Friday, September 30, 2011

The Asian responds to comments. The logo is dead. Long live the logo.

 New logo on the Asian Art Museum's web page.
Tim Hallman, Director of Communications & Business Development at the Asian Art Museum wrote to me and fellow blogger Mike of Civic Center blog fame regarding our critical posts about the Asian's new logo.

Hi Michael/Nancy,

....I need to clarify some misconceptions.   

The project was a staff-led initiative. The board agreed that it was necessary, and helped fund the project. We weren’t “conned into it,” as an uninformed colleague may have suggested.

We invited more than 20 firms to respond to our RFP. Three of the top five who made the initial cut were from SF, including some big famous shops. We chose Wolff Olins because they had a wealth of experience in shepherding highly regarded art museums—including The Tate, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the New Museum, and the Fine Arts Museums of SF, among others—through similar transformations. The project was comprehensive in scope—not just a logo--and included audience research, strategic analysis of our current offerings, and a review of the competitive landscape— plus some great creative thinking and design that we will use for years to come. Btw, we used their NY office, not London.

Also, sometimes good to go out of your comfort zone, and try working with folks with a different perspective than the neighbors. We hired WO because we knew they would challenge us--and vice versa.

But I can understand how you feel about the logo. I, frankly, disliked our previous logo. I found it to be a bit of a tired cliche with an overly East Asia feel to it. A stylish (though now dated) re-imagining of a scholar's seal (read 'elite') stamped at the bottom of a hanging scroll, completely ignoring the power and significance of other regions, cultures, and art forms that are represented in our collection. And I'm not the only one who felt that way.

Though the new logo itself may not appeal to everyone (it is just a logo, after all), it reflects a bold new perspective. You recognize the symbol, but you're looking at in a new way—this is what our curators try to do when presenting the collection. “You may think you know this, but look at it this way.” That's why Holland Cotter of the NY Times started his 2003 review of our new home with this line:

''ASIA'' doesn't exist; it never did. It's a fantasy, a fiction, one of those words the ancient Greeks put on their maps to indicate everything ''out there'' to the East. Nor is there such a thing as ''Asian art,'' though San Francisco has just opened a $160.5 million museum devoted to it.

I especially like the neutral nature of the new logo--it doesn't play favorites--no stereotypical leanings toward Buddhas, bamboo, dragons or geishas. I like the 3-D aspect to it--the left side faded into the back, the right side jutting forward--a bit like past and present converging.  Must of all, we LOVE the fact that an upside down A is the mathematical symbol signifying "for all." We want to be for everyone. For all.

Choosing that logo was definitely not the safe choice. But that's the point. Time for us to a bit bolder.

What's more important than a logo, and most exciting, is our new vision and brand promise -- to spark connections across cultures and through time, igniting curiosity, conversation, and creativity. Engaging everyone is what it's all about, whether you're already an art lover, or new to the museum. We want to awaken and inspire.  This is not a slogan or tag line--it's a guiding principle for our work. 

The fact that the museum's staff, board, volunteers, supporters, and friends participated (as a member, you were invited to provide input through online surveys) in the very rigorous process in developing our promise convinces me that it was hardly a waste of time or energy. It was actually quite thrilling, and has given the institution a sharper focus--just what we needed to navigate these challenging times.

Tim Hallman
Director of Communications & Business Development

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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