A Favorite Project: The Flexible Identity System

Museums like the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Museum of Modern Art are changing how they visually represent themselves and (for better or worse) are leaders in a museum rebrand trend, with a goal to market museums to a wider audience.

After conducting a brand audit with GMD board members Heather Olson and Jessica Huang, I developed a flexible identity system for GMD. The process included identifying GMD’s competitive edge – what special quality it has that others do not. For GMD this is the collection, a strength and focus of the museum’s educational activities.

I knew GMD was not just a bunch of old clothes hidden away in the depths of McNeal Hall, and that the GMD brand should communicate an active and vibrant collection – something to be used as inspiration by designers of all stripes. My design goal was for the GMD brand to unite a historic collection with contemporary perceptions of the accessible museum.

Many things were considered in the creation of the identity system: Olson’s and Huang’s observations and input from staff, collection-inspired graphics that were successful in past communications materials, and additionally, my two years of experience working at the museum and getting to know the ins and outs of its operations.

Along with understanding how to tailor collection images for specific contexts, came the challenge of being an academic museum under the umbrella of two larger institutions – the College of Design and the University of Minnesota. Their graphic standards and expectations also needed to be considered.

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Mockups for Goldstein Museum of Design logo with flexible “D” and collection images as type fill

The resulting identity system takes advantage of the diverse and colorful database of collection images while allowing creative flexibility for future students working with GMD. The system uses a consistent and recognizable GMD symbol that is flexible because of its openness in changing the “D” (for design) and filling the GMD type with images or textures that correspond to what’s happening at the museum. This system unifies the museum brand by making its communications visually consistent. And the production of communication materials is more efficient because setting up a visual system eliminates the need to design every new communication from scratch.

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Visual aid for how a flexible identity is applied on a range of communications across print and digital platforms

It’s been a delight to work with the GMD collection as a graphic designer. I encourage future graduate students to be creative with the collection, because graphic design provides a solution for GMD to share its collection in fresh and engaging ways.

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