Monday, August 10, 2009

  • Introduction to the tale of the logo
  • The goal: express what’s special about UW
  • A plan that not everybody is behind
  • An ‘identity’ and another identity
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

Introduction to the tale of the logo

We’re going to talk this morning about fear, or nervousness, or dissent; there are different words for it. We’re also going to talk about the challenge facing the new provost, Feridun Hamdullahpur, when he gets to Waterloo on September 1. Mostly, though, we’re going to talk about symbols, in a story that’s brought to you, as you might have guessed, by the letter W.

There was a lot of talk about W on campus in the course of July, when I was away, and some of it was reflected in e-mail that was waiting when I got back from vacation. “Are there any plans,” asked one message, “to do a survey on the Daily Bulletin to see if anybody likes the hideous new logo?”

[W logo]That would be the graphic pictured at left, the currently proposed version of a new “marketing logo” for UW that has ignited brushfires of controversy among alumni and students as well as the people who work at this university. I checked on Friday, for instance, and found that 8,430 people had signed up to the Facebook group “Students and Alumni Against the New University of Waterloo Logo”. (There’s also been quite a burst of postings to the UW Opinion web site, pretty much anti-logo.)

Okay, then, the answer is no, there’s not going to be a survey here. Three reasons:

• We don’t have the software to do polls (something that I hope is going to change when the new Web Content Management System hits campus, but that’ll be a good while yet).

• A yes-or-no referendum — of what constituency, anyway? — is a bad way to help the decision-makers handle an issue that involves infinite possible variations, subtleties and artistic judgements.

• The logo isn’t really the question anyway. Most of the discussion has been about whether what one Facebook poster called “a ridiculous laser-riddled W” is a good graphic representation of UW. But that’s pretty hard to answer until there’s an agreed idea of what UW itself is like, and that’s more easily said than done.

So that’s where the discussion has to start. Not where it did start last month — and then was continued online and in the print media, including a long piece in the July 24 issue of Imprint — but where it needs to start now.

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The goal: express what’s special about UW

I had some conversation last week with Meg Beckel, UW’s vice-president (external relations), the senior administrator who’s steering the logo project. She admits that things haven’t unfolded exactly the way they were supposed to in an “identity task force” project that’s been going on for some two years now.

A lot of what that task force has been doing was reflected in a memo sent out by Beckel and UW president David Johnston in mid-July. “The University of Waterloo is one of Canada’s finest universities,” it said, “but are Canadians, and international audiences, aware of all that we offer? In particular, are future students, employers, and funders aware of what we can offer them? In a recent national reputational survey, we learned that respondents see Waterloo as a regional university and very few people outside Ontario were even aware of Waterloo’s reputation or what sets us apart from other schools. . . . It seems we need to work harder at telling our story to those who matter.”

In other words, the task force concluded that UW needs to be clear about its “positioning”. Beckel bites her lip to avoid using the B-word — “branding” — because it has negative connotations in an academic environment, although it’s the word that professionals use to talk about how an organization differentiates itself from the competition. In UW’s case, that would mean how to tell various audiences (future students, employers, industries looking for research partners) what makes Waterloo different from, oh, Toronto or Western.

The task force worked on that question with the help of consultants and focus groups (I’m shortening the story a lot here) and one early product was a list of eight adjectives that can be used to “define Waterloo”: innovative, collaborative, connected, creative, risk-taking, courageous, critical-thinking, and unconventional. You’ll be seeing those words a lot in places where UW is trying to impress and intrigue the world, such as the web home page, and publications aimed at potential students and their parents. You’ll also be hearing “stories” (speaking of words that Beckel likes a lot) about ways in which UW expresses those characteristics.

The implication, of course, is that while Waterloo has lots in common with other universities — the connection between research and learning, academic freedom and rigour, professional standards — it also has things to offer that the rest don’t. The W logo was designed (and again I’m shortening the story) to express the connected-creative-unconventional idea in graphic form. Beckel seems frustrated that people are judging it in isolation, rather than considering how well it expresses that message, and also without fully understanding how it’s going to be used and how it’s not.

