Established in 1967, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA) is one of the largest contemporary art museums in the U.S. and has a prime location right off the “Magnificent Mile” in Chicago, IL, where it has been since 1996. Focusing on work created since 1945, the museum has hosted major exhibits of Jeff Koons, Frida Kahlo, and the record-shattering David Bowie exhibit that attracted nearly 200,000 visitors. MCA introduced its logo way back in February but yesterday marked the official implementation of the new logo and identity designed by Amsterdam-based Mevis & Van Deursen with execution by the in-house team, led by Design Director Dylan Fracareta.
Armand Mevis and Linda Van Deursen used the concept of a grid as the central principle in the new design and typeface. […] The new typeface is constructed of combined squares that create each distinctive letterform. The more squares, the smoother and more refined the letter. There are six defined units, each with their own personality, that provide an essential liveliness and flexibility. The palette is predominantly black and white, with accents and highlights in blue and yellow that play off each other.
MCA press release
Before delving into the logo, it’s important to first look at the typeface system created for this project, as everything else revolves around it. The construction of each character is based on the grid shown above the opening quote which is based on the square grid where the museum sits. The typefaces curves are built out of units that conform to the hard-angled grid and it comes in multiple “styles” where each font is constructed from an increasing number of units, making the typeface more or less legible in the curvier characters while the straight ones remain the same throughout. Angled shapes never connect, creating a dissonant aesthetic even in the more “normal” letters. It takes some time to get used to it and accept its plausibility as a brand typeface. But let’s look through its application before making judgments. (Ha! Right).
The previous logos — full wordmark and shorthand version cropped in a circle — were fine, typeset in a commendable sans serif, but forgettable. The new set of logos that include an MCA version, an MCA Chicago version, and a full Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago version, are all tied together by the multiple typeface styles to create a consistent (and dare I say) memorable identity system. It’s really hard not to pay attention, even if it’s to say WTF is going on here? I love systematic identity systems, forcing something to fit within strict parameters, and embracing the good and the bad results it generates, so I am really liking this identity. I particularly like the stacked MCA Chicago version that takes advantage of the narrow “I” to fit the full name in a square and leave a “HI” in the middle.
The typeface rules over everything, so if you stopped liking the typeface from the opening of this post, things just get worse. I love the texture it generates at large and medium sizes but I do question the sanity of using it for paragraph reading as it’s not the most user-friendly — perhaps down the road the introduction of a serif would be a welcome addition. The one thing I don’t like at all is the exposed grid. I don’t mind the exposed grid itself but how it interacts with the typography is distracting and adds noise to an already noisy system. This is particularly evident in the new website.
In application there is a lot more of the same: big type, small type, a lot of units, less units, grid, no grid… the system is flexible but can also get monotonous and it can feel exciting but also annoying. What I like the most about the system is that it’s one of the few systems that feels like it’s bespoke for a museum of contemporary art, pushing the boundaries and offering a differing aesthetic that may please some but anger others — I’m sure we’ll find out who’s who below.