Livin’ La Vitae Logo

Current Logo for the University of LouisvilleBefore you start reading, I want to foreground that I’m thinking here about the relationship between branding and academic work. The impulse to write this post emerges from my own interest in logos (i.e. brand icons). I’m an academic. A scholar. And I’m going to be entering the job market in a few months, so I’m thinking a lot about the sort of brand/persona/impression/vitae I’m constructing. Logos seems like a perfect relevant topic in this conversation. But they certainly don’t get much play in academia. Why? Well, there are plenty of good reasons, which I will cover her an in my next post. But there are also some ways that we already use logos in our work. And I wonder if embracing the idea of the personal logo might not give us more control of how our brands are used for our own purposes as well as those of others. So consider this paragraph a preface. I don’t want to lose you early. I’m going to think through (for my own clarification/navel gazing probably) what logos actually mean to me. And I’ll be structuring that reflection in a way that prepares me to reconcieve those interests/facinations/questions in terms of how I understand scholarship, pedagogy, and other forms of academic work. So bear with me, please. We’ll get to the Rhet/Comp stuff soon enough…

[pullshow]I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve always been fascinated with logos (as in plural of trademarked icon, not multiple ways of making sense out of the world). I can remember as a little kid looking at different logos, trying to decipher them. When I was a little kid, everything was about deciphering. I remember Grandpa Joe’s mesh-backed trucker hat with the Sinclair dinosaur on it. I was familiar with dinosaurs, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what dinosaurs had to do with filling stations (old school word, eh? that’s what we called ’em when I was a runt). Eventually, my mom tried to explain it to me, but dinosaurs, crude oil, geology, and fuel refineries we’re all pretty much lost on me. Same trouble with Nike’s swoosh. Huh? “Just do it”? Was this some sort of a checkmark on a ToDo list? Nike was some Greek God? Was he into basketball or something? Yeah, so abstraction is a concept that can be lost on a lot of folks. But that’s not really how they operated in the twentieth century, right? Consider this quote from Dan Redding writing for Smashing Magazine:

Now that the whole world has been branded, the Twentieth Century approach to branding is old school. I’ll call our present day in age the Brand Era. The logo has evolved from a mark of quality on a product to a visual distillation of a cultural ideal — one that’s capable of accruing or asserting brand equity in a variety of marketing environments and inspiring great allegiance among consumers. (“The Evolution of the Logo“)

An icon as a mark of quality. This is actually a big part of how brands work for me. For instance, I love Thermos brand insulated drink containers. I have a double-walled, stainless steel coffee mug, and another cold-liquid container of similar construction. Both rugged. Both simple. Both keep liquids hot and cold, respectively, all day long. Amazing. I now trust that items with a Thermos brand will follow that pattern. Obviously, it’s not without exception, but there’s no sure thing, with or without brand recognition. Just a matter of likelihood, right? Yep.

[pullthis]Should my online portfolio of academic work have a logo? Or should my logo be that of my institution (sponsor)?[/pullthis] Weird lens to take up, don’t you think? How much of the “scholarly work” we do is primarily for our local institutions? Some, definitely. How much is for an external, “disciplinary” audience? Another note: How often to graduate students (and profs?) pick up a new edited collection to “see who’s contributed” as a way of assessing, at least to some degree, it’s likely quality? Are we already engaging is some sort of un-logo’d branding? I think so. But I’m not so sure about the role of the trademarked icon within this discussion.

More to think about. I’ve got a job market design portfolio to start building soon. And I’ll most likely NOT start experimenting with a personal icon. But this is a really interesting idea, and one that I hope to start exploring in a much more practical sense soon. On this blog (note the lack of icon). On my personal portfolio site (I’ve already developed an icon, though I developed it for my former days as a potter).

I guess the most intriguing thing for me, at the moment, is the relationship between a scholar’s disciplinary (or public) identity, her/his name, and his institutional affiliation. How are these elements tied into each other? What do they have to do with each other? How do they work together… reinforcing and undermining each other? And how might these relationships and operations be restructured by introducing a professional-personal icon into a scholar’s self-branding strategies? I think these are great questions. But something tells me that most people’s initial reaction to this discussion will be pretty visceral. Branding is self-agrandizing. Branding fosters a corporate approach to the work we do. Branding is pretentious. Developing an icon has nothing to do with the work we do as academics. Scholarship is about being in conversation with other scholars, not about competitive business practices. … Arguments like these. And I think they have merit, actually. I just don’t know if they have enough merit to warrant a too-early rejection of this exploration.

As always… more soon.