Crit: A clear break with the past
When the Stedelijk Museum re-opens later this year, it will have a controversial new visual identity, adopted following resignations and rows at the institution. In his latest logo column for CR, Michael Evamy traces the new work's stormy back story
Without fanfare, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has ushered in its new permanent visual identity - a mark and design system to coincide with the museum's long-awaited re-opening in September following its refurbishment and the addition of its striking ‘bathtub' extension. Art-loving Amsterdammers have been driven to distraction and protest by the delays that have plagued the construction project; the development of an identity to replace Wim Crouwel's hugely admired and influential ‘SM Style' has also been far from painless. It's no wonder that the museum has opted for a ‘soft launch' for its new ‘huisstijl', given the travails of the last few years.
The Stedelijk's identity crises kicked off seven years ago when studio Experimental Jetset resigned from the project to "introduce a system at express speed for Stedelijk Museum CS (SMCS), after the museum took up temporary residence in the huge former Post Office behind Centraal Station. According to the explanation on the design studio's website, its departure "was partly due to the fact that (at that time) the museum was in such an interim state, without a clear director, and without a clear hierarchical structure".
SCMS identity by Experimental Jetset, 2004
There was disarray again and heated debate about the museum's strategy when newly-appointed director Ann Goldstein unexpectedly decided not to progress a proposed new permanent identity by French type designer Pierre di Sciullo. Perhaps Di Sciullo's concept for an expressive, dancing logotype of upper and lower-case letters was thought to be too alien to the museum's strongly Modernist heritage.
Early versions of Pierre Di Sciullo's proposed identity
Goldstein, facing fresh delays to the new extension, put the permanent identity project on hold and drafted in Armand Mevis and Linda van Deursen to create an identity in double-quick time for Temporary Stedelijk, the display being created in the AW Weissman building, the museum's historic home whose refurbishment was complete by 2010. This was a happier chapter, involving a lower-case Univers system rooted in the ‘SM Style', with everything overprinted with an abstracted, provisional ‘T'.
"Our design came from more of a need to ‘earth' the museum," say Mevis and van Deursen. "The idea was that, after this identity, anyone could start from scratch." Last year, as construction of the extension dragged on, the duo was handed the opportunity to do just that.
Their new permanent logotype follows Stedelijk tradition in providing the museum with a strong typographic hallmark based on one or more initials. "We started with the full name - Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam - and tried to turn that into a sign. Of course we were aware of Wim Crouwel's famous ‘SM', the ‘SMCS' of Experimental Jetset and the ‘T' we had used for the Temporary Stedelijk." The new mark is compact and distinct enough to be repeated at supergraphic level, in and outside the building, but also instantly recognisable in the corners of posters and websites.
The font used in the logotype and all text is Union, designed by Amsterdam-based Radim Peško - a fusion of Helvetica and Arial ("intended for situations where Helvetica seems too sophisticated and Arial too vulgar, or vice versa", says Peško), and as neutral a font as it is possible to imagine.
Proposals for signage using the new system
Its lack of charisma runs the risk of making the museum seem devoid of personality or standpoint, too; the almost exclusive use of upper case in the new identity - a very non-Stedelijk move - comes across as an attempt to up the volume of an empty voice. To Mevis and van Deursen, who had found using all lower case for Temporary Stedelijk to be "confusing, inconsistent and unworkable", the all caps approach "looked good and we liked the reference to simple default lettering you can find in early conceptual art. Not too fussy and refined, just straightforward (even a bit childlike)."
Font aside, there's a modern, radical edge to the way the elements are applied; the plainness of the font and the simple framing system deployed in the new communications are clearly intended to give primacy to the art. The draft designs for posters and website have a loose, naïve feel that suggest a fresh, invigorated, exciting force in the display of contemporary art.
The Stedelijk's new identity has some big shoes to fill. Like the extension, it represents a clear formal break with the past, and a radical affirmation of its Modernist principles. All eyes will be on how it unveils itself in advance of the museum's re-opening on September 22.
Michael Evamy is the author of Logo, published by Laurence King. evamy.co.uk
Michael Evamy writes a monthly column on logo design for CR. Usually his column is only available online for subscribers but we have opened it to the general readership this time in order to demonstrate the kind of longer-form content available to subscribers. If you would like to read articles like this every month, details on how to subscribe to CR are here (subscribers also get access to all magazine content online) and to the iPad App (where the feature also appears, but with additional content) here.
