Five designers behind some of the most memorable museum rebrands
From surprising typographic treatments to wonderfully “spaced out” graphics, we look back at some of the best recent museum refreshes and the designers behind them.
- Liz Gorny
- 31 August 2022
Creating identities that will comfortably – and engagingly – house a museum’s whole programme of arts or cultural events is no walk in the park. From wayfinding to digital marketing and physical activations, there are countless applications to consider. But there's also the challenge of getting audiences excited about a season of events and keeping them coming back after they’ve left.
Recently, there has been a wealth of intriguing solutions to these problems, with a whole heap of creative talent behind each branding venture. Head below to discover a type-focused overhaul for the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, dynamic new signage for Qatar’s M7 and a seriously fun new look for Dittrich & Schlechtriem, as we look over the five design practices that bought the projects to life.
“Why should an influential gallery’s identity be modest and minimal?” poses Studio Yukiko on its site. If you’re not familiar with the powerhouse design studio from Michelle Phillips and Johannes Conrad, we can confirm it is the welcome antidote to modest and minimal design – as evidenced in its recent earwax-inspired typography for an art show at Times Arts Centre. A dab hand when it comes to injecting personality into exhibition identities, Yukiko also delivers wonderful gallery overhauls.
If you’re still not a die-hard Yukiko fan, take a look at its unforgettable 2021 anniversary rebrand for Berlin’s Dittrich & Schlechtriem gallery. Staying true to its experimental design roots and to the gallery’s progressive ethos, Yukiko set its sights on dialling up the cheeky factor, creating a custom typeface with Florian Karsten that leans into the gallery’s flamboyant, expressive roster. As Yukiko puts it best: “Why can it not be louder, more vivid, more brash – and more reflective of the gallery owners’ own minds and outlook?”
Museums are often cursed with a case of forgettable acronym-filled names. Happening Studio, the international design studio helmed by Karen Nakada and Masato Nakada, has proven what can happen when you use surprising typographic techniques to bolster a museum’s memorability.
When creating the new identity for the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), the studio looked to Ladislav Sutnar, the graphic designer who added parentheses to telephone area-code numbers to make them more memorable. Reworking this idea, the identity is built on in-between spaces, full of purposeful gaps throughout the wordmark and wider branding. Considered and brilliantly spaced out, the work shows just how adept Happening Studio are at turning branding moments into curious design experiences. Follow them to see more inspired work, particularly in the fields of typefaces, typesetting and motion design.
Studio Sallali Vaverka
Studio Sallali Vaverka – a recent collaboration between graphic designers Hamid Sallali and Isabelle Vaverka – are no novices when it comes to cultural branding. Having previously worked with the likes of the international photo fair Unseen and the opera festival Opera Forward, this year the studio built a new brand identity for the Amsterdam Museum to fit into its vision as a “museum of the future”, explained a release.
Simplicity is a core part of what makes Sallali Vaverka’s work so enticing, and its identity for Amsterdam Museum is no different. Looking to Amsterdam’s famous Saint Andrew’s Cross, the duo has abstracted the form into a selection of asymmetrical crosses and arrows that play out across the identity. Look out for the new identity – and how it intersects cleverly with exhibition imagery – across online media and, for Amsterdam locals, in the design of certain sections of the renovated Amsterdam Museum wing at the Amstel 51.
Morcos Key is a prime example of how a studio can break down a museum’s ethos into a fascinating typographic treatment. The combined design practice of Jon Key and Wael Morcos, the studio specialises in arts and culture. With Wael being an expert in Arabic type design and Jon a painter with a passion for editorial design and storytelling for queer and POC communities, their distinct perspectives have led to numerous cultural branding successes.
Bought on board to design the identity for the epicentre for innovation in fashion design and tech by Qatar Museums, Morcos Key and studio 2x4 centred the concept around “the building blocks of creativity”, Jon explained in our catch-up with the studio this year. This concept reflects M7’s mix of venues for exhibitions and events as well as its commitment to creativity. Full of dynamic, block-like structures and a striking palette, the near-architectural identity can also be seen across the centre’s signage.
As outlined on its website, brand and digital-product agency Area 17 is focused on “crafting brands and products that are fundamental to our interactions as people”. For the National Gallery of Canada, this meant overhauling not just the design of the gallery but the Western worldview behind those original design decisions.
The rebrand was based on the museum’s aim to work with partners to decolonise its collection; Area 17 thus held 300 interviews with employees, youth artists, transformation consultants, and Indigenous Elders and artists to inform the design restructuring. Among the many core shifts that occurred through the project, Area 17 lead the museum’s identity from one of rigid geometry – “linear, patriarchal, red-dominant” – to a “more circular, matriarchal, dynamic identity”, says Carolyn Centeno Milton, Area 17’s strategy director. Keep up to date with Area 17’s ongoing projects in arts, culture and social progress here.
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, she worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.