The art of identity
The communication programme for Heide Museum of Modern Art
Published in Australian Creative Magazine
Project reviewed by Andew AshtonStudio Pip and Co. Melbourne
I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with Brian Sadgrove during the judging process of Saxton Scholars in 2005. We had an hour or so, which isn’t a lot of time to get to know each other for the first time. Never the less we talked of many things including the redesign of the identity for Heide Museum of Modern Art.
Sadgrove had designed the original identity system for Heide in the early 1980s. He developed the hand scripted brand mark of Heide, which was anchored by a bold underline. The script seemed to reference the fairytale-like origins of the Museum. The stark graphic line speaks of the contemporary nature of the curatorial vision and the collection itself. The development of this mark was commissioned and overseen by John Reed and executed by Sadgrove.
When a designer’s work is superseded by another brief and another designer’s vision the situation always brings with it mixed emotions. Twenty or so years on Heide’s institutional name, market, client and brief had changed. The script – in John Reed’s handwriting – was purposely retained as an inclusion of the past, the bold line had been replaced by a predominant description of the facility. These subsequent revisions of the identity disappointed Sadgrove because the design he created was a graphic agreement, a piece of personal history put to the side for progress.
A home that became a museum.
Heide Museum of Modern Art was once known as simply Heide, the former home and retreat of philanthropists John and Sunday Reed, located on the urban edge of Melbourne. The Museum’s collection strengths are Australian art from the 1930s to present. When John and Sunday Reed died in 1981, their passing allowed their legacy to be fully realized – founding a hub for contemporary art in Australia. The Heide property as a result of the bequest became a public art museum surrounded by extensive gardens.
The challenge for the Museum was to evolve from a country retreat with many great memories to a cultural destination for Australian contemporary art. The survival of many arts organizations has translated to significant switches of management style, promotion, fund raising and patronage. Deeper investigation of the graphic programme developed by the marketing team at the Museum and GollingsPidgeon reveals that the consolidation from Sadgrove’s original identity was more than one designer making its mark over another; it’s about a client needing to communicate to a new audience. Cultural destinations have evolved into cultural attractions competing with sporting and entertainment events for audience share and subsequent funds.
The output speaks of the relationship.
The majority of cultural activities in Australia operate as not-for-profit organizations and are subsequently sparsely funded. To achieve the output that the Museum has enjoyed since of the appointment of GollingsPidgeon, a careful sponsorship package has been brokered between the Museum, the Studio and communication suppliers. “Our partnership with the Museum is a combination of commercial and sponsorship elements. The level of support we provide to Heide places us as a Principal Partner”, explains David Pidgeon, partner and creative director of GollingsPidgeon. ”If we were going to invest the time and resources to position the Museum where it wanted to be, we had to ensure that our efforts returned a significant communication design case study that would help express the studio’s proficiency to other existing and potential clients”.
This idea seems to make sense in principle, however it is rare in practice. Anna Draffin, Deputy Director of the Museum was key to achieving this ideal situation. Draffin developed a marketing programme that was robust and flexible enough to meet goals and keep Museum stakeholders on side, while meeting present and future developments. “We concentrated on forming and facilitating a good, collaborative team that brings individual strengths and expertise to a given project.” Draffin adds, “Experience has shown that the most rewarding marketing is a process of integrating creative content with its commercial presentation. Sometimes this translates as a more removed design process, and at other times, as a closer engagement in the activity. The trick is how and when to know which approach to adopt. I know this process is not fail safe, however the successes far out weigh the misses”.
The marketing milestones are numerous. Increased awareness of Heide’s brand can be measured in terms of patronage increases, up by almost 100% percent in 2006, increased annual turn over from the Heide Store and Heide Café, almost double respectively from 2004 to 2006. The refreshed brand has helped transform the Museum into an international hotspot for Australia art. Heide has enjoyed unprecedented attention from international cultural bodies and publications. “Heide Museum of Modern Art offers the Australian art sector an alternative to the larger state-run institutions. Our space attracts sponsors looking to position themselves as innovators, supporting the generations, past and new, in creative expression”. “It is the high quality of our publications and catalogues that also attract visitors as well as potential donors” Draffin continues, “Our museum is a space where you can enjoy established and emerging artists across a mix of contemporary and modernist expression in painting, sculpture, indigenous art, architecture, design and photography for a start within any given year”.
The work, the work, the work.
Building Heide’s brand was a process of identifying the fundamentals of the communications, and exceeding the expectations of all who interact with the Museum. The brand mark is made up a combination of fixed and flexible elements. The Heide script and layout of the type is fixed, yet the typefaces used throughout the communication are diverse and varied. Resulting in a brand mark that is consistent in presentation, exciting in expression. The brand and its ensuing roll out has been a project that has been allowed to mature. The communication expression has been broken up into smaller project clusters, allowing the client and the designer to drive the overall communication and meet marketing expectations. It is serendipitous that the most important and long standing expression - the signing programme, was a brief introduced into the work programme two years into the client designer relationship. An understanding and familiarity with client and its market brought to fruition in a considered, edgy and confident expression. The Heide project is a fine example of proactive design. The Museum reaps the benefits of thinking through a brand to its natural end, rather than reacting to a compressed time line.
This sentiment is extended into corporate collateral, exhibition publications and graphics, advertising and way finding systems as well. GollingsPidgeon from project to project has prepared materials designed to truly compliment each and every design brief. At the centre of every designed outcome produced by the Museum, from a business card, donors’ box, magazine, invitation, exhibition catalogue to environmental signage, is in the principle that beauty lies in detail and variation. The diversity of papers, layout treatments, and print techniques is an inspired experience. Every piece that comes from the Museum reminds the end user of the pleasure found in objects designed for that purpose.
Making the enduring choice.
It is unusual for a designer to resist the opportunity to make a mark on the graphic landscape. It is a special designer that has the ability to respect the communication heritage of a body of design work, manage the client’s present and future communications expectations, whilst achieving a creative execution that is new and inspiring.
In recent times the community has witnessed the butchering of many great corporate identities developed by some of our industry’s greatest designers. The unveiling of contemporary brand and communication strategy often signals dire days for an elderly brand. In most cases a tired brand can be made fresh again with a new context, rather than a makeover by the latest graphic filter offered by the newest graphic software package.
The identity program developed by GollingsPidgeon for Heide Museum of Modern Art is a piece of graphic design developed to help the institution position itself as a cultural destination and sophisticated cultural hub that extends well beyond its founders. In the presence of many museums and galleries fixated with rigid brands and strict communication guidelines, a vast range of well presented soulless objects has been allowed to become a communication standard in the cultural sector. The modest selection of materials on offer from Heide Museum of Modern Art and GollingsPidgeon is a collaboration to aspire to and an exciting example of innovative, seductive and thrifty communication design.