The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a new brand identity to coincide with the release of the museum's major architectural expansion plan this week.

Pentagram's Paula Scher wanted to put art front and center on the museum's logo.

"If nothing else, we want people to know that the building is an art museum and it’s filled with fantastic art," she says.

"I would describe it as looking like very institutional," Scher says of the museum's existing logo.

The new identity features a series of unique designs for the logo's letter "A", inspired art in the museum's collection.

Each "A" represents a different style of period of art, with typographic takes on artists like Piet Mondrian and Alexander Calder.

A few were designed by Frank Gehry, who is designing the museum's expansion.

These custom letters will be reserved for special uses, like tickets, badges, retail bags, emails, and more.

The playful identity plays into the museum's goals to attract a larger, more diverse audience.

"Locals call it 'the' art museum," Scher says. "It is an Art Museum with a capital 'A'--it’s got a great collection."

Co.Design

Pentagram Rebrands Philadelphia's Museum Of Art, Somehow Forgets The "Rocky" Stairs

The Paula Scher-designed identity shows off the museum's vast collection, but ignores what it's really famous for: those Rocky steps.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest art museums in the country, with more than 227,000 objects in its collection ranging from Han Dynasty Chinese stone rubbings to 16th-century European armor to the sculpture work of French designer Philippe Starck. In popular culture, the museum is probably better known for its exterior—the image of Sylvester Stalone running up its 72 stone steps in Rocky is a cinematic icon.

In designing a new brand identity for the museum to coincide with the start of a major architectural expansion plan, Pentagram's Paula Scher wanted to ensure that the art was at the forefront. "If nothing else, we want people to know that the building is an art museum and it’s filled with fantastic art. That was the entire goal," Scher tells Co.Design. Using an ever-expanding library of designs for the letter "A"—each inspired by art in the museum's collection—the brand is dynamic, allowing the museum to embrace as many different identities as the collection has works of art.

Top: Existing logo, Bottom: New logo

"Locals call it 'the' art museum," she says. "It is an Art Museum with a capital 'A'—it’s got a great collection." You wouldn't necessarily know it by looking at the museum's previous identity, which more prominently featured a griffin than its own name. "I would describe it as looking very institutional," Scher says. At smaller sizes, you could see the griffin, but not necessarily read what museum it was. "You didn’t have a sense of it being a museum at all," she says.

So Scher visually emphasized the word "art," using a much bigger font to make sure that if you even so much as glance at the new logo, you're sure to take away what the museum is all about.

On July 1, the museum unveiled the proposed design of its expansion, spearheaded by Frank Gehry. Scheduled to take place over more than a decade, the expansion would drill downward into the hillside to make room for underground galleries, and—controversially for those invested in recreating Rocky's run—cut out a chunk of the famous museum steps (one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city) to make way for a ground-level entrance. The plan is all part of museum director Timothy Rub's strategic goal of making the museum more open and approachable, increasing attendance. The same ethos pervades the new brand identity: It's more modern, less stodgy, and designed to be a little fun.

It features a series of unique designs for the logo's letter "A," inspired by works in the museum collection, which will be used for special exhibitions, tickets, retail bags, and more. Each "A" represents a different style of period of art, with typographic takes on artists like Piet Mondrian and Alexander Calder. "The movable A's are designed to bring play into it," Scher says, as well as an "opportunity to demonstrate the breadth of the collection." More than 200 of these customizable letters have already been designed by Scher and her team, but the idea is that eventually, other designers and artists can be brought in to create new A's. Gehry designed four of the letters, drawn in his trademark scribble, to be used during the exhibition of his master plan for the museum's expansion.

"It’s a demonstration of everything you can get in the museum," Scher says. "It stretches through every decade."

And for the record, she couldn't care less about the fate of Rocky's steps. "This is like, a spectacular art collection, and Rocky is a nice movie," she says. "The actual treasure’s inside, and people should know that."

[Images: Courtesy of Pentagram]

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10 Comments

  • Jon Hall

    I'm shocked that they are cutting into the steps to allow an easier access point. Rocky is more than just a "nice movie", it's an icon for multiple generations, the last time I was in Philly, very recently, people from all cultures were running up and down the steps and reenacting the iconic Rocky moment. I think they can redesign the museum entrance with more personality and keep the steps as part of the design. What's stopping them from making an entrance below the steps, creating an M.C. Escher like entrance. That would be something conceptual and quasi-original.

    Unfortunately Pentagram is stuck in this minimal is more rut. I hope they realize that personality can push concept, and the art is the main attraction, but only for the elitists jerks.

  • emma.mardegan

    While reading the article on my phone without seeing any images, I was picturing the design in my head. I have to say I was quite disappointed when I saw the actual images of the project. It looks bland, soulless, and almost as it came out from a design school assignment.

    The idea is fun, even if so many designers are going for some 'ever-changing' logos these days, but when the A actually gets exchanged with a picture or the representation of some work of art....it just looks terribly balanced and executed.

    And I might add this identity strenghtens the terrible idea that identity equals logo. While I believe designers should push in the exact opposite direction, that is, the logo is just a small element of any identity.

    Here instead, the whole responsibility is put on the logo; take that away, and there is almost nothing left in this identity. As someone said, it is plain to the extent of becoming boring - the exact opposite idea you want to give of a museum.

  • alison

    Gosh... I actually think that the conceptual thinking behind this Identity is very strong. So strong, in fact, that the typography may well change over time as 'refreshes' get made but the Gallery of A's could really stand the test of time! In fact, with conceptual thinking like this, I'm sure Ms. Scher could quiet all of you down with a 'Rocky' version where the A is the big man's silhouette itself. Typography and execution are one thing. Conceptual Longevity quite another.

  • benjaminshe

    One of the most sterile and forgettable typefaces of any brand ever, probably motivated by the generic, uninspired goal of "letting people know the building is an art museum". NO, REALLY. The article follows with the usual outsider's ignorance towards Philadelphia by constantly hinting towards Rocky. The old branding was infinitely better. Gehry's addition was meant to be as inconspicuous as possible, and will not serve to redefine the already monumental edifice by one iota.

  • John Smith

    With all due respect to Ms. Scher, by dismissing the Art Museum steps as insignificant and somehow separate from the Art Museum itself, it is clear that she has little knowledge about the significant role the Art Museum plays in Philadelphia.

    The steps are not simply about Rocky. Instead, they are a work of art in themselves, and part of Horace Trumbauer's original design that, as has been explained at the blog Philly Bricks, made Philly's own Acropolis. The steps are also a cherished community asset, filled not only with tourists, but also local residents who like to walk or run the steps every day, or who gather on those steps on New Year's Eve, Fourth of July, to enjoy a holiday with their fellow Philadelphians.

    Let's purchase more art, and expand the pay-what-you-can hours at the Museum, rather than spending money on overpriced brand managers to draw 200 As or Frank Gehry to cut a hole in the middle of the treasured steps. https://www.facebook.com/SavethePhillyMuseumofArt

  • I have to agree with Nabeel. The recent work I'm seeing coming out of Pentagram is surprisingly bland. I like the concept but the typography is dull. As a native Philadelphian, I'm excited about the Gehry additions. And I'm not surprised that Rocky is not to be found in the identity . . . the Museum has only tolerated the Rocky connection because it has to. It's never embraced it.