A visual identity creates a distinctive look that becomes recognizable through repetition and application in the design of a variety of communications over time.

When an MSU college or unit uses a visual identity that is aligned with the Michigan State brand, it benefits from immediate recognition and credibility—leveraging the value and power associated with the MSU brand—while at the same time strengthening the university brand to continue to pay dividends in the future.

A visual identity comprises consistent use of:

These elements may be used flexibly in a design, unlike logos, which are like stamps or marks placed onto other designs in proportions that never change, allowing the university’s official marks to remain definitive.


Typography choices say a lot about an organization, often before the actual words are read. For this reason, and to provide brand consistency, primary and secondary typefaces have been chosen for use in Michigan State University communications. They convey the bold, forward-thinking tone of the university, while offering flexibility.

MSU units may contact University Communications to obtain font packages licensed to MSU for use on Michigan State University communications, particularly those directed to primary external audiences, such as alumni and prospective students. To obtain fonts, the MSU unit must register the name of the unit and individual user with University Communications, which purchases and manages access to the fonts to maximize their use for high-level external communications. Please contact University Communications at contact@cabs.msu.edu or 517-355-7505.


The Gotham typeface is a bold, contemporary typeface that evokes MSU’s bold, open, forward-thinking approach to solving problems and providing opportunity. The Gotham type family has many weights, is appropriate for almost any application, and has the flexibility to feel sophisticated yet approachable, modern yet classic. Gotham marks Michigan State University as an institution on the move.

  • Gotham may be used in both headlines and text. It has been licensed for MSU units to use on university websites. To learn more, refer to the MSU Web Standards.
  • Gotham Narrow may be used for text, lists, and bullets.
Gotham font Gotham Narrow font


Californian is a bold, classic typeface that takes its cues from the ancient Spartans and reflects MSU’s epic, heroic quality. It is recommended as an alternative to Gotham for headlines and small blocks of text.

When a serif font is desired for text to maximize readability, substitute the Georgia typeface (serif) for Californian. Secondarily, Times New Roman (serif) may also be used.

Californian font


When a serif font is desired for text to maximize readability, the Georgia typeface or Times New Roman may be used.

When a sans serif font is desired, the Helvetica typeface or, secondarily, Arial may be used.

The Gotham typeface has been licensed for units to use on MSU websites. To learn more, refer to the MSU Web Standards.



Set headlines in any of a variety of Gotham typeface weights and sizes or Californian Bold. Headlines generally should be set in all caps, regardless of which font is used.

  • GothamBold or GothamUltra work well to distinguish headlines set smaller from text and subheads in the same font.
  • In designs that allow for airy negative space around the headline, thinner versions of the Gotham typeface, including GothamBook and GothamThin, are effective.

Headlines within Photography

See example.


Due to its clarity and ability to stand out, Gotham typeface is recommended for subheads.


Text may be set in either Californian or Gotham.

  • For serif type, text should be set in Californian Text Roman. Georgia typeface or Times New Roman may be substituted.
  • For sans serif type, Gotham Book or Gotham Narrow Book is recommended.

Lists and Bullets

Occasionally, type will be set within a Spartan shield graphic to communicate pull quotes, facts, or figures about Michigan State University or to make calls to action. Although either Californian or Gotham may be used, Gotham is recommended for the sake of overall legibility.

For further clarification, please consult the Graphic Elements section.

Color Palette

Primary Colors

Michigan State University’s colors are green and white. The official MSU green is represented by the Pantone Matching System ink color 567 (PMS 567).

  • When matching the official MSU green, consider the medium. The same color formula can look different on the web than it does printed on paper or rendered in fabric. Sampling the color from the Brand Standards PDF is not an accurate way to render the color for any medium. Comparing what is printed on a desktop color printer to a computer screen also is not reliable.
  • Each PMS ink color number translates into different formulas in different software. PMS 567 green translated into RGB or into a hex code (for web use) in Illustrator and in InDesign provides a different formula than if it is translated in Photoshop.

To ensure the consistency of the color, type in the exact formula as appropriate to each application:

Secondary Colors

Graphic Elements


When separating a block of text, rules in two styles may be used: a regular rule line and a contemporary Spartan spear. The Spartan spear serves as a graphic element that artfully incorporates classic—and distinctive—Spartan iconography into the brand in an interesting and functional way.

When introducing a new segment of text or in a sidebar, a horizontal bar with a chevron may be used. The bar provides a sense of focus and clarity. Two styles of chevron bars are available.

Spartan Helmet Plume Graphic

As part of the current MSU brand campaign—Who Will? Spartans Will.—a distinctive Spartan plume graphic has been created to feature and draw attention to Spartans who are engaged in the important work of Michigan State University.

The plume graphic combines two elements (plume and plume supports) of MSU’s Spartan helmet to provide immediate recognition when it appears over the head of a photographed Spartan subject.

NOTE: The Spartan helmet, a registered mark of Michigan State University that comprises three elements (shell, plume supports, and plume) may not be altered and should continue to be used widely by MSU units to represent Michigan State University. Learn more about logos and registered marks.

Who wears the plume?

