Preview: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum today announces a new name and graphic identity, custom typeface and website to accompany the expansion of the museum, which will open to the public on December 12. Designed by Pentagram’s Eddie Opara and team, the bold identity establishes a flexible branding system for the museum. Opara’s customized characters for the wordmark have been fully developed into a new typeface, Cooper Hewitt, created by Chester Jenkins of Village in collaboration with Pentagram.
Opara and his team worked closely with Cooper Hewitt and Jenkins to develop the identity. Located in the historic Andrew Carnegie Mansion in New York, Cooper Hewitt is part of the Smithsonian Institution, the group of 19 museums and galleries administered by the U.S. government. In a first, the new Cooper Hewitt identity has been conceived as a design that truly belongs to the people: The identity also exists as a new typeface that will be made available free to the public, who are encouraged to utilize it in their own designs. The font has also been acquired for the museum’s permanent collection.
“We are spreading good design by making our elegant new typeface, Cooper Hewitt, available as a free download on cooperhewitt.org, as well as collecting it as an important example of the design process,” says Cooper Hewitt director Caroline Baumann. “We look forward to seeing how the public uses this new design tool in their lives.”
Opara also helped develop the museum’s new name. Formerly the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, the new name replaces “National” with “Smithsonian” and eliminates the hyphen, simplifying the brand while emphasizing its heritage.
Animation demonstrating the scalability of the new Cooper Hewitt typeface.
Iconic, engaging and highly functional, the new Cooper Hewitt wordmark forms a perfect rectangle that can easily be scaled, positioned and colorized without losing its strong visual presence. There is an intriguing relationship between the words “COOPER” and “HEWITT” in the new identity: Set normally, the words are different widths. Here, each character has been tailored to help define the overall typographic frame. The wordmark has been expressly designed to serve as the basis for a wide variety of uses.
“Cooper Hewitt’s new identity plays it straight, with no play on visual or theoretical complexity, no puzzling contradiction or ambiguity, no distracting authorship,” says Opara. “Function is its primary goal, and ultimately the logo is important, but not as important as what the museum does.”
The new Cooper Hewitt wordmark will be accompanied by the signature “Smithsonian Design Museum,” which uses the Smithsonian’s existing identity, designed by Chermayeff and Geismar in 1997 and set in the contrasting serif typeface Minion Pro.
The Cooper Hewitt typeface is a contemporary sans serif with characters comprised of modified geometric curves and arches. The font evolved from a customization of Galaxie Polaris Condensed that Opara originally commissioned for the identity. Jenkins designed a new, purely digital form built on the structure of Polaris. The new font is redrawn from scratch, using the existing forms of Polaris as a rough guide.
Cooper Hewitt will be available as a free download as installable fonts, web font files, and open source code on cooperhewitt.org. Widely used across all Cooper Hewitt media and collateral—from object labels to the museum website—the unique font will become closely associated with its namesake.
Opara and his team have also redesigned the Cooper Hewitt website with a modular format that complements the physical transformation of museum and serves the expanding digital needs of the institution. Optimized for mobile devices, the design makes Cooper Hewitt’s activities, collections, programs and content easily accessible to visitors. The site, currently in beta, is being implemented in WordPress by Matcha Labs, in conjunction with the museum’s in-house digital team. Opara and his team have also created an extensive collateral systems for the various museum departments, including membership, education and the shop.
Pentagram’s Michael Gericke and his team are currently developing signage and wayfinding based on the new identity, to be introduced with the museum’s reopening in November. The revitalization of the museum includes a major expansion and renovation developed in collaboration by Gluckman Mayner Architects and executive architect Beyer Blinder Belle, with Diller Scofidio + Renfro designing some exhibitions, the museum store and the 90th Street entrance. Opara and his team are collaborating with Cooper Hewitt on the exhibition graphics and have developed an innovative new labeling system that utilizes a revolutionary interactive Pen for a unique visitor experience.
Identity: Eddie Opara, partner-in-charge and designer; Ken Deegan, designer. Cooper Hewitt typeface designed by Chester Jenkins at Village.
Website: Eddie Opara, partner-in-charge and designer; Ken Deegan and Frank LaRocca, designers. Development by Matcha Labs.
Environmental Graphics: Michael Gericke, partner-in-charge and designer; Don Bilodeau, associate and designer; Elizabeth Kim, designer.