The Semiotics of the Indian University Logo

Ashutosh Wakankar June 25, 2017

Look to your roots in order to reclaim your future.
– Ghanian Proverb

As an identity design firm, we usually refrain from commenting on someone else’s work. However, the evolution of the university logo over the last decade offers an interesting perspective on the branding of educational institutions.

A closer look at four new age Indian private universities, in particular, offers a study in contrasts as well as fascinating insights.

Our analysis is a purely semiotic one and does not in any way imply, or take into account, the academic or commercial achievements of these institutions.

The Right Blend in an Evolving System

Ashoka University and Nalanda University are both young universities, less than a decade old. However, both draw their names from India’s ancient past. These names strike a chord of familiarity and evoke a sense of pride in our rich intellectual heritage. Visually, the university logos use earthy, Indian colours and mnemonics that symbolise a deep connection to tradition.

Yet, the visual treatment of both brand identities lends them a simplistic, contemporary, and global look and feel, despite the deep historical connect.

Nalanda University’s logo, for instance, is ideologically anchored in the rich history of Nalanda as a 7th century centre of learning. The logo represents the Bodhi tree, a symbol of particular importance to Nalanda and a metaphor for enlightenment. Through an Asian visual treatment, the logo depicts the central idea of interconnectedness with interlinked figures of people. Small details such as the accents on the ‘A’ in the typography, also contribute to the uniquely Indian character of the identity.



Similarly, Ashoka University’s logo also manages to seamlessly blend its rooted, Indian identity with a global outlook. The logo comes across as a contemporary take on the Ashoka Chakra, an inherently Indian symbol. The overlapping and interconnected circles of the logo represent the institution’s multidisciplinary approach to education and the promise of a multi-dimensional experience.

These logos blend the three most important criteria of evolving university identities – simplicity, modernity and an international look. But most importantly, they represent an underlying identity and culture that comes from a sense of purpose.

An Identity Crisis

At the other end of the spectrum, are two universities; Amity University, which has been around for a little over two decades, and Lovely Professional University (LPU), which has been around for about ten years.

The visual identity of these two universities gives one the impression of corporate brands. Both universities have ‘Western sounding’ names, that largely cater to a market of external audiences. Given their colonial influence, the names cue into a particular kind of aspiration.



The Amity University logo is a stylised torch, enclosed in a shield, whereas the LPU logo is a direct representation of the rays of the sun. As well understood symbols of enlightenment and wisdom, the torch and the rising sun are used often in educational branding.

These university logos are simplistic renditions of complex metaphors. They have the potential to be condensed into a compact format for greater visibility and recognition. These logos deliberately avoid any geographical or spiritual associations and are therefore neutral and open to easy global interpretation.



Yet these identities leave much to be desired.

Missed Opportunity

While Amity and LPU’s logos are simple and universally understood, they lack a modern, interpretive style. The frequently used symbols (torch and rising sun) also lack the depth and richness that comes from an ideological source. These university logos are stuck in a time warp: they do not draw from a deep culture, nor do they reflect the constantly evolving educational landscape of today.

The Amity University and LPU logos lose out on the opportunity to communicate the underlying identity at the heart of the institution.

What If?

Amity University is ranked the best research institute in country and has the highest number of patents. What if its identity drew inspiration from its competency in research? What if it strived to represent India as a young country driven by cutting edge technology?

And what if LPU’s identity represented its global diversity of 25,000 students from 29 states and 50 countries. What if it took the onus of creating global citizens through a rich, experiential learning process and made this its educational mission?

What if these identities reflected a deeper, inner purpose (like Ashoka University or Nalanda University), rather than catering to an external market?

A logo is not just a pretty picture pasted on the brand. It is the brand and what it represents. Through its stylistic language, it speaks volumes about the inspiration and aspirations of the organisation.

A logo says a lot through what it depicts, but even more through what it doesn’t.