The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

The strategy behind Vanderbilt’s new visual identity

In an exclusive interview with The Hustler and a follow-up session with local media, Athletic Director Candice Storey Lee and Vice Chancellor of Marketing Steve Ertel provided further insight into the university’s branding changes.
Justin Hershey
Memorial Gymnasium court as photographed on Feb. 17, 2021. (Hustler Staff/Justin Hershey)

Vanderbilt faced criticism from students, alumni and fans when it unveiled its new visual identity on March 22. As part of the branding change, the university redesigned its logos and marks in an effort to strengthen Vanderbilt’s uniqueness, per the university’s press release.

Steve Ertel, vice chancellor for communications and marketing, led the rebranding project. He worked with Candice Storey Lee, athletic director and vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs. On March 25, The Hustler spoke with Ertel and Lee before they led a virtual presentation to local media. 

Ertel and Lee said the branding change stemmed from a larger effort to establish a university identity. Ertel said Vanderbilt’s many facets necessitate a unified, central mantra. He claimed that its strong balance of academics and athletics combined with its partner medical center and research facilities enable it to engage in “radical collaboration.”

“We come together in ways that many other universities can’t,” Ertel said.

The pair also stated that the array of logos used before the change did not effectively unify the different sectors of the university under one identity. As a result, they said Vanderbilt is now establishing the “block V” as a uniform symbol that can be utilized in different capacities across the different areas of the university.

“There [was] a lot of inconsistency,” Ertel said. “We wanted to create greater alignment, so we went through this identity process that had nothing to do with the marks.”

Rebranding process

Ertel said no community members were given early access to mock designs, claiming that it can be “difficult to contain” a brand refresh if drafts are leaked. Student-athletes were shown the marks when the university felt that it had settled on its final designs, prior to its public reveal.

In the early stages of the project, Ertel stated that a select group of students, alumni, faculty and staff were consulted to discuss topics concerned with Vanderbilt’s identity as part of the “500 completed surveys, 70-plus one-on-one interviews and dozens of workshops and group engagement sessions” mentioned in the university’s press release. The Black and Gold Club, Vanderbilt’s student-athlete alumni network, and Vanderbilt Fan Council, a select group of fans chosen to help athletes improve game day experience, were also both consulted throughout the design process. 

Per Ertel, many of these individuals were later recontacted specifically in regards to the logo change. They were asked about what they did and did not like about the university’s former logos and what they would like to see reflected in future marks. 

Ertel explained that the university consulted Lee and Vanderbilt athletics on the project early on because student-athletes generally don university logos and marks more than most other members of the Vanderbilt community. Lee added that her involvement in the design process emphasized the conjoinment of athletics and academics that she has felt since Chancellor Daniel Diermeier assumed his role.

“Block V” design

Ertel said the university chose the “block V” as the unifying symbol of its new brand. He explained that this consistency was lacking in the university’s previous brands, as athletics primarily used the “varsity V” and “star V,” while the university and Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) largely used the “oak leaf V.” 

The “block V” is meant to reflect boldness and to assert Vanderbilt as a leader among its academic and athletic peers, per Lee. Ertel echoed that he believes Vanderbilt has the ability to make its new “block V” the most recognizable out of other institutions that use the letter as their logo when asked about other schools like the University of Virginia and Villanova University. Both Lee and Ertel said the new visual identity is intended to make Vanderbilt more of a household name around the country.

“The direction that we’re moving as a university, including as an athletics department, is to be more than we’ve ever been,” Lee said. “We’re trying to be out front, and we’ve not always acted like that. The challenge for us is to rise to what we set.”

Lee added that, throughout the design process and in the past, many coaches expressed strong preference for the “V,” over the “star V.” She cited the baseball team’s use of the “V” on their hats in previous years and football head coach Clark Lea’s use of a football-specific “block V” helmet this past season.

“The idea was we share a ‘V,’ we own the ‘V’ as the community,” Ertel said. “Then, from the V, we built out the system which is flexible, and we’ll keep working through it. But it’s got this flexibility to say, ‘as long as we’re sharing this, it says we’re on the same team, we share the same identity.’”

Ertel emphasized that there are opportunities to adapt the symbol for varying audiences and branches of the university. He and Lee referenced different variations of the “block V” within the logo catalog, such as those that position the “V” on a star, next to the word mark and on the new seal.


