Bruce Mau’s Smart Art-School Logo Is A Mini Art Gallery For Student Work

BMD’s morphing new logo for OCAD University, in Toronto, shows what the school’s really about: the students.


The logo you see here belongs to OCAD University, Canada’s leading art and design school. Organizations like to think of themselves as dynamic and iconoclastic, but this one actually is — it’s an art school, for chrissakes, the kind of place where doing anything ordinary is a crime on the order of being Thomas Kinkade — and the mark, by Bruce Mau Design, reflects as much. It’s designed like an art gallery, featuring an ever-changing stockpile of student art and design.


Unveiled yesterday, the new logo is a triumvirate of Mondrian-esque frames, with “OCAD” in one frame and ‘U’ in another. The third, largest frame, is left open for whatever the university wants to throw inside. It could, for instance say “OCAD University.” It could also say “Imagination Is Everything,” the school’s battle cry. But its primary purpose is to show off students? creative toils. Each year, graduating student medal winners will be invited to mine their portfolios and contribute a piece to the logo, whether a sculpture, a graphic work or a painting, providing a set of logos for the following year.

Student-medal winners will be invited to contribute a piece to the logo.

The form takes its cues from the boxy, pixely madness of OCAD U’s beloved Sharp Centre for Design, designed by Will Alsop. The bigger concept, says Laura Stein, creative director at Bruce Mau Design, was “inspired by an exercise we did in a workshop [while conducting research for the logo]. We asked people to design an OCAD University crest. And we were inspired by all the different interpretations. We realized: You don’t really know what kind of work is being produced here. So the idea of being able to show that — of having a series of marks that they could use in that way — felt really important. We didn’t want to have to pin them down with a monolithic identity.”


The old logo was a handsome word mark that said “Ontario College of Art & Design,” but it failed to reflect a new fact of the 135-year-old institution: OCAD won degree-granting status in 2002 and, as a result, the college wanted to incorporate “university” into the school’s official communications. Thus a name change was the imperative behind tapping Bruce Mau Design to overhaul OCAD’s visual identity.

Gathering input from university stakeholders — from students, alumni, and professors all the way up to head-office mucky mucks — was key. The designers conducted an online questionnaire, started a Facebook page, and held eight workshops. “It was a lot of work, but universities are especially democratic places,” Stein says. “So it was really important to understand how people were thinking — and to frame it as a collaboration.”




What emerged was the feeling that a static visual ID wouldn’t do the school justice. OCAD was cofounded by members of a group of seven famous, daring artists — okay, famous in Canada — and the logo needed to speak to this idea that the institution was “built on risk and continues to be innovative and move forward,” Stein says.

The success of the logo will depend on the university and the students it grinds out.

In a larger sense, a static logo wouldn’t have gibed with the way the university wants to present itself in media today. “Partly the idea of this is it that we’re in the digital age,” Stein says. ?You can do things you couldn’t before and showcase your identity in ways you couldn’t before.”

Bruce Mau Design presented a few options to a steering committee: one would’ve involved a stacked logo, whose pieces change over time; another would’ve shown a series of typefaces, none dominant; and the third was the morphing, Will Alsop-inspired frames, which the steering committee easily ruled the winner. “This one felt the most relevant,” Stein says. “When we presented it, people unanimously gravitated toward it. Everyone loves the building, and it really represents the spirit of the university.”


The problem with the logo (and with any non-static logo) is that you risk frittering away some of your brand recognition. Bruce Mau Design drew up a set of best-practice guidelines for designing the logo, i.e. the art should always feel like it’s breaking the bounds of the frame; each set of logos should feature a range of artwork; and so forth. The point is to show how to get the most out of the mark, but also to introduce consistency into what could otherwise descend into something too murky and radical — too, ya’ know, art schoolish.

Which goes a long way toward saying that ultimately, the success of the logo will depend on the university and the students it grinds out. (We shudder to think what some stodgy parent will think when his kid gets accepted to OCAD on letterhead adorned with the sculpture of a Kiki Smith wannabe.) At minimum, the logo will be an excellent artifact for posterity. It’ll create a living library of visual identities over time, a chronicle of the ideas and aesthetics that’ve emerged from a place where, as the motto goes, “imagination is everything.”

[Images courtesy of Bruce Mau Design]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D