Further thoughts on TCD rebranding








The TCD re branding issue rolls on. There is  a meeting planned for Friday, an open forum style. It will be interesting to hear what developments have happened. Since my last post some further thoughts have come to me. So is it out with the old and in with the new?

There is an argument advanced that we need to change our name, as shown to the world. People, it seems, cannot understand that we as a college are a university. Somehow the lack of ‘university’ in our name is a bar to students.  I think that this fails at the first hurdle. One doesn’t have to like the rankings race to use it. The THES world university rankings for 2014 are instructive. In the top 100 we see: California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, University College London, Georgia Institute of Technology, London School of Economics, Karolinska Institute, Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne,  Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Ecole Normal Superieure. 20% of the top 50 are in the same non-university-name boat as TCD. I seriously doubt that they are concerned at the lack of the word “university” in their name.  I doubt that they are concerned that people will look at LSE’s name and go “hmm…. Is that a world-class third level institution or a school?”  The implication is that students in China, for that is where the argument lies we are told, cannot distinguish. We would want to wonder if we want these anyhow.  Much high-end chinese consumption is of what might be called Veblen goods, or snob goods, conspicuous consumption designed to show that one can.  Leading university ‘brands’ can fall into this category.

A further argument is that while the students don’t get confused their employers will, not knowing that Trinity College Dublin is a university. From talking to people on the front-line of exports the greater problem in China is that many are unaware of where and what Ireland is.  That’s not something TCD can change. The old US saw was “how will it play in Peoria”. We now need to be concerned it seems as to “how will it play in Puyang”. This presupposes of course that we want it to play there.  Chinese students play an important role in Irish universities, at all levels. I have had and have now exceptionally good Chinese students in the MSc and PhD, ad know others have also. However, as a group overall they make up a vanishingly small percentage of students. The latest HEA figures give the full-time equivalent as follows : DCU 0.58%,  NUIG 0.43%,  NUIM 0.79%,  TCD 0.64%,  UCC 1.56%,  UCD 1.84%,  UL 1.00%. We can perhaps apply a x2 correction factor to the level to the numbers to get to fee impact but then we need to rebate that by the % of university income that comes from fees and fee waiver. Lets say that perhaps between 1-2% of university income may come from Chinese students.  That’s a small tail to be wagging a large dog.  To stake a strategy that affects all now and in the future on a small group which even if it were to show massive growth would still only amount to a small group would seem to be putting the cart before the horse.

In any case, the chasing the Chinese game is one that all universities are playing.  We might be better off looking to expand in other areas such as Latin America,  Sub-Saharan Africa, or MENA. An OECD 2010 study looked at the emergent global middle class, and these areas, while smaller than East Asia, are expected to show high levels of growth. Lets ask “how will it play in Pretoria” or “how will it play in Porto Alegre”. Lets try to entice more students from areas that are closer culturally and geographically and lets not get lost in the herd of the 1000’s of other universities chasing the chinese market.

College is, for good or ill, both ancient and modern. We are unique in Ireland and amongst the few in the world in the span of time over which we have operated.  We should celebrate this in how we project ourselves to the world. The new logo does nothing to indicate that we are a member of the Coimbra group; it does nothing to indicate that we are a Tudor foundation; it is at best bland and at worst looks like a dodgy app downloaded from an off-piste store.  Manchester in their rebranding cunningly incorporated their founding date. Where in the new logo does it suggest that TCD is 400+years old? Nowhere. Compare the two logos…





Screenshot 2014-03-30 09.42.37






We lose small but important elements of history in the focus group formed blandness that is the proposal. For instance, we have removed the portcullis from the castle. Compare  the two below


Screenshot 2014-04-02 16.22.47



Screenshot 2014-04-02 16.24.05






This may seem small but the portcullis was the badge of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty whose last member Elizabeth I was the founder of the college. It seems reasonable to me that the founder’s arms might be retained in part. Doing so is not to in any way approve or disapprove of their politico-historical activities. It is to recognize that we are a Tudor foundation.

