The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is holy ground not just for scientists and engineers, but for graphic designers as well. In the sixties, designers like Jacqueline Casey, Dietmar Winkler, Ralph Coburn and Muriel Cooper adapted the visual forms of European modernism to a lively, particularly American version that marked MIT as a place that balanced rigor and invention. Perhaps nowhere at MIT was that design impulse more pronounced than at the MIT Media Lab, which Cooper co-founded and where she ran the Visual Language Workshop. Nearly 30 years after its founding, the Media Lab has a new visual identity designed by Pentagram.
The first visual identity of MIT lab was created by Jacqueline Casey and it was consisted of colored bars inspired by an installation created in the first Media Lab building. But it was more of an illustration of the installation than a real logo. The first redesign of the identity was created for its 25th anniversary by E Roon Kang and Richard The. Since the MIT lab is innovative in its core, the concept was to create a dynamic identity based on the algorithmic logo that generates more than 40.000 permutations of the logo. More than enough to offer every new member of the MIT with its own personal logo, for the next 25 years. The logo has three intersecting spotlights that can be organized in more than 40,000 shapes using an algorithm.
The idea is interesting at very least, but the problem occurred every time they got asked to offer a logo and they simply didn’t have a fixed one.
Another issue was that MIT Lab spreads to 23 very different departments, with each one trying to leave a mark in its own field. Having that in mind it is only logical that every department should have its own logo but they should all be part of the same identity.
Enter Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and Aron Fay. They started using the same 7X7 grid used for the anniversary logo, with the inspiration from the MIT Press grid based logo designed by Muriel Cooper, and created a simple monogram, to serve as the Media Lab logo.
Than using the same grid, they created the logos for the other 23 departments.
This grid system is logical, but is it informative enough , that is does it represent the mission and objectives of the MIT Media Lab in the best way, is an ongoing debate.
Some say that taking the 7X7 grid as a starting point from the last MIT ML logo, and changing the logo completely is not enough to resemble the old identity (if that was the purpose of that), that this looks like a transitional design and not something that could be built upon and that it doesn’t convey Media Lab’s “diversity of activity”. There are also a lot of comments about the black and white being the primary color instead of a colorful system. Others are saying it is a clever evolution of the old logo, that it looks great and the application possibilities are enormous.
Which side are you on?
Share your thoughts on this design approach in the comments.