Established in 1891, the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) is a museum of living plant collections located in the Bronx in New York and is one of the oldest and largest botanical gardens in the world. Located in a 250-acre site, it welcomes over 300,000 people annually to visit its 50 gardens and more than one million living plants as well as its iconic Enid A. Haupt Conservatory building. To coincide with its 125th anniversary NYBG has introduced a new identity designed by New York-based Pentagram partner Natasha Jen.
The goal of the project was not to manufacture a wholly new brand, but rather to cultivate clarity and logic in how the existing elements should be used—to refine the brand, and in the process, create a logo that felt natural to the institution. The program sharpens the graphics to their essentials, revealing an accessible, elegant identity that also reflects the center’s long history and scientific capabilities.
The New York Botanical Garden name and full logotype are long and a challenge to use, graphically. The institution had a familiar acronym, “NYBG,” that it was already using frequently in official communications and that functioned well, but did not exist as an official logo. This iconic acronym has been crafted into the new logotype, distilled from the full name into a unique, modern wordmark that allows for more flexibility. The approach also lends itself to the modular aspect of the new identity system, where the simple structure of the logo is echoed in the grid-based design of applications.
One thing that’s important to acknowledge about this project is that the brief wasn’t “Make us a new identity that will change perceptions of what NYBG is” but rather it was an exercise in unifying the existing aesthetic and mold it into something consistent and cohesive.
With that out of the way… the old logo was impossible to identify. There were multiple versions, some that used an illustration of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory building and some that didn’t and when they did do use it, some logos had the name tiny and others big. The only consistent thing was the use of Garamond 3. The NYBG “product” basically sells itself as it really is one of the most beautiful places in New York so perhaps the organization never felt the need to establish a clear identity. The new logo and identity doubles down on the use of Garamond 3, first to typeset NYBG and establish the acronym as the main logo. In my time as a New Yorker I don’t recall people referring to this as NYBG like others refer to the Museum of Modern Art as MoMA. Maybe things have changed. Either way, there is something nice about calling a botanical garden “Botanical Garden” instead of “BG”. As a logo, it barely registers as one. It’s only one level of distinctiveness above the default typed records submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I would like to say that in application the logo becomes more interesting but the opposite applies.
I’m all for simplicity but this might be an extreme. I’ll even take a 1980s watermark drawing of the conservatory in the letterhead. Anything to liven this up or indicate that this is an organization literally thriving with life. This looks like a dime-a-dozen law firm’s stationery.
The brochures start to display some personality and the large NYBG logo begins to look somewhat convincing but it still lacks a sense of joy and vitality that a basic close-up photo of a flower doesn’t capture. The calendar of events is nice as a piece of editorial design.
With the “125” added, there is at least some color and visual tension introduced to the system but that will only last a year and then it’s back to the all black, uppercase look.
The special occasion invitations provide a glimmer of vibrancy through some playful takes on Garamond 3 — the Winter Wonderland in particular is great — but these could easily apply to any other Pentagram New York client rather than feel as direct extensions of the NYBG identity. Overall, I appreciate the tightening of the system into something manageable and expandable for the in-house team but it’s all far too dry and “institutional”-looking to convey the, pardon the pun, nature of the New York Botanical Garden and the grand experience it is to visit it.
Plans are in development for coming back to Europe in Spring of 2018 with the current top contender host city of Barcelona.