Staying true to the original
Of all the elements in MIT's graphic identity, the seal has had the most complex history. The official seal was adopted in 1863 but underwent a series of facelifts over the years by restless desktop publishers. None of the renegade iterations gained a strong enough following, however, to displace the original and still-official version.
Evaluating the symbolism of the MIT seal
"The official Institute seal, adopted in 1863, pictures a scholar and a worker, symbolizing the union of knowledge and research with the mechanical or manual arts. The figures stand atop the Institute's Latin motto, mens et manus, which translates as 'mind and hand.'
"The drawback to this imagery is that the symbolism isn't wholly positive. Research and mechanical arts are leaning on the same podium, but they have their backs to each other. It looks as if they're hanging out at the same water cooler more by accident than by intention or shared vision.
"The two white men exist in a vague historical era held in isolation from the outside world by the rings drawn around them. They are literally sealed off from the society that they might influence.
"Typographically, the name of the university comes apart: 'Massachusetts' separates from the title by distance and the placement of the ornamental stars. Effectively, the name of the state reads as an umbrella to 'Institute of Technology,' giving a sense of being one school in a chain of state schools, instead of one unique institution of higher learning."
— The MIT I.D. Team
The checkered past of the modern seal
The image [referred to] as 'an official modernization progression' is, in fact, a special seal designed for the inaguration of MIT President Howard Johnson in 1966. And although this and many other adaptations are (unfortunately) still in use, there is only one 'official seal.'"
Warren Seamans, MIT Museum Director Emeritus