The Berkeley Certificate in Design Innovation

Branding and visual identity

Client: The University of California, Berkeley

Brief: Design the Berkeley Certificate in Design Innovation, an academic award offered by the College of Engineering, Haas School of Business, College of Environmental Design, and College of Letters & Sciences, Arts and Humanities Division at UC Berkeley.

Collaborators: Sara Beckman, Renee Chow

Tools: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop

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In March 2017, I was approached by Dr. Sara Beckman about the Berkeley Certificate in Design Innovation, a project she is spearheading along with three other faculty advisors. Sara asked me to establish a small team of design leaders on campus to serve as liaisons between the administration and the student design community. Additionally, she requested that I design the certificate itself, which would be presented to two students in April 2017.

Isometric approach

I began envisioning the certificate as a set of isometric drawings of a design studio, complete with whiteboards, sticky notes, and fabrication equipment. While this idea was conceptually strong, it wasn’t unique to Berkeley. So, I began capturing recognizable design symbols on campus: the hanging yellow power outlets in the Jacobs Institute, the ubiquitous Barcelona chairs in Wurster Hall.

Isometric sketches

I then decided a better approach would be to develop a visual language for the BCDI brand, and then design the certificate as a branded asset. BCDI is much more than a certificate. It’s an umbrella for the student design experience. It’s a bridge between coursework and extra-curricular design organizations. It’s a centralized hub for the design-minded. It’s a unifying force.

Emblematic approach

Accordingly, the BCDI brand needs a powerful emblematic presence to capture the unification of design at Berkeley. This brought me to the abstracted lightbulb. The lightbulb is a widely understood symbol of innovation and ideation. The 4 rungs of the bulb represent the 4 sponsoring departments and the 4 courses required to receive the certificate, and complement the 4 letters in the acronym BCDI.

Logo

I designed the logo to render beautifully at all sizes. The form of the lightbulb is recognizable even when scaled down to 6 x 12px.

Bitmaps @1x. From left to right: 6 x 12px, 12 x 24px, 24 x 48px

At this point, I paused to perform more extensive research. Obviously, it’s imperative that the identity of the Berkeley Certificate in Design Innovation be innovative. However, it’s equally important for the brand to fit into the Berkeley design family, however disjointed that family is.

Berkeley brand landscape

I conducted a canvas study of the logos of every academic department, group, and field of study at Berkeley. I placed each logo on a 2D grid, whereas the x-axis measures innovation (conservative → innovative) and the y-axis measures Berkeley-ness (screams “Berkeley” → could be anywhere). I’m most interested in the area slightly below the x-axis in the fourth quadrant: contemporary brands that evidently belong to Berkeley.

2D grid: Berkeleyness vs. innovation
Closeup of Q3

Wordmark treatments

With this in mind, I sought to create a lowercase, sans-serif wordmark with the Berkeley brand colors. In order to create a dynamic and striking visual impression, I applied various treatments to the wordmark, paying particular attention to the angles in the terminals and ascenders.

Wordmark explorations

Lockup

The final wordmark is a modification of Adventor. The width of the lowercase i matches the width of each bar of the bulb. The kerning between the lowercase d and i is half that width. I extended the ascenders so the height of the wordmark is half the height of the bulb. Additionally, I angled the terminals of the lowercase b and d to match the angle of the rungs of the bulb. The resulting logo embodies a balance of innovation and restraint.

Lockup
Lockup proportions & padding
Wordmark in brand colors

Certificate design

I then designed the certificate itself. After several rounds of iterations in collaboration with Renee Chow, two students were presented the certificate at the BCDI Open House last week.

Certificate mockup
Dr. Sara Beckman presenting certificates to Adam and Merissa

Feedback

The final certificate design was approved and well-received by the overseeing board of Deans and faculty advisors. The certificate solidifies and concretizes design innovation on campus, and embodies a physical token of accomplishment for the students to whom it is awarded.

Next steps

In addition to expanding the identity & brand guidelines, there is a massive amount of work to do in strengthening the design community and forging an academic path to design.

At the BCDI launch event, the designers Elizabeth Lin and Morgan Fabian discussed their academic and career paths. We’ve found alumni engagement to be incredibly motivating for students, and we want to continue hosting speakers. Internally, we’ve begun to discuss corporate sponsorship and the many forms that may take.

I’m a creative consultant in the Bay Area. Let’s discuss your design needs! Drop me a line at neil.s.shankar@gmail.com.