For example, Vanderbilt is currently in communication with VUMC—which is independent from the university—and its CEO and chief marketing manager about changing their brand to align with the university’s new visual identity. The university is willing to collaborate with VUMC to create an adaption of the “block V” in the future, per Ertel.

“We are talking to the medical center now. We oversee a trademark licensing agreement, so they license the mark from us,” Ertel said. “They are very interested in this, and so we’ll be talking to them about what they want to do.”

Ertel confirmed that the “oak leaf V” will still be on Commencement regalia, including gowns, diplomas and diploma seals for the Class of 2022 due to production timelines. However, other aspects of the ceremony, including banners and programs, will be updated to reflect the new logos. 

Response to backlash

While both Lee and Ertel asserted that the logos will remain in use regardless of backlash, they feel that the new set of logos offers flexibility for community member preferences. Lee noted that coaches will have the ability to choose what logos from the system appear on their teams’ uniforms, merchandise, gear and facilities—including at the center of courts and fields. 

Ertel emphasized that the university’s previous visual identity changes were also initially criticized. Lee added that the significance and emotional connection to a brand and logo comes with time.

“What we have to do is make sure—regardless of what the mark is—that it’s important and, no matter where you are in time, whenever the mark is at that time, it is important to you,” Lee said.

Lee compared the change in branding to the university’s ongoing West End construction

“The university’s been here since 1873, but symbols do change. This footprint, very soon, will look very different. West End Avenue looks very different. When my teammates come back to campus for homecoming, they’re all upset because every place we used to live is just about gone,” Lee said. “But the university is still here. The identity is still there.”

Ertel explained to reporters that many local and professional teams, as well as universities, have reached out to them in assertion that brand changes receiving initial negative feedback is “par for the course.” Lee and Ertel also noted that they have heard a lot of positive feedback to the change despite the backlash.

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About the Contributors
Justin Hershey
Justin Hershey, Former Sports Editor
Justin Hershey ('22) was Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been on staff since freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Deputy Sports Editor and Lead Sports Analyst. He majored in human and organizational development with minors in business and economics. In addition to writing, he hosts The Hustler Sports 30 Podcast, enjoys playing golf and is waiting for his hometown Philadelphia 76ers to complete The Process. For tips and comments, feel free to reach out to: [email protected]    
Rachael Perrotta
Rachael Perrotta, Former Editor-in-Chief
Rachael Perrotta ('24) is from Cranston, R.I., and is majoring in cognitive studies, communication of science and technology and political science in Peabody College. She was previously Senior Advisor and News Editor. If she's not pressing you for a comment, she's probably trying to convince you that she's over 5 feet tall, cheering on the Red Sox or wishing Nashville had a beach. She can be reached at [email protected].
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Comments (12)

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2 years ago

Must we continue to state the obvious… all hate it. Falling on your sword to protect the horrendous mistake is foolish. Vanderbilt has made huge strides in becoming an “elite University” over the past 30 years… but … In the past 3 years… mold, terrible food choices, NO food choices at certain times and locations, and the uptick in violent crime… yeah, re branding may have sounded like a great idea to turn focus from the afore mentioned items, but you have just highlighted yet another huge issue to drag the university down over these past 3 years…. take a step back and look at HOW you got there, and how your competition is doing it. Duke hasn’t added new fancy silly logos, and you can get all types of food on that campus 24/7.


2 years ago

As an alumni, I will not be donating further to the university or spending any more money on merch. The new logo is lifeless and generic. I work in marketing so I know the importance of a logo resonating with not only the leadership team, but employees and “customers” (aka alumni, and current and potential students) as well. Every person I know with ties to Vanderbilt agrees that the logo cheapens the university’s image. If they don’t walk back on the changes or make a compromise, I hope other donors and alumni use their wallets to voice their displeasure. Probably the only way to get this administration’s attention.

Sick of the Nonsense
2 years ago

Does this mean that the university is going to strong-arm and screw-over the Medical Center even more than it already does? Medical Center probably “intertested” because the university probably said “we own all of the buildings and garages that you use, and even though we charge well over $100 Million to use our name, change to the new logo or we charge you even more and kick you out of our buildings. We knew you’d be interested!”

