Designers Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh operate one of New York’s most creative design firms, with clients spanning the corporate world, publishing, and the arts. Here they answer questions about how they envisioned, in graphical form, the Jewish Museum’s dynamic vision for its future. Among the key elements in this close collaboration to reimagine the Museum’s graphic identity are a completely redesigned website and blog, both of which will premiere in June.
Q: What do you feel is unique or distinctive about your firm’s approach to creating graphic identities and branding in general?
Jessica: We approach branding holistically as it applies across all applications, thinking about how the mark will work as part of a visual language, so it can be applied flexibly across various media. We aim to design branding systems that start with the logo mark but extend to typography design, patterns, icons, illustrations, and beyond.
Stefan: We very much understand that a brand is a complete collection of experiences in the mind of the museum visitor. As a design company, we have an enormous influence on some of these experiences, which extend to the digital realm with the Museum’s soon-to-launch new website. That said, the curators, artists, and even the Museum guards also play very important roles in the visitor’s brand experience.
Q: When Sagmeister & Walsh approaches a project like this, what are the kinds of questions you ask the client and yourselves?
S: Over numerous meetings with the board of the Museum and leading staff members, we challenged ourselves to create a very, very short list of brand attributes, along with some supporting terminology. Out of this collaboration we identified the Jewish Museum as:
• Desirable (sought out, sophisticated, elegance)
• Unexpected (surprising, off-center, unique, seeing history through a contemporary lens)
• Inclusive (open, free, “ours,” connected, diverse, spanning generations)
• Intimate (boutique, jewel box, family, heritage)
We then challenged ourselves to create a visual identity that reflected and reinforced these attributes.
J: The entire identity — the logo mark, the logo type, and accompanying illustrations — are based on ancient Jewish geometry but are drawn utilizing a contemporary formal direction. We were trying to connect historic Jewish culture to the contemporary world, with the ultimate goal to connect and engage visitors across generations. We were aiming to design an elegant and sophisticated identity system on par with the current visitor experience. The system allows for transformations into different forms and shapes while still speaking clearly in a unified visual language. At the same time it does feel intimate and places the heritage of the building as a family mansion front and center. It is unexpected in its avoidance of rubber stamping all of its materials; its flexibility invites surprise.
Q: What specific challenges and opportunities were you faced with in working with the Jewish Museum?
S: It was a challenge to find the right voice and media to communicate with a very broad and diverse audience, including longtime visitors to the Jewish Museum and a constituency of young people new to the Museum.
J: Claudia Gould and the rest of the leadership at the Museum had a strong vision, a mind for design, and a willingness to take risks. It is always a pleasure to collaborate with clients like this.
Q: Tell us about the logo, color choices, and iconography, and their significance and relationship to the institution. What characteristics of the Museum’s personality do you feel these new elements convey?
J: We wanted to design a system that was contemporary in form, but also spoke to the Museum’s Jewish connection. We designed the entire system based on the same sacred geometry from which the Star of David was formed. Everything from the logo mark, logo typography, patterns, illustrations, and iconography were all drawn on this grid. The end result is a system that is flexible and dynamic, but has a cohesive language across all media and platforms.