A Beautiful Typeface For The African Art Museum Echoes The Building It Adorns

Original Champions of Design create a branding kit for the Museum for African Art that suggests African style without being too literal.

The best thing about Robert A.M. Stern’s forthcoming building for the Museum for African Art–the first new museum on Manhattan’s Museum Mile since the Guggenheim rose more than 50 years ago–has nothing to do with the building itself. It’s what covers the windows: an exuberant mural of amorphic shapes rendered in splashy pinks, oranges, and purple. Designed to conceal the construction work within, the mural turns an otherwise bland tower into something you can’t not stare at.


Which was exactly the idea. The window coverings are part of a larger branding package that the Original Champions of Design conceived to market the museum in advance of the new building’s groundbreaking in 2008. When the structure is completed next year, it’ll be the Museum for African Art‘s first permanent home. It’ll make the institution, which opened more than 25 years ago, more visible than ever. But it’ll also probably saddle the place with extra costs (the eternal downside of new construction). OCD’s visual identity draws on bright colors, abstract shapes, and an Afrocentric typeface to make a big splash with just a little effort–an effort that, hope is, helps rake in donations today and visitors tomorrow.

The logotype was inspired by both African patterns and Stern’s design. “We researched African textiles and domiciles, then, when we got our first peek at the architectural models, it became immediately obvious that Robert A.M. Stern Architects had done the same,” OCD’s Bobby Martin Jr. tells Co.Design. “With distinct trapezoidal windows, the opportunity to leverage the architectural iconography in the branding was too much to pass up. We became obsessed with rendering a custom logotype to fit to the window proportion and shape.”

Each of the logotype’s letterforms is shaped like a trapezoid that’s either angled up or down such that the letterform locks into the figures around it. Done up in dazzling colors, the logotype has a cheery, illustrative look that hints at African style without being too literal. (No doubt a lesser designer would’ve proposed a logo that resembles an African mask or some other atrocious cliche.)

Recently, OCD tapped typographer Jesse Ragan to turn the logotype into a full-blown typeface. Ragan had to draw each letterform twice–once tapered at the top, once tapered at the bottom–to make each figure connect, mosaic-like, to its neighbor. AfriSans, shown in slide 4 above, will figure prominently in supplemental marketing materials and was already used in the 2011 Fall Benefit & Silent Auction–the museum’s debut event at their new address.

[Images courtesy of Original Champions of Design]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.