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Front cover of the official membership mailer from THE MET Breuer (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

On Friday I opened my mailbox and saw something odd staring back at me. I’d received the official membership invitation to the opening of the new “THE MET Breuer.” It was in a plain white envelope, with the new, red THE MET logo in the upper left corner. Inside was a single-fold brochure — poorly printed. The kind of print collateral I refuse to design anymore, because it will undoubtedly go directly into the trash.

Back cover of the official membership mailer from THE MET Breuer (photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

Nominally, this was a wholly unremarkable piece of mail. But I was excited to see it because, as far as I can tell, it was the first official, printed unveiling of THE MET’s new brand. While a lot has already been written about the logo as an isolated image, this poorly printed little mailer was my first real look at the brand system, the context within which that logo fits. And while I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon of heaping hate on the new logo, I’m sorry to say that the system feels wrong. It looks like THE MET has made a really unfortunate mistake not only on the logo, but on the entire surrounding brand system.

Based on that mailer, here’s what I imagine their core brand guidelines to include as elements for the new system:

1) THE MET logo

On a white background or on a red background. Seems to be always tucked in the corner.

2) A new serif custom font for headlines

The font feels really heavy — almost like they’re yelling — and the letter spacing is very inconsistent.

3) Helvetica-ish bespoke sans serif font as a secondary typeface

This is used as a secondary font, mainly for body copy.

4) A series of dotted lines made up of diamond marks referred to as “ornaments”

These seem to relate to the sub-branding system (see #7) and are used as decorative dividers of levels of information.

5) Primary colors of red, black, and white

They seem to be trying to highlight certain words or phrases by alternating between red, black, and white. There are other colors proposed in the new brand, but they were not evident in the initial mailer I received.

6) An awkwardly cropped color photograph of a beautiful building (the new THE MET Breuer)

There doesn’t seem to be a distinct photography style; it’s just a very straightforward photo of the new THE MET Breuer. In other samples, they use art from the galleries cropped as they lay in the frames on a wall. So not a lot of unique photographic moments displayed in the system.

7) A sub-branding lockup system for all THE MET locations

A sub-brand is a secondary brand that locks up with the primary brand. In this case, THE MET is primary, and the locations acts as sub-brands. To convey this visually, the name of each THE MET branch (Breuer, Fifth Avenue, Cloisters) is placed underneath the new logo, separated by a dotted line. It is left-aligned, which further reinforces the lack of symmetry in the logo. (Can someone please fix the symmetry?)

The new sub-branding system to differentiate THE MET locations (images courtesy the Met, via Wired)

So, what are we being told? What does this all mean? What heritage of a 140-year-old museum does this convey? Not much — but maybe judging a brand system on the merits of one disposable mailer is unfair?

Evidently not.

The brand system around the new logo (image courtesy the Met, via Wired)

The museum released another sample of print collateral pieces on Friday (as a result of the logo backlash), to show the breadth of the brand. The photo showcases a series of small print maps and guides, and an app splash screen with the logo on a red background. None of these examples is unique, and overall they feel corporate and dull. There’s nothing smart or witty here, nothing hidden to discover (like the FedEx logo arrow). There’s no lingering idea or story you walk away with and remember. It all feels nice and clean — everything is neatly aligned to a classic grid — but we’re not left with anything of substance. There’s no voice. There’s no New York attitude. The sample website is also very confusing. On the homepage, they refer to the THE MET, The Met, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art — three different voices (i.e. how the museum’s name is visually spoken) on a single page.

A confusing concept for the new homepage, with three difference references to the name of the museum (original image courtesy the Met, via Wired) (click to enlarge)

One aspect of the redesign was to create a new wayfinding system for the museum: maps, directional signage, an app — all of which we have yet to see. Getting lost in THE MET is something we’ve all experienced. A few well-designed signs, a better app to help you find your way around the museum — these are definitely needed. But you don’t need to scrap an entire brand just to help visitors find their way around.

The old logo featured the letter M and was based on a woodcut by Fra Luca Pacioli, who taught mathematics to Leonardo da Vinci; it had been in use since 1971. Because it was featured for decades on every admission button, the symbol became visually identified with the Met. The old logo worked. It had a rich heritage. It felt dated in the right way. It meant something. It looked good on a T-shirt. The system around it could have been modernized without jettisoning a logo that had a well-earned place in New York life, an icon that adorned millions of lapels. But perhaps that happened because the design wasn’t created by a New Yorker.

The old Met logo vs. the new one

Wolff Olins is a UK-based design firm. Sure, they have an office in NYC, blah blah, but basically, Gareth Hague, the London-based designer in charge of reenvisioning THE MET’s logo, is not attached to New York. I don’t mean to be parochial, but a museum is an expression of place, of a city. Our city.

