Tate Modern takes a new look at public traffic influence


Welcome to the third edition of Theoretical Thursdays this summer. For the previous article click here. This week takes a look at Britain’s Tate Modern Museum branding. 

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Wolff Olins’s 1999 concept of the Tate Modern branding was that of “look again, think again,” according to the archive of the agency’s case study. This phrase is signature to the series and so clearly defines the idea of converting a nondescript public works space into a center of cultural enlightenment. People that see the glass Tate building actually enter the premises instead of just passing by a big, impressive art building. Wolff Olins reports that the attendance rose 87 percent during the first year it opened.

The logo for the Tate is fluid in its presentation. It has varying stages of clarity that while reinforcing the continuous looking—there is always a new version of the logo is supposed to mean there is always something new to look at inside the museum. As strong as this connection is of form to content this particular form dates its origin. The illegibility of the name “TATE” is highly reminiscent of the David Carson’s work from the early- to mid-1990s especially Ray Gun magazine. 502338020_3dd885c916_b

In my opinion this tech centric approach, now close to two decades old, looks more like a beginning design student playing with features in the Adobe Creative Suite software than high end design work. This branding visually documents the proliferation of desktop publishing software, like Adobe, that is now industry standard. Additionally, the multi-colored application of the logo, also fresh at the time of the brand launch, now feels amateurish. However, what makes it a valuable design contribution is that it pushes the envelope of what a logo can be. There are a number of different marks spelling out the Tate name, but each unique shape forms the system giving it variety; this is contrary to traditional design school rhetoric of creating a single primary logo to represent the client.

What sets this identity system apart from the Carson era graphics is the simplification of the final form making cross-platform production more easily rendered. Carson’s design approach layered levels of information to create meaning. Wolff Olins stripped the layers away to communicate as clearly as possible even as the form appears progressively more messy. This is how the logo is able to be etched directly into the glass as an application of the logo. The inclusion of the crisp, rounded letterforms keep the branding sharp and relevant even as design trends change. It seems that this may have been part of the revisions Wolff Olins mentioned at the seven year period.

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