The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded over 146 years ago with the intention of giving everyone, not just the privileged few, a chance to explore new worlds. Today it spans over 5,000 years of global art, and receives around 6 million visitors to its physical locations, alongside millions online. However, audience behaviour is changing. People are more distracted, and expectations for participation and dialogue are higher.

In 2013, The Met decided to take action. It had to expand its reach and relevance for people everywhere, stay true to its original intent, and remain essential in a changing landscape.

For everyone
Audience research showed that the Museum’s great depth and breadth is both an asset and a challenge. People can find the experience overwhelming and hard to navigate. There is a beauty in getting lost at The Met, but it can also be frustrating, online or off, especially for those less familiar with museums. As it was soon to span three physical locations, clarifying the offer in a holistic sense was paramount. Working closely with a cross-disciplinary team , we created a strategic foundation from which The Met could build a unified visitor experience across physical and digital locations. We defined a set of principles to guide collaborative initiatives and developed a clear approach to the naming and hierarchy of activities.

 

 

“The logo represents something simple, bold, and indisputable: The Met is here for everyone”

Spokesperson, The Met

One, open, iconic
The Met’s visual identity is often people’s first interaction with the brand. It had to feel welcoming and accessible while retaining gravitas. and needed to flex across user touch-points, communications and locations. The ‘common use’ name — The Met — was used in the logo because it’s more familiar and immediate, and red was chosen as the primary colour because of its timeless, cross-cultural symbolism of passion and vitality.

The logo mark was crafted by type designer Gareth Hague. It’s inspired by the strategic need to draw connections throughout the Museum, across time and culture, between people and art. The mark connects letters, deliberately combining serif and sans serif letterforms, to acknowledge The Met’s unique ability to embrace both classical and modern art as part of a united whole.

The typographic approach uses a serif font alongside a sans serif font, allowing communications to range from formal to friendly. A range of ornaments were also developed — taking inspiration from The Met’s buildings and collections — to be used as patterns or line-work, or to highlight important text. Photography and illustration  move away from formal, static composition and emphasize the everyday role of the Museum in people’s lives.

Bringing art to life
The idea of making connections guided the activation of the strategy. Building on great examples, we imagined how the physical and online spaces could connect more people to the art in future. By refining the approach in key spaces, we showed how visitors could interact on a more informal, personal basis – ultimately connecting the art with their lives. Our recommendations sparked in-depth, specialist exploration of the way-finding experience and interface.

The Met is uniquely placed to be a champion for the vital role of arts and culture in people’s lives, and our wide-reaching work with the Museum has had a positive impact so far.

Visitor base is the largest and most diverse in the Museum’s history, with attendance increasing year on year. It’s hosted critically celebrated and highly attended exhibitions by diverse artists, including Kerry James Marshell and Rei Kawakubo. And The Met 360 Project – immersive short videos that invite viewers around the world to visit the museum – has been viewed 11.5 million times and won a Webby Award. The Met is truly achieving its goal – to allow more people to connect through the wonder of art.

The committees that organise Olympic Games had for many years seen the event primarily as an opportunity to put their city on the map. London, however, was already enjoying its status as a top-tier global city and didn’t need to shout so hard.

Instead, this Games was an opportunity to do things differently. If there was to be a legacy, it had to reach beyond the event. For the Games to find this level of meaning, it would need the support of more than a logo. It would need a brand: 2012.

Olympic is for everyone
Despite their grandeur, the Games of the past had been a stage for elite athletes to perform incredible feats, watched over by a narrow audience. All very impressive, but to achieve widespread participation, 2012 had to motivate ordinary people. It had to be ‘Everyone’s Olympics’.

Beyond this, the real potential was in the values and actions the athletes’ feats could inspire in the rest of us. We needed to create a movement of people doing their best in life: ‘Everyone Olympic’.

We combined the two sides of the strategy into a single brand idea: ‘Like never before’. This captured the intent for 2012 to break the Olympic mould, while inspiring people to stretch themselves in every sense.

