Cyclone fans have been blessed over the years with an unusually high number of really solid athletics logos. Compiling a grand list of every official logo ISU has ever used is near impossible, as they switched logos all the time in the early 20th century, and have used a wide variety of secondary logos over the years.
However, for this list, we’re just going to look at the primary logos used by the athletics department over the years. We’ll do alternate, mascot, wordmark, and other various logos in another article.
First off, Iowa State has never had a “bad” primary athletics logo. Some universities have had some really atrocious logos in the past, but Cyclone fans have never had to endure a poor effort from the branding and marketing folks at Iowa State, unlike a few of these unfortunate souls:
So what’s the proper format for something like this? A power ranking system would require us to really split hairs in a crop of good logos, so I think a tier system will work best for this exercise.
Included in this tier is the very first logo for the university (then Iowa Agricultural College) from 1894, the rounded block logo from 1957-1959, and the megaphone logo from 1948-1956.
To reiterate, I wouldn’t consider any of these three logos “bad,” though the megaphone logo is just okay. The “I” is a little too bloated, and the logo overall doesn’t really give the university any sort of identity.
The “IAC” logo is decent, but the circle in the middle of the ‘A’ is a real bummer for me. It ruins a logo that otherwise features some nice clean lines.
The rounded rectangle “ISC” logo is the closest to moving up a tier. It’s clean, but the rounded rectangle makes it difficult to include on anything like apparel without creating some weird angles. This logo could probably find redemption on a flag.
Included in the C-tier are a bunch of logos that are *this close* to being really great, but have some sort of fatal flaw that keeps them in this tier. From left to right are: 1894 stacked “IAC” logo, 1942 megaphone “ISC” logo, 1896 “ISC” logo, 1900 “A” logo, and the inclusion I will probably get the most flak for, the tertiary blue tornado bird logo from the 90s and early 2000s.
The 1894 stacked logo is really close to being a great logo, and would still look great on a hockey jersey as is, but if the ‘A’ came to the top of the ‘I’ instead of that weird dip in the middle, this would probably be flirting with A-tier.
The plain “ISC” and plain “A” logos have simplicity and cleanliness going for them, which make them great for apparel or jerseys, but are rather boring when used to represent an entire athletic department. Had either of these featured a red outline, we might be in business.
The megaphone “ISC” logo has similar problems to the rounded rectangle logo in the D-tier in that it creates some weird angles with whatever it’s used with, but this one does have a unique shape that’s more interesting than its D-tier counterpart.
Which brings us to the tertiary blue tornado bird.
Listen, I get it. Some people really, really love the tertiary blue, and this logo is so 90s it hurts, which can definitely have its appeal. However the blue creates some serious branding issues.
I was born in 1988 and not a ISU fan at all, but when they changed the logo in 2007 I legit thought that red, blue, and yellow, were the colors for Iowa State. Had no idea it was just red and yellow— Nic Ryder (@Nic_Ryder) February 27, 2020
If you’re trying to create a recognizable brand that people can instantly associate with your school, you don’t put colors in there that aren’t neutral or one of your actual school colors. If this logo was relaunched with a modern color scheme, it could easily climb to A-tier or better.
Here are a couple logos that are solid, and don’t have any major flaws, but don’t have the extra pop needed to send them up a tier.
First is the 1930s stacked “ISC” logo. I’m personally a fan of stacked logos when done properly (see the St. Louis Cardinals’, Yankees’, and Mets logos’), so this one fits nicely in that category. You probably would never put this on a football helmet or basketball jersey, but it would look great on a baseball cap or uniform, and is still actively used on campus today.
Next is the current logo. Technically the current logo is the second iteration after a slight adjustment in the shades of red from the 2007 logo, but we’re going to consider them to be the same. This logo did receive a somewhat tempered reception upon its debut at the beginning of the Chizik era, but most fans have warmed up to it since then.
Detractors criticized the lack of the word “Iowa” on the main logo and posited that it would create confusion with other I-States, but I have yet to encounter anyone that has legitimately confused it for Illinois State, Indiana State, or Idaho State. More importantly, this logo gave birth to the new typeface that we see all over the current athletics identity, which is really, really cool. Bonus points.
Ironically, here are a couple logos that are absolute classics that really should be seen more often, including the 1900 circle “A” logo and the 1910 “Ames” logo.
The circle “A” logo was only around for a year, but it’s one of the best in the entire collection. The ‘A’ from the 1900 logo was narrowed, which is a welcome tweak, but the cream on top is the cardinal background and gold outline. This logo would be great on a football helmet, virtually any apparel, and, my personal suggestion, the jump circle on a basketball court. It’s clean, classic, and versatile. Everything you could want in a logo.
The arching “Ames” logo is a classic, and obviously showcases the Cyclones’ hometown, despite “Ames” never actually being in the official name of the university in any capacity. They were basically an NBA City Uniform about a century ahead of schedule. Super cool. This logo would look great on virtually anything you can think of, except maybe a baseball cap (though the jersey would still be great), since arched logos don’t typically work well with the more square lines we see on modern baseball caps.
It may seem a little contradictory to include three logos in the “GOAT” category since “greatest” clearly refers to a single item, but all three of these logos belong here.
If forced to rank these three logos within this tier, third place would go to the 1978 angry walking ‘Cy’. Many people rank this number one, and I don’t blame them. There’s a reason it’s probably the most commonly purchased vintage logo for apparel. It’s a spectacular logo with great personality, and works on anything you could possibly want to print it on.
Second place goes to a similar logo, the 1965 walking ‘Cy’ that preceded the 1978 angry ‘Cy’. Once again, it’s great logo with lots of personality that looks great on anything you could ever want to put it on. So why does this logo get the nod over angry Cy?
Honestly, these first two points are really just personal preference.
First, the flairs and feathers on the 1965 logo come to a point, which is a more streamlined look in comparison to the rounded feathers of the 1978 logo. I personally gravitate towards logos with more clean lines, but not so clean that they’re boring (looking at you Penn State), so the 1965 logo gets the edge.
Second, I prefer 1965 Cy’s feet to 1978 Cy’s shoes. Those clunky shoes just don’t look as good as the natural feet.
The third point is far more obvious: the pennant in the mouth of 1965 Cy. It’s a neat bit of extra flavor in a logo that would be great even without it. Had 1978 Cy been carrying a pennant in his left hand, this is a much more difficult decision.
This brings us to the granddaddy of them all.
The 1984 tornado logo with the script “Iowa State” on top.
Everything about this logo is phenomenal. The red shadow behind a beautiful script typeface, set atop the most perfect tornado anyone has ever drawn or may ever draw again.
Understandably, the calls for a modernized version of this logo, including the use of just the tornado have been strong, especially following the debut of the controversial “bugle” logo. I’m not expecting this logo to make a comeback in any capacity in the foreseeable future, but we can all dream right?
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