Design at UCSD is the oldest and largest design thinking organization in the UC System. Since its founding, Design at UCSD has helped create a community for human-centered design (HCD) students and prepared them for the industry.

Portions of this case study were taken from the original Design at UCSD Medium article titled “A New Look for Design at UCSD“ written by fellow 2017-18 Graphic Studio Co-Chair Ophelia Ding.

Role: graphic designer

Accomplished: full design process to create new brand + created brand manual + applied brand across various mediums

Tools: Adobe Illustrator + Adobe Photoshop


The logo

While iconic, the original visual identity (logo shown below) for Design at UCSD wasn’t created after a complete design process. As a design organization, we have always felt uneasy that decisions behind our branding couldn’t be justified. In 2017, we completed a complete rebranding of the organization after a quarter-long process of talking to different people.


Where it all began

Towards the end of my 2016-17 term as the sole Graphic Studio Chair for Design at UCSD, I felt the urgent need to recruit more graphic designers, especially those with human-centered design background. It was difficult to make design decisions on my own when other board members, although helpful, had little to no background in graphic design. On the other hand, as an Economics major (I picked up Cognitive Science as a second major in 2017), I had little understanding in applying design thinking to graphic design. Hence, I pushed the board to look for additional graphic designers. For the 2017 school year, I was lucky to have Ophelia Ding and Tori Duong join the Graphic Studio team as co-chairs.

At the time, Design at UCSD was actively trying to establish a more concrete visual identity. I recognized that the branding guideline I created wasn’t sufficient nor professional for an organization primarily focused on design thinking. The creation of the guideline involved little design thinking; there weren’t user research, brainstorming, nor concrete plans of any type.

Discussing with Ophelia and Tori, we realized that there were other problems to the brand than merely lacking justified decisions. A survey among board members identified problems including how the brand “didn’t stand out,” was too “generic” and “not sophisticated”; the original “Geisel“ logo could represent literally any organization at UCSD. Moreover, our core values weren’t evident in the logo design.


Phase 1: Development Plan

To ensure that the rebranding could be completed over Winter Quarter 2017 and live by the beginning of Spring Quarter 2017, I listed down all the tasks we needed to complete. We later transformed the list of tasks into a development plan on Excel to set a rough timeline. The plan was continuously expanded over the quarter. Upon completion of the plan, we moved on to the pre-ideation research phase.

Phase 2: Inspiration & User Research

We started the research by gathering inspiration sources. Utilizing Pinterest, our team put together all the graphic designs that made us go “wow“. Later, we moved on to the user research phase. We gathered feedback by sending out Google Forms to the Design at UCSD Facebook group and our fellow board members. In the form were questions such as: How did you find us? Why did you choose to join us? Who would you recommend us to? Benefits? How would you describe us to others?

A total of 33 responses (including 11 from within the board) were received. We organized the responses on a white board as an attempt to draw connections. The following excerpt from the original article by Ophelia puts things together nicely:

Identified core values: community, industry ready, and design

As we started to circle words that were repeated and made connections between words, we began to notice patterns. We saw the word “community” appearing over and over again, with members using the club to make friends, network and describing the club as “friendly” and “approachable.” We also started to sense the word “professionalism,” with experienced designers looking towards our club as a place to perfect their resumes, portfolios and attend recruiting events. Our members wanted to be more “industry ready”. Another theme emerged in the word “design.” Our members liked skill-based workshops, and hoped that the club would eventually foray into different types of human centered design. Ultimately, these three themes transformed into our three core values: community, industry ready, and design. In addition, we saw places where we could improve. Some members thought our club was “exclusive” and a place that they did not belong. This type of feedback was a wakeup call for us on the board to brainstorm ways we could promote belonging within our club — something we’re actively working on.


Phase 3: Personas

Analyzing the results from the user survey, we were able to identify 3 personas for our ideation:

  1. Sam - The Newbie

    Sam is an undeclared freshman at UCSD. He has no design experience nor prior experience with design tools or coding. He heard about the club through tabling on Library Walk. He doesn’t really know what Cognitive Science is, but is exploring that major. Sam needs a place where he can dip his toes into design, perhaps find a mentor to help answer any questions he may have, and to figure out if design is what he wants to pursue.

  2. Beth - The Jobseeker

    Beth is a junior at UCSD. She is a Cognitive Science major with a concentration in Human Computer Interaction. Beth has taken design courses at UCSD, and has a portfolio that showcases her class projects. Beth is trying to get her first summer internship. She’s familiar with user research, but wants to improve her visual and interaction design skills. She needs a place where she can attend recruiting events, or portfolio and interviewing workshops.

  3. Chris - The Recruiter

    Chris is a recruiter at Amazon. A Design at UCSD board member emailed him to check out our club website. Chris browses our website with questions including: What is this club? Is it worth it for us to collaborate with them? What has this club done with other companies in the past? Who and where are their alumni? Is there talent here?

Phase 4: Brainstorming & Sketching

Upon identification of our core values and personas, we moved on to the brainstorming phase. We decided to work individually to sketch out logos prior to meeting up to share our ideas.

Ophelia came up with three proposals. The first was a four-part logo with each part reflecting one of our core values. The second was a layered logo inspired by the board game Set (board members were reminded of the widely used double diamond model of design thinking). The third was inspired by Rubik’s Cube to promote balance and inclusiveness. Tori played around with the letter “D“ in various ways, such as laying one D atop of another, combined D with a smiley face, and a compass-inspired D. As for me, I thought about the most essential tool for designers: post-it notes. My other idea took the term “human-centered design“ literally by putting a human at the center of the logo. We held a voting among board members to make the decision and concluded that we would go ahead with the exploring two options: the four-part logo and the layered logo.

Phase 5: Digitalization of Four Part Logo

After confirming the direction of the logo, Ophelia, Tori, and I each went ahead to create our digital versions of the two logos before meeting up to converge our ideas. Ophelia stuck with her original primary color palette and came up with a borderless flat logo. Tori’s bordered flat iconography took a similar approach. I went in a more subtle direction with minimalist iconography representing wire-framing of UX/UI design and a dual-color scheme.

Phase 6: Digitalization of Layered Logo & Decision

As for the layered logo, Ophelia introduced a logo with each layer varying in opacity. Tori continued with her bordered flat iconography style. I played around with the abbreviation for design, dsgn.

Finalization of Logo & Brand Manual

The logo was decided following a final round of voting among board members. We concluded that we would go ahead Ophelia’s four part logo decision. Board members agreed that this logo best represented our core values and would best serve our personas.

However, the work wasn’t done yet. A series of enhancements were later conducted to better present the logo. Regarding the font, we decided to use Din, the font in the proposal, as the secondary font; the Josefin Sans font from Ophelia’s layered logo proposal was instead chosen as the primary font.

The final logo has four distinct parts each representing one of our core values. The yellow briefcase represents industry-ready; the red pie represents community; the green menu represents design, specifically design skills; the blue bar graph also represents design, specifically data and research skills.

Compiling all of our hard work into a single document, I designed the Brand Manual for the new brand. The document will serve as a reference to all future board members while planning events and coming up with marketing materials.


Select Work

Related - Webpage UX/UI Design

UX/UI designed by fellow Graphic Studio Co-Chairs Ophelia Ding and Tori Duong; web coded by Tech Chair Vincent Liaw.

Previously in 2016, Design at UCSD went through a brand refresh. Read the case study here.

To learn more about Design at UCSD, visit