Inspiring a generation
It was critical that 2012 engage young people. Sport in UK schools had been falling and here was a chance to create a force that could reverse that trend. We arranged discussion groups with school children and adolescents, who told us that 2012 needed to bring the Olympics off the pedestal and onto the street.

The brand needed to express this. We developed the energy line grid from which the logo was built. It was bold, spirited and dissonant, reflecting London’s modern, urban edge. In line with the legacy objective, it carried neither sporting nor landmark images.

A brand for everyone
A major feature of the 2012 brand was its flexibility. Where past Olympic logos had been very rigid, 2012 allowed other affiliated parties to make it their own.

The logo could be populated with sporting imagery, providing a way to showcase the content of the Games, or the colours of sponsors, such as the black and white of Adidas.

The rings, tightly controlled by the IOC, were embedded within rather than outside the logo – something that had been done only once before, at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. This meant that if an organisation didn’t have permission to use them, they could simply be dropped.

“Absolutely, the dissonance was intentional”

Ije Nwokorie, Former CEO, Wolff Olins in Co.Design

More than words
2012 had a flexible expression that could belong to everyone, but the Games needed to put ‘everyone’s’ at the core of the experience.

Until now the Paralympics had been a whispered echo of the main event. Now, on our recommendation, the two were treated as equals, with the same sponsors and their own variants of a single, shared logo. The Cultural Olympiad, separated from its sporting cousin since 1948, would also run alongside the Games.

To inspire the whole country, the Olympic torch travelled throughout the UK. In a move that became known as ‘PIF’ (People In Front), the seats closest to the action at every event were reserved for the public. Sponsors and other delegates were – unusually for occasions of this stature – seated higher up in the stands.

A Games to remember
In the summer of 2012 London delivered a breathtaking Games that, for a few heady weeks, was all-consuming. While its success can’t be credited to any one factor, it was apparent that the 2012 brand helped set a special tone and atmosphere.

The UK saw huge levels of participation. All in all, an estimated six million people got involved in events, at schools and in the streets, up and down the land. Aardman Animations, creators of Wallace & Gromit, made a film with Tate that actively engaged 35,000 children in its production.

Go logo!
The 2012 logo, so controversial at launch, twinkled from screen to arena. In line with the original post-nationalistic intention, it quite literally carried the flag of every nation in the world. It was an inclusive brand in virtually every way.

Initially so maligned, the brand stood the test. The words of the original manifesto were heard many times, as key figures reiterated that this was an event for everyone, like never before. This was demonstrated most brilliantly during the Paralympics, where old notions of ‘normal’ were cast aside.

A BBC Radio 5 live poll found that the Games inspired one in five people in the UK to go and play sport. And if there can be one lasting legacy, it will hopefully be that future events build on the idea that Olympic values are truly for everyone.

In the 1990s, the Tate Gallery had opened new sites in Liverpool and St. Ives and was about to create a huge modern art gallery at Bankside in London. The Tate team wanted to combine all four sites through a shared philosophy.

Rather than traditional institutions, they aimed to build exciting destinations that could attract audiences on the strength of brand name alone. These places would democratize culture, without dumbing it down.

Reinventing the gallery
With our help, Tate reinvented the idea of a gallery from a single, institutional view, to a branded collection of experiences that shared an attitude.

We created the Tate brand around the idea “look again, think again”: both an invitation and a challenge to visitors. Instead of the confusing “Millbank” and “Bankside,” we named the London sites Tate Britain and Tate Modern to signal what kind of art people would find inside.

We designed a range of logos that move in and out of focus, suggesting the dynamic nature of Tate – always changing but always recognizable. We shaped Tate’s visual style, influencing its posters, website, publications and shops, and seven years after launch, we helped Tate refresh its vision for the decade ahead.

“Tate has changed the way that Britain sees art, and the way the world sees Britain”

The Observer

“Their solutions are fresh, radical when necessary, but rooted in the organisation and not simply a new veneer”

Sir Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate

Success in numbers
From the day it opened, Tate Modern was a huge success, attracting double its target visitor numbers, and becoming the most popular modern art gallery in the world. After a year, Tate’s overall annual visitor numbers had risen 87% to 7.5 million. As the Observer wrote in 2005, Tate “has changed the way that Britain sees art, and the way the world sees Britain.”

