Critics of the new University of California logo, right, say it looks like… (Associated Press )
University of California officials said they were trying to project a "forward-looking spirit" when they replaced the university system's ornate, tradition-clad logo with a sleek, modern one.
What they got was an online revolt complete with mocking memes, Twitter insults and a petition to restore the old logo. Students and alumni have taken to Facebook and Photoshop to express their displeasure, showing the new symbol ready to be flushed down a toilet and as a permanently stalled computer operating system. One critic suggested the controversial image be tattooed on its creators' foreheads as punishment.
UC campuses in the past have been the site of war protests, sit-ins against tuition hikes and Occupy camping demonstrations. This week, the schools are dealing with a unlikely debate about graphic design and whether the new logo demeans the university.
"To a generation all too familiar with circular, fading loading symbols, this is an attempt to be revolutionary. But it comes off as insensitive," Reaz Rahman, a 21-year-old UC Irvine senior who started the online petition, said of the UC's new logo. "To me, it didn't symbolize an institution of higher learning. It seemed like a marketing scheme to pull in money rather than represent the university."
UC officials were caught on the defensive. They emphasize that the traditional seal, with its "Let There Be Light" motto, a drawing of an open book and the 1868 date of UC's founding, is not being abandoned and still will be used on such things as diplomas and official letterhead. But they say that the 1910 seal is so ornate that it does not reproduce well for many Internet uses and that it is often confused with variations created by the 10 individual UC campuses. UC websites are now adorned with the new logo.
It was introduced with little fanfare about six months ago and is now being extended to more UC websites and publications. Officials said it is adaptable and will provide a unified image for fundraising, recruiting and public affairs campaigns.
"We want to convey that this is an iconic place that makes a difference to California and that there is a UC system," said Jason Simon, the UC system's director of marketing communication.
In various colors, it shows a large U that echoes the shape of the old seal's book and contains an interior C at the bottom. The words "University of California" are on its right, and Simon complained that critics usually don't include that text in their depictions of the logo.
Simon said UC has received much favorable feedback about the logo, which was developed by an in-house team of designers. There are no plans to immediately change it in response to the protests, but he suggested that the symbol might evolve over time.
Marketing and design experts said emotional responses are common when institutions change their marketing images. For example, over the past few years, changes in the logos for Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice and the Gap clothing chain triggered consumer protests and the companies then restored the original.
Drastic changes in long-time logos disrupt "a sense of connection," explained Kali Nikitas, chairwoman of the graduate program in graphic design at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. "It's as if you show up at the same coffee shop for years and they start serving you a different coffee. Your routine is broken," she said. And at colleges and universities, reactions can be particularly powerful, she added, "since people really love tradition and legacy at their alma mater. They are really passionate about where they go to school and view it as the cornerstone of their lives."
The older UC logo, she said, conveys a sense of stability while the new one looks "incredibly progressive." She said that people probably will come to accept the new one and "in five years, no one will care."
Such debates have reached college campuses because schools are looking for ways to better compete for donations and applicants, said Petrula Vrontikis, a graphic design professor and branding expert at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. "It is much more about brand differentiation," she said, noting that many of the old college seals looked too much alike. UC has shifted dramatically, she said, "from an institutional look to a marketing look that is young-skewed and vibrant."
But some young people rejected it with online mockery and slashing comments, similar to the ways they reacted to last year's pepper-spraying of student demonstrators by UC Davis police.
"New UC logo is an abomination," wrote one Twitter-user "Back to the drawing board." Another tweeted that "Whoever signed off on this UC logo should be forced to have it tattooed on their forehead for life."
David Bocarsly, UCLA student body president, attributed some of the unusual attention to exam period procrastination.
"During finals week, you have more people on their computers than ever looking for something to do other than study," said Bocarsly, a senior.
Tomo Hirai, a 24-year-old UC Davis graduate, thought the new UC logo looked like "a loading logo" for a computer operating system such as Windows or Mac.
"It cheapened the entire UC System," Hirai said. "That's not what you do to 144 years of history."
So about 30 minutes on Adobe Photoshop was all it took for Hirai to create a logo with the C endlessly circling.
This past weekend, after Hirai shared his modified logo with the world, he said he received a letter from the UC Davis alumni association seeking a donation.
"I'm not paying them a single penny," he said, adding that the logo debacle was the "bitter icing on the cake."
Times staff writer Samantha Schaefer contributed to this report.