Picture a typical identity for a philanthropic organisation. Now watch Pentagram’s Eddie Opara do the exact opposite

Featuring a morphing and mutating “M” logo, Opara takes arts and humanities foundation Mellon in a striking new direction.

6 April 2022


If you think back on all the snippets of branding you’ve seen over the years for philanthropic and charitable organisations, what do you remember? Logos of cupping hands? Illustrations of perfectly formed trees? A single, gently sprouting plant bud? It is this conservative world of visuals that Pentagram partner Eddie Opara is aiming to counter with a rebrand for Mellon Foundation, the largest funder of the arts and humanities in the US. Moving away from “literal sensibilities” for logo choices, Opara tells It’s Nice That, the team went for a more symbolic direction, developing a morphing “M” which fluctuates in shape, texture and colour to reflect the transformative basis of Mellon’s work.

Evoking the “gestural quality of the human hand”, the final “M” icon is ever-changing; the design team arrived on its initial form after making the mark in clay and ink. A press release from Pentagram continues: “In alternate versions, [the ‘M’] can lower and lengthen, stand tall, loop and intersect with itself. It can also be intertwined with the logotype, passing through the counterspaces of the letterforms.” While the logo’s fundamental shape is in flux throughout the identity, the identity also experiments with texture and tactility, mirroring materials from grass to metal in an effort to ensure that the “mark condones the type of artistic expression that the Mellon Foundation fosters,” Opara explains.


Pentagram / Eddie Opara: Mellon Foundation (Copyright © Mellon Foundation, 2022)

This bold approach is a very new direction for the Mellon Foundation. Opara states: “Pretty much everything from the previous Mellon Foundation identity needed transforming. The previous identity wasn’t geared to the [strong] direction the foundation has taken…” The new work hopes to see the organisation stand out from the traditional visual tropes of the sector whose branding often displays foundations as “myopic, thus purblind to the diverse community,” says Eddie. Meanwhile, Pentagram’s morphing “M” mark “more than acknowledges the importance of diversity, equality, and inclusivity; it champions it”, the partner summarises.

Meanwhile, the “M” symbol is accompanied by a wordmark that introduces the shift from the foundation’s more formal previous title (The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) to the more memorable: Mellon Foundation. Yuri Suzuki has also created a new sonic identity for the organisation.

Opara explains that an “adaptive” approach was also taken to colour in the work. Beginning with an elementary base colour set of black, white and neutral warm greys, the identity can extract additional colours from artwork and imagery – which the dynamic “M” appears to wrap around. Opara concludes that the identity allows the logo to “grab” onto Mellon assets “to create a holding effect using the mark to manoeuvre in and out of type, layers or imagery… giving Mellon the freedom to create new and exciting graphics when appropriate.”

GalleryPentagram / Eddie Opara: Mellon Foundation (Copyright © Mellon Foundation, 2022)

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Pentagram / Eddie Opara: Mellon Foundation (Copyright © Mellon Foundation, 2022)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.

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