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The Cooper Union’s New Logo Links Left Brain with Right

The Cooper Union is an institution in New York—a famous hotbed for the country’s best students in engineering, architecture, and graphic design. One problem: The school itself has, for a long time, had a musty logo.

The Cooper Union is an institution in New York—a famous hotbed for the country’s best students in engineering, architecture, and graphic design. One problem: The school itself has, for a long time, had a musty logo. So officials hired Doyle Partners, the New York graphic design firm that’s created brand identities for Barnes & Noble and the USGBC, and designed Stephen Colbert’s book, I Am America (and So Can You!),  to radically re-do the brand. Here’s what they came up with:

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(Definitely watch the video; the embedding of the original was disabled.)

Stephen Heller, the estimable design writer and former art director at The New York Times, breaks it down:

Designing a logo may seem easy to a layman, but it’s not. Doyle, whose firm, Doyle Partners, designed Martha Stewart’s pastel identity (and who teaches in the MFA Design program that I co-chair at the School of Visual Arts), had to symbolize the schools of art, engineering and architecture. His task was to represent science and art, or “two sides of the brain,” as he calls it, in a single icon, and he began by exorcising the ghosts of old bearded Cooper and Honest Abe. So instead of musty graphic artifacts, Doyle used light and transparency to suggest the intersection of art and science. “Cooper’s a quirky institution, so the mark had to reflect that,” he told me. “It had to reflect the imagination too.”

Doyle tapped into his own imagination, assisted by digital software that enabled him to make a curiously fluid object out of the letters C and U. The result is an animated logo that begins with a typographic reference point and, using layers of primary, transparent color, morphs into an abstract form — a three-dimensional box, with open and closed sides, that looks a lot like a box kite and floats above the words “The Cooper Union – 150 Years.” The box is free of gravity, symbolizing the imagination and suggesting a large measure of play.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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