Centre Georges Pompidou
Jean Widmer, Visuel Design Association
On paper, the idea of making a logo for an institution that is essentially a rendering of the building seems a little dull and old-fashioned. Jean Widmer’s classic from 1977 tears this thinking up, creating something which is much more than a simple pictogram. It still feels as edgy and contemporary as the Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers-designed Centre itself. It’s just a shame the rest of the brand over time has lost this edge and approach in its execution. Like many galleries, the Pompidou leans towards using simple imagery of artists’ work, thinking this is enough, and in turn loses its own identity. Great institutional voices shouldn’t be overcome by the powerful art within and vice-versa.
Arguably the benchmark for a cultural institution brand in the 21st-century. Designed by Wolff Olins at the turn of the millennium, as the gallery was in the process of creating the Tate Modern, this brand has stood the test of time, with a logo and custom typeface that feel as fresh as the day it came out. With this in mind, I was surprised to hear that Tate was considering changing it. The only limitation to this brand is the imagination of the designer who executes against it. What is the purpose of a visual brand? Value, identification, emotion, feeling? The Tate brand stands apart as much as its ex-power station modern home. As Tate builds a new wing and pushes forward I am strongly in favour of keeping that beautifully adaptive logo.
Designed by Experimental Jetset in 2013, this brand was launched to coincide with the Whitney’s collections moving to a new space next to New York’s High Line in 2015. When it was first released I overlooked its conceptual rigour as, visually, it felt a little fragile. This, combined with the Dutch studio’s adherence to Helvetica and its many variants, also made it easy to forget. I don’t subscribe to the Massimo Vignelli-like belief that a few typefaces can service every brand. We’ve seen great ideas dressed in the same clothes as many other of the studio’s projects, making it more about the designers and their beliefs and less about the gallery’s change. This view then pivoted 180˚ when I visited the gallery for the first time last year. I now see it as a great example of architecture and brand working as one, to the point that it’s a pioneer in many ways, though I’m still not into the Neue Haas Grotesk. We’re not always lucky enough to visit a building when we first see its identity (often viewing it online), but seeing it as it’s intended made this one come to life.
Why Not Associates
Viewed from the UK, the European gallery often seems a looser, more creative affair. Less about commercial footfall and more about the celebration of art, however obscure it may be. Identities convey the feeling and values of organisations that match a public need. This new identity from Why Not Associates very much fits into this idea: loose and playful, with simple block colours and silhouettes derived from both the Antwerp arts venue’s former logo, designed by Herbert Binneweg in 1979 (it appears on the facade of the original main block), and its various buildings. This European flavour, even though it was designed in London, feels perfect, with a design that could have been made at any point in the last decade. Each poster utilises the specific exhibition or show image, without losing the venue identity in the mix. No mean feat and one I would venture will stick around for quite a while.
The Hepworth Wakefield
A Practice for Everyday Life
Does a gallery brand have to operate differently if it doesn’t occupy a place in a dense metropolis? Many regional galleries often feel that they do, to create a splash and drive visitors, resulting in identities that feel overly try-hard and cheap. The Hepworth Wakefield doesn’t have such an issue, its confidence creates an attractive consistency to its output. The UK’s largest purpose-built museum outside of London, it was named in honour of the famous British sculptor, Barbara Hepworth, whose birthplace the gallery sits near. The typographic approach takes its formal cues from the David Chipperfield-designed building, itself derived from the local pitched roofs of Wakefield. Typography with reason and ideas can be rare, but in this case the results are restrained, confident and simple. A great design which echoes the work of the sculptor herself, making something that feels timeless.
This article was published in the Museums issue of Creative Review, July 2016.