Established last month after a $15-million donation from the Hutchins Family Foundation the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University “supports research on the history and culture of people of African descent the world over.” The center is comprised of six individual, existing institutes, chief among them the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, established in 1975 and named after William Edward Burghardt Du Bois — the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University (in 1895). The Hiphop Archive & Research Institute, Afro-Latin American Research Institute, Image of the Black Archive & Library, Program for the Study of Race & Gender in Science & Medicine, and History Design Studio complete the center. The new identity has been designed by Toronto-based Bruce Mau Design.
The Hutchins’ icon is built from 2 A’s — for African and American — that layer on top of each other to create the consistent ‘H’ mark across institutes, representing both Hutchins and Harvard. BMD set out to articulate the Hutchins Center, its different entities, activities and overall vision in a way that is both inspiring and clear. The visual identity has the ability to communicate a sense of autonomy for each of the major endeavors at the Hutchins Center, while also coming together to be a cohesive system.
It took me a couple of seconds to see the two “A”s when I first saw the logo. “It’s just an ‘H’ with a diagonal across it,” I thought, “that’s lame.” Then it hits you. “Oooooh.” And then it’s awesome. It’s a clever idea executed succinctly and without it trying too hard to be found. As a monogram it works fantastically. In combination with the extra serif-y typeface, I’m not sure it’s the best fit. The typeface on its own is pretty but as part of a logo it feels too detailed, best suited for display sizes and, while it’s okay to aim for contrast, perhaps there is too much contrast with the sans serif monogram. Nonetheless, it’s a welcome change of pace to see a serif get more air time. The logo changes color for each institute and publication and the effect is particularly nice on the website where the static logo changes colors as you scroll and each institute’s name aligns with it.
A series of patterns, based on the positive and negative spaces of the H icon, with the idea that together they would represent the multidisciplinary, multidimensional activities and outputs of the Center. Each pattern is meant to represent each of the major entities at Hutchins. They can be used in combination with the Hutchins Center mother brand, or alone to represent a specific institute or program.
In application there is an additional trick in the form of a tribal-looking pattern built out of the “the positive and negative spaces of the H” and they look kind of great, specially when the different colors are mixed. Overall, it’s a very academic-looking identity that gives the center and its institutes some additional clout in the form of a proper visual attire.