Sagmeister & Walsh rebrand New York’s Jewish Museum

Sagmeister & Walsh has designed a new visual identity for New York’s Jewish Museum based on the same ancient geometry as the Star of David.

Sagmeister & Walsh has designed a new visual identity for New York’s Jewish Museum based on the same ancient geometry as the Star of David.

The museum was founded in 1904 and houses over 30,000 artefacts. The organisation recently appointed a new director and is keen to reach a wider audience, so asked the studio to create a more contemporary identity. The new system has been applied to merchandise, communications, stationery and a new interactive website due to launch next month.

“Claudia Gould, the new director, approached us to help rebrand the museum in an engaging, fresh and unexpected way that could appeal to their current visitors and help attract a wider audience,” explains Jessica Walsh, who art directed the project.

 

 

As creative director Stefan Sagmeister explains, the museum used to be a leading house for the Avant Garde in the 1960s and seventies, hosting exhibitions for new artists including Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. “Over time, it had gotten a little dusty around the edges. With a new director and a new commitment for engaging and innovative programming, the existing red box logo [below] appeared a little bit, well, unengaged,” he says.

Visuals are based on a series of grids and patterns derived from the same geometric systems as the Star of David, the Flower of Life (featuring overlapping circles) and Metatron’s Cube (a geometric figure of 13 equal circles with lines connecing the centres of each one). “The origin of this geometry goes back to the belief that God created the universe according to a geometric plan. Its roots are in the study of mathematics, and many forms in nature can be related to this geometry,” explains Walsh.

“This geometry was used in the planning and construction of many religious architecture and art, [and] we used it to create everything you see in the branding: from the logo, the icons, the illustrations, and the typography, to patterns,” she adds.

 

 

The studio created several typefaces based on these grids, accompanied by Colophon’s Apercu. “We created numerous display typefaces…that can be used for special events, programming, or for their cafe or shop,” explains Walsh. “The wrapping paper which says “shalom” is created from a variety of these display faces we designed. The “shalom” wrapping paper will be used for kids, [and] we also designed a more elegant patterned wrapping paper for adults,” she adds.

 

The primary colour palette is black, white and blue, and the blue is inspired by Tekhelet – a dye mentioned in the Hebrew bible and an important shade in Jewish culture. “We added in a neon red/orange colour, pantone 805c, to be used occasionally with the blue to give a modern twist to the branding. We also created several other secondary colours that can be used in print and web,” explains Walsh.

 

 

The largest part of the rebrand is the museum’s new website, its first since 1997. A responsive site, it will showcase over 3000 objects from the collection, with the goal of increasing this to 20,000 within five years, and will also include live streaming, video archives and online exhibitions.

“It will be an immersive experience which will offer richer engagement with the Museum’s fantastic collection. Personal user accounts will allow visitors to save favourite items in the collection, favourite events, and share easily via social media,” adds Walsh.

 

 

The new site will also feature a series of icons and illustrated characters (see below). “Zipeng Zhu is one of our very talented designers who worked closely with us on the branding, and he drew many of these illustrations based on the sacred geometry. The icons and illustrated people were created primarily for the new website…They give some personality and character to pages on the site that are dense and text driven. They will also appear occasionally on some print materials,” adds Walsh.

 

 

It’s a great concept that reflects both the museum’s heritage and its contemporary programming, and provides a flexible and varied set of visuals which work equally well in print and online.

As Sagmeister explains, taking geometry as a starting point defined a clear and useful set of guidelines and boundaries for the project. “By basing all visuals on this system we were actively looking for limitations, it has been our experience that if we work without any restraints, not much good comes out of it. When we start on any project, we create our own set of borders that we have to adhere to throughout the project. I think a lot of work is created this way: Every novel has to work within its own set of rules, so does every movie and every Pop-song. In our case, if we can do absolutely anything, we might wind up with nothing,” he says.

 

 

“We liked the idea that the branding has its foundation in ancient systems which relate to Jewish symbolism, but the formal result of the branding is fresh and modern,” adds Walsh. “These grid systems allowed us great flexibility in tone. Sometimes the work can be more elegant and sophisticated, at other times younger or more modern, but as it’s always drawn on the same grid, it all feels unified. This allows the museum great flexibility in designing materials for its wide range of programs and diverse and intergenerational audience.”

 

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