California State University, Chico

Brand Identity

Institutional and athletic identity for the California university.

Pentagram Austin has developed a comprehensive institutional and athletic identity system for California State University, Chico (CSU) based in Chico, California. Chico State is the second-oldest institution in the 23-campus California State University system, the nation’s largest public university. Founded in 1887, Chico State enrolls 17,500 students and serves as the flagship university of the “North State,” the 12-county region where the campus is located. The new identity was unveiled to the public in August by the university’s President Gayle E. Hutchinson.

Previously, Chico State used an obscure symbol called “The Flame” for their main institutional identity. The Flame emblem is enshrined in a stained-glass window above the entrance of Kendall Hall, the university’s main administration building, and an engraved rendering of the building was featured in the university’s previous ceremonial seal. The abstract design, adopted in the 70s, exemplified a typical and dated university identity solution.

Another less-than-beloved element of the university’s identity was the “clip-art-looking” wildcat spirit mark, nicknamed the “Flat Cat” by the student body. Chico State has used a succession of wildcat graphics for their athletic identity, but the majority of the logos have looked amateur and generic. Chico State adopted the wildcat as its athletic mascot in 1924 shortly after the university, formerly the State Normal School at Chico, changed its name and joined the California State University system. Maxon Mellinger, a fan of the Northwestern Wildcats, submitted the winning mascot. Mellinger thought the wildcat represented the sassy, spitfire vigor and vitality Chico students projected at the time. A live wildcat was donated to the school in 1928 by athlete and alumnus E.R. Deering. During the cat's first appearance at a basketball game, he nipped the leg of a referee and urinated on the basketball court.

 Unlike many schools that use the wildcat mascot as their athletic identity, Chico State is actually located in a northern, inland region of California that is native to bobcats. The Lynx rufus californicus thrives in the forests, canyons and rocky hills that surround Chico, and the species has been around since the indigenous Mechoopda and Maidu tribes inhabited the region, long before the town of Chico was established.

In 2018, a large bronze sculpture of a wildcat by artist Matthew Gray Palmer was unveiled on campus. The statue depicts a female wildcat perched on a fallen log, and has become a popular gathering spot and a destination for photo-ops.

Building on this rich history, the Pentagram team, working with the office of the president and the university’s marketing and communications team, pitched the idea of CSU adopting the wildcat as the university’s new institutional identity as well as its athletic logo.

The design team created a new institutional mark of a native Lynx rufus californicus shown in profile with her front paws perched on a rock, looking off into the distant horizon. The logo references the popular campus sculpture without duplicating it, and was created from whole cloth.

The wildcat’s pose–bold, confident and looking toward the future–captures the progressive energy and resolve of Chico State moving forward.

The primary identity lockups feature the wildcat icon paired off with the words “California State University,” set upper-and-lowercase in Chronicle Display Roman, by Hoefler & Co., and the word “Chico” in bold. Several versions are provided in the style guidelines including horizontal, centered, stacked and single line configurations. Lockups featuring the school’s shorthand moniker “Chico State” are also provided in multiple versions. Gotham, the handsome sans-serif typeface also designed by Hoefler & Co., is combined with Chronicle for a secondary and tertiary identity lockup system to be used by the university’s colleges, programs and sub-divisions.

The new identity also uses an updated signature color palette introducing a brighter, more confident shade of maroon, now called “Chico Red,” and a complimentary gray called “Cornerstone Gray.”

For the new ceremonial seal, the Pentagram team paired the wildcat logo with a new design depicting an iconic native tree called the Hooker Oak, forming a contemporary take on an academic coat of arms. The Hooker Oak, a landmark in the town of Chico, was one of the largest oak trees in the United States and a gathering spot for the indigenous people of the region. An image of the tree was used in the seal of the Chico Normal School, Chico State's predecessor. The oak tree symbolizes strength, longevity and knowledge, and is composed in a graphic referencing the arched entrance to Kimball Hall. The words “California State University Chico,” set in all-caps Gotham, encompass the outer ring of the circular seal, and a banner with the university’s motto “Today Decides Tomorrow” spans the bottom of the crest.

For the athletic identity, the Pentagram team created a wildcat logo that is decidedly sportier than the noble institutional identity but still feels like part of the Chico State family. The previous athletic wildcat, cartoony with clunky three-dimensional typography, was firmly rooted in an outdated genre of athletic logos. The design team opted for a more sophisticated approach, starting with an abstract but expressive mark that fits in amongst elite university athletic divisions and professional sports leagues. Two variations of the new “speedier” Chico wildcat mark are available, a one-color version in Chico Red and a two-color version with Cornerstone Gray highlights. 

Additionally, the Pentagram team selected a sporty, all-caps typography for the athletic program. The typographic system was chosen specially for its capital letter “C” featuring a single slab-serif at the top of the letter’s curve. It includes a slab-serif typeface called Lubalin Graph, originally designed by Edward Benguiat and Herb Lubalin for ITC.

During their initial research, the design team discovered a version of the letterform used on the university’s yearbooks and other collateral in the 1940s and ‘50s. This prompted them to introduce a Chico Red Lubalin Graph initial cap “C” (for Chico) with a Cornerstone Gray outline and two custom script wordmarks, one spelling out Wildcats and a shorthand ‘Cats’ version into the identity guidelines as secondary identity tools and spirit marks. Like the institutional system, athletic logo lockups are available as centered, horizontal and single line configurations as well as “Chico State” shorthand variations.

The Chico State identity initiative took over a year to complete, and after its successful unveiling, Chico’s Ecological Preserve Director noticed a kismetic coincidence. He was looking through images captured by one of the cameras set up in a remote canyon outside of town, and to his surprise he found a photograph of a wildcat in a pose almost identical to the new institutional logo. The accidental discovery of a real “Chico wildcat” perched on a rock looking out toward the future only confirms that this new identity is the perfect symbol for California State University, Chico and its future.

DJ Stout
Project team
Jeffrey Wolverton
Jacob Stutts
Kyle Jones, Animation
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