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YU's Font Affront

When most students sit down to write a paper, they care very little about the font they are using. Most students have a slight awareness of what is good or bad; they know to choose Times New Roman over Papyrus for that all-important paper or thesis, but when it comes to the particulars of a font very few seem to really care or show any knowledge. The flurry of Comic Sans y-studs attests to this.

The same is not true, however, for institutions. Many of them invest large amounts of money in creating what is known as a branding identity: a specific visual appearance that is unique to them. With this identity the institution is guaranteed to be recognised everywhere as a professional outfit. A classic example is the Coca-Cola company, which never varies the colours of its products or changes the way its logo is written, because it is a world-recognised brand. Another famous example is the BBC. Simply writing the letters “BBC” in any font would not work, as they need to be in the font Gill Sans in order to be the world-famous logo.

It would come as no surprise, then, to learn that our university has also created a branding identity. In the words of our president, branding identities are “common among institutions of our stature, with uniform standards and guidelines that reinforce and extend our visual identity and recognition. These standards unify our schools, colleges and programs, provide an authentic mark for our institution and offer efficiencies, cost savings and a more effective way to operate” (Introduction to YU Branding Guidelines).

The branding guidelines of YU are not kept secret; anyone with the time and interest can download them from the YU website. The crux of the guidelines is simple: take two fonts, Akzidenz-Grotesk and Times New Roman, and, together with a newly made logo (you may have seen a Godzilla-sized version painted on Glueck) and a few specific colours, you have the YU brand. The brochures and office signs are all perfect examples of this, and the YU brand pervades throughout much of the campus.

Except, it seems, when it really matters. Many of you will remember the visit Senator Lieberman paid us a few weeks ago, an extremely high-profile event, replete with large donors to the university and heralded as a fantastic example of what YU can do. Behind centre stage there were many posters advertising YU – conforming to the guidelines – and a YU banner. The banner, however, did not have the Torah U’Madda shield on it, but rather the YU flame; a logo described in the guidelines for use “as a whimsical symbol for the University when a more informal presentation is required, such as on appropriate merchandise, lapel pins and giveaways” (Section 1.6a, pp. 23).

In that particular case, only those who knew of the different definitions ascribed to the logos noticed; for almost everyone else, things seemed almost normal. The same is true for the YU Shield logo as well. The fonts enclosed within the shield are also supposed to be specific, yet pay close attention to their various occurrences around campus and you will see a large degree of inconsistency.

There are, however, slightly more noticeable occurrences: the “Welcome to Yeshiva University” banners that are rolled out around the buildings at seemingly random intervals are two different colours, blue – no problems there – and red. Even the least branded student must notice there seems something iffy about it. This is without even discussing the font; it is unclear whether they are in Times New Roman, but even if it is, it is far thicker than the branding guidelines permit(Section 1.1 pp.3).

The lack of consistency was most obvious in a letter sent before the start of the semester to all students of MYP. The letter began in Cambria, but then switched on the second page to Times New Roman. It only seems ironic when this happens in a letter urging students to take MYP seriously.

While it may seem that I am being nitpicky – and a bit strange – the truth of the matter is that YU probably spent a lot of money on the branding guidelines. Possessing a branding identity is a good thing; it does help YU seem more professional—when they keep to it. When they do not, it only makes things worse. The university has made a huge investment in the branding guidelines, yet they seemingly ignore it all the time. YU started this effort to appear more professional; its sloppy inconsistency, however, presents the institution as amateur.