While the polar bears at the North Pole struggle to stay afloat, the Bowdoin polar bear has been facing problems of its own. A quick browse through the bear-branded merchandise at the bookstore yields all the insight needed: Bowdoin's polar bear has been suffering from a major identity crisis.
After a year of consulting with members of the Bowdoin community and working with a graphic design firm, the Office of Communications and Public Affairs hopes to have cured the mascot's ails in their selection of a new polar bear logo.
In its 96-year tenure as Bowdoin's mascot, the polar bear has been through many graphic incarnations. From the statue that stands at the entrance to Smith Union, dedicated by the Class of 1912 in 1937, to the cartoonish running polar bear that graces each student's keycard, to the more aggressive profile that has gained popularity in recent years, each logo has one thing in common: None of them have been deemed official.
Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood explained that "there is value in having consistency," and that the new logo is intended to serve as a consistent and timeless graphic identity for the College.
Collaboratively conceived by the Morrow Creative Group of Portland, Oregon, alongside committees of Bowdoin students, faculty, staff, and alumni, the new logo depicts an anatomically correct polar bear, rendered in a stylized black line drawing. The bear, gazing directly at the viewer, stands on three legs, with the fourth paw raised and resting on a capital letter "B."
A cropped version of the new logo, which shows the head of the full-figured polar bear of the main logo encircled in a black ring, was also developed to allow more flexibility in the use of the image. Additionally, an entirely new typeface was developed for use in conjunction with the new logo.
Hood explained that the College has been in the process of streamlining its "graphic identity" over the past few years. Projects have included the development of the Bowdoin "wordmark signature" along with redefining the official version of the college seal with the sun.
The need to establish an official polar bear logo became an immediate concern when the plans for the Watson Arena called for the depiction of a polar bear logo on the floor of the lobby. The plans used a popular image of the mascot, one that shows a polar bear's head in profile with its mouth open so to suggest a ferocious snarl.
Realizing that this image would be set in stone at the new facility, Hood said the need to formally establish an official polar bear logo became apparent.
Though plans were altered and no longer call for the logo to be reproduced on the lobby floor, the problem of designing an official logo persisted. New plans call for the cropped logo to be reproduced in the center of the ice rink itself.
According to a history of the mascot found on the Athletics department web site, the polar bear became Bowdoin's official mascot in 1912. Donald B. MacMillan, the 1897 graduate who became famous for his expeditions to the Arctic, brought a real polar bear back to Bowdoin in 1915 and "presented it to the College with the words: 'May his spirit be the Guardian Spirit not only of Bowdoin Athletics but of every Bowdoin [person].'"
Hood emphasized MacMillan's sentiment as a concern that was taken into consideration in the designing of the new logo. While its affiliation with Bowdoin athletics is especially strong, the polar bear is the mascot for all aspects of the Bowdoin community.
Throughout the process of designing the new polar bear, Hood said that those involved considered the question, "Do we need an icon for the college that's mean and growling and scary because it projects power?"
Morrow Creative Group, founded and run by the Nike's former creative director Michael Morrow, visited campus last year and consulted with groups of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to understand what the Bowdoin community felt the new logo should represent.
These focus groups came up with a list of characteristics that they felt the new logo should embody. Pride, dignity, intelligence, confidence, courage, quiet power, genuineness, and presence were all characteristics about which the groups felt strongly.
With these ideas in mind, the design firm developed a number of initial ideas that were narrowed down to four logos that were sent to the focus groups to look at over the summer. Hood explained that the approximately 80 people who received the electronic survey were not asked to simply vote on their favorite design, but to assess all four and submit a written response as to how each of the logos reflected the identified qualities, how timeless the image was, and how it would translate to merchandise.
Hood said that the selected logo was the "overwhelming favorite of the people that were involved" in the process.
Director of Athletics Jeff Ward said he felt the new logo emphasized the point that the mascot is representative of "one campus," and not only of the athletic teams.
The impact of the new polar bear logo on Bowdoin's graphic identity will not be felt immediately; as Hood explained, "[a new logo] is the sort of thing you phase in over time" and that "takes a number of years" to establish.
Assistant Director for Bookstore Operations Cindy Breton wrote in an e-mail to the Orient that the bookstore "will be ordering new merchandise in February," and that they plan "to start implementing the bear then."
Hood was quick to clarify that although the new logo is now the official Bowdoin polar bear, "all those [other] bears...are not going away."
Breton added, "Since previous bears are popular with different generations of Bowdoin alumni, [the bookstore] will continue to carry some items with these previous designs."
Noting that in the wild, polar bears have no predators other than man, and that a ferocious, growling mascot was not the image the college was looking to project, Hood said that there's "something appealing about having a mascot that is looking directly at you."