Friday, March 25, 2016

The new MIT Sloan logo and the alumni #nogologo campaign

(Updated with "final" logo in July 2016, see details at the bottom of the post) In late March, alumni of the MIT Sloan School of Management received an email from the school about the new branding. It included a logo sample. While the school obviously spent a lot of time and effort on this, the reaction I have seen from alumni has been mostly negative. There is even a social media campaign to get it changed (more on #nogologo below).

Before I get into the logo issue, I would like to point out that I have been blogging about MIT/MIT Sloan-related matters for years. I generally try to give a balanced, reasoned appraisal of the issues at hand, which you can see in some of my earlier posts such as MIT Sloan Fellows: One semester down, two to go and MIT Executive MBA gets a name change and An encounter with Tim Berners-Lee and the Semantic Web. I have tried to do the same with the following post, even though there is a fair amount of frustration in some quarters.

To start, I think it would be helpful to take a look at the old logo (sorry, I don't have anything bigger) to understand what Sloan used to have for branding:

Old MIT Sloan logo
Old logo

Here's the new logo:
New MIT Sloan logo and the #nogologo campaign
New MIT Sloan logo

Here's what the announcement to alumni said:
Three years ago, we kicked off a branding effort to tell our story, and clarify what makes MIT Sloan unique. We began by gathering quantitative and qualitative insights from our faculty, staff, students, and alumni. We then surveyed the global business community to understand their perceptions of MIT Sloan. Articulations as to our difference ranged across respondents. But what became clear across the board was that being the management school of MIT was a point of distinction—inextricable from our leaders and our work.

From this data, we were inspired to celebrate how our community lives our mission statement as leaders who improve the world, generate ideas that advance management practice—and, true to the Institute’s motto of “mens et manus”—translate thinking into action. We demonstrate that smart is our baseline. Collaboration is our cultural norm. And that solving the world’s toughest problems isn’t a lofty ideal, but our preferred reality.

Our new brand embraces this momentum and difference as MIT’s management school. Our logo illustrates the connection between the School and Institute as the fuel for innovation. Our message elevates ideas made to matter—the inventions of our brilliant minds and nimble hands working out in the world, and for it.

As we’ve started sharing the brand concepts and pillars, many of which are reflected in this brief note, we've heard that they resonate with our community's experience of MIT Sloan, and with our feelings about our School. Who we are, what we do, and how we lead continues to be what the world needs and wants. We are everywhere the future is being made, and everywhere ideas are made to matter.

We wanted you to be among the first to see our new brand. You’ll see it represented in upcoming communications and events. But more than that, we hope you’ll see yourself in it. We certainly do.
It was signed by MIT Sloan's Senior Associate Dean for External Relations and International Programs.

My take:

I believe it is time for a change to the branding of MIT Sloan. The old logo looked conservative, like a stately stone monument (the domed building is part of MIT's classic campus, built in the early 1900s). It looked appropriate for a top business school going up against Harvard Business School, the traditional powerhouse a few miles upriver.

But Sloan is not a monument. It's a dynamic business school that is part of the greatest institute of learning and building and innovation and discovery that the world has ever known. The branding should reflect this reality!

To that end, the new MIT Sloan logo got one thing right: The "MIT" graphic element looks more futuristic and forward-looking. Indeed, I think the new MIT Sloan logo better reflects MIT's core identity, rather than a conservative "business school" identity that is separate from the institute. That's a pretty important distinction, although I have to acknowledge that not all Sloanies agree with me (check the comments below the petition, linked further down the page).

There is also a major problem with the new MIT Sloan logo: the text below the graphic logo.  MANAGEMENT/SLOAN SCHOOL is awkward and reads poorly. It looks like of mishmash of concepts and words that a design committee insisted be shoehorned into the new identity, rather than a message or brand that is focused. 

For what it's worth, MIT has its own logo that looks very different from the old Sloan logo. Here's the version of the MIT logo that was used when I was a student there (and is still used today):
MIT logo
There were other MIT logos that used to be rotated on the homepage -- I am not sure if they were experiments, or just something special for the home page, but they were interesting. All were nonstandard, bright, suggesting science or digital or data or a new way of looking at the world. I liked them. Similarly, I like the top part of the new MIT Sloan logo, which follows this model.

What do other alumni think of the new MIT Sloan logo?

The response I have seen on Facebook has been savage. Lots of people think that the graphic element looks like M/T rather than MIT. Many people in my class say they preferred the old logo. On Facebook and Twitter, there is now a #nogologo campaign to get the new MIT Sloan logo changed.

Someone even created a petition to Dean Schmittlein (whose background is marketing) calling for the new logo to be amended. Here are the objections:
Key critiques are (1) logo represents M/T rather than MIT, (2) grammatically wrong "M/T Management Sloan School" and (3) distances us from M.I.T. brand which is a crucial part of our heritage. The logo does not reflect the true Sloan nature.
It's up to nearly 400 1,000 signatures so far.

However, I have seen some comments by current Sloan students who indicate that they accept the new logo, awkward phrasing and all. Someone in the comments section of this blog post also said that many alumni like the new logo.

Regardless, if the outrage continues, the controversy promises to become a negative distraction.  Alumni clearly want a brand identity to rally around, and the current iteration of the new logo isn't it for a large number of us.

