Some branding projects are a blank slate—a system you can build from the ground up with a cohesive image. Upon commission, the project for rebranding Syracuse University, tasked to Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, did not appear to be one of them. It wasn't that they were asking too much—just the opposite. The university already had an official seal and a logo for the sports team, which weren't really up for alteration. A bright tangerine orange is deeply associated with the school and its popular sports teams, so color was off the table, too.
"We were asked to do this brand identity, and some of the main tools one usually uses to do this work were put aside—color and symbols or iconography," says Bierut. "I started thinking, maybe the solution was the way they use typography."
Particularly for something as multi-faceted as a university, typography can be a way to create visual coherence across various schools and other parts of the institution. In the case of Syracuse, the hunt for the perfect typeface also unearthed an unlikely connection between past and present, and between the academic world and the rich history of type design. When Bierut and Jesse Reed, his associate partner at the time, discovered a typeface linking the university and the famous early 20th-century type designer Frederic Goudy, it set into motion a typeface excavation that resulted in the central element of the new school identity.