ever given a dime and giving them a yes-or-no vote—angry mob is angry. Most often, this leads to a debilitating fear in leadership, and these leaders who were trusted with the direction of the organization are actually expected to no longer trust their own instincts and logic.
Want to keep your job? Don’t make any sudden moves.
Yet, as Seth Godin says:
The biggest, best-funded non profits have an obligation to be leaders in innovation, but sometimes they hesitate.
One reason: “We’re doing important work. Our funders count on us to be reasonable and cautious and proven, because the work we’re doing is too important to risk failure.”
One alternative: “We’re doing important work. Our funders count on us to be daring and bold and brave, because the work we’re doing is too important to play it safe.”
Let’s say you are able to be “daring and bold and brave”, through some rare courage or support. It doesn’t mean you’re exempt from WWIC—it means you know how to count the cost.
Let’s take a look at how this plays out in reality, and why it’s important to stay the course.
Good—er, The Worst
This week, the University of California debuted a new identity. According to the Creative Director, “this is less of a rebranding exercise, but instead the creation of a coherent, consistent, and relevant brand identity where before there was none.”
In a completely expected move, current students and alumni alike are up in arms, with nostalgia emotionally trumping any thought-out statements the University has given on the change. For your reference, common symptoms of WWIC reactions to changes include:
Ad Hominem Insults
They need to go back to the drawing board and come up with something that doesn’t look like it was designed for some online college farm, and make their salaries and money invested in this project worth our while.
“Harvard’s not going around changing its seal,” he said.
Generally Ignorant Opinions
You wonder how people can be so clueless, so detached, so ignorant that they think they can just casually toss away a brand that has worked just fine for 140 years.
Our community can come up with better stuff than this stoned surfboard for our logo.
I assure you could put a picture of a bear bench pressing a refrigerator, and it will still be better than the monstrosity that we now have to deal with.
“I feel like when you’re talking about a prestigious school, you don’t change big things,” said senior Correy Johnson.
One described the soft colors and block letters as “childish.” Another said her first take was “health care.”
(I do want to note that using the phrase “stoned surfboard” is laughable, but hilarious.)
But, what’s the real issue with the WWIC phenomenon? Why not listen to the passion of invested individuals and the value of ‘cognitive surplus’?
The angry mob isn’t your target audience, and doesn’t know the problems, motivations, or context.
Focus is Always an Improvement
Personally, I’m not sure about the rebranding. It’s a bit confusing and contrived at first blush. I also think the full-color mark is awkward with what looks to be the tail of a whale in the background and a loading icon in front of it.
But, the fact that this is no Nike ‘swoosh’ doesn’t keep it from being a win for the University of California. What were their goals and what did they accomplish?
Distinctive Visual Identity
UC’s Creative Director noted (emphasis mine):
Previously, the UC system only used its seal as its primary visual identifier, where it was abused with impunity. We feel it is an important component of the university’s visual ecosystem. But it is a non-distinctive symbol which serves an important bureaucratic function. Now we limit its use to formal systemwide communications, diplomas, official regental and presidential communications, and other official documents. Many of our campuses, and other universities across the country have limited use of their official seals in similar ways.
Where there was really nothing, there’s now something. And, that something is, at least, modern and recognizable.
Did you know that this wouldn’t replace, for instance, UCLA’s logo? Did you even realize that the University of California was really a system of individual campuses, making it fairly unique amongst universities? Now you do (or will).
From their well done branding mini-site:
The UC systemwide identity system does not replace individual campus identities or the university’s systemwide seal, but rather, becomes the way in which UC as a whole can begin to identify—and get credit—for all the great systemwide work we do.
So, the fact that “Harvard’s not going around changing its seal” really has nothing to do with this, unless Harvard’s a system of universities like UC is. Also, wouldn’t you assume that the University of California and Ivy League schools are aiming at different targets?
Targeted Creativity, Flexibility, and Execution
There’s a major shift coming in higher education as our economy equalizes and the aims and costs of college inevitably drop (gasp!). So, having a visual identity that attracts anyone above the age of 20 is just about useless—especially as it relates to the overall UC system. Individual campuses are now left to distinguish themselves if they haven’t already.
It is meant to be scalable, flexible, adaptable; something that would let us talk to our diverse audiences while maintaining recognizability.
If that’s the intention, they nailed it. Even the initial adaptations of the mark below are great—and this sort of flexibility is important, if not completely underrated. More than almost anything else, collegiate logos are abused and used out of context, so why not prepare for that by making something intentionally flexible?
Finally, this branding is accompanied by some awesome websites. Namely, the admissions’ mixes the new branding with useful, prioritized design, making it a joy to use. It’s a good day when this xkcd comic no longer mocks you:
UC’s branding is an improvement by nearly any standard (other than someone’s personal opinion). Non-profits, especially, have the margins to take chances—and, as long as success (or failure) is being measured and considered often, those chances should be taken.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the MacRumors forums the day the first iPod was announced. Remember that there will always be loud, obnoxious people on the internet who believe they should have been consulted:
All that hype for an MP3 player? Break-thru digital device? The Reality Distiortion Field™ is starting to warp Steve’s mind if he thinks for one second that this thing is gonna take off.