In 2012 Tate Modern broke records with 5.3 million annual visitors, a 9% increase, making it the busiest year in it’s history.

Qatar is a small but influential nation in the Arabian Peninsula. It’s changing rapidly as it develops international influence and welcomes expats from around the world.

By 2011, Qatar was reflecting on its own identity and the role that arts and culture could play in its future. Plans were underway for an astonishing collection of national museums and great collections were being built.

We were approached with a modest brief: to help the organisation behind the museums and archaeological sites be better understood. Over the next two and a half years, we worked closely with our client teams to identify, extract and hone a much bigger ambition.

At the heart of life
Our work hinged on the creation of a single-minded brand purpose: to be ‘a cultural instigator for the creation generation’. This sat alongside three strategic priorities that set out to take the experience of arts and culture out of glass cases and hushed buildings, and into the hustle and bustle of daily life.

The strategy touched almost every part of the organisation – from finance to curatorial. We worked with individuals, coaching them to think, plan and act in a unified, mission-led way.We designed a vibrant creative expression to carry the organisation’s new purpose, as well as a robust brand architecture.

We delivered proof-points that set the intention at launch, including an internal event for 650 people chaired by H.E. Sheikha Mayassa, a brand education centre constructed on-site, and a website presenting the wealth of work to the public.

Through constant collaboration, we became true partners. We encouraged senior executives to stay true to the long-term vision, despite significant leadership changes, including at government level. As a united team, we earned the license to push work in new directions, striving to get the most out of every deliverable.

“Our goal is to support artists in Qatar and provide a platform for creative exchange.”

Hala Al Khalifa, Director of the Fire Station, Qatar Museums

New roots, new shoots
Qatar Museums – as it is today more simply named – now behaves not solely as a museum manager, but as an organisation with the potential to change the career choice of a generation of young Qatari residents.

It is ‘local first’, and the new brand sets out to help the country originate art, culture and heritage experiences from within – as evidenced on the website we developed in partnership with Cogapp.

Although these are early days, the output is extraordinarily impressive. Courtesy of Qatar Museums, Richard Serra has installed a masterpiece in the Western desert, the MIA and Mathaf are world-class museums fostering local audiences, and The National Museum of Qatar is well underway. At the Fire Station, fledgling Qatari artists are finding their voice while talent is nurtured through a number of mentoring programmes.

This brave organisation is redefining the sector on its own terms, and prevailing. We’re privileged to have played our part.

Technology had democratised higher education. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) now enabled anyone, anywhere to take a university course for free. When leading universities including Stanford, Princeton and MIT launched their versions, The New York Times termed 2012 “The year of the MOOC”.

FutureLearn – the UK’s first MOOC – was founded in partnership with the Open University. The team were eager to launch but needed a brand that could do four things: live online and in print; be easy to use and build on; be understood by as broad an audience as possible; and clearly convey the strategic idea, ‘learning for life’.

“FutureLearn’s mission is to offer courses to as many people as possible, whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever their background and ability.”

Simon Nelson, CEO, FutureLearn

Lean and fast
Working in a collaborative and streamlined way sped up the process. We met twice weekly and acted immediately on feedback, devising a distinctive and accessible system. The logo, featuring a stepped hero icon with hidden ‘F’, reinforces the onwards and upwards journey of learning and subtly points to progress.

A gradual palette
The hero icon was built on a set grid, allowing FutureLearn to create branded icons on demand, in an efficient way in future. A colour gradient, rather than a palette, gives in-house designers a wide range of values to choose from. The gradient also aids navigation within the interface, communicating where a user is – in their journey.

Together with a concise brand story, this toolkit formed what we called a ‘Minimum Viable Brand’, and it’s served FutureLearn well.

Today, it’s a thriving platform. Since launch in October 2013 learners have taken more than six million classes. Learners can choose from over 300 courses created by 83 partners from all over the world, including top universities such as Kings College London and specialist organisations like the European Space Agency and The British Museum. In 2016, it registered is three millionth learner.