Writing about why a logo captures the essence of an institution always strikes me as a little bit like online dating. You can find someone who meets all of your requirements (tall, handsome, addicted to The Wire…) without finding that special spark. But once you’ve found that special someone, can you really put the elusive spark into words? There are some parallels to the design process that can be applied here as well.
Rather than list the attributes (nimble but bold, graceful, playful, flexible, with a strong presence… oops, couldn’t help myself!) of the graphic identity system designed for the North Carolina Museum of Art by Michael Beirut and team at Pentagram, I’d rather start with an insider’s view of the experience. We can talk more about implementation later.
How could anyone who was described as the design world’s Don Draper not be a pompous a**?
I’m not saying Michael Beirut doesn’t have chutzpah or the encyclopedic knowledge to back it up but surprisingly, the typography nerd you saw in the movie “Helvetica” is the real thing. Darned if he hasn’t read every book, seen every play, visited every museum, and lived to tell all about it on the ambitious blog about design that he cofounded. He’s a creative force…but he’s also a disarmingly approachable guy. Is it a coincidence that the current designers whose work I most like to look at, from Beirut to Bantjes to Niemann to Sagmeister, all sound a lot more like my favorite soft-spoken geek from physics class than a designer from on high? Michael and his team captured the distinctive and spirited nature of the people of North Carolina’s art museum with intelligence and grace.
How do these Pentagram partners keep getting all the good work?
I recently saw Malcolm Gladwell give a talk about his theory that there are two kinds of creative thinkers, the conceptual and the experimental. He thinks that today, most creative thinkers have to be experimental. They go down blind alleys, they start and stop, they try new things and then, voila! His example was the fact that Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” album became the biggest thing on the musical planet only after sixteen previous Fleetwood Mac records. Practice, practice, practice. This makes me wonder when Dale Watson will make the Billboard list, but that’s another story.
Both Michael and Yve Ludwig, the designer from Pentagram who worked on this project with him, never stop designing. Listen to them talk with Dave Rainey and me about the process of developing our custom alphabet. You’ll hear that they did their homework. They listened, asked questions, studied our Museum, sketched ideas, and worked to create an identity that reflects the richness of our collection, the transformative nature of our new building and grounds, the enlightening experiences visitors can have in our Park and our amphitheater. You don’t find good design projects. You make them. But capturing the versatility of the North Carolina Museum of Art experience was a good project.
For over a year, Dave Rainey, Jennifer Blackman and I (the in-house graphics team) have been working closely with the rest of our marketing/communications department and the exhibit design group to implement the Museum’s brand architecture. We’ve started the transformation in anticipation of our April 2010 re-opening. We’re working hard to build something lasting. Every detail counts, from case label to letterhead, postcard to catalogue. Our goal is to communicate consistently while using the flexibility of our system in exciting new ways. Long after the excitement of our spring 2010 opening, we’ll continue to grow and evolve with the Museum, doing our best to capture the Museum experience in a visual way.