It’s amazing to me how many logos, icons, wordmarks, and identities Michigan State has had in my lifetime. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to change with the times, just look at Coke and Pepsi over the years. The key is to develop a position or stand in the world that remains true and in-focus through the years, and as long as your identity delivers against that, you’re good. I’m not sure Michigan State has always been that buttoned-up.
Let’s start with the Spartan Helmet logo which is really the icon of the Michigan State brand.
This is the Spartan graphic from the late 1960’s football helmets which is right around when I was born. To me, this graphic is a bit generic and could easily be confused with USC’s Trojan. I appreciate it for it’s historic significance but I wouldn’t want us to go back to it.
The “Gruff” Spartan was common on t-shirts, sweatshirts, flags, etc. when I was a kid in the 1970s and 1980s. It was never on an official uniform that I am aware of but more of a secondary logo. Gruff was beloved by many but was never going to be a primary mark. These days he’s mostly phased out but I’d like to see him hang around for nostalgia’s sake.
This is our current logo which now lives on the football helmets and in the center of the field in Spartan Stadium. This logo was the winner of a 1976 school contest to create a new Spartan logo and began being used in 1977. Adoption of this new logo was slow with some folks feeling it was too conservative or corporate. When Nike suggested changing it in 2010, there was an outcry to not mess with it. I’ve come around to this logo and I like it much better with our current dark green versus some of the other shads of green we’ve had over the years. It’s coming up on 40 years so to me, it’s Michigan State’s logo.
But what about the block “S”? Yes, I dig the big green “S” as much as anyone but we have to face the fact that it’s not as distinctive as the helmet logo, sorry George Perles. Just look at Syracuse or Stanford and then consider a color-blind person like myself; I have the most trouble distinguishing green from orange or red. And let’s not forget that Michigan has a block “M” as their logo so why would we want to follow suit? I say we keep the block “S” around as a secondary mark and use it occasionally.
This variation of the block “S” was everywhere when I was at MSU. Graphically, this is not good. Way too much going with the “S” now in 3-D, the MSU seal and the words “Michigan State”, it’s just too much. Logos like this send a message that says I don’t know how to stop and I lack confidence. I haven’t seen this used in ages and that’s the way it should stay.
The script “State” logo is, of course, right from the Magic Johnson era of MSU basketball and became iconic in the 1979 NCAA tournament. My guess is that Jud Heathcoat hired an embroiderer to do up a “State” logo for the boys uniforms and that was about all of the creative direction that was involved. From a design standpoint, it’s pretty rough. But it’s classic because of that championship season so it deserves to poke it’s head up every once in a while as a throw-back just like in 2013/2014. And I must add that I do like referring to Michigan State as simply “State”, but it really only works inside the state of Michigan. Here in NC, “State” is NC State.
Ugh, I always hated this one. This logo came out in 1987 and was probably designed by Reebok. I get what they were trying to do by minimizing “Michigan” and emphasizing “State”, but it just looks like a bad bank logo. I’ve been trying to make sense of the big “S” and “E” and small “TAT” for years and it’s just bad design is all I can come up. And that green, yuck. This logo is dead, thank God for that.
This curved “State” logo come out in 2000 and lasted only a short while. I like this logo in that the design is solid and very confident. Maybe it’s a bit generic when taken out of context, but over time it would have become understood. I felt it looked better on basketball uniforms than on football jerseys, but it was great on a t-shirt. This logo is also retired.
And that takes us to our current wordmark, the Nike-designed Michigan State font and colors from 2010. When this look came out, it was an instant hit. The colors, the graphic treatment, the uniqueness of it all, it was and is first-rate. The unis look killer, the end-zones look amazing, it just works. It doesn’t seem like this type should work with the more fine-featured helmet logo, but somehow it does. I really like how bold and tough “Spartans” looks in this treatment. MSU has a special game jersey that replaces “Michigan State” with “Spartans” and it looks great.
As much as Perles did great things for MSU, his design ideas were very Pittsburgh Steelers. Bold stripe on the pants, block “S” on only one side of the helmet and an odd serif font across the chest. And he must have been color blind because none of the greens ever matched. Dantonio (along with Izzo and some guys at Nike, I’m sure) has put his mark on the Spartan aesthetic in a big way and it’s great. We are in a great place right now in terms of graphic identity. Our brand is well represented in the world and befitting our excellent athletic programs.