Update: July 7 2016

Sloan sent out a message two days ago with the email subject line "MIT Sloan Branding Initiative: Final Logo." In it, a new version of the logo was included:

The message included with the final logo said:

I am writing to you with an update on MIT Sloan’s Branding Initiative and share with you the final version of one element of the School’s branding work. After a year of experimentation and input, the School feels strongly that this version highlights core elements of a broad and bold strategy for MIT Sloan that focuses on amplifying our point of true distinction and differentiation: the School’ connection to the world’s greatest research institution.

For those of you who have shared your input along the way, thank you.  As we move forward with our work, we look forward to your continued partnership in advancing the mission and visibility of the MIT Sloan School of Management. Notification of this logo update will be shared with the broader alumni community in ENews, our online alumni publication, and on our website shortly.  

Clearly, the school took the "M/T" criticism seriously, but the wording still looks strange and people who preferred the old logo will not be satisfied.

Feel free to leave your comments below.


  1. The New logo is TERRIBLE. Have not spoke to one alum that likes it. A re-brand was certainly in order, but not playing off the new MIT logo is a big mistake. One of the best things Sloan has going is its association with MIT. This new logo seems to be a conscious effort to disassociate from MIT, which makes no logical sense at all.

    I have other issues with the logo as well, many of which Ian already mentioned, but failing to leverage the MIT brand is the biggest failure of all.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Regarding not playing off the new MIT logo: Sloan has always been different than the rest of the school, not only in terms of its mission and focus. Until recently it had a relatively small degree of crossover in terms of academic collaboration and students cross-registering in both directions. Is there an argument for Sloan maintain a distinct identity?

      Second, the existing MIT logo is more than 10 years old. At some point it will change, and if it happens sooner rather than later it would be a bit of waste to incorporate it into the Sloan logo. OTOH, maybe that is an argument for Sloan and MIT to coordinate branding more closely.

    2. Dear Ian,
      As an Alumni class of 2012 and Alumni Relation Officer of Thai MIT Alumni Association and Sloan 5 Officer (Asia), I felt that the Dean has gone above and beyond to diverge from the rest of the campus. When I serve as MIT Graduate Student Association as Student Life Officer, there are many hostile feeling among the rest of MIT on the Business School and its students and they felt that the Biz Students are above it all and party all the time. This has to change and the logo is not making it any better. Beside the word MIT that doesn't even look like MIT since I is crooked, I don't feel the connection between this logo and the rest of the MIT campus. While United States Flag change over time but it does maintain some tie to the flag like color. Some good brand like coke don't change for hundred of year in a significant way and they did fine. I think the logo, old and new need to represent the rest of the campus too.
      That is mind thought. Maybe we could have marketing expert to decided for us. I mean MIT Marketing is data driven anyway and perhaps, it is time for us to vote for it.

  2. Many alumni (myself included) like the new logo. Those that don't have just been incredibly - and both inappropriately and publicly - loud about it.

    1. Identify yourself, mysterious "Unknown" alumnus or alumna! Reveal your stipend from the MIT Sloan Administration and your current eyeglass prescription! Also, please stipulate how long you have worked for the M/T trucking company and how much you have yearned for a wider audience for your vintage 1977 logo. Thank you, Eric Maltzer, Ashamed Sloan Alumnus

    2. Hey there, Eric. Tom Muscolo here. I don't make it a habit of leaving anonymous comments on the internet but as I was searching for the new logo this site came up and I had to chime in. Andrew F., one of the dozen design-oriented MBAs in our class who is especially qualified to evaluate the logo, had a well articulated response to much of negative commentary flying around in the Boston Sloanies WhatsApp group. I haven't asked for his permission to post it here, nor do I think the public (as in the world) forum is the appropriate place to debate this (which is my main issue with the alumni response and petition so far) so I'll shoot you it an e-mail.

    3. Then why don't those who do, create a campaign to support it.

      Class of 12

    4. The new logo is horrendous. I frankly don't care what some more qualified marketer has to say. The logo is part of our identity, and the management team failed to take an inclusive approach to the effort when they changed our identity. Furthermore, the idea that we were "due" for a re-branding exercise is nonsense. It's a mystery as to why they even prioritized the effort in the first place. What fundamental problem did they address that warranted a 3 year re-branding effort? One glaring problem I see is a lack of alumni engagement. A new logo created without engaging the alumni in the process ain't fixing that. Instead of working on the efforts they want to work on, the management team should work on the efforts they need to work on.

  3. Hey Ian-

    Stumbled on this post looking up the exact messaging MIT used back in March to announce the original logo change with the slanted I.

    Very recently as you probably know they anounced they are getting rid of the slanted I. There messaging around this is that the slanted I logo was part of a 'test' and the recent version without it is now the final version. Here's a link to their current messaging:

    This seems obviously dishonest. At no point back in March did they say anything about the slanted I logo being a test, even in the face of a lot of pushback from Sloanies. Now claiming that was just a test seems like terrible corporate communications run amok. And dishonesty for the sake of saving face on what is a fairly minor issue.

    Why would they do this? Or am I missing something?

    1. Thanks for the comment. You are correct, they did not suggest the slanted logo was a test back in March. Indeed, "our new brand" was in development for three years and it seemed like it was the big announcement to the rest of the world. I also received reunion mailings from MIT featuring the new slanted logo.

      So why are they calling it "final" now, and suggesting that the slanted logo was a test? My guess is they were totally taken aback by the criticism ... and don't want to lose face by admitting they made a big mistake.

      Not to say the new logo is perfect ... the muddled language bothers me, and I know some people will prefer the old Sloan logo. But at they ditched the slanted "I".

      Ian SF '11


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