On 01 March 2016, coinciding with the opening of the Met Breuer in the former Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue, The Metropolitan Museum Of Art launched a sweeping change to the museum’s venerable brand identity.
In announcing the change in February, the museum’s board described its rationale:
Throughout its 146-year history, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has evolved to meet the needs of its audience.
Almost as beloved and iconic as the art institution itself was the museum’s distinctive “M” logo, unchanged since 1971. The new brand identity, however, came with a new logo, and when details and renderings leaked back in February, reaction from the design community was as swift and cutting as a guillotine.
Pulitzer Prize-winning music and architecture critic Justin Davidson wrote in New York Magazine’s Vulture that the logo was “a red double-decker bus that has stopped short, shoving the passengers into each other’s backs.”
The museum’s nickname front and center, however, was designed to open a communication channel with new audiences. The association of the museum’s identity with its informal name marks a seismic shift in the museum’s positioning. Lisa Smith, creative director and head of design at Wolff Olins, New York, the agency of record for the design, told The Independent, “The project is about far more than just a logo — it is about expanding the reach and relevance of the Met.
The prior logo came from a Renaissance-era 1509 woodcut by Fra Luca Pacioli, recalling Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (research via ArtNet.com). The “M” was playful and simplistic to those in the know, but to many audiences it was difficult to parse without prior knowledge of proportional geometry and Renaissance innovations in painting perspective.
While the concept-laden layers of the “M” could be seen as a means to inspiration – a puzzle to be solved – the design as a universal statement of the museum’s brand became a burden. And lest you think the museum abandoned graphics for straight typography, the logo actually is an “original drawing.” It still resonates with humanity, just a more modern version.
The museum is “evolving” its brand not on some peripatetic designer’s whim, but because the world around the brand has evolved – perhaps much faster and further in the last 40 than in the first 140 years of the Met’s storied history. Is there a better reason for a brand update than that?
At Korn Hynes, we’ll reserve our judgment on the change until the brand identity lives and breathes for a while in the real world.
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John Hynes, Creative Director, Korn Hynes
Adjunct Professor of Advertising, Seton Hall University