New Cal Poly logo looks like a hammer and sickle — and it’s drawing all kinds of snark

See how Cal Poly’s logo has changed over the years

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo unveiled a new academic shield on April 30, 2019. Some say it resembles a Soviet hammer and sickle. Here's how the logo has evolved over the last century.
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Cal Poly San Luis Obispo unveiled a new academic shield on April 30, 2019. Some say it resembles a Soviet hammer and sickle. Here's how the logo has evolved over the last century.

Say it ain’t so, comrades.

A design element on Cal Poly’s revamped academic shield is reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle?

And no one at Cal Poly recognized that?

Apparently not, because the shield was proudly unveiled this week as part of a $340,000 rebranding campaign that aims, among other goals, to make the university’s logo more digital-friendly, so it will read better on cell phones and other devices.

The pared-down version of the logo prominently features a writing quill (to symbolize learning) and a hammer (to symbolize doing).

A smaller version of that same design was included on the old shield.

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But on the new one, it jumps out in a way that conjures up an image of the old communist logo.

And it’s not just us saying that. Logo haters have been laying down plenty of snark on social media.

One Tribune Facebook reader posted a GIF of a clapping Vladimir Putin.

Another shared the Russian national anthem along with this comment: “Nice logo to adhere with the socialist ideals of the collective! I suggest a new Cal Poly school song to commemorate!”

Yet another left this comment on the Facebook page of KVEC radio host Dave Congalton: “Looks suspiciously like a hammer and sickle. LOL. What could be farther from the truth about Poly?”

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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

And this, from the Mustang News Facebook page: “What’s next?! Marching like the Red Army on graduation?”

We could give more examples, but you get the point. This is a fairly common visceral reaction — though not the only one.

There were a few other choice interpretations, including this: “A serrated bowie knife and a Thor hammer. I dig it!!”

Others compared the shield to a Boy Scout badge.

Adding to the problem, the other major design element on the shield — the image of the sun setting behind Bishop Peak — has taken hits, too.

“Top part reminds me of the flag of Imperial Japan, World War II,” posted one reader.

Students have even started circulating a “Stop the Cal Poly Rebranding” petition on change.org that had more than 5,000 signatures as of Thursday evening.

Not everybody hates the logo — it’s gotten a handful of online “loves” and “likes” — but the general consensus is Cal Poly overpaid for something that really didn’t need to be changed in the first place.

That’s harsh. We don’t begrudge Cal Poly’s attempt to keep its branding relevant in the 21st century (though we do wonder why it stuck with a medieval element like a writing quill).

Cal Poly opened a new Welcome Center on Tuesday on Grand Avenue, featuring the university’s updated logo. Royaa Silver, assistant vice president for creative services, university marketing, and Cindy Villa, senior vice president for administration and finance, at right, look over the new facility. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Also, SimpsonScarborough, the marketing firm chosen for the rebranding campaign, is doing a wide range of work for Cal Poly. The logo didn’t eat up the entire $340,000.

But here’s what bothers us: The firm’s been conducting extensive research that’s included focus groups, interviews, surveys and creative testing.

Didn’t anyone object to the shield imagery or at least suggest replacing the hammer with a shovel, or a welding torch or a hardhat?

And can we talk a little about what’s missing from the new logo?

To simplify the design, many of the elements that symbolized Cal Poly’s strengths were deleted. Out went the atom! The sheaf of wheat! The lamp of learning! The ones and zeros that were a nod to the computer age!

But all is not lost.

The new design does place more emphasis on Cal Poly’s “Learn By Doing” motto, which now gets top billing and is in English, rather than Latin.

And for students worried that a socialist-style logo will wind up on their diplomas, relax. The official seal of Cal Poly — as opposed to the less formal shield — isn’t changing. You’ll still get that sheaf of wheat, the ones and zeros, and the Latin wording.

Still, someone should have flagged this odd imagery on the new shield.

Cal Poly should have just said “nyet.”

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