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A plan that not everybody is behind

As she talks about why Waterloo needs a logo, a position, an image, a brand, Beckel talks a lot about the Sixth Decade Plan, the university’s current ten-year planning document, which was adopted in 2006 under the leadership of then provost Amit Chakma. It’s worth quoting a key paragraph from that plan:

“The circumstance precipitating UW’s establishment in 1957 was the space race and the critical unmet need for engineers. Half a century later a very different circumstance, global competition, is informing how UW needs to direct its energies. To compete successfully in the global arena, excellence is a sine qua non. And our Sixth Decade will be the decade where a new kind of boldness and daring will ensure UW achieves the excellence required to make it a premier global competitor.”

The thing is, says Beckel — and I don’t think I’m being too bold and daring in paraphrasing her here — they really meant it. The senate and board of governors that approved the Sixth Decade Plan, and the senior administrators who are trying to carry it out, have every intention of putting Waterloo “in the top five in Canada in per capita research intensity", boosting the international undergraduate student population to 20 per cent of the total, hiring “the very best faculty members available, competing with top North American universities”, and operating “at least two international campuses with focused activities abroad”, among other goals stated in the document. They’re also determined to be risk-taking, courageous, and the rest.

Chakma left UW this summer, off to head the University of Western Ontario, but when Hamdullahpur arrives as his successor September 1, his overriding priority is going to be pushing ahead towards the Sixth Decade goals. Most of what’s been happening lately — Stratford, the Emirates, the Quantum-Nano Centre, engineering buildings, Huntsville, knowledge integration — fits squarely into that framework.

But the new provost will face the challenge of bringing everybody along with him. Beckel is wondering now whether "not everyone is fully engaged" in the goals of the Sixth Decade Plan and the work it'll take to reach them. Is the logo discontent, particularly in the on-campus community, driven partly by the anxiety of people who don't buy into the direction UW is being steered? Maybe they think UW’s long-time role as a major Ontario university is enough to aspire to; maybe they’re a bit afraid to be innovative and courageous, especially when the in-box is overflowing with the same old daily work. In these circumstances, it might be hard to see the need for a new “positioning” or a new logo, let alone judge whether the colours convey the right image — even if some 500 people in focus groups and “consultation” meetings apparently all said yes.

That’s the context for Johnston’s promise of a Town Hall meeting this fall “where more details will be shared” — and, I suppose, where staff and faculty, in particular, might see what they and their colleagues will gain if they decide to be part of the whole Sixth Decade surge. I think it’s safe to say that the logo kerfuffle is helping senior administrators realize that by no means everybody is there yet.

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An ‘identity’ and another identity

Finally, there’s the whole business of what the new “marketing logo” might be used for and what it would emphatically not be used for — an explanation that didn’t accompany the logo itself when it became public last month through what the vice-president calls “a leak”.

[Circular logo][Current UW logo]Quite a number of the students denouncing the whole thing on Facebook have said that they wouldn’t want the new logo on their diplomas. There’s no danger of that. Pictured at right is the so-called “ceremonial identity”, a version of UW’s 50-year-old heraldic shield and motto. That’s the symbol already used on diplomas and other documents, and there’s every intention of continuing to use it. (The current everyday logo, left, is really a variant form of the ceremonial identity. With minor variations, it’s been around since 1997. And it isn't used on diplomas.)

Clearly there’s a need to explain the “ceremonial identity” better, Beckel was saying last week — and pointing out that the to-do list for her task force includes some consultation about what kinds of documents should still use it, to symbolize UW’s eternal, reliable, quality-and-reputation side, and the value of Waterloo degrees, rather than the risk-taking stuff.

Meanwhile, she’s starting a round of meetings with people in various parts of the campus to talk about the whole positioning business. On her schedule today: a group of people in departments across the engineering faculty who are involved with industry relations and other external connections.

Next week, the “identity task force” itself will be meeting, to assess the situation and start deciding what steps come next. Undoubtedly, one of those steps will be some change to the big W. As Beckel wrote in a statement posted on Facebook a few days ago: “Will there be some change? Yes. How much change? We don't know yet.”


