A Closer Look at MPS Branding and MoMA’s Destination: NYC

July 15, 2013

In May, with help from the students in the MPS Branding Department at SVA, the MoMA Design Store unveiled Destination: NYC, a collection of 200 lifestyle products designed in one of the five boroughs and manufactured in the U.S. In the six months leading up to the launch, the students work with MoMA Retail staff to create the collection’s visual identity through logos, product displays, signage and online graphics. SVA Close Up recently caught up with instructor Mark Kingsley and MoMA Retail Assistant Creative Director Brian Bergeron to learn more about the collaboration.

What was MoMA looking for?
Brian Bergeron:
Each of the MoMA Design Store’s Destination: Design projects has a unique visual identity inspired by the character of the region’s product collection. In the past, graphics have been designed in-house or by one of the project’s participating designers. To commemorate our 10th destination, Mexico (May 2012), we took a new approach and invited local students to work with the MoMA creative team on developing Destination: Mexico’s visual identity which was communicated through product displays and signage, online graphics, and collateral materials. Due to the success of that experiment, we wanted to collaborate with a local graphic design university on the visual identity of Destination: NYC.

What difference did it make to you and the students that this was for the MoMA Design Store, rather than another retailer?
Mark Kingsley:
In theory, because every project is specific to the client and their needs, it makes all the difference in the world. If Mayor Bloomberg’s team had approached us instead of MoMA, it would have been a different solution.

There were site visits to both retail locations and the MoMA galleries. How did that factor into the process?
The students were encouraged to visit all stores and the Museum at the project kick-off. I was encouraged that many of the students had been to MoMA and most had shopped in at least one store location. Site visits became essential as we developed the visual language and photography in the stores and at the Museum.

How did the Visible Futures Lab at SVA play a part in the project?
The facilities push the boundaries in emerging technologies for product design and visual fabrication. The CNC technology allowed for a manifestation of small to large scale window props and in-store visuals.

MK: It was wonderful to be able to create the more complex forms with such ease—as simple as hitting “print.”

Many of the students were new to New York City, some from abroad. Was that more of an advantage or disadvantage?
I remember the first day that I met with the students and I asked them to introduce themselves and where they were from. I was astounded at the diversity of the group, and that it echoed our Museum visitor audience. I was pleased that there were a few New Yorkers in the mix too.

MK:  I guess the fact that some students were new to the city could be considered a disadvantage, if they were guided just by superficial impressions. As it turned out, some of the more successful strategic work came from students with a deeper “Brooklyn” experience and point of view.

By the nature of Destination: NYC, it almost seems like you were branding New York City. Did that make things easier or harder?
NYC is so many different things to different people. The real challenge was to capture its essence in one mark. The flexibility that was built into the graphic system allowed us to cover all our bases and express the lively cross-section of cultures, lifestyles and creativity on every corner of this city.

MK: The system welcomes any and all combination of images, as long as it portrays the collision, combination, and collage that is New York City.

Which piece of the identity did you have the most back and forth about, and why?
In general, it was a very smooth collaboration. And much of that is thanks to the MoMA team’s willingness to embrace the ambiguity of any project’s early stages. We broke the 30 students into five different teams, each responsible for at least one distinct strategic and visual direction. So from the first client workshop, there was a generous amount of material to work with. And as the project progressed, and the lessons from each decision were built upon, the collaboration became easier and more open.

BB: We had a small challenge in incorporating the MoMA logo into the graphic, but the students pulled off a few beautiful inclusions of the mark that were both appropriate and in keeping with the spirit of the graphic identity.

Were there good ideas that were hard to let go of?
There was one direction that ended up not making the final cut, which took the multitude of bad signage, clumsy typography and four-color printing which populates the New York City streetscape and re-combined it into a highly ironic and somewhat confrontational celebration of ugliness. I kept saying that if we got the client to sign off on that direction, my career goals would have all been met!

BB: Part of the process that the students had to do was present to MoMA’s Design Jury for Destination, which included Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, and Emmanuel Plat, Director of Merchandising for MoMA Retail. Three logos were presented to that jury, and all ideas were well received. Alas, one had to be selected, and the jury had a tough time deliberating. For the final graphic identity, the students went above and beyond in delivering potential applications (shopping bags, Gorilla postings, subway campaigns, etc.), and my only regret was that we could not do them all!

Images: Top three courtesy of of Mark Kingsley; bottom photo courtesy of MoMA Design Store.

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