Two days ago I went to the unveiling of the new William E. Upjohn Wing of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology where, among the ceramic cuneiform tablets, marble heads of conquerors, samples of honey mead and baked ancient Egyptian bread, there was something new: The Kelsey had an updated logo. The logo was a depiction of a fragmented Roman mosaic in the collection, placed prominently on the wall near the entrance. It was large, looming and prominent, declarative of the renovated museum’s new identity.
With the new addition to the museum came the need to re-invent the Kelsey and what it stands for. Logos themselves are one of the ways a museum establishes itself, as they are symbols of identity, and they change with identity changes. Where the Kelsey’s logo was once the simple title “Kelsey Museum of Archaeology” written in a nondescript serif typeface — each of the words stacked upon one another like slices of bread — now the logo conveys actual symbolism, attempting to represent the “interlocking of cultures” (according to the visitor guide) displayed in the Kelsey’s collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt, Greece, the Roman Empire and Mesopotamia.
The Kelsey’s re-branding through logo is an attempt to identify how the new museum relates to the campus and how the collection itself has expanded to reach areas and audiences the old building wasn’t able to contain or entertain. We can see this new sense of community-orientedness and outreach physically, too: The old buildings looks rigid and boarding school-like, with small windows and the old entrance hidden in the front porch. The new wing, however, is sleek and modern with boxy edges, wide, gaping windows and an open, conspicuous entrance at the new front of the structure.
The renovation itself visually presents a new direction for the Kelsey to the public, presenting its drive to make archaeology something accessible and readily available to the community. This direction is also emulated in the Kelsey’s logo with the logo’s attempt to represent the way cultures intersect, not only in the sense of the interconnectedness of ancient cultures, but in the sense of connecting our contemporary culture to these historical cultures as well.
It makes sense that with a change in the physical structure, contents and identity of a museum, there should be a change in the logo as well, as the public identity of an organization is often something that is constructed very consciously through architecture, logo and design. A logo comes to be more than an image associated with an institution — it becomes a symbol, representing what the institution stands for, how it wishes to be conceived and how the public conceives it.
We have seen this process of re-finding and re-branding identity through the new UMMA as well, where after a three-year hiatus, the art museum has emerged with a new building and a new logo, one with repeating, rounded, arch-like humps in the ‘M’s and ‘A.’
There was a great deal of consideration taken into establishing the museum’s new self as a personal and community resource, one where, according to the museum’s mission statement, the UMMA wishes to be “your museum.” The new logo was designed in an attempt to highlight this idea of what is often considered “other” space (often museums are seen as untouchable institutions separate from the public) and presenting it as accessible, community-oriented “our” space.
For a project in a museum studies class, I recently talked to Susan Thompson, the senior designer of the UMMA and Tish Holbrook of Holbrook Design, who are designers who have been working with the new museum. The new logo was designed by Pentagram, one of the world’s most renowned design firms.
According to Thompson, Pentagram produced a handful of potential candidates for the UMMA logo. Two of these logos, however, stick out in my mind: One potential design used tall and columnar font with long lines for the verticals in the ‘M’s, emulating a sense of age-marked classical architecture found in the old building, Alumni Memorial Hall, and its columns out front. Thompson mentioned that there was more of a negative response to this logo, as focus groups reviewing the logos noted how it seemed imposing and uninviting.
The other logo candidate was what we see now — the rounded, shorter letters offer a sense of accessibility and openness in the repeating, familiar curvature. The logo seems to represent the new building with its open spaces between floors, inviting and encouraging the viewer to explore the museum. This logo was likely chosen by focus groups because it offered a sense of accessibility, having a deeper relationship with the new UMMA’s mission to be a community place, one that is integrated with the lives of students, teachers and the public.
A museum’s identity is deeply linked to its architecture and logo. After all, it’s the museum’s architecture that houses and welcomes the public, and it is through the logo that a museum represents itself and its ideals to the public. The Kelsey’s Upjohn Wing and the new UMMA introduce new spaces and new identities for these museums as part of a larger update to the way that they interact with and represent themselves within the community. Museums aren’t meant to be static — they adapt to the communities around them using new buildings, new logos and new identities.