Pentagram’s Austin office has developed a comprehensive identity system and website design for the New Mexico Museum of Art (NMMA), a century-old fine art museum located on the historic Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
When the museum opened in 1917, it was the first building in the state dedicated to art. The museum was built by residents of New Mexico to promote the state’s rich culture, and it remains a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs to this day.
Architects Isaac Hamilton and William Morris Rapp designed the museum as a modified version of their 1915 Panama-California Exposition building in San Diego. The Pueblo Revival style uses modern construction materials and methods to mimic the appearance of the historic adobe churches found in New Mexico’s Pueblos. Throughout its long history, the New Mexico Museum of Art has grown and redefined itself to adapt to shifting trends in art and museum practices.
Shortly after the New Mexico Museum of Art’s centennial anniversary, plans for a sister museum were announced. Opening in 2022, the Vladem Contemporary will be located in Santa Fe’s popular Railyard District.
Around the same time, the museum engaged Pentagram Austin to create an updated brand identity and website for the institution. The previous identity, which featured a pedestrian Roman typeface set in two shades of green, had become outdated and didn’t reflect the museum’s unique cultural heritage.
Pentagram started by exploring contemporary typefaces that felt authentic to the culture of New Mexico and reflected the organic, faux-adobe construction of the museum’s historical structure. The design team decided on GT Pressura, a modern sans-serif font designed by the Grilli Type foundry that features rounded letterforms and a subtle, handcrafted personality.
The museum’s lengthy name and awkward acronym (NMMA) prompted the team to explore design configurations where the two “M” words, “Mexico” and “Museum,” could share the same letter. The final logotype solution consists of an all-caps word stack with the letters “USEUM,” in the word “MUSEUM,” turned sideways so the word runs vertically down the left-side of the stack. The juxtaposition of the two “M” words sharing the same letter plays an eye-trick that is easily readable but distinctive and memorable.
Two horizontal versions of the logotype maintain the turned letterform that occurs in the primary identity lockup. The sideways “M” in the word “MUSEUM” ends up creating a striking, zigzag letterform that echoes traditional geometric patterns used by the Native American artisans of New Mexico’s Acoma Pueblo in their famous pottery.
The rotated “M” symbol, nicknamed the “Lazy M” by the Pentagram Austin team (in Texas ranch brand parlance), gives the identity system an additional icon that the museum can use. The Lazy M, abstract and artful in its own right, is also used in a shorthand mark that drops one of the “M’s” of the NMMA acronym and spells out the word “Art.”
The updated color palette introduces three vibrant shades that correspond with the original décor of the museum, but also evoke the beauty and rich heritage of New Mexico. The primary color of the new NMMA brand is a red/orange tint that evokes the color of New Mexican enchiladas (with red sauce) as well as the Spanish tile and adobe walls found in the state’s traditional architecture. A deep blue, evocative of turquoise and the New Mexico sky, and a cactus green can be used interchangeably in the revamped identity system.
Pentagram also redesigned the museum’s website, infusing it with the sophistication and functionality of the refreshed identity. The updated website is simple, organized, and utilizes ample white space to highlight the museum’s collections and allow the art itself to be the hero.
The design team was also asked to develop concepts for a permanent tombstone sign at the entrance of the museum to beckon visitors from the touristy, historical Plaza across the street. This entrance sign and the Vladem Contemporary Museum, both on pace for completion soon, will usher in a new century of art and design into the Land of Enchantment.