Branding a cultural icon

Perched on the waterfront overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in the stylish Silo district of Cape Town, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art launched with the largest collection of contemporary African art in the world. The interior of the building itself is a design marvel, with curvaceous walls and a cavernous, cathedral-like space inside.

M&C Saatchi Abel created the logo and brand identity of the museum to represent Africa’s newest cultural icon.

Robert Grace, is the founding partner and head of strategy at M&C Saatchi Abel. He describes branding a building that represents contemporary African art as a “significant challenge – both practically and intellectually”.

“Our aim with the branding was to create a backdrop – like the building itself – for the constantly changing body of work the museum will collect and exhibit. We needed to be sure the branding would never interfere [with the art]. As Heatherwick re-imagined the 42 silos that makeup the building to create a spectacular space to house the art, we reimagined the 42 silos as a graphic device that went on to inform every aspect of the branding from the logo to the unique font and even the toilet signs.”

The branding project took two years to complete. At the start of the journey for such a large project, questions including how to ensure the brand and design reflects such a diverse continent come up. As with any project, the designers asked what, ultimately, they were trying to achieve.  And in this instance, it was, “how do we represent the re-imagination of African art”.

Grace explains: “For many visitors this is going to be their first experience of contemporary African art, certainly on this scale with the breadth of artists. So we started with what the clichéd and contrived view often is of African art, and then we set about challenging that view. The journey took us right back to space itself, inspired by the physical (the 42 silos) and the evolving (all it will represent and showcase).”

There are always limitations to branding, and what branding can achieve. Grace acknowledged that branding can never tell a full, but only hint at what’s to come. “After much exploration and stripping away the complexity of the task we arrived at a beautifully simple solution – the graphic silo device adapting and constantly changing by each silo drawing it’s colour from the artwork or environment it is representing in that moment. 

“A small but magical detail we designed on the website was an algorithm that analyses the dominant image on the site and draws its colour palette from the image. In that way it will constantly evolve and adapt as the museum collection grows.”

Grace, and M&C Saatchi took the project on pro-bono and also endowed a photography space within the gallery because they were so supportive of its intentions. But, as ever, it was the opening that was the most rewarding part of the experience for Grace. He describes how there is nothing more rewarding than seeing people engaging and interacting with the branding.

Local people’s reactions and queues show that the museum is being well received. Grace says that the daily queues to get into the museum – and more so on a Wednesday mornings when entry is free for African citizens - are testament to the ability of this important institution to attract locals. “And what is probably most significant is the impact the museum will have in inspiring creative thought from the thousands of South African and African schoolchildren and students that will visit in whose future potential we rely.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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