Do I think NYU has a branding problem? No, they have a small web problem.
Before I address the sites you've listed as examples, let's establish what a brand is. It's not just a logo or typography. Those are visual cues that help us make easy associations, but on a broader level a brand is any number of things that help identify, differentiate and personify a brand.
For a University — or rather, an institutional network — as big as NYU, branding could definitely become an issue. Campuses and degree-granting Universities all over the world, multiple schools, graduate programs, a medical network, publishing house, athletic programs — that's a lot to unify. As a student experiencing NYU's brand first-hand, every day I encountered flyers, architecture, emails, phone calls, postal mail, syllabi, rosters, signs, merchandise, the bookstore, etc., and as a whole I think they seemed to originate from the same voice, with the exception of various bureaucratic hurdles.
NYU's web communications are diverse and unevenly groomed, but they recently overhauled the main New York University
website and merged countless sister pages (e.g. the study abroad campuses, many of which looked ridiculous) to create a more unified site. The transition was impressive. Notably, NYU didn't move all of their core schools to the new NYU site, and if you attend NYU you'll know exactly why: from an outside perspective, they each operate almost independently. Each school has its own rules, its own requirements, board of directors, publications, standards, reputation, everything.
Stern is a good example of this. Those guys have their own WiFi network. You are right that their logo uses a different font from many other University logos. But remember two things: (1) Stern is a traditional business school, and the world of business loves the authoritative, classic look of a serif font, and (2) NYU's University seal and much of their historical typography has been in a serif font like Stern's. It's not really out of character.
Still, Stern's website feels like part of NYU. Look at Stern and other websites and you'll find NYU's brand in any of the following commonalities:
- NYU's signature purple (and in some cases, similar highlight colors)
- Use of Gotham typeface in logos or headings
- Choice of image and how they depict the NYU universe
- Heading language
Through this lens, the NYU brand is pretty awesome: Stern's dark corporate colors are quite different from Gallatin School of Individualized Study's out-of-the-box red and turquoise wavy lines. Both feel
like NYU websites but are completely different, just like the schools they represent.
One thing you will
pick up on when navigating from site to site is an inconsistent transition to NYU's new, bolder brand. Take a look at the old NYU website on the Wayback Machine and you'll find a boxy design with beige, tuscan red and sage/olive highlight colors: New York University
That sage/olive color is still in use on Steinhardt's similarly boxy website: NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
Steinhardt and Tisch both haven't updated their sites in a long time, and you can tell because they still use very narrow, fixed-width designs. Websites from 2013 are highly responsive, taking advantage of a time when 90% of web users have a screen resolution over 1024x768 and most users are spending tons of time on mobile devices. Tisch's tiny website is only 760px wide, which made sense for the early 2000s since over 50% of computers had a maximum screen resolution of 800x600. (10204x768 didn't cover 50% until 2009.) See Browser Display Statistics
. So much for Tisch being on the cutting edge.
I think NYU is headed toward more consistency among the various NYU websites, but that's really all about making them feel like they belong together in 2013, not about making the logos exactly the same or duplicating the layout. Look at NYU Silver's new website: it's fully responsive (try making it very narrow), uses Gotham in headings and has a similar informational and visual organizational structure to NYU's parent domain, yet feels tailored to that school's vision.