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Link of the day

Meteor showers

When and where

Spring term exams conclude Saturday; unofficial grades begin appearing on Quest August 17; grades become official September 21.

Library hours this week: Davis Centre, open 24 hours, except Sundays 2 to 8 a.m.; Dana Porter, Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Ontario Mennonite Music Camp through August 21, Conrad Grebel University College. Details.

Electrical power off in the Student Life Centre, Tuesday 5 to 7 a.m., to install breakers for Brubakers renovations.

Documentary by engineering alumnus: Greg John (systems design 2003) in film about sustainable development in Tanzania, Tuesday and Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., Princess Twin Cinemas.

Stargazing party hosted by science faculty, Wednesday 9:30 p.m. to midnight, north campus soccer pitch. Details.

Employer interviews for co-op architecture program, August 13 and 20. Co-op job postings for fall 2009 work terms in all programs continue on JobMine until the first week of October.

Surplus sale of UW furnishings and equipment Thursday 12:30 to 2 p.m., East Campus Hall.

James Brox, department of economics, retirement reception Thursday 4-6 p.m., University Club. RSVP: e-mail deschult@

Alumni workshop: “Enhance the Networking Experience” Thursday 6 p.m., Tatham Centre room 2218. Details.

Out of the Dark: solar information night hosted by Community Renewal Energy Waterloo and Residential Energy Efficiency Project, Thursday 6:30 p.m., Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex. Details.

Soprano Amy Waller concert Thursday 8 p.m., Conrad Grebel UC chapel, donations welcome.

Staff orientation day Friday, including information sessions, campus tour and lunch; aimed at new staff, but existing staff also welcome; register by e-mail m25smith@

Athletics hours: Physical Activities Complex closed August 15 through September 7. Columbia Icefield open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday 9:00 to 5:30, during this period.

Breakfast with Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, organized by Communitech, Monday, August 17, 8:15 a.m., Bingemans (note location change). Free tickets for UW staff, researchers, professors and students, and Communitech members; public tickets $40. Register.

UW Book Club. Unfeeling by Ian Holding, August 19, 12:05 p.m., Dana Porter Library room 407. Details on UWRC webpage.

Tennis Canada 2009 Rogers Cup alumni night August 20, Rexall Centre, Toronto. Discount tickets for students and alumni available; tournament runs August 15-23. Details.

‘Miss Saigon’ presented by The Singers Theatre, August 21 and 22 at 8:00, August 22 and 23 at 2:00, Humanities Theatre, tickets $18. Details.

Fee payment deadline for fall term is August 31 (certified cheques, fee arrangements) or September 9 (bank payment). Details.

Labour Day holiday Monday, September 7, UW offices and most services closed.

School of Accounting and Finance grand opening of new wing at Hagey Hall, Tuesday, September 8, events 9:30 to 2:30. Details.

PhD oral defences

Kinesiology. Karen Van Ooteghem, “Postural Motor Learning and the Effects of Age on Practice-Related Improvements in Compensatory Posture Control.” Supervisors, Jim Frank, Richard Staines. On display in the faculty of applied health sciences, BMH 3110. Oral defence Friday, August 21, 9:30 a.m., Matthews Hall room 3119.

Health studies and gerontology. Chris Perlman, “Development of Quality Indicators for Inpatient Mental Health: Strategy for Risk Adjustment.” Supervisor, John Hirdes. On display in the faculty of applied health sciences, BMH 3110. Oral defence Wednesday, August 26, 10:00 a.m., Matthews Hall room 3119.

Computer science. Jun Chen, “Guided Testing of Concurrent Programs Using Value Schedules.” Supervisors, Peter Buhr, Steve MacDonald. On display in the faculty of mathematics, MC 5090. Oral defence Monday, September 14, 9:30 a.m., Davis Centre room 1331.

Actuarial science. Chengguo Weng, "Optimal Reinsurance Designs: from an Insurer’s Perspective." Supervisor, Ken Seng Tan. On display in the faculty of mathematics, MC 5090. Oral defence Friday, September 18, 1:30 p.m., Math and Computer room 6027.

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