With roots as far back as 1897 when it was known as the National Gallery of British Art, Tate, as we know it now, was established in 2000 as a network of four museums: Tate Britain (home of British art from 1500 to the present day), Tate Modern (international modern and contemporary art), Tate Liverpool (British and international modern and contemporary art), and Tate St Ives (modern British artists). To coincide with the opening of a new building for Tate Modern designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron that opened this past June 17, Tate introduced a revised identity designed by London-based North.
When Tate launched its new identity prior to the opening of Tate Modern it was revolutionary and has helped Tate become one of the most recognised and celebrated cultural brands in the world. Today, while the logo is now iconic, the overall system needed greater focus.
North were presented with the opportunity to review the visual identity in the summer of 2015 and it became quickly apparent that starting from scratch wasn’t necessary.
North provided press release
The old identity, designed by Marina Willer at Wolff Olins in 2000, has become one of the new classics and one of the original gangsters in the rise of flexible identities but what’s popular with designers isn’t always popular with the audience or the design team implementing it. As Creative Review writes, there were over 75 logos to choose from and as the image above shows, the applications had gotten messy. Instead of scrapping the whole thing, North went for a “deep clean”.
“For us to propose getting rid of the identity system entirely would be irresponsible and a selfish act as designers. Instead, we built on the existing brand equity, refreshed and strengthened what was working well.’
While the original system of multiple logos was developed to communicate Tate’s ‘Look again, Think again’ philosophy on print, there was an opportunity to consider how the marque could exist across a range of media.
Stephen Gilmore, North Partner: “We’ve moved from multiple logo variations to just one, simplified to work across all applications. We wanted to create one logo which was still recognisably Tate but could be used more dynamically and exist more effectively in the digital world.”
North provided press release
Any of the old logos had around 3,000 dots while the new one has only 340. What I find interesting is that the old identity was maybe 10 - 15 years ahead of its time as design and printing technology would be able to accommodate its demands better today and maybe it would have made more chronological sense that the original logo had 340 dots and the new one had the 3,000 dots, now that it’s more feasible to implement. Since we are in a bit of a revival of simplicity though, the revised logo makes perfect sense and builds on the blurry equity of the old logos. Establishing a single logo retains the essence of the old identity and allows Tate’s internal team to focus on messaging and implementation of ideas instead of worrying about multiple fuzzy logos. Without the precedent of the old logos the new logo might be unreadable to people who have never seen Tate’s logo so to that audience the logo still captures the challenges and boldness of contemporary art while to audiences familiar with Tate it will feel like business as usual but with less frenetic energy.
In application, the logo gets blown up in everything from plastic bags to canvas shoes to signage and despite being based on a single logo the applications feel diverse and dynamic (which may get tired in the long run but later would be easy to introduce new pattern configurations). The identity now also just uses a single weight of the custom typeface designed by Miles Newlyn in 2000 that, as seen in the poster images above that show how different vibes can be achieved with it and, in unison, with the logo establish a consistent visual language that, perhaps not as bold as the 2000 original, still keeps some of its radical energy. Overall, a solid maturity of the identity that acknowledges the relevance and significance of its predecessor.