cambridgeWe have removed the clasped bible from the shield and replaced it with an open book, to show we are open. This issue seems not to worry Cambridge, whose coat of arms shows a similar closed book.  If we are to have an open book then we should endeavour to have 1592 inscribed therein to remind people that we are an older university.There is also a perception that the objective is to secularise the shield. Leaving aside the incongruity of a college named after a particular deity trying to secularise part of its identity, a glance at the coats of arms and public logotypes of ancient universities shows a plethora of religious motifs.  I warrant that in Heidelberg, or Salamanca or Coimbra they are not concerned about the overt particular religious symbolism on their logos. Nor should we be. We should instead use this as an example of how we can evolve from an explicitly religious foundation to a modern open university.

On the towers of the castle of the previous shield we saw two red flags – these are now gone replaced by blocky dark icons. The previous standards were the cross of St George and St Patrick’s saltire. Again, for no good reason historical significance has been lost. The  meaning of the two flags together was to represent unity. We should use this as showing that we have as a college been a bridge for the many traditions of this state throughout centuries.  Instead it is down the memory hole with it….

Top-100-brand-logosWe have changed the colours from blue and gold to blue and white. There is a frankly risible argument that blue and gold is confusable with the blue and yellow of brands such as Ryanair, Ikea Walmart etc.. It is seen, we are told,  as cheap. Leaving aside some of their more unpleasant practices, if TCD were to be confusable in its space with the world leaders of Walmart, Ryanair and Visa we would be in a much better place than we are now. Blue and white is to be used. Will we now be confused with Sherry Fitzgerald, Boots, Cadburys,  Danone or Sprite or Axa?  In parenthesis, the blue and white colour palate is heavily used in the corporate world. A look at the Interbrand top 100 will show this clearly. Some persons might well see moving us towards this palate as a subliminal move to a more corporate look.

Flag_President_of_Ireland.svgThe colours as per the previous crest also have historical significance. The crest of the Tudor Kingdom of Ireland (recall we are a Tudor foundation) was a golden harp on an blue background, an evolution of earlier normal influenced Irish crests and badges. That is why we have the colours of the original shield, and this palette is retained (without any concerns around confusion with value brands) in the presidential (previously royal) standard of Ireland .  The new harp also eliminates the shamrock that was in profile on the previous one, again seemingly without any rationale. Screenshot 2014-04-02 16.50.21





A final argument used by some, not thankfully in TCD, is that for a rebrand €100k is not much. It may not be for some but for a cash starved deficit running univeristy its a good chunk of money. As paper never refused ink no consultant ever refused commission. Spending this money, tampering with a brand that has stood the test of time in the hope that it might attract some more Chinese students, that seems wrongheaded. It does nothing to advance teaching and learning excellence, nothing to advance research excellence, adds nothing to the student experience. In that context, its a waste of money.

37 thoughts on “Further thoughts on TCD rebranding

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Further thoughts on TCD rebranding

  2. Mike Lyons

    Well articulated Brian. One cannot compare this insipid Crest/ Logo with the historically rich and multi textured TCD Coat of Arms. The colour scheme does not resonate either. All in all this logo re-design has not worked at all. The point about inserting 1592 is interesting.
    Keep up the good work.

  3. Greg Foley

    The change to the crest is entirely predictable. These days, architects and graphic designers are obsessed with ‘plainness’ and ‘clean lines’.

  4. Laura

    If they cannot or will not realise that their USP is as an Ancient University, then the powers that be deserve their fate.

  5. Alumnus

    What you gain with the overseas students you may lose with the alumni. I don’t remember any alumni consultation and now the message to alumni is that TCD doesn’t care and will just choose a bland, ugly crest and needless tinker with the name over what went before. Still time for a rethink I hope. I haven’t seen anyone defend the new brand design.