No matter what is said about this mark, I still find it aesthetically challenged.
That takes balls on everyone's part. Love it.
It's incredibly unusual and unconventional. I suppose suggesting that I find it interesting (and compelling) is likely to be perceived as purposely rejecting basic design principles (and collective crowd opinion) in a bid to draw attention to my own work. This is simply not the case, the truth is that I find this a refreshing alternative to the high-concept, superfluous detail, expansive, bright and interactive concepts of modern branding (which I also like). For me this solution is the most elemental of frames designed to filled by the content of the gallery. It's non-hierarchical modernistic principles and unusual artistic quirks (type imperfections) give it a unique and distinctive characteristic. Indeed in may be problematic but when you find something like this executed with consistency it does in fact look professional to the general public.
What's all the fuss? it's a nice little solution for a gallery ident.
Although I understand what the type is suppose to be doing, I feel it brakes down as soon as the system appears to not work, by this I mean the way the 'I,J' share a baseline (is this because the J helps the I fill the visual space?) but as this is the only instance, it becomes a detail I find hard to ignore, the applications for signage seem to challenge the viewer by pushing legibility, but having not experienced the museum space I guess I can't comment on whether I'd find its irreverence fun or annoying.
I guess I loved Crouwel's SM that seemed to sit so confidently, proud and BIG on practically anything it touched, and I feel this identity even at supergraphic level won't have that same level of immediacy or impact.
I don't know what to think about it, maybe that's a good thing?
would never have the balls to present this to a client
Fantastic—thanks for the write-up. Great to get some insight into the thought behind the work.
I think this is a very bold, compelling identity and can't wait till more is revealed.
Hopefully some of the negative Brand New commenters will read this and gain a little perspective.
Living in Amsterdam and passing this every day, it doesn't improve with time and familiarity.
It's insulting and leaves me wondering if the designers were interns who had just discovered the 'text follow path' tool in Illustrator.
It's really, *really* embarrassing and hugely disappointing.
Nothing wrong with challenging tradition and over-crafted, over-designed work, but to me just seems typographically naieve. Or maybe it's purposefully ironic.
And, if we'd been told this had been done by a non-designer (Jay Z?) everyone would surely be laying into it.
Brilliant. Top stuff. And as for "lack of charisma", well, my flabber is truly gasted.
How does the quote go? ... 'when you grow old you'll regret the things you didn't do, not the things you did.' These guys are the 1 percent who had the confidence to go for it while the rest of us in the other 99 per cent - for whatever reason - probably would have binned it. Whatever we think, we can't accuse them of taking the safe option and that, at least, deserves credit.
A very minimalistic approach. A sort of non-design. Is it great? is it different from everything i've seen before? I don't think so. I wonder what the reactions would be if this same design was made by a first year art school student...
It's different, which is good; but it's also butt-ugly, which is bad (same goes for that website: wow, hope it was cheap!).
Far too much conceptual thinking here, and no where near enough branding.
"These guys are the 1 percent who had the confidence to go for it while the rest of us in the other 99 per cent - FOR WHATEVER REASON - probably would have binned it."
Because it's shit?
So far the effect of this new visual language has been an uncomfortable, unpleasant feeling. Many thought, after the firs encounter, this was all a hoax and some think it still is. So let's wait until September 23 when Mevis and Van Deursen will reveal what they are capable of and the Stedelijk will show its real (new) face. Until then, hold the comments and save the energy. You may need it badly when this turns out to be the real thing...
A fine example of well considered non-designed un-branded branding... I love it, so fresh and pure in a full colour 2d3d bevelled chrome effect drop shadowed anti-aliased world...
It looks like what we call in the USA: "generic".
A good designer should trust another good designer and his reasons. Too many badmouth others’ work without the slightest effort in understanding the decisions, without asking 'why is it like this?'.
At first blush it leaves me flat. It doesn't give me a hint of who they are and what they do...or, a sense of expectation. It could be viewed as Sam's Plumbing or Sarah's Sewing. Designed by Sam or Sarah themselves.
Maybe that was their point?
Anybody can create art that we have in this place. Kinda Dada?
I dunno, I'm still left with an empty feeling.
Really fresh and different, surely just what a gallery needs?
It's super-dutch, and I think will stand the test of time.
