Cal Poly unveils its first campus Welcome Center — and a new university logo

Cal Poly opened its first campus Welcome Center on Tuesday to serve as the “front door” to the university, while also unveiling an updated logo and new branding.

The new Welcome Center at the yakʔitʸutʸu housing community on Grand Avenue is a 3,200-square-foot space meant to greet newcomers taking tours or finding events at Cal Poly.

It includes a 142-seat auditorium for presentations, according to a Cal Poly news release. In 2018, more than 55,000 visitors came to campus, including prospective students and their families.

“This space aims to be beautiful, inviting and inclusive, helping visitors navigate our campus while getting to know the ‘Learn by doing’ philosophy that empowers students to succeed,” President Jeffrey Armstrong said in the release.

Cal Poly’s philosophy rings clear in the new logo too.

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Cal Poly unveiled its updated branding and new logo, bottom, on April 30, 2019, to replace the old logo, top. Courtesy of Cal Poly

The new image is a simpler version of the 2015 “academic shield” it replaces, with a “nod to the campus’s location and heritage,” that’s easier to see on small digital screens.

The words “Learn by doing” stretch across the top of the crest. A stylized setting sun meets a horizon line meant to reference Bishop Peak. The bottom half of the shield-shaped logo are two tools, crossed.

The quill and hammer were seen before on the Cal Poly seal released in 2000 and are meant to represent the institution’s philosophy by symbolizing “learning” and “doing,” Lazier said in an email to The Tribune.

Simple and digital-friendly logos are considered essential to universities nationwide in order to attract students and funding. To update the brand image, Cal Poly hired marketing firm SimpsonScarborough at an estimated cost of $340,000 for more than a year of market research and design development, according to university spokesman Matt Lazier.

The new logo was unveiled at the ribbon cutting event for the Welcome Center. The event featured a multimedia celebration that included a wall of doughnuts in Cal Poly colors, custom screen-printed T-shirts and branded snow cones.

The refreshed brand aims to help Cal Poly keep pace with competing institutions and ensure that the university can continue to live out its mission to serve the state of California with the best education possible,” Lazier said in a written news release.

Cal Poly sought input from prospective and current students, staff, faculty, parents, alumni, industry partners, board members and donors, through surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews, workshops and projects by Cal Poly marketing classes, Lazier said.

That Cal Poly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the marketing tools is not unprecedented for institutions of higher education.

Back in 2011, the University of Colorado paid for a $780,000 branding project, according to the Boulder Daily Camera. Oregon State University in 2017 paid $395,000 for an audit and recreation of its branding and messaging, and an additional $85,000 for a new logo, according to The Oregonian. University of South Florida spent $50,000 for an altered logo that students apparently hate, according to a March 2019 story on The Denver Channel.

Work for Cal Poly’s new seal began in January 2018 and included market research, brand position and messaging strategy, brand identity and logo development, testing, workshops and stakeholder training sessions.

The new logo will be used on marketing materials and websites beginning this fall. Signs featuring the new logo will be updated throughout the coming year.

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Monica Vaughan reports on health, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo County, oil and wildlife at The Tribune. She previously covered crime and justice in the Sacramento Valley, is a graduate of the University of Oregon journalism school and is a sixth-generation Californian. Have an idea for a story? Email: