History & Introduction

Visual Identity

Background information on the development path of UNU's visual identity.

“Everything we do creates an ‘image’ in the minds of the people the University comes into contact with. Therefore, the way the University looks – the type of visual image it projects – should create a strong, positive impression. Our stationery, signs, publications, advertisements, etc. should always be immediately recognizable and enhance our image.

“The goal of the visual identity is to provide all the University’s activities with a common visual link. This visual coordination is intended to project an image of a distinctive, accomplished, unified and modern organization within the United Nations system which is confidently working towards clear objectives. It is therefore important that the visual identity scheme should be understood and consistently implemented. The University’s new visual identity is not just cosmetic bureaucracy but an important tool. This information should be made available to everyone who, in any way, has an influence on the University’s visual appearance.”

Professor Heitor Gurgulino de Souza, Rector
1 May 1992

A Brief History

The above message introduced the large ring-bound guidelines; an impressive undertaking with an incredible amount of detail. Developed from 1990 and launched in 1992, the scope of the project was significant and considered to be comprehensive to the organization’s needs at the time. The major change over the previous identity was clear recognition and detailed support for UNU Research and Training Centres/Programmes (RTC/Ps) within the scheme. Guidelines for constructing collateral covered the basic design elements (UNU symbol and UNU logotype, language variants, colors and typefaces), general stationery (letterhead, envelopes, etc), administrative forms, basic promotional and publications materials, architectural/facility signage, and working with supporting organizations.

The guidelines provided were in schematic form on how to create or use the identity elements; with exception of the symbol and logotype (aka the logo), digital templates or quick-start files were not included with the manuals. With the lack of a global IT infrastructure to share data and graphics workstations (cost prohibitive and far from user-friendly), developing collateral under the new identity was a significant investment and required considerable internal and vendor support.

The visual identity artwork and guidelines were originally developed by Banks & Miles, in close collaboration with UNU staff. Revisions to the identity occurred in 1994 (Japanese language support for core collateral applications) and 2000 (modification of the logotype); revisions were developed in collaboration with Michiyoshi Design Laboratory.


Some aspects of the identity scheme are timeless and have stood up well over its two-decade age; other aspects are obsolete (a request form for an overseas telephone call, for example) or nonexistent (in 1990 there was no internet as we know it today, and desktop publishing was in its infancy). The major limiting factors in participating in UNU’s visual identity have been marginalized: UNU enjoys a robust global IT infrastructure, and the typical staff computer is capable of developing professional-grade communications collateral.

In meeting the original intention that “this information should be made available to everyone who, in any way, has an influence on the University’s visual appearance”, we all have influence on the organizational appearance, need access to simple and clear information, and require a place to share resources that will assist in the creative process of building effective and attractive communications tools.