Established in 1904 in New York, NY, the Jewish Museum is one of the leading cultural institutions devoted to “exploring art and Jewish culture from ancient to contemporary” through programming and exhibitions that are “intellectually engaging, educational, and provocative.” Housed in a seven-story mansion, near other prominent New York museums along Fifth Avenue, the Jewish Museum counts with 30,000 works of art, artifacts, and broadcast media. Yesterday, the museum introduced a new identity designed by Sagmeister & Walsh.
The new graphic identity, being implemented throughout the Museum’s building, digital, and print materials, reflects the Museum’s commitment to exploring art and Jewish culture, historical and contemporary, while infusing it with an up-to-date sensibility and a global perspective. In addition, Sagmeister & Walsh has designed a completely new website for the Jewish Museum, debuting in June 2014, balancing aesthetics and functionality while serving the growing digital needs of the institution and its diverse audiences.
Our goal in rebranding the museum was to connect the historic and contemporary, and engage multiple visitor generations. The new identity system we created is founded on ‘sacred geometry’, an ancient geometric system from which the Star of David was formed. The entire branding system is drawn on this grid, from the word and logo mark, to dozens of patterns, icons, typography, and illustrations. […] This system invites surprise and flexibility across all media, while always unified in visual language.
The previous logo — three competent (except for the “T • H • E”) lines of sans serif text in a square — looked exactly like what you would expect a museum logo to look like but, by no means, like a Jewish museum. What in the world does a Jewish museum logo look like, though? At least one not mired in clichés? Sagmeister & Walsh have come up with an answer by using the basic geometry of the Star of David — the Jewish equivalent of the Canadians’ maple leaf — to build a comprehensive and flexible system with a consistent aesthetic that isn’t completely repetitive.
The new logo is hard to digest at first. No museum logo looks like this, particularly no museum housed in a seven-story mansion on Fifth Avenue. It’s not a pretty logo but damn if it doesn’t demand attention. I can rally behind the idea and execution and I support sticking to a grid as die-hard as possible but a little leniency in the rules would have been welcome here, particularly the connection in the “w” and “s”s — they just don’t naturally flow out of those letters and feel really weird and forced. The “JM” monogram is an effective reduction of the main wordmark and placed inside the hexagon it reveals its matching angles quite nicely.
The main elements of the identity are the wordmark; a bezier-heavy rendering of their building; a color palette that relies way, way, way too much on blue; and a custom font that follows the wordmark that, again, shows too much adherence to the grid and forcing that connection on the right side of every single letter (I’m actually surprised the “f” doesn’t have it, maybe they missed it). On their own, the elements seem dissonant, but together…
There is something hypnotic and decidedly energetic about it that makes it irresistibly compelling. I kind of hate it and love it at the same time.
The identity continues with further typography on a grid and other textural patterns, visually exploding in the retail applications where we finally see a color other than blueblueblueblue with the sparks of fluorescent red/orange and it’s a fantastic contrast. I wish the stationery had a few of these bursts of colors to break the monochrome monotony. Another example with color directly below.
So, is this a Jewish-looking identity? Remarkably, it is. And it does so avoiding every expected solution. (It helps that it says “Jewish” everywhere but, clearly, this wouldn’t work as the identity for The Mexican Museum). The hexagon-grid approach gets heavy-handed at times but it’s what makes the identity stick together and, overall, it’s a very welcome break from the black-and-white, spaced sans serif identities we’ve grown so accustomed to from museums.