NSF 101: The NSF brand identity

By Jason Bates

The "Official Policy on Brand Standards of the U.S. National Science Foundation" outlines a framework to support the agency's written, verbal and visual identity. This policy identifies permissions and requirements for recipients, contractors, partners and others who may want to use the NSF logo. Many of the brand standards included in the policy are already in practice.

The policy and accompanying "NSF Brand Standards Manual" were developed to provide clear and comprehensive guidance, education and resources for communicators to meet brand application needs. The manual provides information on applying the NSF brand identity as outlined in the policy. The manual and additional resources are available in the NSF Brand Identity Portal.

Using government logos 

Seals and logos of the federal government are not in the public domain. As such, the NSF logo may only be used with authorized permission by the agency. Use of government names, symbols, logos and other identifying marks are expressly prohibited from use to imply endorsement of a commercial product or service.

The NSF logo can be used:

  • By NSF award recipients for the sole purpose of acknowledging that support.
  • By institutions of higher education when promoting information related to NSF funding opportunities.
  • To link to an NSF website or acknowledge the agency's assistance or affiliation, with NSF approval. Requests for approval may be submitted to NSFbranding@nsf.gov.

NSF logo guidance collage

Requirements for NSF award recipients 

These standards have been implemented into the updated award terms and conditions and will become a requirement as the updates take effect. In the interim, NSF encourages award recipients to begin implementing these practices (such as including the agency's full-color logo) along with their otherwise required funding acknowledgments in print and digital products related to NSF-invested research and activities. This includes property signage and markings such as on facilities/buildings; instrumentation and equipment that is valued $150,000 or above; websites; educational materials; press materials; exhibit, conference and event materials; and other outreach materials.

New products and materials, including updates to previously published content, should align with NSF's brand standards. There is no expectation to update old materials, with the exception of high-profile outreach materials that are regularly used, such as websites and signage on physical property. NSF intends to update those by the end of 2024, ahead of the agency's 75th anniversary.

Award recipients must acknowledge NSF support in research papers in accordance with the publication guidelines while following NSF brand standards to the fullest possible extent. Any summary meant for the public should be written using plain language standards.

Awards of $1 million or more that fund over 50% of the recipient's activities must follow additional guidelines outlined in the NSF policy on brand standards:

  • Recipients must pair their visual identity/logo, if one exists, with the NSF logo in all instances (also known as a logo lockup), as outlined in the "NSF Brand Standards Manual."
  • In addition to the NSF logo, research infrastructure — including major facilities and mid-scale research institutions — owned by NSF must include "U.S. National Science Foundation" in text on signage.
  • Websites of predominantly NSF-invested activities must feature the NSF logo and agency association prominently and adhere to requirements in the "NSF Brand Standards Manual" and the "Proposals and Award Policies and Procedures Guide."
  • The NSF brand must be implemented on social media channels and accounts. Such award recipient names on social media must include "NSF" at the beginning.
  • Any requests to use predominately NSF-invested entities and activities for commercial photography, documentaries and film production must be submitted to NSF for review and approval to ensure that NSF is acknowledged, that it and its investments are portrayed in an appropriate and desirable way, and that brand application aligns with NSF standards.

To ensure the logo is applied correctly and aligns with NSF brand standards, Award recipients must obtain NSF before the production of physical signage and products, including exhibit, conference and event materials; giveaways; other outreach products; and the publication of webpages and logo lockups that include the NSF logo.

Under unique circumstances, NSF may grant waivers to marking requirements and naming conventions. Details regarding the process for obtaining brand clearance and requesting waivers are outlined in the updated "NSF Brand Standards Manual."

Award recipients must acknowledge NSF in any publication (including webpages) or any other material based on or developed under their project, as well as during all media interviews, including popular media such as radio, television, news magazines, podcasts and online media outlets.

NSF award recipients must work with their program officer to keep them informed of their project's developments, including issuing news releases and related news materials. Press releases must mention NSF support and include the NSF logo.

NSF-invested content on social media should be properly "tagged" with hashtags and NSF social media accounts. Tagging is always preferred, but if it is not possible, award recipients must acknowledge NSF funding support with "U.S. National Science Foundation" spelled out.

Aligning with these standards increases the public's awareness of NSF's investments in science and engineering and shows how American taxpayer dollars are helping drive innovation and discoveries at speed and scale.

Questions regarding appropriate logo use may be submitted to NSFbranding@nsf.gov.

NSF brand identity and policy resources

About the Author

Jason Bates
Senior Technical Writer/Editor

Jason is a Senior Technical Writer/Editor in the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, National Science Foundation/FedWriters