As we are sure most people, if not everyone, will have noted, over the summer of 2014 Lancaster University opted to change its logo in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the University’s formation. Namely, Lancaster’s visual emblem switched from what many simply referred to as the ‘swoosh’, to a more formal style shield logo.
This isn’t an unusual step to be taken by a university by any means. York University, for example, was only formed one year before Lancaster, but, like Lancaster, opted for a change towards the more ‘traditional’ shield emblem and a more cursive style of writing to go along with it as symbols of York’s history and high academic standards. This appears to be the target for which the designers of Lancaster’s new logo were aiming for. However, there are numerous issues regarding their design which have to be raised.
Whilst it’s not going to be disputed that Lancaster does have high academic standings, it’s been a consistent feature of UK Top 10 and Global Top 1% University charts for years. But is a logo really going to inform someone of all of that? Did all those soon-to-be undergrads take one look at our previous emblem and decide that this university wasn’t up to scratch, or are they more likely to have looked at the statistics and league table standings which would have told them the exact opposite? While it’s not certain, it is very likely to have been the latter. Lancaster has been, and will likely remain, a very high achieving university, with or without a shield. The mere fact of having one does not elevate an institution into the realms of those such as Oxford or Cambridge.
The logo also underwent a change in order to, according to the designers project a different image of the University. They had noted that some students felt the old ‘swoosh’ appeared to look ‘too corporate’; likely attributed to many, quite accurate, comparisons between the old logo and the symbol of 80’s gaming corporation Atari. Such a change, they said, ‘helps to differentiate Lancaster from other universities nationally and internationally’. So, the means by which they set about separating Lancaster from so many other universities around the UK and around the globe, whom many choose to symbolise their standings in the world of Academia through shield emblems, was to give Lancaster a shield. Say what you will about the old logo, but a symbol so closely affiliated to the university’s chaplaincy centre is at least one that could only be identified with Lancaster. In turning to the formal style of emblem chosen by so many other universities internationally, Lancaster just seems to become more closely affiliated with such institutions, rather than appearing to stand out amongst them; an opinion shared by many Lancaster students. Although the shield has its own features that differentiate it from other universities’ symbols, do any of them really represent the university? Red Roses, a symbol for Lancashire in general. A book, a symbol of academic institutions the world over. Both of these certainly relate to Lancaster University, but they’re certainly not specific to it either. Where a lion, normally an emblem of bravery and nobility, fits into the mix, I don’t think anyone is too sure.
Perhaps the biggest problem with our new logo is the fact that shields are generally thought of as emblematic of an area’s ‘history’ and ‘traditions’. Indeed, that is what the designers included as their reasons for the implementation of the university’s new symbol. All of this would make sense for a university like Oxford, one that can trace its history back hundreds of years and has over that time had a chance to establish and develop its now long-held traditions. All of which means it makes perfect sense for such a rich historical background to be symbolised through the university’s shield. Lancaster is not Oxford. Lancaster has been around for 51 years, not 900. The amount of history gathered since its creation really isn’t comparable with many other universities around the country, and arguably the only ‘traditions’ established within that time are the Carter Shield and the Roses Tournament which, while undoubtedly a well-loved event, isn’t exactly thought of along the lines of The Oxbridge Boat Race.
Some might have complained about our old logo’s ostensibly ‘corporate’ image, but it was at least a modern image for a modern university, and one that could be specifically linked to Lancaster’s campus. It might not have personified ‘academic excellence’ but did it really have to when facts and figures could explain it far better than any logo could. The new shield may be an appropriate emblem for the university in the years to come, but for now it is affiliated with a university that is still very modern, with its own identity, and academic standings it has achieved through its student’s efforts, not its logo.