Use the plume graphic only in connection with MSU Spartans (faculty, staff, students, and alumni). In marketing communications, the graphic should not appear on its own or on inanimate objects or animals. The only time it may be used alone is to encourage Spartans to stand in a location where they can “wear the helmet” in a photo. For example, a series of plume graphics appear above seats in the Breslin Student Events Center, enabling people seated in that location to appear to be “wearing the helmet.”

Where is the plume graphic used?

  • University-level marketing communications and advertising
  • Brand-aligned college, department, and unit communications that clearly reinforce university brand messaging

How is the plume graphic used?

The plume graphic has been created with attention to color, tone, and proportion. It features an MSU green or white gradient fill with an opacity that creates the suggestion of the Spartan helmet—and the heroic feelings associated with it—and avoids appearing as if the person is literally wearing a helmet.

  • The graphic must be downloaded and used exactly as designed, with no alterations according to the guidelines, below, other than adjusting proportionally for size in relation to the size of the subject and in the following instances:
    • In photos with light backgrounds, the MSU green gradient may be adjusted from 70 percent to as little as 50 percent opacity, depending on the photo, to achieve a balance between contrast and transparency.
    • In photos with dark backgrounds, a white gradient fill of 70 percent to 50 percent opacity may be used.
  • The graphic should be used in connection with a single Spartan subject.
  • The graphic should be positioned so the space between the subject’s head and the plume supports is about equal to the space between the plume and the plume supports.
  • The graphic should be sized according to the size of the subject in the image. In general, the tail of the plum should not extend below the subject’s shoulder.
  • The graphic must always face right, just as the Spartan helmet mark does. Do not flip the helmet to face left, and never use on a subject who is facing left. In the rare circumstance that it would be necessary or desirable to flip the helmet, approval from University Communications is required.
  • The subject of the photograph must be facing as noted:
    • Forward (facing the camera)
    • Backward (back to the camera)
    • To the right of the frame, at any degree
    • In limited situations, the subject’s head may be slightly to the left of front, provided that the shoulders are facing front or right.
    • In limited situations, an edge of the helmet plume graphic may be covered by other design elements or extend beyond the design’s live space, but it is important that the majority of the graphic remain visible to make it recognizable.

When is the Plume graphic used?

  • Use the plume graphic sparingly and selectively for maximum impact. For example:
    • In a publication, use the graphic on a subject only on the cover and/or cover feature, not throughout the publication.
    • In a video, use only on an individual subject in the end frame as a signature.
    • On a website, use only on an individual subject in an image on the home page, not throughout the site.
  • Do not use the graphic on multiple subjects in one image. An exception may be made in the case in which collaboration is the focus of the message, but in this instance no more than three subjects should appear, with the helmet associated only with primary individuals.
  • Do not use the graphic on its own to represent MSU. The Spartan helmet registered mark is designed to be used for that purpose.
  • Do not use the graphic on merchandise, promotional items, or giveaways (T-shirts, coffee cups, pens, etc.) The Spartan helmet registered mark must be used for these purposes.

Green Plume

Green Plume

White Plume

White Plume

Photographic Style

Photography is a vital element of the Michigan State University brand. It evokes emotion and connects people to the institution. Just as important, the photography has a point of view. It says Michigan State University is distinctive—that Spartans think and work differently. Our photography should not only be beautiful but also should convey the epic quality of the university and the iconic, unconventional nature of its success.

Portrait (Hero Shot)

The subject of the photograph should always be the main focus. Subjects should be placed in the photo so the viewer’s eye is drawn straight to them. The subject should appear hardworking and unpretentious, yet accomplished and heroic.

Still Life

A photo of an inanimate object or objects may be used to highlight a specific research initiative, discovery, or opportunity at Michigan State University. Still-life photographs should be shot the same way as portrait photos, with the object taking the place of the living subject. The still-life photo subject can be composed against a plain background or within a natural environment. In addition, the composition of the photograph must provide room for headlines and other typography.


Landscapes, both as a background for portrait shots and to stand on their own, should be expansive and awe-inspiring.

Photojournalistic Style

Many types of marketing communications will require brand-aligned supporting photos. When a singular portrait, still life, or landscape photograph is not used or additional photos are needed, the photographic style should be photojournalistic. This documentary style must maintain a high standard of production quality, be as well crafted as other styles, and present a clear, thought-provoking point of view.

Avoid overly lit, static, corporate-type, artificially posed photos. Ideally, the brand’s photojournalistic style could be placed alongside photos from the New York Times and no one would know the difference.

Branding Campaign Photos (with Spartan helmet plume graphic)

Brand-aligned communications may use the Spartan helmet plume graphic within photos to feature certain individuals as Spartans. In these instances, shoot portraits of Spartans in the environments in which they are working and excelling.

  • Shoot with plenty of negative space around the subject. Not composing the shot as perfectly cropped may seem awkward initially. But it’s important to provide the extra width to accommodate headlines and other content in ads, website banners, and other communications. In a sense, the shot is the location as much as the individual.
  • It’s important to take several vertical and horizontal shots of each subject to meet the specifications of various types of communications.
  • Include other people in the shot, if appropriate, to provide a sense of activity, collaboration, or larger scale, but the main subject is the only one who will be associated with the Spartan helmet plume. If there is no action or interesting location, shoot the subject with props to clue in the viewer about the individual’s area of expertise.
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