Photo credit: Bruce Willen

The Baltimore Museum of Art today unveiled a new, constantly evolving brand identity, developed to articulate its commitment to inclusivity and emphasize how its identity comes from its community.

The museum’s new visual identity, created in collaboration with the agency Topos Graphics + Post Typography, consists of a series of “brand components” that are being implemented across all of its print and digital assets.

To realize its vision, the BMA has developed a digital system that allows members of the general public to contribute their own unique marks to the new logo, making it an ever-changing manifestation of its audiences and their engagement with the institution. It’s the first significant change to the BMA’s visual identity since 2005.

To launch the branding process, BMA Chief Innovation Officer Melanie Martin and the museum’s Marketing and Experience team spent four months in 2019 interviewing colleagues, trustees, docents, volunteers, museum visitors, Baltimore residents, and tourists to better understand how the museum is perceived.

The team conducted conversations at and around the museum as well as at its branch location at Lexington Market and other high-traffic locations in Baltimore such as the Inner Harbor and Penn Station.

The team gleaned information about what compels people to see art and visit the museum, the artistic encounters they most vividly recall, and any moments of challenge or pain that they may have experienced at the museum. This led the museum to determine that its work and branding should be guided by and speak to four essential traits: honesty, vibrancy, empathy, and fearlessness.

The effort also solidified the BMA’s vision to create a logo that actively embraces its community, resulting in a two-part structure developed by the design team comprised of Topos Graphics and Baltimore-based designer Bruce Willen.

The first part positions the museum’s name, Baltimore Museum of Art, beneath a dashed line, communicating that the museum serves as a platform for creativity. The second portion, which is situated above the line, captures the museum’s acronym, BMA, as created by staff, visitors, and collaborators.

To collect contributions, the BMA has installed iPads in its East Lobby, inviting visitors to submit their handwritten articulations of the letters, “B”, “M”, and “A” through an app.

These letter marks will be entered into a repository from which the museum will continuously draw to complete its logo. The number of handwriting marks included in the logo will vary in each application, with some selected for recency and others because they resonate visually with a particular collateral.

BMA staffers have already submitted their letter markings for general use and for their business cards, and visitors will soon be able to design postcards with their marks and print them at the museum.

In determining this logo approach, Martin said in a statement, “We all make marks. We doodle, we sketch, and we write—and like the best art, these marks we make uniquely visualize our thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

“Museums have a mandate to welcome their communities and respond to their needs,” she continued. “We like to think of this approach to a logo as a promise to do exactly that. With each mark, we respond and evolve just a little bit. We are committed to being a platform for creativity, to evolving with and because of our community.”

As part of the rebrand, the BMA also worked with Topos Graphics and Bruce Willen to establish new color and typography systems, intended to articulate the BMA’s essential traits. The website content management system was created by Aaron Buckner, an independent web applications developer.

“One of the most inspiring early moments came when visiting the BMA’s 2020 Vision exhibition,” the designers at Topos Graphics said in a statement.

“The artworks on display were honest, empathetic, vibrant, fearless—the traits we came to understand as central to the museum. We sensed a clarity of the BMA’s vision and took note of the works’ roots in-process and tactility. This experience, combined with fruitful exchanges with the BMA’s staff and community, informed our work tremendously and led to our process-oriented design results.”

The rebrand team’s perspective combined Topos Graphics’ extensive experience in branding cultural institutions with Post Typography’s decades of work in Baltimore’s arts and cultural communities, including several prior projects for the BMA.

Founded in 2005 by Seth Labenz and Roy Rub, Topos Graphics is a collaborative design studio with offices in New York and Atlanta. It helps clients get their messages across in a variety of ways, including logo design, branding, motion graphics, print collateral, publications, signage, social media, environmental graphics, and objects.

In addition to the Baltimore Museum of Art, Topos’ recent cultural clients include the Brooklyn Museum, the Jewish Museum—New York, Oolite Arts, Knight Foundation, Westbeth Artists Housing, O, Miami, Columbia University GSAPP, MoMA PS1, New York Public Art Fund, and Key West Literary Seminar.

Bruce Willen is a multidisciplinary designer, artist, and founder of Public Mechanics, a design and art studio that works in public and cultural spaces. Before starting Public Mechanics, Willen co-founded the design agency Post Typography with Nolen Strals. They worked together on high-profile projects that have shaped the visual language of Baltimore and beyond, such as the environmental graphics for the revitalized Parkway Theater on North Avenue.

Willen’s work has appeared on the covers of Time MagazineThe New York Times, and ESPN, and in dozens of design books and periodicals, including a Post Typography monograph. He is the co-author of the book Lettering & Type and has written for the Washington PostDesign Observer, and other publications.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.