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Logos and other adventures

Posted Feb 22 2012 5:50am

If you’re out and about in Copenhagen this week you may see one of our new events postcards in a cafe or bar, featuring a paper-cut style plan of the museum, and listings for our upcoming event series , Close Encounters of a Material Kind , on the back. The absence of ‘writing room’ on free postcards is a personal bugbear I was amused to find shared by many people at Museion, so we left lots of scribing space too…

The image is based on a plan of the house originating in one of the architect’s drawings (Tabula VII: Tværsnit gennem Chirurgisk Academis bygning, Peter Meyn, 1786), and which currently features on the Museion homepage and exhibition floorplan. The image is appealing to us as it highlights the old surgical amphitheatre at the heart of the museum – a space that powerfully links the history of the building with events exploring contemporary biomedical culture – and the quirky ‘reveal’ of the sectioning is visually intriguing. Yet it doesn’t scale down well or pop out visually, and the complex beauty of the image makes it difficult to create a rapid symbolic link to the institution as a whole. So over the last couple of months, I’ve been working on translating the floor plan into an image that can be used more flexibly, and to help increase familiarity with our expanding programme of activities. Below I’ve highlighted some of the thoughts and questions that came up during the process:

Communicating Content or Place?

At Medical Museion we have a plethora of visually intriguing objects that have featured on leaflets in the past. But in this project we moved away from photographs of the museum’s contents, as a single object doesn’t easily communicate the range of activities, and the temporal span of collections, we want to evoke. Instead we focused on the space itself, hoping to nourish some of the shoots of recognition we already have for the auditorium. In looking through online galleries of museum logos, I was surprised how few evoke their uniquely recognizable buildings – I’d love to see examples.

Simplicitly vs. Usability

One question that came up was how simple a design has to be to be a logo; the house designs are evidently not a Nike swoosh or IBM icon. Perhaps the key function of a logo is its ability to aid recognition; you see the logo, you think of the place. In itself, this doesn’t require extreme simplicity. It’s more the need to be able to place, reproduce, and instantly ‘read’ the logo in venues relevant to your audience that usually favours simplicity. For us, venues of interest are primarily online and social media, and larger scale printed postcards and posters. We therefore wanted an image that was rich enough to carry a postcard or poster by itself, as well as scaling down for blog post thumbnails, but didn’t have to worry about stringent brand identity requirements, letterheads and so on. A nice surprise when I began experimenting with scale was that the little versions seem to retain their identity whilst also obtaining a hint of anthromorphic cuteness. I wonder if in our link-rich, social media culture, the notion of the super-simple unconscious ‘pow’ of recognition will become less obligatory for logo design – especially for less commercially driven enterprises.

Architectural Evolution

I hope that basing the designs on the architectural plan will provide a basis for evolution; we can produce more or less simplifed versions, using different mediums, or interleaving particular colours or collaged elements for special events or programmes. Google Logo Gallery is a powerful (if aesthetically mixed) example of this kind of approach, and The Louvre’s website nicely demonstrates the use of an architectural feature as background texture in a way we could emulate.

Democracies of Style and Hue

Logo design is a complex craft that often includes researching audience response – with limited resources, I treated the flow of staff and guests through my office as a barometer (see the final iteration of my whiteboard in the snap). It was quite surprising to me how much intuitions about colour, style, and text varied, even within what you could consider a rather limited demographic. And this made it challenging to reach fixed points; to pull together and tie-off the threads of opinion in the fabric of my own responses. One such fixed point was the decision to use an aesthetic that communicates the handmade; the silhouette/papercut aesthetic that inspired the design is part of a current trend of using traditional crafts in contemporary settings; a nice resonance I think for Museion. Colour is something I’ve not worked with much before, and here Ane  and Bente , aided by the delicious Pantone colour bridge and the inspiration of a large-scale photograph of an operating theatre, led me to a palette of ‘medical’ colours evoking surgical gowns and sheets.

We’d love to hear your thoughts or about similar processes – here, or on a postcard…

With thanks to Benny Thaibert , Ane Pilegaard Sørensen , Bente Vinge Pedersen , and everyone else who was accosted to give their opinion on colour schemes and design. 

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