We know our new logo will be met with both jubilation and judgement

The merged Adelaide University’s brand personality tries to find a sweet spot between proven and audacious, say Peter Høj and David Lloyd

May 27, 2024
Source: Getty Images

We know, unsurprisingly, that many eyes are on us as we seek to successfully deliver one of the largest university mergers this century has seen to date, between the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia. High on the watchlist is July’s much-anticipated unveiling of the new Adelaide University logo.

We have already seen “What will our logo look like?” garnering the highest public click rate of all our frequently asked questions for months on end. But while unveiling a new logo will be a moment that matters (and one to remember), it is just one of many “making moments” that we hope to achieve as we begin to position Adelaide University on the global stage.

The starting points of our two institutions are very different. The University of Adelaide is currently immersed in its 150th anniversary celebrations. An immense feeling of pride is evident at a century and a half of steadfast social, cultural and academic leadership that all began with a first official lecture (a Latin lesson) in 1874. The university has educated or employed five Nobel laureates, produced more than 100 Rhodes scholars, graduated the first Australian to walk in space and, back in 1881, was the nation’s first university to admit women to all academic courses on an equal basis to men.

Hence, for the University of Adelaide, the merger process involves a delicate dance of honouring where it has come from (with connections that transcend national borders) while curiously exploring the possibilities of a new brand expression for the future that will resonate but not seek to replace.  

UniSA, by contrast, is still only in its early thirties, having been established in 1991. There’s a youthful nature to how things are done (some could say audacious even) that has apparently been recently likened – not inaccurately – to a “mosh pit”, where everyone can get involved.

This start-up approach has underwritten a continuous search for new ways of doing things. UniSA was the first Australian university to articulate graduate qualities in the curriculum, for instance. It was also the first to publicly commit to achieving reconciliation with First Nations people, the first to partner with Accenture globally to deliver tailored degrees in digital business and the first tertiary provider of aviation education. It was the first university in the entire world to use Innovation Jam™ technology to crowdsource a strategy: an event affectionately known as Unijam, spanning 56 countries over 36 hours.

It is therefore entirely fitting that the time capsule under UniSA’s industry engagement shopfront (“The Enterprise Hub”, in line with the university’s official trademark as “Australia’s University of Enterprise”) was buried by the legendary George Takei – Mr Sulu in the original Star Trek – as he accepted an honorary doctorate.

But it is also important to keep in mind that the modern UniSA was 135 years in the making. The pioneering schools and colleges that boldly went before it date back to the 1800s, established in response to the needs of South Australia’s developing free colony, including for teaching, art, mining and town planning.

So while we began our exploration of new brand identity with trepidation, wondering if we could ever traverse the breadth of difference between our apparently quite different legacy universities, we came to realise that there is a golden thread running between them that can be woven into the intricate tapestry of the new institution.

So this is where find ourselves as we begin our rare co-leadership to advance a new for-purpose university of global standing – which must have an authentic brand to match our ambitious and confident vision for the future (no pressure!).

We know that whatever we unveil in July will be met with, in equal parts, jubilation and judgement. Doubtless some will rush to dissect the logo’s colour and/or lament its design – we even expect to see a meme or two in multiple Reddit threads. But that’s a good thing. We are looking forward to hearing what people think – because that will give us an opportunity to tell the story and vision that sits behind all the elements that the branding will bring together.

For us, this is about building an even greater sense of pride within our university communities, so many of whose members already have deep and sometimes unbreakable bonds with their alma maters. We will look to celebrate our legacies while also working to spur an affinity with our new brand and the journey yet to come – recognising the capacity for our next-generation institution to be an even greater force for firsts.

We both hold a personal connection to the notion of firsts, being the first in our families to attend university. And for its first first, Adelaide University will be the first tertiary institution in Australia to have provision for an Aboriginal name in its founding legislation – a deliberate and culturally significant moment to define our very first steps.

Through our brand conceptualisation we know that we can be both proven and audacious. We can turn it up and turn it down. Perhaps, through this union, we can have it all.

Peter Høj is vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide. David Lloyd is vice-chancellor of the University of South Australia.

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