Last but not least, Eva Kellenberger and Sebastian White of London-based design studio Kellenberger-White took to the Nicer Tuesdays stage. Talking about their new visual identity for the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art – a year-long project that took the team on a mammoth process of research, workshops and design processes – the duo tell us about their long but valuable journey.
Firstly, they opened the discussion with a few pictures of their studio – where books and ephemera decorate the walls. “We like collecting things,” said Eva. “There’s lots of leftovers from projects and materials we’re intrigued with – we’re collecting and hoping to use them one day.” As a small team of four, the duo took us through a presentation of some of their recent projects. This includes the identity for Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, a project with London-based collective Assemble for a new exhibition titled Being Human at the Wellcome Collection, plus various collaborations with artists, exhibition design, publications for the likes of the Barbican and the identity for fashion brand La Fetiche.
One project, in particular, was brought to our attention. “We got asked to do the identity for MIMA in Middlesbrough – honestly, I hadn’t been there before we got the project,” explained Eva. “In recent years, MIMA has taken on this mission to be a useful museum, to look back and reconnect as an institution with a specific function. From the first day, we were extremely impressed at how well that worked.” The year-long project – which Eva described as having a long and “open brief”, which was “unusual” for them – began with a workshop. They invited people in for discussion and to experiment with lino printing. “We had a whole day with all of the staff, around 42 in total, and we learnt about print making while talking about this very important question of how the museum should present itself.”
After discussing the brief, Sebastian took the mic and told us about the exhibition that took place for three months shortly afterwards. “It was going to be the main public consultation process that we were going to have in the branding project,” he told us. Wanting total engagement and tools that invited people into the exhibition, they landed on a vinyl cutter. “We found it because we spoke to some people who work on exhibition graphics, and they said this machine without the scalpel blade and the pencil is the type of draftsman tool that architects would use many years ago,” he said. “We wanted to make posters out of this machine, where the font was loud and poster-like but still playful. When you’re watching this machine, you’re seeing these perfect circles and perfect lines, and the idea of the font being completely geometric and almost divorced from the hand was a really interesting idea.”
From this, the team then worked with a grid system on the walls as a sort-of template for the posters – a double-storey empty space where the visitors could write and respond to questions prepared by the studio. “The room gradually became more and more crowded with people’s opinions about things,” said Sebastian. “The exhibition became more popular, thousands of posters were made and people could take a copy with them as well. This font that we made was being used by everybody and it was becoming part of the environment – at this point, this was the crux of the project, where we knew an identity mark could be formed.”
Having deciphered this moment, Sebastian explained how the project evolved and how they developed a typographic voice – filled with “design ingredients” and a visual language that “allowed MIMA to be able to talk to everybody in a way that was the right accent, character, and how they wanted to represent themselves.” This was seen in a brief presentation of brand assets, including stationary, wayfinding and marketing materials.
After this, they showed us the programme guide where 21 colours were used in different combinations, using a typeface that was “really legible and readable because it’s an accessibility museum,” Sebastian explains. Further research trips were held to develop the metal signage and two-sided message boards. “We focused on the philosophy of design where you focus on the very small things as well as the big things – we tried to keep that philosophy flowing,” he said. Next, they displayed the main entrance to present what’s changed alongside the sign that was about to be placed on the building – and, “there we go”.