Back in June of 2014, we reviewed the new logo and very beginnings of the identity for Cooper Hewitt by Pentagram partner Eddie Opara in preparation for the museum’s reopening in December of that year after six years of renovations. Two years later, Pentagram has put together a comprehensive case study of the work done by Opara’s team; Michael Gericke’s team, who worked on signage and environmental graphics; and the in-house design team at Cooper Hewitt, who have been implementing and further developing the work.
There are a lot of images at the link, which I have edited heavily for this post, so if you want to see more, make sure to check the link.
The identity exists as both an iconic wordmark and as a useful tool. It establishes a robust and flexible branding system for the museum built around a new typeface, appropriately called Cooper Hewitt. In a breakthrough innovation, the identity was conceived as a design that truly belongs to the people: The typeface has been made available free to the public, who are encouraged to utilize it in their own designs. The font was created by Chester Jenkins in collaboration with Pentagram and was also acquired for the museum’s permanent collection.
I’m not going to go into the logo as I’v already done that — mostly wanted to include it as a refresher.
We hadn’t yet seen a full sample of the type family and the extended range beyond the Bold/Heavy weight used in the logo provides great flexibility and has the benefit of going from the edgier appearance of the bold weights to more elegant and sophisticated look that the thin and light weights can achieve. As I also mentioned in 2014, being a fan of the Galaxie family of fonts, this is another great variation.
I’ll take this paragraph as an opportunity to quote myself on what I thought about the range of work shown back in 2014, to then spring into some comments about the new applications: “So far, in application, it seems Cooper Hewitt is placing all its bets on their typeface, with absolutely everything typeset in it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s hot. But it might grow tiresome (and dull) after a while for both visitors and in-house designers.”
The Cooper Hewitt wordmark and typeface provide the strong but flexible foundation for a robust visual identity system. This is all outlined in a hefty 408-page style guide, handsomely packaged as a hardcover book one might find in the museum’s collection. The guide demonstrates how to apply Cooper Hewitt’s visual identity to every type of museum collateral, from letterheads, business cards, mailing labels, branded folders and envelopes, mailers, brochures, tickets, membership cards, wrapping paper and shopping bags to the exhibition labels, interactive tables, Design Journal and website.
408 pages of identity guidelines may sound like a lot. It is. But it looks like it did the trick.
The printed stationery and collateral — more shown at the Pentagram link — have a crisp, bold energy through the use of black and white as the main color palette with bursts of color where needed. The logo is a very strong visual anchor and literally brands every piece with a big thud every time, balanced very well by either occupying all the canvas or creating enough tension through white space. The letterhead is a a great example of the latter, where the logo is quite big (and the address block set in humongous, like, 21pt type) but perfectly in tension with the letter’s text.
The shop’s main attraction is a no-expenses-spared bag with a deep matte black finish and an awesome liner inside that echoes the physical presence of the museum — contemporary art inside a 1900s mansion — by being somewhat serious on the outside but having a party on the inside. It also hints at the playfulness that the identity can veer into if needed, as is the case below.
For the reopening of the museum Wieden+Kennedy did this print and outdoor campaign that took a lot of liberties with the logo and the typeface — looking like a light version of a Cranbrook project — to give the museum some ’tude through the visuals and the copywriting that takes jabs at everything from other museums to New Yorkers themselves — mostly Brooklyn aficionados. The key takeaway from this campaign is that it’s undoubtedly Cooper-Hewitt-y, even as it strays away from the more buttoned-up applications so far.
The biggest surprise might be how well the type family works in exhibits, at very large and very small sizes, providing a lot of hierarchy only through weight changes (as opposed to having a serif or other font to help offset the titular font). In some cases, as in the first exhibit image in the block above, it can start to feel a little dry and like “Do I really have to read all this in the same type?” but it also has a cool industrial appeal.
As part of the revitalization, Pentagram’s Michael Gericke and his team developed a vibrant system of signage and environmental graphics for the mansion’s exterior and interior. The program includes the exterior identity, exhibition directories, wayfinding and donor recognition graphics. The Andrew Carnegie Mansion is a historic landmark and cannot be physically altered, so the team found ways to creatively integrate the signage into the building in an impactful but non-intrusive way.
The graphics and signage are all great. I especially like the inside instances where the white frames are attached to the walls of the mansion, creating this great contrast of materials and color — the “thank you” wall is particularly beautiful. On the outside, the logo that shoots out of the fence is a great articulation of the challenge of having a modern-day museum housed in a landmark location where you can’t touch anything. It also reminds me of this.
Overall, this is really great work and it’s nice to see a follow-up story that looks at the application over the course of nearly two years. My prognosis remains the same too: Cooper Hewitt is placing all its bets on their typeface, with absolutely everything typeset in it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s hot. And I will amend one part: But it might grow tiresome (and dull) after a long while, if it keeps up keeping up as it has so far.