Did you know that the Design Museum of Chicago has been around for ten years? Founded by Tanner Woodford as a pop-up, the Design Museum set down roots with a Kickstarter fundraising campaign that granted it its first home, at Block 37. Since then it has brought to life more exhibitions, events and programming than one can count, it has supported designers through education opportunities, resources and grants, and has collaborated with creatives far and wide, becoming Chicago’s leading design institution. Its core mission is to make the impact of design visible to all. Celebrating its tenth anniversary provided the perfect opportunity to take a look into its remarkable history and promising future. An important part of that was to reflect on its vision and purpose, realign its commitments and priorities, and find fresh ways to serve the design community. Enter: a brand new logo. Woodford, founder and executive director, reflects on ten years, the Design Museum’s most important symbol, and their evergreen values—culture, community and, of course, design.
Happy anniversary! How does it feel to be ten and why is now the time to introduce a brand new identity?
Thank you! It’s a huge milestone, and feels amazing. After ten years of successful exhibitions, strong momentum in the community and a base of support galvanized for DMoC, we are ready to take our brand to the next level. We spent considerable time thinking about what we stand for and why we matter. In short, we exist to elevate the importance of design in our lives and help people see design, in all its manifestations, in entirely new ways. In part, this means that they must see us differently, too. That led us to rethinking our visual identity and brand expression, which will propel us over the next decade and beyond.
What’s the story behind the new logo from a design perspective?
Our new identity is informed by a strategic and creative mash-up of three factors: the Bauhaus movement, the grid as the design principle which organizes the streets of Chicago, and the many different communities in our city. First, the Bauhaus had a huge impact on design across the world, influencing everything from art and architecture to fashion and typography. In 1937, Chicago became the birthplace of The New Bauhaus, which evolved into the IIT Institute of Design, an incredible part of our city’s design history. Second, we looked at the structure of the city itself. In 1909, architects Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett unveiled a new plan for Chicago which included an iconic grid structure for its streets. Today, an aerial view reveals our interconnectivity, thoroughfares, blocks and diverse communities. Put together, this all creates a logo that is not just aesthetically striking but also meaningful and purposeful, reflecting DMoC’s commitment to celebrating design and connecting diverse perspectives within the design community.
In what ways does this redesign best represent the museum and its mission today, as well as its future?
As a design museum, our mission is to help people see design differently and understand its impact on our lives. From pop-up exhibitions like “Chicago: Home of House” on the Silver Room’s storefront in Hyde Park to colorful murals like “Postcards to Chicago” on the north side of Navy Pier, we help people experience design in unexpected ways. Our brand expression needs to reflect these values, help us break old paradigms and rules, while allowing us to showcase the diverse ideas, philosophies and cultures that make up Chicago.
Our new identity is designed to embrace change so it can express different exhibitions, personalities and events. This inspired us to ask ten Chicago designers to apply their talents to our new identity, giving them a framework but asking them to push its boundaries. The results were nothing short of amazing, full of surprises, insight and originality in ways that are truly reflective of the cultural fabric of our city. It proved to us that we have a powerful identity system that can shift and bend while still being recognizable.
Why was Substance Collective the right collaborator to make this happen?
The best design comes from people with an intuitive understanding of the brand and its strategic mission. Jamie Koval, co-founder at Substance Collective, is on our board. He really gets us. The firm is an amazing team of designers, technologists and strategists that bring ideas to life in impactful ways. Their clear passion for design, design history, Chicago and its culture made them an ideal partner for this project. This, combined with Jamie’s co-founder Steven Ryan’s collaborative design prowess, resulted in a memorable and meaningful visual identity that fully embodies DMoC.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome bringing this to life?
The rebrand of DMoC went as smooth as any project that I’ve been a part of. Why? We had the right people driving our brief, who also approved the work. The best people create the best ideas. Every time. One of the only challenges was the difficult task of leaving so much great work on the cutting-room floor. Ultimately we had to make tough decisions to ensure that the final product was focused, memorable and accurately represented our mission. It was a challenging but rewarding process, and I’m thrilled with the result.
What are you looking forward to in the next ten years?
We are so excited to take the next big step as a cultural organization that has an impact on how people experience design, and over the next ten years, want DMoC to become much more visible as a destination for locals and visitors alike. But more than that, I’m excited for the future of the city of Chicago. The people who live here have endless potential, and because of that, the city is marked by new beginnings and constant evolution.
Looking back helps me look forward. In 1937, Bauhaus master László Moholy-Nagy wrote to his wife and collaborator Sibyl about Chicago, saying “it all looks familiar but when you investigate it, it’s a different culture—it is no culture yet, just a million beginnings.” In 2018, five years ago somehow, we were inspired by these ideas and commissioned Troy Lehman to design them into a poster for “Great Ideas of Humanity,” an exhibition on design and philosophy. Still inspired, I’m looking around at the million beginnings happening in Chicago today, and am elated to see what comes of them.
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