According to Wolff Olin’s website, they claim to “help organisations shake off their corporate camouflage.” Ironically, there was nothing “corporate” about the old Metropolitan Museum of Art logo. It was hand drawn, imperfect. The new brand for the museum feels entirely corporate. THE MET suggests a financial institution, not a place featuring the history of creativity.

There are aspects of the new logo that I do like. It draws on more classical design and typography, a tendency I appreciate. It has echoes of Robert Indiana’s famous “LOVE” sculpture, which was originally created for the Museum of Modern Art in 1964. It has a typographic connection to brands like the Economist and New York Life Insurance Company, and even reflects religious illuminated manuscripts and Gothic architecture. It also has a very 1970s vibe, with the large all-cap letters squished together, complete with groovy bell-bottom serifs. In fact, it looks quite similar to the Metropolitan Opera logo from the ’70s. But the execution is lousy. It feels forced and contrived. More importantly, the system around it doesn’t allow the brand to shine.

1970s Metropolitan Opera House logo (image via Etsy)

New York Life Insurance Company logo (via newyorklife.com)

American Ballet Theatre Logo, with a similar squished typography (image via Wikipedia)

With the new Uber logo, I felt the company had gotten exactly what it had paid for (the logo was done in-house; Uber refused to work with an outside agency). But in the case of THE MET, I have wonder how much the institution spent on this failed attempt to rebrand. Strengthening a great logo with a fresh system is a less muscular process — it requires subtle shifts rather than bombast. It involves less ego. Redesigning from the ground up is clearly an effort to make one’s mark (pun intended). Reworking or evolving a system, rather than doing a total redesign, is also more frugal; it generally costs a lot less.

The problems with the new logo are real. The ligatures (when two letters connect) make no sense — they make a simple, six-letter name quite difficult to read. The tight spacing between the letters doesn’t visually relate to the space between the words. It doesn’t reflect the huge architectural spaces within THE MET. It doesn’t feel centered or grounded. As a New Yorker I want to see the full name: The Metropolitan Museum of Fucking Art. How beautiful would that be set in a simple typeface? Why was it distilled to a ligature, not worthy of its full breadth of letters and words? What happened to the attitude, the formality, the eloquence?

Instead, all we’re left with is THE MEH.

(image by the author)

Jennifer Bostic

Jennifer Bostic is creative director of Paper Plane Studio and has practiced design in San Francisco and New York for over 19 years. She specializes in corporate identity, packaging, web and print communications, exhibit and event design, and...

45 replies on “The Meh-tropolitan Museum of Art’s Rebranding”

    1. The Metropolitan Museum of Fucking Art…even the acronym could be a delicious brand mark…MMFA…

    2. I love it Austen, don’t listen to whomever it was that made the nasty comments. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the greatest art museum in the world. To borrow from Team America I’d like to see your design with: The Metropolitan Museum of Art? Fuck, yeah!

  1. Two points to make:

    (1) I had some graphic artist who claims to be a logo designer of repute tell me that this is a “fun” approach. The only thing I see as fun about this is the minimal amount of time it probably took to dash this off before tea time. It is embarrassingly lazy and a blatant rip off of the sources noted in the article, with no innovation and certainly no conceptual thought.

    (2) The design team responsible for this monstrosity claims the mark mixes serif and sans serif fonts. It clearly does not, but if they’er speaking of the sub-branding, even a first year student would see the arrangement of elements as awkward at best and typographically horrifying at worst. How do people this untalented get these gigs? Sleeping with the right members of the board?

    1. It is unfortunate that the US who has some of the best graphic designer will do such a miserable effort.
      I agree with all you wrote, they should have given this task to the Rhode Island School of Graphic Design, they have very good people there.

      1. They seem to be London based. The only thing American about them is their appropriation of the PLaySkool logo an American design which they have applied to their entire output

    2. A “fun approach”? You must be kidding. You’re actually being polite; it’s cringeworthy. I can barely stand to look at it. Makes me wish I had saved all of those metal buttons with the old logo (that indicate you’ve paid to get in) that The Met always encourages you to toss into a recycling bin before you leave the museum. About the worst logo re-design I’ve seen since the big Pepsi re-design a while back.

  2. The old logo had distinction and class. The new one doesn’t even make it to pop music lettering.

  3. Jennifer, I have looked at your work at Paper Plane, and I am impressed. However, I respectfully disagree so much with your critique, I don’t even know where to begin. If anything, your very thoughtful review has inspired me to write several rebuttals against the slew of schadenfreude thinkpieces I’ve been seeing, disguised as design critiques. Where are the champions of these ideas? Where are the people who see the inherent benefit of change? Where are the designers who like visual variety and handmade touches? Where are the designers who appreciate detail, even in logos? Where are the designers who no longer subscribe to the Bauhaus school of thought, knowing that is informed largely by the Western world? Where are the designers who know how hard consensus is on these executions, and will support this work anyway?