Concerned Student
2 years ago

This is bizarre. I agree that new logos are typically disliked; however, they are very rarely *universally* HATED by everyone in the community. How can he just deny all of the negative press? No, we’re not just upset because we miss the old logo. We’re upset the university stripped the community of its individuality and spent buckets of money on some uninspiring clipart nonsense. Couldn’t we put that $9 million toward increasing dining staff wages or improving dining in general, renovating *moldy* dorms, funding the graduate programs in the humanities, or literally ANYTHING ELSE?

I’m sorry there is no polite way of saying this. But…

This new “visual identity” sucks. So much.

Founder and CEO of Wuph
2 years ago

Convergence. Viral marketing. We’re going guerrilla. We’re takin’ it to the streets while keeping an eye on the street. Wall Street. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel here. In other words, it is what it is. Buyin’ Vandy merch just became fun.

2 years ago

Thanks to the crap re-brand, Valdosta State is “the Vanderbilt of Georgia”.

2 years ago

Just curious, did Vanderbilt’s director or marketing reach out to it’s current customers, you the students, or donor’s, the alumni for thier opinion on rebranding the logo? Who was the target audience?

Mr. Ertel, it’s not too late to admit the new generic V design was a huge mistake, regardless of the excess money spent on your design and lack of research. You should honestly go back and get real feedback from the people who support Vanderbilt, the student body, the alumni etc. I just think this was a poorly run research and marketing campaign. Your opinion poll was far too small for a University of this stature.
You could have easily set up an interviewing station on campus to get Vandy student’s involved and reached a greater number than “70+ one on one interviews” and at the minium reach out to your alumni/donor base and get their feedback. At the very minimum, you may have to come up with a more interesting, prestigious design that the community at large would have appreciate.

It’s disheartening that you are so quick to not listen to the real feedback you are hearing today. That is not representing Vanderbilt very well, is it now…

Pls change I’m begging
2 years ago

Feel like I’m being gaslit by them asserting that it’s actually a good logo. No it’s not! Anyone with any drip of design sense can see that it looks like a clip art logo. The merch I’ve seen around with it is HORRIBLE. The seal is the worst part. Compare our seal to the seals of other elite universities and it’s a shame. It’s honestly embarrassing and other design/marketing firms need to come present on how terrible an approach this is and how much it will hurt our brand altogether. They’re gaslighting with this “awww ur just so attached to the old one, you’ll like it in time.” NO we won’t, there is nothing classic or unique about this design like the Harvard H or UVA/Villanova Vs. It already looks outdated, and not in the trendy way.

2 years ago

This whole project, from the moment it was announced, has felt incredibly cold and tone-deaf. Why is the backlash so easily accepted and dismissed? Where’s the compassion for the people who are so proud of their university, the oak, and Star V? Isolating so many in the community by flippantly ignoring them with flowery words does not seem to be the best way to make Vandy a “household name.” New buildings are one thing, respect is another.

bring black the star and oak leaf Vs
2 years ago

The mark is important to me—it’s important to me because the new one lacks any individuality (see: UVa and Villanova), does not highlight anything that is unique about our school (as the star and oak leaf do), and is embarrassing for our institutional legacy (does Harvard change its logo? I don’t think so.) It’s also important to me that the university listens to the vast swaths of its students, faculty and staff, and alumni who not only do not like the new logo but feel like the old logo, to which they had strong emotional attachments, has been ripped from them. Vanderbilt doesn’t care that no one likes the new logo, and they are not willing to listen. This is a shame and is frankly embarrassing for a university of its alleged caliber.

2 years ago

I agree with Ertel that all logo changes are typically met with backlash. I disagree with virtually everything else he says. The line, “Ertel echoed that he believes Vanderbilt has the ability to make its new “block V” the most recognizable out of other institutions that use the letter as their logo when asked about other schools like the University of Virginia and Villanova University,” was especially infuriating. Correct me if I’m wrong but Virginia also has an element of university character underneath its V right? It’s sad how much I’m letting this affect me but it’s hard to overstate how unanimously disliked this logo and rollout has been by anyone remotely Vanderbilt-adjacent I’ve talked to. Some element of ownership from Ertel or Lee since the backlash has been so public would be nice.

2 years ago
Reply to  Adam

Radical collaboration? Except in creating this abomination of a logo–in which case, it wasn’t radical collaboration but NO collaboration.