Co.Design

MIT Media Lab's Brilliant New Logo Has 40,000 Permutations [Video]

An algorithm can create 40,000 logo shapes in 12 different color combinations, providing the Media Lab an estimated 25 years’ worth of personalized business cards.

To honor 25 years of backseat-driving robots and vision-scanning iPhones and touchscreen-keyboard-3-D-display hybrids, the MIT Media Lab tapped Brooklyn-based designers (and erstwhile Media Lab rats) E Roon Kang and Richard The to dream up a fresh visual identity. The result is pure, unadulterated Media Lab: an algorithmic logo that generates a sui generis image for each of the Lab's sui generis brains. (Cue spazzo nerd gasp.)

It's darn clever stuff. As The tells Co.Design, the Media Lab never really had its own logo. "There were identity components designed by Jaqueline Casey [in 1984] referencing the original [Media Lab] building by I.M. Pei," he says. 'It features a nice colorful mural by Kenneth Noland. But there never was an actual logo per se.' The algorithmic design represents the Media Lab's first official stab at a coherent identity, and it's high time. The Lab has transformed from a scruffy operation focused on quaintly enhancing the "digital revolution" into a full-blown brand synonymous with wild experimentation, collaboration, and big-time math geeks. Now, it's got the graphic design to match.

The basic idea here is that the logo has three intersecting spotlights that can be organized in any of 40,000 shapes and 12 color combinations using a custom algorithm. That's enough to supply each and every new card-carrying Media Labber with his very own logo for a whopping 25 years.

Folks select a design on a web-based platform, and once they've made their choice, no one else can poach it; it's as personal as a Social Security number — perhaps more so.

The spotlights tip a hat to the Media Lab's rakish spirit of cross-pollination, with each spotlight symbolizing a single individual. "People come from many different backgrounds — they're engineers, scientists, artists, designers — and have very different ways of thinking, seeing, and working," The says. "At the lab these people cross paths, collaborate, and inspire each other, and that's the magic of this place."

On another level, the logo looks ambitiously ahead, as the Media Lab itself so often does. "The Media Lab has outgrown this notion of traditional media, with researchers working in areas ranging from human computer interaction to neurobiology or nanotechnology," The says. "Whatever ?media" means, it has been and will be defined at this place, in the next 5, 10, 20 years. The algorithmic logo is an effort to capture this dynamism.?

If you follow our site closely, you know that "dynamism" is a embryonic concept in identity design nowadays, with a few brave souls like Comedy Central and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art testing the waters. See it at the Media Lab, though, and you know it's the future.

[Images courtesy of Richard The]

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45 Comments

  • Ddd12

    Basically, they've written an algorithm that randomly positions 3 pairs of squares: a black one, and a primary/secondary colored one.  All that happens is a blend shape is created between each pair.
    This isn't graphic design.
    It's 10 minutes in Illustrator.

  • Macankur

     Hi
    I really want to know how this can happen in Illustrator. Can you share this with me?
    macankur@gmail.com

    thnx in advance

  • JamesPeacockDesign

    Not a fan. Too much trying to be unique, not enough trying to be good. 

  • He Of 40,000 Names

    I fail to see how 40,000 symbols is effective as an identity.

    Thanks,
    Jim or Jmi or Ijm or Mij or  Imj or Mji

  • Roberto Martinez

    The fist logo that is not a logo... People from MIT... are you sure? I agree that you are a very experimental institution with all new concepts and forms... but... mmh..
    I actually have a GD services studio here in Mexico City, I always have encourage to my students (geometry professor too at a School of Visual Arts) for new challenges to imagination, to break convensions, but...
    I think that if you resolve only one or even 5 positions for your 3 nice coloured blacky blocks you have done.. I mean, is unnecessary make that frame by frame animation and say that every frame is a logo and is valid, then... where is graphic identity? I mean only 1 position will distinguish your subject, no 40,000 (it looks like Snow White film, frame by frame) I hope not to be very square with my comments, I only have an oppinion outside of your country. Choose only one choice and I think you have a great logo.

  • erin

    I'm suprised that no one here has mentioned (perhaps no one here remembers?) how Rhizome's line-logo was doing this a decade ago, with visual permutation after permutation being generated by a very smart alogorithm. So well done.
    Here's a link to a mention of it back on 9/5/01. (The title is raising the question if it was actually the world's first generative logo.)

    http://rhizome.org/editorial/2...

  • Alessandro Gugliotta

    I have mixed feelings about this.
    I agree with Thomas Briggs on the fact that it doesn't convey a clear message as to what they are or do, but then again does the Nike swoosh manage that? When plenty of people already know well enough who you are, that is when you can get away with something like this.
    Then again, on the flip side, I love the idea of a "personalized code" embedded in the logo. I think it would be amazing for them to create a sort of QR code reader smartphone app that would allow them to scan it and send the user to their own personal web space or blog and.

  • gergo csikos

    super nice work. dynamic in its core. these adaptive graphic programs to gained more turf in the past years. started with Melbourne and London2012, then Casa da Musica and MAD in nyc. they require a certain level of openness from the brand though...

  • Tom Berno

    I think the criticisms are as interesting to discuss as the logo itself, and an illustration of the state of an industry that is truly at a crossroads. The truth is, the conception of brand identity is evolving, from that of a fixed icon to a dynamic system. The old terminology is really not that relevant when discussing this as a brand identity.

    While this may not be the right approach for every client, it is well focused for MIT Media Lab. It's a wonderful integration of art and technology. The implied space containing the myriad visual variations is a perfect metaphor for the lab: a contained space within which reside infinite possibilities.

    One of the emerging ideas from the Design Thinking movement is the idea of viewing desired outcomes as quantum behavior—i.e. the specific outcome may not be absolutely predictable, but a defined range of variations will materialize with a reasonable amount of predictability. This identity is the manifestation of that concept.

  • Ruba Khalaf Abdel

    ... BRILLIANT ...
    Creating an experience out of a logo...
    yo see the colors and and the combination of shapes and you won't mistaken guessing the MIT Media ♥

  • Luis London

    Even if I like the logo, I am not sure if it is good to have 40,000 permutations.

    If they are used to brand different departments or services that can be usefull, but if it is for the same company it will be hard to choose which one to use for a sponsorship, partnership, on a poster, business cards or an Ad. Dont you think?

  • Thomas Briggs

    While the Media Lab graphic identity, designed by the late and distinguished Jacqueline Casey, consisted of a program of simple, colored tiles that used a set of formal variations evoking the I.M. Pei designed building's lobby mural by artist Kenneth Noland, this "re-branding" attempt seems to be mostly about clever digital programming. The new logo appears to reference some sort of neo-modernist (futurist?) conception of theatrical lighting; naive imagery that conveys little in relation to the ever-progressive mission of this marvelous institution. As a visiting faculty during the Media Lab's mid-1990's Visible Language Workshop era (under the direction of Muriel Cooper), I am appalled that present leadership at MIT has adopted a logo that, while technologically entirely appropriate, suggests so little visual sophistication.

    Tom Briggs
    Assistant Professor of Design
    Massachusetts College of Art and Design