    I am a fellow designer, and have my own website. I happen to like this brand, and I like the Uber branding. I usually don’t use my website to complain about design executions I don’t like. Instead, I’d rather build a written brand around positive stories, and places of opportunity. But I think now is an opportunity to stand up for in-house design, design history, and the long-term relationships we develop with brands.

      1. schadenfreude |ˈSHädənˌfroidə| noun

        pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.

        1. Yes I know what schadenfeude means, as with lebensraum , it has a far darker meaning that goes back to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

          I don’t know what JamesInstagram means by ” Scandenfreude thinkpieces ” and would like him explain this in his own words.

    1. “I happen to like this brand”

      OK, tell us all, since you appear to be in the minority on this, why this comes even close to working.

  4. Ollin Wolff’s design is Unforgivably Ugy! I Fra Luca Pacioli’s M is beautiful.

    . l suggest that you follow the link in this article to Wolff Olins website, as there’s no direct links for contact or the Vile Iogo itself. However they’re are plenty of designs with spaces open for commentary. Flood these with your own personal thoughts on the new Met Logo. As this sort of feedback or open discussion is part of their “non corporate ivory tower ,free open millennial ethos, let them know exactly what you think EVERYWHERE! Remember context is irrelevant,COMUNICATION IS CRUCIAL!

    If they want to feel the spirit of the 60’s and 70’s Then let them have it

    1. Hi Mr. Infinite Jeff and/or Jennifer B.

      Another graphic designer here.

      Of course this comment section is lousy with us.

      Can I screen print a few tee shirts with your super fantastic parody as a gift for a friend, myself and a transplanted New Yorker family member?

      If I can get around to it would you like one? Whoever knocked out the parody first, would you like a credit printed discreetly on the shirt? If so what would you like it to read.

      Best, and thanks for hijinks.

      1. You’re free to use my version under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. The credit should say “Infinite Jeff 2016” in whatever size type works for you. Send me a photo if you have a chance – jeff@infinitejeff.com.

  5. Are we sure this came out of the Met design department? It looks wildly inconsistent with the press images of the redesign that are circulating. TBH, it looks less to me like an invitation, and more like the kind of direct mail that comes out of those mail houses—like a subcontractor designed it. I’d be really surprised if it is representative of the new look.

    1. Nope. That’s it. It is a wildly inconsistent design. Too many different fonts and colors, bad symmetry, as stated above. It’s messy, but that’s it. For realz.

      1. Don’t be silly. How do you account for the fact that the images from Wired are elegant, but this looks like junk mail? I think whoever wrote this didn’t do her homework. Did she even contact the design department? I know it’s tempting to post a takedown for clicks, especially since this topic is trending—but it seems unfair to critique something that is clearly not representative of the design system.

        1. Go to the link provided in article to Wolff Olin’s website and you will see far worse ,from plagiarism of the entire Playskool aesthetic to a giff of a weeping ZiggyStardust meme. Everything on the site is rendered in a faux shaky-hand style with pastel colors that mimic a child with a crayon

        2. What are you talking about? It’s a mailing to members of the Museum from the membership department, as noted in the bottom left of the insert. Who do you think created it? I’m speaking with first hand knowledge of the situation, btw. This is not unusual: a design approved by using perfect images and little text often does not translate when you really put it into use and have a lot of information to convey in a small space.

    2. No that’s the design firm of Wolff Olins at their best, I’m repelled to think how much money the museum wasted on this.

      1. You’re confusing the designers of the identity with the design team at the Met. The photograph at the top of this article claims that this mailer is the “invitation to the opening of the new ‘THE MET Breuer.’” I’m familiar with the work of the designers who work a the Met and it’s pretty clear—simply from looking at it—that they didn’t design this. It feels unfair to judge the identity based on this one piece of collateral.

        1. It’s the official mailer for membership to the new MET Breuer. It’s the first piece of collateral produced and mailed with the new brand. So yes, it is significant. And it doesn’t matter who designed this mailer… it’s here. If they really wanted to announce the project with a BANG, why did I receive this first? I am judging the entire system based on that initial mailing, in addition to everything else I’ve seen them release (which is all conceptual).

      2. Agreed, and given tight funding in the arts these days it will probably be years before they are able to change it again.

  6. Hi Mr. Infinite Jeff (see below) and/or Jennifer B.

    Another graphic designer here.

    Of course this comment section is lousy with us.

    Can I screen print a few tee shirts with your super fantastic parody as a gift for a friend, myself and a transplanted New Yorker family member?

    If I can get around to it would you like one? Whoever knocked out the parody first, would you like a credit printed discreetly on the shirt? If so what would you like it to read.

    Best, and thanks for hijinks.

  7. How can we fix the new logo: A little photoshop. Move the bottom three letters to the right to match up serifs, shorten the bottom of the letters E to make them symmetrical and also provide a visual connection from the top E to the bottom T, and then move the two words closer together. We now have one symmetrical word (nicely “book-ended: with Ts) instead to two separate words that place too much emphasis on THE. More pleasing? Jerry

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