    1. Delarivier

      Well, this particular TCD graduate (and another contemporary of mine that I met a few days ago) is, to put it mildly, underwhelmed.
      The new crest is bland and featureless. Overseas students certainly won’t be flocking to TCD because of the crest (and its new, unwieldy name). My friend was appalled by the casual discarding of four centuries of history.
      It’s even worse than UCD Dublin.. and I don’t think all the Chinese and American students flocking round UCD came here just because of the branding!

  6. Shaun

    Excellent post Brian.

    The ‘rebranding’ is an embarrassing move by college management and resistance to its implementation should be put up.

    I’m amazed at this move. The march towards a bland, traditionless, education factory seems to be picking up pace.

  7. TCD MBA 2000

    This rebranding exercise reminds me of an argument that I proposed during my student days at TCD. Who is the customer and what is the product of a university? Traditional thought is that students are the customer and knowledge/diplomas are the product. I posit that employers (including academia) are the customers and graduates are the product.

    A decade and a half later (has it been that long?!) in the age of MOOCs and online distance learning, it is even more important (in my humble opinion) for the University to distinguish itself by showing off why it is relevant to potential students’ future success.

    I recognize that the University is looking to China as a source of revenue. As American universities have shown, there is more than one revenue stream for a third level institution. Sure, tuition is one source. But I would venture to guess that Harvard and many others probably makes more on alumni donations and income from its endowment than it does from tuition. A third source is intellectual property – monetizing patents and copyrights. And finally, getting back to the theme at hand, there is also branded merchandise. Visit an American college bookstore and you’ll probably find more floorspace devoted to t-shirts, hats, and sweatshirts than to textbooks.

    If they had asked me, I would have recommended rebranding as TCD. As you point out, the lack of the word University in the title is not that meaningful. However, there are many Trinity Colleges. While our namesakes at Oxbridge have stellar reputations, other do not.

    Like you, I don’t care for the new coat of arms. I admit, part of it may have to do with familiarity. I don’t think that the new shape conveys a coat of arms as well as the old one does. And I have to say that the monochromatic symbols look like clip art.

    1. bossbutteringbee

      I have no doubt that there is an opportunity for TCD to generate cash by offering a more imaginative line of business and technology services to Irish clients. For example, College is very well equipped with R&D equipment much of which is under-utilised. My small technology consulting business and several client companies and product design companies decry the disappearance of quality engineering modelmaking services from Ireland. I have no doubt that TCD could address this sort of requirement and build a portfolio of business services of reasonable scale with little effort if it wanted to. I know it passed up an opportunity to operate a satellite campus in Bahrain at little or no cost to itself, some years ago
      Its sad to see the old place reduced to such desperate measures as these. I would have imagined that an actively managed alumni programme including, for example, personal letters to the more senior cohorts concerning tailored options for the education of their offspring in Ireland would have been far more effective. Now that I see some of the details of what is proposed I am surprised that the community there have let things get this far.

  8. jimfitzpatrickartist

    I personally find it sad. From beautiful to bland at a cost of €100,000. Why jettison something beautiful because Aldi or Lidl use the same type colours. Such nonsense make no sense -or marketing sense -whatsoever. Very poor short-term thinking. The first coat of arms is historic and iconic, the new simply vacuous. I would love a tee shirt of the former, would not bother with the latter even as a freebie. Jim FitzPatrick.
    PS. I am listed second in ‘The greatest tee shirt designers of all time’. Worhol’s sticky tongue is No 1, I’m No 2 with red and black CHE, so I know the marketing spiel inside out.

    1. Mike Lyons

      Well said . Your work decorated by student room back who knows when. We throw the baby out with the bath water if College adopts the proposed new coat of arms which is insipid and mono dimensional when compared with the historically multitextured traditional coat of arms.

      1. jimfitzpatrickartist

        History is everything and Trinity is all about history and learning. The old crest gives it a real marketing edge worldwide. Why not just leave it and highlight it’s history. Works on tee-shirts too.

