THE STEDELIJK’S NEW VISUAL IDENTITY: LIVING UP TO THE PAST by Marit Turk
Already before the reopening of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in September 2012, ‘The style of the Stedelijk’ (or in other words: the Stedelijk’s visual identity) had gone viral. This happened inasmuch as even non-cultural focussed media reported the item. Not surprisingly though, as the Stedelijk was closed for almost ten years, everything that happened was considered important. Before the opening, the Stedelijk was actually living on by its reputation as an internationally prominent museum of modern art and its accompanying heritage of previous visual identities. Since these previous visual identities, for instance by Sandberg, Crouwel and Beeke, are now transformed into museum pieces themselves, this puts great pressure on the development of a new visual identity. The actual matter is whether or not the new identity by Mevis and van Deursen will contain similar qualities to earn its value in sequence of its predecessors.
To start with what made the new visual identity go viral: the logo that shows the words Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in the shape of the letter ‘S’. It appears as a childlike simple logo with one sans-serif font, used in one height and all letters are in capitals. With no layers in the design to be found, it is a case of ‘what you see is what you get’. Actually, to reproduce the logo you do not need to have design skills or tools: a pen is already sufficient. However, the logo is only a small part of the visual identity and, for a well-considered opinion, it actually has to be criticised in combination with other designs of the identity. But, it is the way the museum and the designers speak about the logo, that transforms it from childlike into childish. Patrick van Mil, Business Director Stedelijk Museum, devotes many praising words when saying it is “elegant, graceful, recognisable, open, inviting and fitting to the Stedelijk”. It is reasonable that he supports the museum and its identity, but it seems almost implausible to come up with that many words on a logo of this simplicity. Besides, Linda van Deursen defends the logo by simply suggesting it is a positive side effect that everyone can reproduce the logo because of its simplicity as it causes free marketing. In addition she wonders: “it is hard to imagine that people in fact worry about this”. This feels like she either does not appreciate the assignment, she gained quite some arrogance, or she thinks her field of work is insignificant?
Moving on to the identity’s other designs: the key elements that are always present can be outlined as 3 words, 2 lines, and 1 frame. Whether it concerns a poster or a calendar, the design contains two lines to create one frame within the existing area and, with that, an inner and an outer side of a frame. Next to this, the three words ‘Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam’ are always present – whether in or outside the frame. The complete identity makes use of one member of the Union font family, which is bridging between Arial and Helvetica. Together, these key elements form a template within which the originated new frame is intended to be available for a ‘new’ design depending on the subject. Not only Mevis and van Deursen but several designers can apply the identity during its existence. This intention appears as a contemporary and modern attitude for an ambitious institution like the Stedelijk. Also, it suddenly relates the new identity to an element of its heritage of visual identities, which is the grid system of Crouwel: the template provides a set of tools for a design rather than a set of strict rules. With this, either the aim is to give the identity the opportunity to develop in a very flexible way and to create an expressive visual language that fits the museums reputation. Unfortunately, the current designs do not yet reveal any of this intended flexibility or expressive character. Firstly, all designs, from the floor plans to the membership registration-forms, have a tedious look: the designs correspond too much to each other. And, secondly, the poor use of the Union does not function as a strong repetitive visual element: it feels boring and confirms a lack of layers in the identity as was previously seen in the logo.
Considering this, the concept of the identity promises to be tributary to how the museum represented itself in the past but until now its execution remains disappointing. It seems that all elements are present for a high quality identity to represent the reputation of an internationally prominent museum and perhaps in the future it will proof its quality when the identity has been developed with complementing designs. But that does not make up for the fact that the current designs lack character: the template’s elements are too basic and tedious. It is a shame that the Stedelijk does not represent itself in addition to the confidence they aim to have.