Established in 1883, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, now Mia (pronounced Mee-ah), is a fine art museum in Minneapolis, MN, with a vast and diverse collection of over 89,000 artworks from six continents spanning 20,000 years. As a government-funded public museum, Mia does not charge an entrance fee to enjoy its 150,000 square feet of gallery space, making it one of the largest art museums in the world. Last August, the museum introduced the name Mia and has since rolled out a new identity designed by New York, NY-based Pentagram partner Emily Oberman.
This welcoming point of view has been translated into an iconic and approachable logo that gives the soft word a strong look. The logo is designed with a mix of upper and lowercase letterforms that help signal the name should be pronounced as a word, “Mia,” rather than as the initials “M-I-A.”
The name change — and how that is reinforced by the logo — is part of what makes this a very interesting case. Previously pronounced as M-I-A, the museum had issues with it being the same acronym for “missing in action” which isn’t used so much now as the war term but more to refer to someone who hasn’t done their job. It’s also the title of a Chuck Norris film. Switching to Mia, and reinforcing it through the title case of the logo, completely transforms the name, the attitude, and the approachability of the museum without having to establish a whole new name.
The new logo is sturdy, pragmatic, and versatile, with an inherent geometry that links it to the visual arts and makes it easy to use in applications. The width of the “M” in the mark equals the width of the “i” and “a” combined, creating a flexible building block that allows the mark to be read both horizontally or stacked vertically. The master logo pairs the mark and the wordmark, the museum’s full name, while a secondary version stacks the logo mark with the wordmark fitting snuggly between the “M” and the “i” and “a.” The mark is also used independently of the wordmark, or in a repeating pattern that reads both horizontally and vertically. The logo can sit on any kind of art, or act as a framing container. It can be tucked into a corner as a kind of endorser, but can also appear boldly on its own.
The old logo was pretty decent and it could have probably been given a literal fresh coat of paint with a better color palette and become serviceable for a few more years. The full name, locked up around the MIA acronym, though, was not very good or well thought out, making the logo more complex than it needed to be. The new logo is remarkably simple, bold, and to the point. Its tight construction is the kind of approach that makes me tingle with joy: The “M” is the same width as the “ia”; the kerning is perfect and allows it to be made into a snug pattern; and the tittle of the “i” aligns with the terminal of the “a”. Now… there are two key aspects of this logo that are usually the cause for me to deviate into personal preference rants: 1) the unicase approach and 2) the Helvetica-ish font. In this case, both please me to no end because they make sense, are not used gratuitously, and have been customized for best use.
The font is NOT Helvetica — although it looks like it — but a customized version of Post Grotesk that is basically a take on Helvetica, or a “traditional grotesk sans-serif”. In the logo, the letterforms work beautifully together and help place Mia in tune — name-wise and logo-wise — with other museums like MoMA. The unicase approach in the logo is subtle, with the “M” not looking tiny, although the “a” does start to look slightly oversize but the tittle of the “i” anchors it quite nicely.
The pattern is one of my favorite things in this project. The name can be read left to right and/or top to bottom and that thin kerning and leading is super hot.
The sub-brands aren’t as effective or convincing. They get the job done but the colors take away from the bluntness of the logo.
Mia Grotesk, the museum’s proprietary typeface, was created in collaboration with Josh Finklea. It is a customized version of Post Grotesk that has been significantly modified to relate to the logo and give the font a stronger presence. Changes included squaring off the dots on the “i,” the terminals, and all circular punctuation, and widening the “M” and “N.” The weights of the typeface were also reconsidered, combining the book and medium weights to make a regular and adding a black weight, resulting in four custom weights—light, regular, bold and black.
As a stylistic alternate in the font is a unicase “M” that can be used in display copy (or also in the sub-brands”) to complement the “M” in the logo. This is where a good thing starts to be milked to lesser effect as the unicase “M” doesn’t quite stand out, it just muddies up the rest of a headline. It’s not terrible but probably wasn’t needed.
In application, the logo has some basic flexibility to be used large across the top of brochures or tightly tucked into bottom corners as a way to punctuate different materials. Both are engaging and strong and can withstand any kind of museum-ish image placed behind them or as the main graphic element in black and white materials. Overall, the identity works within the visual language of museums but gives Mia enough of a distinction to stand out.