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The Museum Of Sex's New Identity Is Sophisticated, Not Salacious

How do you sell a museum about sex—without actually using sex?

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Sex sells—but how do you sell a museum about sex? Such was the challenge for Base Design, which recently completed a new identity for the Museum of Sex in New York City.

"The big question was how can we recontextualize the word sex," Min Lew, a partner at Base, says. "Our job was to provoke people to think beyond sex as a pornographic thing. Part two—simultaneously with breaking misconceptions—was communicating the breadth and depth of the museum."

The 14-year-old museum's mission is to explore and express culture through the lens of sexuality. The institution achieves this through a collection of artifacts, research library, media holdings (to answer the inevitable question, yes, this includes porn), and installations.

"The purpose [of the new identity] was to finally establish a brand that aligned with our vision, which became much more clearly defined over the years of actual work," the museum's founder Dan Gluck says. "We launched in lightning-fast pace and didn't have the clarity we have now. A significant piece of Base's work was the brand definition deck, which will only be seen by the small number of creatives we work with, but is a key tool. People have baggage about what a 'sex brand' can be, which we've been fighting against since we've started. So the 're' brand and deck are tools that help us communicate this more efficiently."

"When you hear about the Museum of Sex, you hear the word 'sex'—it carries a lot of baggage," Lew says. "The word 'museum' is just as important. It signals history and artistry—it's the story and mission of the institution ... The branding exercise isn't a signal of a change—it's trying to clarify the intention and mission."

So Base used the metaphor of the museum as a container for what it exhibits. The identity needed to be recognizable, consistent, and iconic so Base developed a system of blocky, black-and-white text set over evocative images culled from the museum's previous shows that speak to the science, history, and culture of sex.

"We wanted the vibrancy to come from the content," Lew says of keeping the system fairly Spartan. "It has its bold presence, but we didn't feel like the identity or logo had to compete with the content."

The identity was designed to be scalable for whatever the museum needs in the future, like signage, printed collateral, digital initiatives. Like a frame accentuates and highlights what it displays, so does Base's work for the museum.

"It's a platform where things can happen rather than a defined mark," Lew says. "It's an open idea." It seems like in branding and in sex, it always helps to be open minded.

All Images: courtesy Museum of Sex

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