When new identity schemes are unveiled, a common thread in the online comments is to speculate on how long they will last. Usually, this is discussed in pejorative terms, as if a scheme that will stand the test of time and exist far into the future is the goal all such projects should strive for. Which I’ve always found slightly strange – surely the design industry thrives on change? If clients never wanted to update their identities, work would dry up pretty quickly. Nevertheless, many new projects are dismissed with a cursory “I’ll give it three years”.
The Royal Museums Greenwich, the group that includes the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, has unveiled a new visual identity. It supersedes SomeOne’s splashy crown, which itself was introduced in 2011.
The new work – strategy by Jane Wentworth Associates, design by Intro – strips out the imagery and relies instead on a graphic, single colour mark. Apparently, it “aims to better represent all of [the group’s] London museums, rather than focusing on those dedicated to the sea” (as well as the Observatory, the group includes the Queen’s House and Planetarium too).
The new ‘G’ symbol attempts to depict Greenwich and also symbolise different icons associated with the museums, such as the Greenwich Meridian Line, a globe, a clock and its hands, and an old-style nautical navigational instrument, according to what JWA told Design Week.
If you subscribe to the ‘two camps’ theory of graphic design that the London AIGA conference so memorably split into Cavaliers vs Roundheads, the new scheme falls very much into the latter. Royal Museums Greenwich has abandoned a ‘Smile in the Mind’, idea-driven route for typography-led austerity.
Why? Supposedly, SomeOne’s scheme was “confusing” and “did not effectively represent the full Royal Museums Greenwich offer”. Though, presumably, this wasn’t a problem six years ago. Back then, we were told, the crown device reflected the ‘dynamic changes’ that were going on within the group.
It’s interesting to go back and look at some of the comments on here when that scheme launched. This, remember, was the high water mark (pun intended) of online design commenting where every new project was met with a hail of anonymous derision. It was also a time when SomeOne and its work were ubiquitous – a cause of much resentment among their peers as the studio won a series of high-profile projects such as Eurostar and the 2012 Olympic pictograms.
Quite a few people at the time predicted that the scheme would be short-lived, and many also pointed out that concentrating on the aquatic aspect of the group’s museums seemingly left out their stargazing cousins (though SomeOne contended that the water droplets represented a constellation too).
“I spent 45 minutes at NMM on Wednesday, and I was already sick of the sight of the new logo by the time I left. I can’t see this lasting any longer than 12 months without the need to radically evolve it and introduce a bit of variety and flexibility. And that’s before you even start critiquing the concept of the thing,” wrote one.
But there was also a lot of support for the work, praising its energy and freshness.
So is it a sign of failure that SomeOne’s droplet has been consigned to the archive box of design history? Certainly some of the warnings of the commenters on here appear to have been borne out. But organisations change, and so does what they want to say about themselves. Priorities shift and new people come in who want to do their own thing. The ideal of an identity for the ages is illusory: SomeOne’s scheme lasted five years. We all like a change of clothes every now and then.