Pentagram partner Domenic Lippa and his team have rebranded museum Jane Austen’s House with a new visual identity that aims to eschew cliches associated with the author and reposition her work in a contemporary context. Typically, the Austen visual world employs a few common signifiers, explains Lippa: her signature, silhouette and portrait, as well as script typefaces and soft, lavender-centred colour palettes. The new monogram, typography and colour palette is more modern, while still elegant and decorative, and imbued with much-considered links to the writer and her personality.
“The previous identity was lacking in character, something we felt could be drawn from the House’s rich history, and a sense of confidence about itself as the most important Austen site in the world,” Domenic Lippa tells it’s Nice That. The house in Hampshire is where Austen lived for the last eight years of her life, and wrote her major works Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. It contains first editions of her books, plus the writer’s jewellery, furniture, textiles and her 12-sided desk, which inspired a stamp in Pentagram’s brand identity.
Previously called Jane Austen’s House Museum, the name was the first thing to change on the project, looking to make the most of the site’s personal ties to the author. The new shorter name “better reflects the experience of visiting the house,” Lippa tells It’s Nice That, “which should feel more like stepping back in time than a traditional museum experience, and more intimate”.
The new wordmark is inspired by the hand-drawn character ‘A’ which appears in a letter written by Austen to her niece in 1815, which is on show at the house. “We spent a lot of time in the house and during the research process we found [the letter], in which she uses a distinctive capital letter ‘A’ which we felt could serve as inspiration for a unique J.A. monogram,” says Lippa. “The challenge was to create a mark that had enough of a connection to the source material without feeling like a pastiche of her handwriting – something that we’d seen done before. We achieved this by creating a monolinear form that takes some inspiration from the forms of our logotype.”
The identity uses two typefaces, Caslon Egyptian Regular for the logotype and headlines and Caslon Doric for body copy. Egyptian Regular is an updated version of Two Lines English Egyptian, the first commercially available sans-serif typeface, while Caslon Doric is Commercial Type’s modern take on the classic sans serif. “We did a fair bit of type investigation, looking at what would have been contemporaneous to Austen’s time and how she’s been presented typographically in the past – and how we could react against this,” says Lippa.
“Egyptian is a digital interpretation of the first commercially available sans-serif, first released by William Caslon Jr. in 1816 – a year before Jane died. We were keen to use something British and the fact that it was a ‘first’ resonated with our idea of Austen as a trailblazer. Sans-serifs wouldn’t have been something Jane would have seen used as a printing type in her life but she would certainly have seen similar typography used more vernacularly in signwriting.” Caslon Doric was chosen as it has “a similar genesis to our headline typeface but expands on it with a beautiful lowercase and a much bigger family of styles.”
The colour palette is taken from original wallpaper samples found in the house, while Austen quotes pop up on merch, to give readers and fans “engaging and celebratory moments through her words”. Though the roll out throughout the museum is on pause during lockdown, the identity can be explored in some photography (here) and elsewhere on the website, designed by Open Culture.