Stanford University Home

Stanford News Archive

Stanford Report, August 6, 2003

University boasts new seal, guidelines for common ‘identity’


"Will the real Stanford seal please stand up?"

The question has been asked repeatedly over the last year and a half in a PowerPoint presentation that Director of Business Development Susan Weinstein has made to groups around campus.

Now, a new, official university seal has emerged from those discussions. And while many people probably have not even noticed the modified seal, it is part of a broader effort to encourage schools, departments and units from around the university to take advantage of a new set of design guidelines and, therefore, help Stanford enjoy a more consistent graphic identity.

"Stanford is a richly complex and diverse institution," said President John Hennessy. "Our goal with this program is to communicate our shared heritage as well as our common mission. In an era where an increasing number of activities cross school boundaries, we need to reinforce that Stanford is one university, rather than an unrelated collection of colleges and professional schools. Our hope is that every department and unit will benefit from its affiliation with Stanford, and that the whole university will be recognized as more than the sum of its parts."

The graphic identity program was initiated by Randy Livingston, vice president for business affairs. "When I first came to Stanford, I was struck by how casually we use our emblems, which are very precious university resources," he said. "It's important that we protect Stanford's good name and ensure that its most important symbols -- especially the seal -- are used appropriately and with respect for the academic traditions and integrity they represent."

The Board of Trustees has approved changes to the seal's design, and now Weinstein's office has launched a web-based style guide for faculty, staff and students to use as a resource as they create materials that incorporate university emblems. The Design Guidelines website,, contains a new "look" for stationery and business cards and information on how to use the university seal and "Block S" on other materials. The guidelines are the result of a collaboration among the Office of the President and Provost, Alumni Association, Athletic Department, Graduate School of Business, Office of Development, Procurement, Office of Technology Licensing and University Communications.


A 'standard of excellence'

In an organization as decentralized as Stanford -- where schools, institutes and other groups often seek to create their own identity separate from that of the overall university -- Weinstein doesn't expect to persuade every campus group to move to "official" stationery. But she makes strong arguments about why it's a good thing, not the least of which is the reduced printing costs that result from using an online print ordering system linked to the new stationery design.

"In my first few weeks at Stanford I received over 50 business cards and noticed that we had about 40 different designs -- each creating a different impression of the university. We started down this path because we thought it would be helpful to make available to the campus community a stationery design that reflects both the traditions and standard of excellence that is central to Stanford's image," she said.

By approving a single university seal, the Board of Trustees thought similarly. "A consistent presentation of university emblems allows them to communicate a stronger, more effective message," Weinstein said.

"Stanford's name has all sorts of wonderful, positive associations of academic and athletic excellence in a beautiful California campus setting. When the university's graphic appearance is more consistent, our emblems are able to also communicate these intangibles," she said.

Greater consistency also can lead to less confusion. For example, while Stanford uses two versions of the Block "S" -- both with and without a tree going down the middle -- the treeless version looks almost identical to images used by several other schools. The guidelines encourage the use of the version that includes the tree because it is more proprietary to Stanford and, unlike the other version, is a registered Stanford trademark.

The Design Guidelines also contain Stanford's new "signature" -- which incorporates the words Stanford University, a tapered underscore and the seal -- which can be used on stationery, business cards, publications and other items.

At about the same time Weinstein started working on the project, the Alumni Association had begun reviewing its brand strategy, said Edie Barry, the association's vice president for communications and marketing. "[Weinstein] included me at the beginning -- the timing was good."

As part of its effort, the association held focus groups and conducted a survey; in both instances, alumni felt strong and positive associations with the "Block S" with tree, Barry said.

"It reflects the strength of Stanford as well as the beauty," said one alumnus during a focus group. "Nothing says 'Stanford' to me more than the tree," said another. "The tree gives the Stanford 'S' a touch of history and gravitas," said yet another.

After holding focus groups and seeing the "compelling" results of a survey completed by more than 1,500 alumni, Barry said the Alumni Association is in the final stages of establishing a "brand architecture" that will replace its current 1983-vintage "S" -- which is wide, squat and treeless -- with the recommended "Block S" with tree.

Besides the Alumni Association, several other offices are adopting the new voluntary guidelines, including the Office of the President and Provost, the Graduate School of Business, the School of Humanities and Sciences, and the Office of Development. The signature already is visible on such publications as the Annual Report and the Budget Book.

"We are offering an attractive and elegant look which has been very well received," Weinstein said. "It can easily be incorporated into program materials to create a consistent Stanford message while honoring the unique look of individual programs." Some units, such as BenefitSU, continue to mail materials to employees with their own logos. But Weinstein is pleased BenefitSU recently also has added the new signature to its materials.

"Although we do not want people to throw away their existing stock of stationery and collateral materials, we hope that they will consider using the new designs as they replenish their supply," said Weinstein.



The development of a single new Stanford seal -- one which will be used everywhere, including in publications and on diplomas and merchandise -- came about to clear away ambiguities caused by the use of multiple seals. There was a Board of Trustees seal, the President's seal, the Registrar's seal, and the seal created in 1920, which has been most visibly associated with Stanford. The 1920 seal, both with and without the German motto, has been the seal used on Stanford stationery, publications and emblem merchandise, although the Registrar's seal appeared on diplomas and transcripts.

The tree, which appeared in all of these seals, is El Palo Alto, a towering redwood used as a landmark by pioneer Gaspar de Portolá in 1769. Estimated to be over 1,000 years old, it still stands. Its real-life appearance, as well as its depiction on various Stanford seals, has changed over the years.

Perhaps the most interesting change to the seal is that "Organized 1891" now has become simply "1891." The modification had nothing to do with design. "Actually, one could argue that Stanford was organized in 1885 when the Founding Grant was made and the first Board of Trustees met, while the university actually opened its doors to students in 1891," said University Archivist Margaret Kimball, whom Weinstein consulted on the project. "Deleting the word 'organized' makes things simpler," Kimball said.

Also gone is the little orchard -- or are they sheep? -- sitting at the base of El Palo Alto. "Initially, the orchard -- assuming people could tell they were little fruit trees -- had more meaning," Kimball said. The Farm was, well, more of a farm.


Other website features

The Design Guidelines website also includes downloadable images, technical information on the correct shade of cardinal red and an online ordering system for stationery and business cards, which is likely to be more inexpensive than what individual department currently pay to their vendors. Procurement negotiated a campuswide agreement to provide a quick online tool to order and proof stationery items with three-business-day delivery. The online stationery ordering website is

Use of Stanford's emblems on items being offered to the general public or for other commercial purposes requires a license and special artwork with appropriate trademark designations. For further information, contact Maria Gladfelter, manager of emblem licensing, at or 723-0651.



The new official seal drops the word "organized" and omits the orchard at the base of the foothills.

Stanford's new "signature," which can be used on stationery, business cards, publications and other items, incorporates the words Stanford University, a tapered underscore and the seal.

The new design guidelines encourage the use of the Block "S" that includes the tree because it is more proprietary to Stanford.


Susan Weinstein