A Look At UCI’s Absolutely Awesome Ocean-Inspired Branding

One of the most challenging parts of launching a new venture is branding: building a solid visual language that establishes your brand at all touch points, from your logo, to your website, to your business card. It’s a huge creative challenge but one of our favorite things to do.

The team at our parent company, Column Five Media, got to flex their skills with UCI Applied Innovation, a new unit of the University of California, Irvine whose exciting mission is “to bring campus-based discoveries together with Orange County’s vibrant business community to support job creation and economic growth.” This venture also includes The Cove, a 31,000-foot workspace hub. As an Orange County startup themselves, Column Five knows how important these resources are. They also happen to be neighbors with The Cove, so their work is physically near and philosophically dear to them.


Naturally, they were happy to partner with the team to create and shape their branding, providing guidelines that would allow The Cove to create visually cohesive collateral, print, presentations, and more.

The biggest challenge of the branding project was creating a visual identity and assets that appropriately reflected the UCI Applied Innovation mission. The unit’s goal is to create a vibrant “world-class entrepreneurial ecosystem” between the university and the larger business community, to foster new life. The Cove is the center for this activity, dubbed “a safe harbor” for entrepreneurs. They had already adopted this ocean-inspired language, which provided the perfect foundation for us to build our branding around. Water, waves, sand—all became the visual queues to inspire us.

The Logo

As with any branding project, the logo was the anchor of the visual language. To inspire the team, the creative minds at Column Five brainstormed the words associated with the UCI Applied Innovation mission, which the designers then used to create visual queues and logo mockups.

UCI branding brainstorm

The Cove is the most visible extension of the Applied Innovation unit, the physical space and community-facing arm. A workspace and incubator where many minds work on many things, it is an active hub of activity. As we worked through logo ideation, there were multiple iterations reflective of The Cove, inspired by the work done there and, of course, the oceanic imagery.

UCI branding mockup

You can see the evolution of the logo designs, from the most basic shapes to the more elaborate illustrations.

They landed on the final design both for its simplicity and its meaning.

cove branding

UCI branding final

The logo is reflective of water movement, a turning of tide. It is a cohesive movement, made by individual elements (lines). As such, it looks like a singular image but is the result of multiple parts—exactly what The Cove aims to do: mobilize individuals to contribute to the larger business community. From a technical perspective, it is simple and adaptable for the unit’s needs, whether it appears on business cards or the site.

UCI branding cards

Now, while Column Five were pleased with the static version of the logo, they desperately wanted to see that water move, so they also animated the logo for The Cove website. (That same animation now plays on one of the many large TV screens at their offices.)

Of course, the logo was only the beginning of the branding.


To ensure consistent branding across all mediums, they also created a comprehensive visual language (also inspired by “the Southern California lifestyle,” as Creative Director at Column Five Media Nate Butler puts it). The full visual language dictated a variety of elements, including:

Color palettes: Aquatic shades of blue, gray, and black allow for variation and creativity without straying from the core colors.

Iconography: Detailed guidelines for all icons and stylization, inspired by the logo.

Photography: Specifications for image type, use-case, and application.

UCI cove branding

“It was a creatively challenging project, but we were able to build a robust and flexible visual identity system for this exciting new startup ecosystem,” Butler says. “I’m excited to see them put it to good use.”

If you need help creating or refreshing your branding, they’d love to chat. (And if you’re curious to see more of their branding, check out what they did for Trezo d’Haiti coffee.)

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