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This Just in: History is Coming Back… Sort of

Reviewed Mar. 8, 2010 by Brand New

Industry / Culture Tags /

The Philadelphia History Museum Logo, Before and After

Before it closed down for renovations in 2009, to reopen in 2011, the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia suffered from lack of exposure. A quick look at the original website reveals all you need to know about the old brand. The brutish colors and default appearance reveal a small organization without much concern for engaging the audience. Compared to the other kid-friendly museums in Philadelphia like the Franklin Institute (whose original home was actually the Atwater Kent building), the Atwater Kent Museum is about as exciting as a textbook. Having visited the museum once in my elementary school class trips, I remember it as an old, austere space that contained just bunch of artifacts. Change was overdue.

The Philadelphia History Museum

Recently, the museum announced a name change to become The Philadelphia History Museum — with “At the Atwater Kent” suffixed at the bottom of the logo. Piloted by local branding firm 160over90, the move makes good sense considering how aloof and incommunicable “Atwater Kent Museum” sounds. With a new name comes a new logo. The logo is meant to be a nod to Philadelphia’s notable street grid. That connection is somewhat of a reach, since shaky single lines are the opposite of what you’d usually get in a street map. Plus, line grids are so common that they don’t normally call for a second glance to find any meaning.

As for the typography, custom drawn letters sit in the grid, forcing words together and breaking them unnaturally. A change of color from gray to blue helps with the mark’s readability, though it’s trendy in choice, like the grid itself. It wouldn’t be surprising if this concept was the first and only idea sketched, with rationalization as an afterthought. Of course, that’s not how the process was described.

The project’s designer, Adam Garcia, began sketching versions of Philadelphia’s grid. We all liked [the] hand drawn version, as it echoed Penn’s original map while also containing the slight imperfections that make Philadelphia so unique and interesting. The final piece was adding type. And just like Philadelphia itself, that confining grid ended up giving the logo its distinctive character.[…]

The odd word breaks convey Philly’s inherent quirkiness, and the custom typeface pays homage to the city’s rich printing and typographic history.
160over90 blog

The Philadelphia History Museum

I’m not totally convinced. So the fact that it’s custom drawn means that it pays homage to typographic history? If an existing typeface were used, you could say the same exact thing. That probably would’ve been a better solution, too. Here, the ambiguous, techie letters do nothing to communicate anything historic. Instead, the type is nothing more than a result of the unforgiving grid — a forced monospace design that ends up looking cold.

The Philadelphia History Museum

The new logo isn’t horrible, but it all comes together, well, boringly. History involves storytelling, and that’s where the logo falls flat. The only exciting part of the rebranding is the copy on the promotional materials. If only they weren’t so disjointed from the logo’s aesthetic, or vice versa. Gripes aside, an improvement to an underdeveloped brand is still an improvement. The museum isn’t even open yet and already the new name has garnered it some publicity. Renovations are sure to make the space a more interesting experience. When it’s complete, maybe I’ll pay a visit.

The Philadelphia History Museum

Recently unveiled signage at the museum. Photo: Tom Ammon/160over90.

Kosal Sen is the founder of Philatype, and an art director at Sides Media where he spends most of his time on interactive design. He is the Philadelphia correspondent for Brand New.



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