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Opinion: the Design Museum Shop identity

Graphic Design
The Design Museum Shop has a new identity. Build’s friendly, fun scheme has been superseded by Spin’s elegant, pared back approach. Graphic design in microcosm. Five years ago, the Design Museum shop adopted a new visual identity system created by Build.

“We tried numerous approaches, many of them serious, even a little high-brow,”

the studio said of its work on the project.

“The end result was much more fun, approachable and of course enticing, to get feet through the shop door at the end (or the start) of a visit.”

That scheme has now been replaced with a new one by Spin (as we reported here) which aligns the shop much more closely with the main Museum brand (merely adding +SHOP to the existing GTF-designed mark) and elegantly employs a simple line as a graphic device to tie the scheme together. Read more…

Design Museum Shop paper bags using the old Build identity and the new Spin scheme
There is always more than one route to solve a design problem: in this case, we must presume, boosting sales for a shop within an insitution that caters to a design-literate, or at least design-curious, audience. Do you create a separate identity for the shop thus distinguishing it from the rest of the Museum, recognising the demands of its distinct, commercial, public-facing purpose and building a brand in its own right, or do you exploit the brand of the Museum itself by making the shop visually much more a part of the organisation and aligning the Museum’s various activities using one consistent visual language? Do you seek to make what could be seen as a high-brow institution more friendly and welcoming, your mission to convince that design is for everyone and not just those in fancy glasses, or do you take the view that the country’s only specialist design museum should be confident in its appeal and reflect the values of those whose work it displays? Should the Museum Shop’s own visual identity be as visually stimulating as the products it sells or should it stand back, be neutral and let the products take centre stage?

The Build-designed Shop and Spin’s new look
In many ways the Build and Spin schemes are a microcosm of graphic design. It can be warm or it can be cool: rounded or sharp-edged. It can seek to differentiate or integrate. It can be open and diverse or it can seek order and tidyness. It can bound up to you, tail wagging, or it can maintain its distance and be slightly aloof.

Build-style package, Spin
You can find fault with either approach: the Build scheme might be seen as twee, its distinctiveness may date, its style jar with that of the rest of the Museum. The Spin scheme, on the other hand, could be accused of being too ‘obvious’, too pared down, lacking in character, the line too simplistic a device. And that – bizarre to me – criticism that we often get in the comments here that ‘they haven’t done much for the money’ as if the worth of design projects should be determined by ink coverage or the quantity of typefaces employed.

Build bags , Spin

And both can be praised: Build’s scheme was a breath of fresh air, it offered multiple opportunities to create ‘own-brand’ products, it was fun and extremely engaging. Spin’s is elegant, appropriate, brings the shop back in line with Museum brand and we all know that doing the simplest thing can be the hardest thing of all.
There are always shifting priorities within client organisations which inform the tone of their communications: at some point the emphasis is on being more approachable, friendly, then research tells them that’s gone too far and they want to be taken seriously again. In times of plenty they may want to be seen to be confident and effervescent, then times get tougher and something more austere is the order of the day. One year it could be all about establishing a federation of sub-brands, the next something more monolithic is deemed appropriate. One year they want flexible and multifaceted, the next iconic. It’s up to the designer to respond to those demands and produce something appropriate. It doesn’t mean what went before was necessarily wrong (although it might have been), more often simply that it might be an idea to try something new.

That’s why what has happened with the Design Museum shop is interesting. It’s far from the biggest or most important redesign we’ll see this year but it’s a good example of how different graphic design executional approaches result from different perceived client needs and of the two parallel tracks that visual communications often finds itself on. The slightly warm and fuzzy, informal and friendly set aside the cool and elegant, formal and intellectual. Neither is inherently right nor worng and, as this case shows, both can be deemed appropriate for the same organisation at different times. In another five years, we might see the Design Museum Shop switch tracks again.

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