It's much more clever than it may look at first sight, designers have managed to create something that doesn't scream "hardcore graphic design" and at the same time leaves plenty of room for the content of the museum itself, that's quite an achievement in this overloaded world. Well done.
For the record, we don't think that the fact that we stopped doing the SMCS graphic identity, back in 2004, signalled in any way the start of the Stedelijk's "identity crises", as this article suggests. After we decided to stop, the SMCS identity simply remained in use, up until 2008, when the museum returned to its original building. After that, the SMCS logo became unnecessary - both in name, and in concept, the logo referred to a specific location (CS meaning Central Station). In that sense, it was always meant as a temporary logo, for a temporary place.
As for the current situation - needless to say, we absolutely love the stuff Mevis & Van Deursen have been doing for the Stedelijk Museum, during the last couple of years: both the graphic identity for the Temporary program (the overprint T), and the new graphic identity for the Stedelijk are amazing.
But maybe it's interesting to add that the relationship between M&VD and SM goes much further back than that. For almost two decades now, M&VD have been responsible for the strong graphic identity of SM Bureau Amsterdam, the project space of the Stedelijk. They have also been involved in designing some of SM's best catalogues ("From the Corner of the Eye", from 1997, comes to mind). So the collaboration between M&VD and SM feels completely organic and natural - they are truly part of each others DNA.
Interesting, but controversial - is that not one of the great things about graphic design? Personally I don't like it's form, but I do like the boldness of idea and approach. I will put one question to the readers though, if an advertising agency had been credited with the design - would we have heard a different reaction?
Typical - Museum grand opening after i will have left the country.
I like it cos it's all about the procedure and application and the act, rather than 'at one point in time a very famos designer made our logo and now we stick it at the top an bottom of everything we do'
The mostly negative comments above seem to prove the success of the new logo. It's provocative and challenging not by any overworked gimmicks but the simplicity of heart. It reflects the nature of the museum by the subtle, informed reference to a certain typographic aspect of contemporary art. The concept demonstrates its strength when it's applied to other instances, such as signs. By the way, the 'IJ' in Dutch is a digraph and it's correct to treat them as a single character. The logo does just that, showing the sensitivity to the language.
Like apes staring at the monolith in 2001?
Either way, I love that the most frequent response is "I don't know what to think?"
Dutch design, I call it a bad trip
Love it ! Hate it ! So it works ! André Toet
Different, challenging, illegible-on-signage and unbelievable ugly.
dutch design, 'pretty' and 'ugly'!
Hope this is a joke, isn't it???
I also did a proposition for the new identity, you can check it out here:
Super Normal – and all the better for it! A breath of fresh air amongst the logo sludge. The I and J is a lovely detail. Reminds me of Robert Buchlers TM cover.
It's amateurish and embarrassing. Unfortunately it's not a hoax.
I like its simplicity!
The danger of reinvention and challenging tradition is that you will alienate your older fans who do not wish for big changes. The new design is not necessarily bad, but I think it lacks some creativity. I believe more can be done. Then again, I was never a good designer, so I will never know what their clients and industry leaders are expecting of them.
When talking about legibility, this logo is almost as wrong as a logo can be. First of all, lower case letters read slightly better than upper case. Upper case would be fine with me if everything else would have been done well here … Every typographer who has ben through ‘visual basics’ know that in design it is not only the black form which counts. When the black form is given (as in typography), it is the form and distribution of white which decides wether the black is legible, readable and/or remarkable. Words do not only consist of black letters but also of white counters and inter-character spaces. The latter have been sacrificed for the sake of making the logo swallowing up three times as much of space as necessary.
would have been far more compact. Now this may seem silly at first sight, but in the case of legibility, type size is the factor that practically overrides all others. When it comes to typography on posters and advertising, type size is one of the most important factors when it comes to drawing attention and communicating content. For me, this logo is that much wrong that I do not care anymore wether it might be funny or signalizes something. For me there is only one signal left: This logo communicates that the Stedelijk Museum does not understand anything anymore about the typography of which it tells us it is traditionally connected with. The Stedelijk used to be a part of the Dutch design community, now it seems that ‘design’ is nothing more than some gimmick for them.
A few weeks ago I posted the new logo at Flickr, added a few inspirational Singer posters as well as the previous logo by Wim Crouwel. http://www.flickr.com/photos/6... enjoy!