Happening Studio create a responsive and fluid identity for San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art
Happening Studio is the international design practice of Karen and Masato Nakada, based between Los Angeles, Zurich and Tokyo. Their re-branding of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) counters the traditional, static approach to institutional identities. The team’s conceptual and research-driven approach to development is rewarded through a highly adaptable, yet contemporary and diverse identity; designed for a diverse group of visitors, maintaining sincerity and clear communication, even in uncertain times.
The identity was formed as a result of understanding the dynamic and multi-faceted role of MCASD, within the local community and beyond. Describing the thinking behind the process, Happening Studio’s Co-founder Karen Nakada emphasises that “it was very clear that the new identity should not be represented with an overly simplified, single, fixed wordmark, a singular colour, and one single typeface.”
Noting that this approach wouldn't meet the museum’s criteria, nor be a sustainable long term solution, Happening proposed that the identity should be able to morph and adapt, resulting in a fluid identity that maintains a unique institutional voice – notably seen in the responsive direction of the logo, which shifts in a similar way to a website adapting to various formats. In order to make memorising the five letter acronym easier, Happening opted to break it down into smaller parts. “By separating ‘MCA’ and ‘SD,’” Nakada explains, “the two sets of acronyms are more memorable and create a stronger ownership of San Diego as a destination of the museum.” Taking inspiration from the museum’s architecture, the fluidity of the ‘in-between’ spacing of ‘M,’ ‘C,’ and ‘A’ is an homage to Selldorf Architects’ expansion of the MCASD’s flagship in California’s La Jolla region. Featuring skylights and vertical windows, Nakada tells us that the new architecture brings plenty of natural lighting as well as “creating in-between spaces of indoors and outdoors.”
Set in Commercial Type’s Robinson and customised to be unicase, the wordmark is inclusive and non-hierarchical. This is complemented by the identity’s other typefaces – Zin Sans and Zin Serif from Carnoky Type Foundry. “We were looking for a super family of fonts (serif, sans, extended, condensed),” Nakada reveals, “allowing the museum to have a diverse range of “voice” for various events and exhibitions but still be cohesive and institutional.”
The identity’s theme of fluidity further extends to the colour palette, with colourways drawn from MCASD’s two locations; the city and the beach. Red comes from The Trolley, San Diego’s light rail system, beige and blue come from the beach, and the deep leafy green represents the palm trees. The colours, which can be seen in vibrant and complementary groupings, are “designed to mix and match all the ingredients from its surroundings,” Nakada concludes.