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The Genius Behind the Whitney Museum's New Logo

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This story appears in the October 2013 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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With more museums and galleries than nearly any city on the planet, New York City's art scene is as cutthroat as the business world. So when the Whitney Museum of American Art began preparations for its 2015 move from its longtime home on the Upper East Side to new downtown digs, the institution decided to rethink its identity, too. "Hundreds of visual decisions have to be made within the new building: signage, directories, graphic information. Our previous branding just wasn't sufficient," says Jeff Levine, chief marketing and communications officer.

Video: Introduction of the new Whitney graphic identity, short movie by Experimental Jetset

Seeking not just a logo but an entire identity system--from typography to visual behaviors--the Whitney wanted a mark that could extend to widely varying graphic materials, had a timeless quality and placed primary importance on the presentation of the art itself. "With our previous identity, we had to crop artwork and place text over images. We wanted a new approach that was more respectful of our art and artists," Levine says.

Whitney Museum's New LogoFor help, the museum turned to Amsterdam design firm Experimental Jetset, helmed by Marieke Stolk, Erwin Brinkers and Danny van den Dungen. They created a minimalist mark built around a thin, elastic "W" zigzag that "responds" to space, changing shape based on surrounding text or images. "The identity allows the Whitney designers to put their own creativity in it and turn the volume up or down--subtly alongside an artwork reproduction, or more dominantly when used on its own," the design trio explains.

Compellingly, the so-called "Responsive W" breaks a cardinal rule: that a logo should remain consistent to build brand recognition. "The fact that this isn't a static mark is a major shift not only for the institution's identity, but also for branding in general," says Whitney director of graphic design Hilary Greenbaum.

Still, there are mandates for consistency. Experimental Jetset issued a 220-page guidebook that outlines how to implement the identity system but "leaves room for the design staff to interpret," says Greenbaum, who has led the extension to the website, museum guides and membership cards. "Having an identity that bends and sways to the artwork is brilliant and a direct reflection of the Whitney's philosophy."

Edition: May 2017

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