A look inside some of the world’s greatest museum rebrands

Today, museums can’t simply rely on the merits of old objects and antiquated scholars. Smart phones, instant internet and ease of travel have added growing pressure to appeal to a globalized crowd. In a few quick clicks, museums must show what they stand for and what’s to be expected with a trip down their hallowed halls.

While naysayers may complain that “branding” is too corporate, there’s a commonality arising. Chic and sophisticated brands from some of the world’s top design firms are infusing artistic elements in their designs to mirror the art and personality within each museum. The results are inspiring.

Check out some of these recent rebrands and explore how these museums visually express their mission statements.

New Museum – New York City

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The New Museum released their new logo along with the unveiling of their new building in The Bowery (via Wolff Olins)

Coinciding with the opening of their new building in 2012, they used the momentum to launch their new identity. The rebrand increased visitors by 600%. The New Museum’s logo, which features a sparse silhouette of the building itself, follows another trope of the museum rebrand: an image of the building.

For an industry in which architecture is not just functional, but also a part of the offerings of the museum itself, this style of logo has become almost commonplace – although the variety of architectural offerings keep this motif diverse.

Asian Art Museum – San Francisco

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The Asian Art Museum, one of the only ones of its kind, had been struggling with low attendance. For their rebrand, they aimed to emphasize the museum as a catalyst for creativity and a place to bring ancient history into our modern lives.

The new upside-down “A” could stand for either Asian or Art – or it could be a reinterpretation of the mathematical symbol for “everything”, which better exemplifies their wide range of ancient and modern artifacts.

This logo represents the museum’s new direction by bringing the historical museum firmly into the present. Brilliantly, the simplicity of the logo makes it highly adaptive and is often filled with traditional Asian paintings and patterns – the perfect combination of new and old.

The Jewish Museum – New York City

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In order to acquire the sharp and sophisticated style that often seems necessary for a logo of this sort, museums often shell out big bucks for big names. New York City’s Jewish Museum went to Sagmeister & Walsh, one of the most famous pairings in today’s graphic design world. Although the design may seem arbitrary, the custom lettering and icon is based on sacred geometry from the Star of David.

This design showcases a common theme in museum brands, especially those museums with an emphasis on history. Like the Asian Art Museum, the imagery of this brand uses visual inspiration from the past to create a modern style to illustrate the brand’s desire to integrate the past into the future.

Victoria & Albert Museum – London

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The Victoria & Albert Museum in London is one of the world’s largest museums of art and design. Their mission: to inspire creativity and inspiration through their collection of design and decorative items, ranging from antiquity to the present. As one of the biggest museums of its kind, the logo and branding must appeal to both new, online and global audience members, as well as the brand-hating cynics.

The new logo maintains a classical style with its elegant lines and simple serif-font, while still allowing for contemporary influence (neon colors, bold collateral) and a new digital audience to access their collection. The brand of this museum attempts to show that an organization does not have to be corporate in order to have its own brand.

Mauritshuis – Amsterdam

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Another case of the museum rebranding gaining an edge with a full building renovation is the classical art museum in Amsterdam. With all of these worldwide museums rebranding to stay modern and relevant, Mauritshuis faced a particular challenge in maintaining their classical identity that still appealed to a technological era.

The logo design and metallic gold color references the Golden Era paintings housed in the museum’s walls and the artists’ signatures on exhibit there. This logo works well on its own, but also blends seamlessly with images of the museum’s collections for a classic look that’s surprisingly avant-grade – especially when displayed with bold colors on museum merchandise and gift bags.

Other notable museum brands

The examples above are only a small sampling of some of the world’s great museum branding. Next time you’re at your local museum, look beyond the exhibit and consider the space’s branding. What choices have they made concerning their identity? Is it working?

Take a look at the common themes amongst many of them: connecting past to present, rebranding after renovation, recruiting big name designers to shy away from corporatism, finding a brand that’s more representative – the list goes one. With those tropes in mind, check out a few additional examples below.

Sifang Art Museum – Nanjing, China

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Philadelphia Museum of Art – USA

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Cooper Hewitt Design Museum – New York City

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Cooper Hewitt’s new brand is designed by top firm Pentagram and coincides with their expansion and separation from the Smithsonian institution. They’re also giving the typeface away for free as a way to better align to their mission (via Brand New)

Guggenheim Bilbao – Bilbao, Spain
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The Guggenheim Bilbao’s identity and architectural redesign were btoh done by Frank Gehry, who created an abstract nod to the new building in the new logo.

Do you have a favorite example of museum branding? Share it in the comments!

Featured image: New School collateral (via Wolff Olins)

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