Established in 1933, the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is “one museum with three locations”, including the titular Seattle Art Museum, the Olympic Sculpture Park, and the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park. SAM’s combined collections of approximately 25,000 objects, and its installations, special exhibitions, and programs focus on “art from around the world and [builds] bridges between cultures and centuries.” This past April, the museum introduced a new identity designed by Seattle, WA-based Hornall Anderson.
The identity created by Pentagram in 2007 incorporated Gotham as a bridge between the art deco of the original location and the clean, modernist lines of the two newer locations. But that identity was so light it was almost invisible, so quiet that people just didn’t take note.
Recently, Microsoft Corporate Citizenship issued SAM a grant to update its website using Sharepoint 2013. SAM took this opportunity to team up with Hornall Anderson to refocus its brand positioning, raise awareness and create deeper engagement with key audiences.
The collaborative process revealed SAM as “The Portal,” a concept brought to life in the logo, marketing materials, and all new website. In the logo, Gotham Black is the basis for a bolder, more confident expression, with the concept illustrated through the negative space created by the “A” which frames and focuses the viewer’s experience.
I had always enjoyed Abbott Miller’s 2007 identity; it may have been one of the first all-Gotham identities and in its light weights it made for a contemporary and sophisticated system for SAM. With the premise that it was arguably too light, Hornall Anderson has gone to the complete opposite end by literally using the heaviest weight of Gotham: Ultra. Using one of the oldest tricks in the three-letter-acronym-logo book, the middle letter is revealed from the negative space between the two outer letters — except that it doesn’t quite do it on its own, and the “A” needs a weird bar underneath. The result is a heavy-handed wordmark that feels out of the last century.
Turning it on its side in the applications doesn’t help add any element of surprise or nimbleness but at least it breaks up the monotony of the logo. The accompanying, event data typography on the posters harkens back to the original system and makes you wonder if such a drastic change in the logo was really needed. The new identity also goes out to kill white space with everything covered in either floods of color, typography, or artwork. They surely solved the “almost invisible” problem but now they’ve made it almost impossible to really see anything.
Thanks to Carlos Montalvan for the tip.