New Work: MICA
MICA’s new identity is set in the Giza typeface, based on slab serif lettering popular around the time of the school’s founding in 1826.
Abbott Miller has designed a new identity for MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art, that launched on 1 April at the school’s annual Admission Open House. Miller, a faculty member at MICA, worked with his senior designer Kristen Spilman, a MICA graduate, to develop the identity based on research performed by graphic design graduate students at the College.
The Maryland Institute College of Art has long been known as MICA and the new, acronym-based identity is part of a seven year, institution-wide effort to change the school’s name. “The acronym has made its way into many publications, but without a consistent expression,” explains Miler. “The primary goal of the new identity was to provide a definitive graphic signature for the MICA acronym, as the institution fully embraces the moniker. And perhaps most importantly, it will provide MICA with a clear graphic expression on the national and international stage of its activities.“
The school’s existing identity, to be replaced by Miller’s design.
The Beaux-Arts Main Building, built in 1904, is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.
MICA’s contemporary Brown Center, built in 2003, sits across the street from the Main Building.
Located in downtown Baltimore’s historic Bolton Hill neighborhood, MICA’s campus is a unique combination of buildings that includes a renovated B&O train station, the Beaux-Arts Main Building and the glass and steel Brown Center built in 2003. This mixture of old and new creates the school’s distinct environment and is what inspired the new identity that is composed of the historically based slab serif typeface Giza designed by David Berlow in 1994. A slab serif was chosen because of the fonts’ popularity around the time of the College’s founding in 1826. The full signature of the institution, Maryland Institute College of Art, is set in a sans serif font, Griffith, that was designed by Chauncey Griffith in 1937, the same year he designed Bell Gothic. At the time, Griffith was the design director of Mergenthaler Type, founded by Ottmar Mergenthaler, who lived in the MICA neighborhood of Bolton Hill.
“MICA is a great art school with a rich history and an exciting future,” says Miller. “Our new identity reflects the patina of that history with solid historical letterforms that are played off against a modern linear framework. This mix of old and new is a direct reference to the school’s two major buildings, the Main Building and the Brown Center—one very new and one very old—that ‘talk’ to each other across the main street of the campus.” In fact, it was the rhythmic lines of the Main Building’s Beaux-Art facade that inspired the rules that separate the letters of the new mark, while the last, angled rule references the slanted glass prows of the contemporary Brown Center. Campus buildings also inspired the colors used in the new identity: oxidized green of the historic copper railings and architectural details, and brown and slate, the colors of the buildings’ stone and brick.
The identity consists of two marks, one of solid letterforms and the other stylized with a black and white pattern. The patterned mark was designed for use on more expressive applications such as cardboard portfolios and t-shirts. The pattern was inspired by decorative elements from the Main Building, the design of the industrial bolts and rivets of the train station (and Baltimore’s industrial persona in general) and the high-tech frit of the Brown Center. “The patterning of the identity program provides a richness of texture and a patina that feels authentic to the vitality of MICA and the urban fabric of Baltimore,” says Miller.
The synthesis of tradition and innovation is fitting for MICA, the country’s oldest accredited art school that consistently ranks as one of U.S. News and World Report’s top four art and design schools in the country. The new identity is part of the school’s Plan for the 21st Century, a concerted effort to create “a unique urban campus that continues a tradition of adaptive re-use of historic buildings and strong ties to the community while crafting a model environment for the education of artists and designers in the 21st century.” The new identity will help this effort by defining the boundaries of the campus through street light banners and identifying MICA buildings through building banners. The identity also creates a unified aesthetic presence for the school on campus, in the community and in its national and international representation.