Established in 1991, the Australian National Maritime Museum is, as its name implies, Australia’s national center for maritime collections, exhibitions, research, and archaeology. Located in Sydney’s Darling Harbour and operated by the federal government, the museum welcomes over 850,000 visitors annually to its 12,000-square-feet of exhibition space. The museum also has one of the largest floating historical vessel collections in the world. This month, the Australian National Maritime Museum introduced a new identity designed by Sydney-based Frost*.
While the museum’s official name remains the same, the prominent MUSEAUM graphics on the front of the museum in Sydney’s Darling Harbour, signals a dramatic change for the institution. The new brand is not just a new logo, it’s a thoughtful and strategic repositioning of the museum’s value, aimed to get people thinking more broadly about the sea and our relationship - both as a country and as individuals - with it.
For more than five years, major change has been well under way both inside and outside the museum, and this month we unveil the next stage of its revitalisation - a bold, new, attention-grabbing logo and striking colour scheme inspired by the sea. The museum’s staff, volunteers and visitors have a common bond - our passion and connection with the sea and its many stories - so our new brand has taken the word SEA to its heart to create a stronger emotional connection.
The old logo wasn’t very good nor interesting and its Copperplate Gothic typography was terrible with goosebump-inducing justified text. The first thing to notice about the new logo is obviously the mu-sea-um wordplay, which I find very satisfying, charming, and appropriate. Only maritime museums — or perhaps a museum in Seattle — can pull this off and props go to the Australian National Maritime Museum for doing it first. As clever as it is, I question whether a logo that says one thing makes sense with an institutional name that says something else completely. As a tourist, if I saw the logo on its own I would think it’s one museum and if I saw the name on its own I would think it’s another museum. Like any identity and brand, it’s all about association, so in due time this might not be an issue.
Visually, I really like it. It might be a little heavy-handed in how clearly it points out “SEA” but I like how that splits “MU” and “UM” in lines that are equal widths with “SEA” sticking out. The blobby, anti-ink-trap approach is unexpected in today’s standards and takes me back to the 1990s grungy days. It’s a welcome respite from the overly sharp typography of today. The wordmark on the side, going sideways… I’m not sold. It’s a long name and typeset so tightly and lightly it’s a chore to read. But more of the goopy animation in the top row, center column, please.
The color palette and the layout system are inspired by the depths of the sea, with the color palette going from bright to dark and the layouts accentuated by little marks that go from top to bottom. The colors are a little on the extreme side but I can get on board with them. The layouts are fairly straightforward but still manage to pack a punch with the big photography and nice flexibility in the combinations of typography and logo, while the marks add some consistency.
The publication image above might be my favorite example of the identity without so much color screaming at my face and a clearer sense of what’s going on with the identity elements. Still pass on the full name on its side.
I didn’t see these illustrations on the website and maybe they are more merch-driven. On their own they are cool but their hard geometry and minimalism feel somewhat at odds with the more organic logo and busier layouts. The images look good, don’t get me wrong, but the illustration style does stand out from the rest of the aesthetic.
Overall, I like how the identity was able to transform the extra long “Australian National Maritime Museum” name into simply “MUSEAUM” creating a more memorable and distinct mark for quick recognition. I still wonder if it creates a secondary problem — with too (or, to keep with the wordplay theme, two) many names — to the solution. In terms of the identity and how I’m sure it replaces something that was a little old and staid this is a bright, bold, attention-grabbing system that’s probably much needed to stand out in the busy Darling Harbour area.