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Historical Museum Gets a New Identity

Historical Museum Gets a New Identity

In preparation for a capital campaign supporting a major new physical facility, the Martha’s Vineyard [MA] Historical Society sought RISD’s assistance in creating a fresh visual presence for its museum—one that reflects the museum’s importance as both a repository of history and a contemporary cultural resource. The Martha’s Vineyard Museum houses a research library and a large collection of objects related to the Massachusetts island’s past, including artifacts documenting the history of whaling and paper records dating to the 17th century.

Under the guidance of Ootje Oxenaar, an internationally renowned designer and adjunct faculty member, students in the Graphic Design Department’s Identity Design studio generated focused identity systems through a process of research, concept development, refinement, presentation and group critique. Since the assignment involved a level of strategic planning unique to the requirements of a historically rich and socially embedded institution, they had to contend with contextual complexity and thematic challenges beyond the typical rebranding project.

Students presented their individual proposals to the Communications Committee of the Museum’s Board of Directors twice during the process. Judging by the positive response, the designers clearly succeeded in meeting the challenge. “The quality of RISD’s faculty and students, the work they produced, and the level of intellectual and technical effort they put into this could not have been higher,” notes Executive Director Matthew Stackpole.

In light of the “brilliant success” of the project and the quantity of “innovative and creative” identities proposed, Communications Committee Chair Leslie O’Brien admits that the final selection was a difficult one to make. The committee ultimately singled out three students for special recognition: Design Distinction went to juniors Ronit Cyjon and Jessica Walsh, and Highest Design Distinction was awarded to HRH Prince Carl Philip of Sweden (studying anonymously at RISD for the year), whose lighthouse design concept was selected for further development.

“This experience not only provided us with terrific content,” Stackpole concludes, “it also educated us and stimulated our understanding of the multiple levels on which identity design has to operate.”