July 1, 2007

A New Visual Identity

Honoring its past, the School introduces a new visual identity for the 21st century.

Topics: Marketing

Honoring its past, the School introduces a new visual identity for the 21st century.

A few hours after he was born, the Greek god Hermes sneaked out of his cradle, invented the lyre using the shell of a tortoise and secretly hid 50 of his older brother’s sacred cattle. He discovered how to light a fire, ritually sacrificed two of the cows and crept back home before the day was over. When his enraged brother — none other than Apollo — heard Hermes play the lyre, he was so enchanted that he accepted the instrument from Hermes in exchange for the animals. And thus began trade and commerce.

Hermès?

While most alumni associate the Hermes icon with the School, many are uncertain of its history and meaning. It’s not uncommon now and then to hear people pronounce Hermes (HUR-meez) as if it were spelled “Hermès” (air-MEZ) — like the legendary French luxury-goods company. The School did host its first retail and luxury goods conference in the spring, but the logo bears no relation to the label that was founded in 1837.

The evolution of Columbia Business School’s visual identity reflects a commitment to growth and adaptation. The School has significantly modified its visual identity three times. Form follows content: each incarnation of the Hermes symbol has coincided with major transformative periods at the School characterized by significant changes to its curriculum, facilities and position in the world.

With the latest of these modifications, the School logo has taken on a new look. This modern interpretation of the Hermes icon paired with a stronger and cleaner typeface for the Columbia Business School wordmark is designed to reflect the School’s identity in the early 21st century.

 

When the Hermes symbol was first adopted in the 1950s, Columbia Business School was under the leadership of Courtney Brown, dean from 1954 to 1969. He selected the “Hermes Four” and registered the symbol with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as the School’s official trademark. When Brown became dean, the School — like many business schools — was still known on the Columbia campus as “the trade school,” and the majority of students enrolled part-time. The School had only recently shifted its focus to graduate education, discontinuing the bachelor of science in 1949. Brown led a transformation of the School, which during his tenure became increasingly professionalized and grew in size and prestige.

Brown also led the effort to establish the School’s first real home, and Uris Hall was dedicated in 1964. It housed a plaque displaying the Hermes Four with these words: “The sign of the Greek god Hermes was adopted because of the god’s association with trade, commerce and travel.

The Hermes symbol was incorporated into the trademarks of many mercantile guilds during the Renaissance, and it now serves as a fitting emblem of the Business School.”

In the 1960s, the Hermes icon became firmly established as the emblem of the School. In 1961, the custom of presenting graduates with a lapel pin bearing the Hermes icon was instituted. That same year the Hermes icon first appeared on the cover of the Business Cycle, the School yearbook, and in July of 1968 the inaugural issue of the Hermes Exchange, the School’s first alumni magazine, went to press.


The School didn’t significantly modify its visual identity again until the early 1990s, when Meyer Feldberg ’65, dean from 1989 to 2004, led a redesign initiative. An oval circle, or colophon — a classic Roman punctuation symbol that marks the end of a phrase or sentence — was introduced to the logo, fixing the size, shape and style of the Hermes icon. During Feldberg’s tenure, the School capitalized on its “New York advantage” and expanded its reach and reputation around the world.

 

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