  9. Pingback: The history of the Arms of Trinity College Dublin | Brian M. Lucey

  10. Sal

    Thank you Brian. Your comments were excellent today. As were those of Professor McConnell among others. I would like to point out to you however, that today is the first I heard of your blog. I echo your views and I was very pleased to discover your blog, and also to discover today that many others have the same feelings about the logo and title of College. Perhaps there is some way for you to communicate your blog to a wider group? I, for one, will be sharing it out to all those I know who are interested. A quick post asking those who follow your blog to share it might be a good idea.

  11. SciGeorg

    Superbly articulated, completely changed my mind about the whole thing. I hadn’t been following this too closely but thought it odd that people were getting so worked up about what I thought were just proposals. I was totally unaware of the money that’s already been spent, it seems like an awful waste when I compare it to other cut-backs college has made in regards to clubs and societies, scholars etc, things that dramatically impact on student life.
    “20% of the top 50 are in the same non-university-name boat as TCD.” Excellent point, that had briefly crossed my mind about MIT not having any issues, but having it spelled out clearly like that put all of this into perspective.

    1. Aoife Cunningham

      Who do we make our views known to Brian? As an international alumni your article is the first I’m hearing on the matter – I’d like to join the side against the rebranding of Trinity but am unsure how to get involved.

  12. Kate

    Aren’t the coat of arms of the college different from that of the university? And also, aren’t they granted? I mean, its was all very official and now it seems to be americanized, blanded. I never thought the book was a bible, either way its from a coat of arms, it’s not some arbitrary designation chosen out of thin air….

  13. Leslie Shaw

    I got my BA in 1976 and Ph.D in 1985. I live in France and only found out about this last Saturday. I tried to find an alumni organization but there doen’t appear to be one. What does exist seems to be controlled by the college bureaucrats. I started a discussion on the Linked page below and there has been some response. There are apparently 90,000 alumni around the globe, the majority of whom I believe would be opposed to the rebranding, if they were aware of it.
    I sent Prendergast an e-mail saying I would never again donate one cent to Trinity and he replied within minutes saying “nothing had been decided.” In my view the most effective way to stop this dead in the water would be a concerted message from alumni and other potential donors to cease funding Trinity. If a majority of faculty are opposed to the “identity initiative” can a strike or at least a work-to-rule not be organized?
    The Provost and Board have gone so far in this that they can’t turn back unless massive pressure is put on them.
    What about centralizing opposition in the form of an online petition?
    Best regards,
    Leslie Shaw

  14. Kevin

    This is all a bit silly really. Only the Chief Herald of Ireland has the legal power to alter the public Arms of Trinity-which are heraldically completely different from those of the University of Dublin.

  15. Paul Halley

    Your logical discourse on the matter is very persuasive . I agree whole-heartedly with your point of view and in particular the specifics you raise.

    However while there are many suggesting alumni should have a say I do not agree that we as graduates should have a right to veto or vote on the issue. I believe the decision rests with those charged with the governance of Trinity who should take into consideration the views of those academics working in Trinity and to a lesser extent the current student body.

    However that being said if I was asked my opinion I would say ‘leave it alone’.every one recognises the brand. If prospective students cannot ascertain that Trinity College is a university without its name being rearranged, are they really the calibre of students that the college desires ?

    What would Peter Ashe have thought ? Couldn’t imagine at pitch side in college park bellowing ‘come on Dublin University’ .

  16. Lyndon Low

    Definitely agree with Brian on this matter. I will start studying at TCD this September and this sudden rebranding has left me quite puzzled. TCD should remain its identity as it is.

  17. Pingback: BASIC at 50 and other items :: Dartmo.

  18. Robert Kerr

    I’m stunned and horrified at the dumbing down of one of our central features – the easily recognisable logo. Who is pushing this nonsense? My guess is that they will not take the objections on board and will steamroll through the new, boring version of an inspiring antique. I despair! Remember the hugely expensive re-brand that Aer Lingus did some years ago? They had to backtrack after a short while because it didn’t work. Someone is going to make a small fortune out of Trinity in a few years’ time by suggesting we “reincorporate the ancient link” (or some such) by returning to the old logo. Please let’s not make this mistake.


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