The most wondrous place in the Universe gets a new brand workup. Is it an improvement or is the design too sterile?

So You Think You Know LogosA couple of weeks ago, The Chicago Museum of Science & Industry rolled out their new logo to mixed reactions (though if you read the comments on this article, the reaction’s none-too-mixed). Gone are the trademark bars with overlaid boxes, crowbarred into the design for the words ‘OF’ and ‘AND’ (trust me, doing that’s always a pain). In their place is a geometric linear treatment consisting of the museum’s acronym, wrestled into a 3D-ish icon. The old serif font’s been tossed too, replaced with type reminiscent of the Bauhaus school of thought. S’okay I guess. While it’s certainly an improvement over the old design, that’s not saying much, and from where I sit, the new design logo is a little too sterile for such a fun, wondrous and interactive environment. I’m not saying I hate it – I don’t – and that it’s not a nice logo – it is – but it just doesn’t radiate the kind of wonder that such a fabulous place demands. To be sure, it’s an improvement over the old, but there’s so much more they could have done. Here’s the two designs side by each so you can

Planes, trains and other cool stuff.

I was lucky enough to visit the museum several years ago when in Chi-Town for a conference with the Mrs (and will be able to go again next month under similar circumstances.) The place is absolutely amazing, and demands a few days visit just to take it all in. As my time was limited, I had to rush through the last bits and pieces, so I’m looking forward to going again with a little more time set aside. What needs to be said about a museum that has an honest-to-goodness-real-size 727 (United‘s first) hanging from the ceiling? If you’re an HO scale model train geek (guilty as charged) you’ll be equally blown away by the 3,500 square feet display The Story of Trains that sits underneath. Here’s a shot I took:
museum-of-science-industry-chicago-trainsSMThat impressive setup includes 192 custom models of exquisitely detailed buildings and landmarks, nestled amongst some of the coolest model trains and accessories you’re ever likely to see. There’s also a fully restored German U-boat in the basement. Here’s touristy shot the Mrs. took of your humble scribe at that exhibit. The place is immense.

New modern logo ignores heritage technology?

Sorry, forgot myself for a moment, but that’s the point of the museum I would think. And the new logo, while technically proficient from a design point-of-view, fails to capture any of that Willy Wonka, Alice in Wonderland vibe that’ll turn even the most cynical (guilty as charged) into a small child once inside the giant bronze doors. The new logo ignores the heritage of the museum (been around since 1933 – see here for more of the museum’s history and landmark exhibits) and seems to reflect more of the modern day silicon chip industry rather than the gears, cogs and grease of much of the historical technology on display. If ever a logo cried out for a bloody rocket ship treatment, this design might be it. Not that the logo is completely disassociated with the museum – the upright columns in the ‘W’ are supposed to represent the columns of the building (similarities to the old Enron logo have been noted). The new logo was designed by FutureBrand of New York, leading some to gripe that there were many Chicago-based agencies more than up to the task, and that the budget for the work might have been better spent locally.

Logo introduced during Winter Olympics’ TV spots.

In any case, the new logo is but part of a “massive rebranding campaign” that saw the new logo unveiled in TV spots (below) booked during the 2010 Winter Olympics, and a $205 million dollar, multi-year facelift called Science Rediscovered that began in 2008.

The ‘meh’ factor notwithstanding, it’ll be interesting to see how the new brand design pans out (the museum has already ported the new logo onto their website with a nifty transformation animation). Maybe I’ll post a first-hand update from the museum in a few weeks.

If I’m not too busy playing with the trains that is.