Refreshed Brand FAQ

The Cal Poly Brand

In January 2018, Cal Poly initiated a comprehensive research campaign to understand, define and express the university’s overall brand presence. We looked at the way we approach photography, messaging, websites, color palettes, logos, typography, marketing strategy, signage, videos, social media, and the on-campus experience.

After more than a year of market research, strategy and creative development, Cal Poly previewed updated branding elements to campus in April 2019. The preview gave students, faculty and staff a glimpse of the new branding elements before the look and feel begins appearing in outreach campaigns.

In August 2019, Cal Poly’s University Marketing office shared brand guidelines that govern the technical components of the brand and how they should be used. Cal Poly professionals in marketing and communications now have access to updated assets, including fonts, graphics, logos and imagery.

The Cal Poly community can expect to see the brand translate to signage, marketing materials and websites over the next year.


Frequently Asked Questions

Why did Cal Poly need any brand development?

Until now, Cal Poly has never engaged in comprehensive brand strategy on this scale, and the university community needed more clear direction on how to use the brand. With Cal Poly planning to take major steps in strategic planning for the campus and programs while embarking on a new public fundraising campaign, we needed to invest in a consistent brand strategy. Cal Poly’s marketing also needed to translate to digital and mobile applications to ensure greater accessibility for all users. By uniting our efforts across the university, we are able to ensure our message is a clear reflection of Cal Poly and reach our audiences more efficiently and cost-effectively.


What is changing about Cal Poly’s look and feel?

Cal Poly is refreshing our overall approach to our brand by focusing on the results of our distinctive Learn by Doing tradition – a concept we are calling “Learn by Doing. Ready Day One.” We introduced an evolved wordmark and shield graphic that combines to create our new university logo. The brand expression includes new typography options that helps establish visual hierarchy in print and digital materials, making them easier to understand. The typography palette includes new fonts that work with the Chumash characters used on campus today. The Cal Poly green and gold primary colors have been adjusted slightly to provide consistency across the university, more legibility, and the ability to better match the colors in different applications, including ink, paint and apparel. The extended brand color palette gives designers on campus more options to use when reaching different audiences or conveying different messages.


Why is the Cal Poly logo changing?

Cal Poly’s past logo presented several design challenges affecting accessibility and legibility across audiences and applications. The wordmark did not scale to small sizes well, and its light lettering often made it appear weak when presented alongside other graphics and photos. The academic shield introduced in 2015 also did not appear legibly on many digital and mobile platforms. Market research found that the Cal Poly community wanted to see evidence of continuity to past marks in future branding. The updated wordmark preserves many of the letter shapes and details seen in the past logo iterations. The updated shield puts emphasis on Cal Poly’s core and distinctive philosophy of Learn by Doing.


Is the university seal changing?

No, the university seal is not changing. It will continue to be used on official documents, including diplomas, certificates and transcripts, from the offices of the president and provost. The first academic shield graphic was designed using elements from the seal in 2015. The updated shield appears with the wordmark in the Cal Poly logo and as a graphic on other marketing materials, signage and websites.


Is Learn by Doing going away?

No, Learn by Doing remains the university’s core educational philosophy. Market research and creative testing strongly affirmed what the university has always known: Learn by Doing defines and distinguishes the Cal Poly experience. With many other universities adopting the phrase in marketing materials, we knew we could illustrate its roots at Cal Poly and use Learn by Doing as a central pillar in our brand strategy. Cal Poly is strengthening its focus on Learn by Doing in its updated shield graphic as well as in storytelling and photography.


What was included in the research process that led to the new branding?

Cal Poly worked closely with higher education marketing and research firm SimpsonScarborough throughout the process. Together, the team engaged in the following phases:

  • discovery and assessment
  • quantitative and qualitative market research
  • brand positioning and messaging strategy
  • brand identity and logo development
  • designing creative concepts
  • logo and creative concept testing across audiences
  • brand guidelines development
  • in-person workshops, and stakeholder training sessions

We engaged thousands of faculty, staff, current students, alumni, prospective students, parents and donors to measure their perception of the institution and measure their opinions about the proposed branding concepts. The university also convened internal steering committees and stakeholder groups to give input on the branding process.

Check out an in-depth chronicle of the branding process on the Cal Poly Wiki accessible to faculty and staff on campus.


What do the symbols mean in the new shield?

The shield features the hammer and quill pen, which have appeared in the university seal since 2001. They represent the balance of practice and theory inherent in Cal Poly’s educational philosophy. The sun’s rays and mountain represent Bishop Peak, a familiar vista to those on campus. Creative testing indicated that audiences wanted to see “Learn by Doing” in English instead of the Latin “Discere Faciendo” that appears in the university seal.