When Northwestern began 106 years ago, graphic design and brand identity management as we know them today weren’t even career fields, much less the concern of colleges and universities. A consistent graphic identity with clear standards wasn’t a part of the mission. But as we’ve been able to unearth the following visual examples from Northwestern memorabilia, we do find symbols, logos and letterhead that were used in the past 100+ years.
1916 Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School designs its first school pin. It is an oblong gold shield with an open Bible on which is engraved 2 Tim. 2:15 and the words "Jesus Saves" in Latin. Later, Northwestern chooses school colors: purple (for royalty) and gold (for deity).
1946 The logo changed to reflect the school's growth and a change in name to the Northwestern Schools.
1972 The logomark of a cross robed in a subtle lowercase n and w was introduced in the early 1970s when Northwestern reopened on its current campus. It helped form identity and community among internal and external audiences when Northwestern was reestablishing itself as a Christian liberal arts college led by President William B. Berntsen.
2003 The more recent wordmarks represented the University of Northwestern name in the interim. St. Paul, Minnesota was added to distinguish it among other institutions with the same or similar name. But these wordmarks still did not visually convey Northwestern's mission.
2008 The new logo ultimately communicates one central message-University of Northwestern will forever carry the shield of faith under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We present this new look as the visual symbol to become associated "outside the gates" with Northwestern's academically excellent, Christ-centered education.
What's in a name? A lot!
Since the beginning, Northwestern’s leadership has changed the incorporated name of the institution, which prompted past visual identity revisions and changes.
1902 Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School
1927 Added Northwestern Evening School (adult continuing education)
1937 Added Northwestern Extension School (classes offered in churches throughout the Upper Midwest)
1946 Added University of Northwestern of Liberal Arts
1946 Incorporated as Northwestern Schools, comprising the Northwestern Bible School, University of Northwestern of Liberal Arts and Northwestern Theological Seminary
1952 The Bible School becomes Northwestern Bible College
1956 Incorporated as one name: University of Northwestern
1972 University of Northwestern reopens on current campus in Roseville, marketing itself as “A Christian College of the Bible, Arts and Sciences, and Vocational Education.”
From 'Fire' to 'Light' - 60 years later
Northwestern’s tagline, “Light the Way,” draws from the same reservoir as “Knowledge on Fire,” the tagline introduced by Northwestern’s second president, Billy Graham, in 1948. When he became president, Graham knew the school needed a catchy phrase that would communicate the school’s unified mission.
The “Blazing New Trails with the Old Faith” tagline used under founder and first president Dr. William B. Riley didn’t signal the revival Graham envisioned for the Northwestern Schools. He introduced “Knowledge on Fire,” saying Northwestern would lead the way in training men and women for the evangelistic field. The momentum behind the mission spread like wildfire throughout the community and Northwestern’s enrollment increased dramatically.
The January 1948 Pilot explained “Knowledge on Fire” as “the challenge and the goal. To combine these two—scholarship and zeal—is the program [to] which Billy Graham has committed himself and the Northwestern Schools.” Today, “Light the Way” signals the same mission—to be wholeheartedly Christian, academically excellent, focused on community and engaged in the world.
Cover story features written by Jenny Collins ’05 and illustrated by Jessie Henderson. Special thanks to Berntsen Library staff Dora Wager and Linda Rust for assisting with research.