The air was dark and tense inside the gym as nearly 400 students sitting in dirty-white chairs faced the back-projected screen. It wasn’t quiet—restless murmurs and the occasional question interrupted the stillness—but the room held its breath. The presenters clicked through yet another slide, and landed on one that said only, “Questions?” There was a moment of silence, and then the atmosphere became even thicker with dissent.
“Why did you start this?”
“What even is the ‘open N’?”
“Why didn’t we know about this? Why weren’t we consulted?”
“What’s the point?”
The event was on Wednesday, Aug. 29, when the new, long-time-coming logo was revealed to the Upper School. Headed by two parent volunteers who had been with the campaign since its birth two years ago, the presentation consisted of a brief explanation of the whys, hows, and whats of the new brand: why it had happened, how the logo came to be, and, of course, what the logo was.
However, “brief explanation” seemed not to be enough, as during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, the assembly descended into controversy as critics voiced their opinions in a way that most considered “disappointing,” as Stephen Dunn, the Head of the Nueva Upper School, put it.
“I think that there is a productive way to provide [feedback] that appreciates the work that’s gone into [re-branding].”
“I was disappointed in the way that students chose to approach their feedback,” Dunn said. “Not necessarily that I disagree with it, but I think that there is a productive way to provide it that appreciates the work that’s gone into it, that appreciates the parents and the volunteers that were there.”
Neither Mara Wallace nor Andrea Johnson, the presenters during the assembly and Co-Chairs of the Marketing and Communications Team (MarCom) of the Board of Trustees, were particularly surprised by the feedback—as Wallace said, “If you ask five Nueva students, you’ll get at least six opinions”—but both were taken aback at the rancorous, “confrontational nature” of it.
However, Dunn, Head of School Diane Rosenberg, Wallace, and Johnson saw positive in the assembly as well. Dunn praised those who responded to the critics by recognizing the hard work of Wallace and Johnson—and the duo agreed. After the disheartening assembly, they received “a lot of emails of support.”
“There was this overwhelming Nueva-ness of it,” Wallace said.
Dunn also acknowledged the fact that both camps were, collectively, the Nueva identity; the outspokenness of both sides, he said, was indicative of the fact that Nueva students as a collective whole are opinionated and, when debate arises, firm in their beliefs.
“There was this overwhelming Nueva-ness of it.”
Due to this opinionated, involved mindset, Nueva students had felt that their own ideas were not consulted nor heard during the designing and final decision-making process in the branding campaign. This was main cause of the dichotomy that both an unnamed student and Dunn and Rosenberg identified.
However, Johnson and Wallace said that they made sure to extended invitations for a total of 11 listening sessions across divisions, and at least three in the Upper School alone. Additionally, a school-wide survey was sent out at the end of last year. At the same time, students were not consulted in the final decision-making process, particularly around the default “Hero” logo, as the final vote took place over the summer—and the survey itself did not include any potential concrete designs or colors to vote on.
While recognizing that this was a concern for many students, Johnson said, “As with any brand, it is unlikely that… [everyone] will like it.”
Rosenberg provided an alternate explanation. “The Board makes the long-term, strategic decisions,” she said, “and the brand was one of those.” In other words, the brand was an important choice to make, one that the Board had to make, and one that would affect Nueva for many, many years to come. As Wallace said, on behalf of the MarCom Team, they hope that this brand will last, “for another 50 years to come.”
However, Rosenberg acknowledged that, if given more time, they most likely would’ve gotten more consensus among the students of the Upper School. But she also added that, “Yes, I wish we had more time, but at some point we have to move on.”
“There was this overwhelming Nueva-ness of it.”
There were a couple of separate issues—albeit lower-level and less spot-lighted. For one, some students were concerned about the cost of replacing the old branding—during the presentation, Johnson and Wallace said that they were going to go around the school and pick out objects in the school that needed to be updated, like metal signs with the old serif logo, painting jobs, and the colors of the gym floor. During our interview, they wanted to clarify that statement.
“Most are not new costs,” said Wallace said. Instead of immediately remodeling whatever didn’t fit with the new brand, the MarCom team decided that relics of the old brand would be replaced when they were due for a remodel, independent of which brand they showcased—it could even be a few years, as is in the case of the gym’s floor colors, before a change happened.
Additionally, they foresee that the new brand could streamline the process in attracting potential new students, faculty, and families. “We’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that the value of this is really high compared to the expense,” said Wallace.
However, even as the technical and aesthetic aspects of the rebranding mission were up for debate, the elephant—or maverick, perhaps—in the room was, again, the identity of Nueva. If there was one thing that Dunn, Rosenberg, Wallace, and Johnson all agreed upon, it was that the serif brand of before was not consistent, and that consistency is key.
Ten years ago, when the logo was changed to the now-old serif emblem, digital capabilities were neither as widespread nor as accessible as in the modern day— as time progressed, the Nueva community began to tinker with the logo, and different iterations began circulating
“A brand is so much more than a picture or a color; it’s a message.”
Dunn described it as, “Because we can, we do.” And because the Nueva community could recreate, modify, and distribute the logo at will, there was no longer a standard, definitive brand with a specific font or a specific color; in other words, there was an incredible amount of inconsistency.
“A brand is so much more than a picture or a color; it’s a message,” said Wallace. “We need to communicate in a clear, concise and consistent way who we are, what we do, and why we are unique.”
Aside from the above, there was one last concern that students had: why the “open N,” why the default “Hero” icon?
Cynicism towards the logo showed itself during the assembly and has persisted after as well. Within a few days, meme pages began popping up on Instagram, their sole purpose to poke fun at the new “open N.”
Even in the non-digital world, people used the “open N” symbol to direct derision at the institution as a whole, as evidenced by, among other things, the appearance of the “Loss Meme” in conjunction with the “open N” on one of the bulletin boards on the second floor.
Although clearly just jokes, these do reveal a grain of truth: that people—students in particular—are not fully satisfied with the logo.
As for the animosity against the logo, Rosenberg predicted that it would fade with time and use, similar to the sans-serif change a decade ago. “There will be less pushback when people begin to utilize and personalize that N,” she said.
Wallace and Johnson both had similar ideas. “You can put anything in the heart of [the ‘open N’],” Wallace said, “anything.”
“We weren’t trying to change anything about who we are; we would like to be known, and we would like to be known accurately.”
Wallace and Johnson hoped that, in the future, students, faculty, the administration, and others would use the “open N” as an expression of identity—that they would put “[scientific] beakers, history globes, even one of the dances” within the “open N.”
Even now, people have begun using it around campus—like Luke De, an Upper School science teacher, who did, in fact, put a bubbling beaker within the N for the Journal Club, for which he is the faculty advisor. As Wallace explained, “We weren’t trying to change anything about who we are; we would like to be known, and we would like to be known accurately.”
This, Dunn, Rosenberg, Wallace, and Johnson all believed, was the point of the new branding: to create a “sandbox,” as Dunn called it, in which the Nueva community could play and create and express their individuality while also putting forth a unified community front.
But more than that, this brand was an opportunity to make Nueva “yours,” as Rosenberg described.
“If you don’t love it, you can make it better,” said Wallace. “You can take it and run with it. Go!”
Written by Willow T. C. Y.