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This is a very old entry — images are small, formatting is off.

 

Museums are for Squares

Reviewed Apr. 5, 2010 by Sam Becker

Industry / Culture Tags /

The Museum of Science and Industry, situated on Chicago’s storied Lake Shore Drive, is a true city landmark. I grew up visiting the museum with my grandmother and can vividly remember how interactive and engaging the exhibits were. To this day, it’s the only museum I know of where you can watch actual chickens being being born any day of the week.

MSI mentions the following on their website beneath the "note on our new look,"

Our new logo is a small symbol of big changes you’ll see today and in the coming months at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago. We’ll put you in the center of a 40-foot tornado and challenge you to diagnose medical conditions on our high-tech Human Patient Simulator. Discover the latest trends in smart technology and green living in our real, three-story, eco-friendly home. And our staff scientists are leading daily live experiences like “Dissect an Eyeball” and “Poop Happens” that will get your kids talking about science — the entire car ride home.

Of course, your favorites are still here for you; we know you love the baby chicks, the Fairy Castle and Coal Mine, and so do we! But if you have not been here recently, it’s time to check out the new MSI. Even if you are a regular guest, I promise you have not seen it all. On behalf of all of us at MSI, we look forward to your next visit.

I suppose it’s a red flag that the description of their "new look" has nothing to do with their new look. All things considered, MSI is right to prioritize the museum experience over the museum branding. And we all know rebrands don’t mean nearly as much if they’re not done in tandem with real change. However, I can’t shake the feeling that this particular client didn’t appreciate the role a good logo (or visual system for that matter) could fill.

According to Futurebrand:

The logo mark is inspired by the element Carbon, the source of life on Earth. The execution combines two iconic symbols that represent science and industry: science is the chemical notation of carbon (a hexagon) and industry is represented by the transformation of the hexagon into a cube — which can be associated with space, volume and building blocks.

A view of the Museum of Science and Industry from the lake side

Gazing at the museum from Lake Michigan, it’s easy to find formal features referenced in the design. The logo seems to reference the columns of the building, how the water meets the sky and the greenery which surrounds the property. And yet, there’s something stale, almost lifeless about this isometric cube. It’s easy to see why their tv spot incorporates some lighting effects and much needed perspective. This helps you forget how awkward the negative space is enclosed by the lowercase i.

MSI logo, when featured in their video, features extra shading and perspective

I must admit, the typographic lockup has a nice asymmetry to it but the Helvetica, thin-bold-thin treatment makes it less appealing. The simple and consistent use of cyan throughout their web site is nice, though I can’t help but think this logo exists in a vacuum without informing, or connecting much to, the rest of the system.

As far as monogrammed squares go, I have always liked Nintendo’s GameCube logo, which artfully captured a C, G and a cube in an edgy, video game kind of way. But that was then. If you look at Nintento’s latest logo (for the Wii), it’s very soft, personal and human. With their techy, futuristic treatment, MSI seems to be grasping at something that doesn’t exist anymore. The 3D nature of the logo and the addition of a plus-sign element in their name seem to point to the recent past, not the future. On top of that, they fail to capture that sense of physical interaction and wonder I associate with best museums.

There was a lot of energy put into the development of their new web site (old site on top, two views of the new site below)

In looking at their new web site, it’s obvious that MSI is still as fun as ever. What I most dislike about this logo is that it panders. It awkwardly condescends to its audience (kids, friends and families) and still manages to miss its mark. The old logo, while awkward and dated, suggested timeless qualities like interaction and playfulness. What they have now is more evocative of a time period than a feeling.

Thanks to Phil Koesterer for first tip.

 

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