SMCS / Logotype
June 2004
Stedelijk Museum CS

Note: this entry is part of a larger group of texts about the SMCS assignment. To read the full story about this project, start at SMCS / Introduction, and click through all the successive pages from there.
On another note – we wrote the texts below quite a while ago. We just reread them, and noticed some of them seem a bit outdated, and might need to be rewritten. Some of the used images need some reworking as well. We'll do this in the near future.

In short, the logo system we designed for Stedelijk Museum CS is based on two historical references.
First of all, the abbreviation SMCS, and the use of the typeface Univers, both refer to the original Stedelijk Museum (SM) logotype designed in the 70s by Crouwel.
Secondly, the use of the red/blue diagonal lines refers to the pattern found on airmail envelopes.
The SMCS logotype is basically a crossroads of two histories: the history of the Stedelijk Museum as an institute, and the history of the former Post Office that is now (as we are writing this) the new, temporary location of the museum.

So in that sense, the SMCS logo is very much a homage to two Dutch social-democratic institutes (SM and PTT) that both played a big role in the cultural landscape we grew up in. In fact, the logo is a deeply personal statement, a sort of monument for the Dutch welfare state of our youth, a welfare state that is now sadly being dismantled (through privatization, neo-liberal politics, etc.).

The use of diagonal lines enabled us to design the logotype as a system of four different variations. These variations kept the logotype in a constant 'inbetween' state, just as 'inbetween' as the actual museum.

In issue of 2/3 of the Stedelijk Museum Bulletin (May 2004) we explained the logotype in a more elaborate way. The text is too long, and the translation is terribly awkward (not to mention our own writing skills are quite feeble), but for the sake of completeness, we included the article below. First we show the logo system in colour, then the black/white variation, and then the article as it was published in the Stedelijk Museum Bulletin:


The article as it appeared in the Bulletin, May 2004:

"The logo design had to be done in a particularly short time: we had only about two weeks between the time that the definitive name for the temporary museum was known to us, and the time that the logo had to be presented to the press. We first decided to abbreviate this name (Stedelijk Museum CS) to SMCS for the logo. It seemed to us that this acronym would be easier to work with than such a long name. In addition, the abbreviation SMCS relates in a logical way to SMBA (Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam), another dependance of the Stedelijk Museum.
Looking for a starting point for the design of the logo, our first thought was to have it refer to the original function of the new location, the former Post Group building, where mail was once sorted and distributed. From this background we came up with the idea of using the typical red/blue motif of an airmail envelope. Gradually we began to feel that the reference to mail was interesting in itself, but that there were also other reasons to use this blue/red diagonal striped pattern. Some random notes (in no particular order) about these other reasons:

01. The colour red was almost a given for us, because the original logo of the Stedelijk Museum was also in this colour. The colour blue is a contrasting colour to red. By using red and blue together, not exactly mixed but more integrated into a pattern, a sort of internal contrast could be suggested. From the SM 'mission statement' that was given to us, it appeared clearly that the Stedelijk Museum once again wanted to orient itself to radical, utopian art; to put it simply, a reorientation to modernism. The idea of modernism is permeated with contrasts, paradoxes and dialectics. For us, the manner in which the colours red and blue are used, as two extremes which do not mix but instead exist next to each other, expressed this system of contrasts.

02. The diagonal pattern makes it possible to connect the letters with one another. Through these connections, the museum (the letter M) relates both to the city (S, for stad, 'city' in Dutch), and to the specific location (the letters CS, for 'Central Station').
Certain gradations of abstraction can be created by using these diagonal stripes. The logo looks as if it is in an interim stage, as if it is being covered up or, on the contrary, revealed. This abstraction refers to the intermediate phase in which the Stedelijk Museum is now. (This is also the reason why there are four versions: the logotype is in a constant intermediate state).

03. Diagonal stripes give the logo a sketchy feeling, like the shading in a pencil drawing. Still another reference to the intermediate phase mentioned above.

04. As the expression of dynamism and progress, the diagonal line is almost emblematic of modernism. In the history of graphic design the diagonal line is found frequently in the work of, for example, Piet Zwart, Jan Tschichold and El Lissitzky.

05. The typeface used is Univers, designed in 1952 by Adrian Frutiger. First of all, this is a reference to the Stedelijk Museum itself; thanks to Wim Crouwel, one could consider this as the 'essential' Stedelijk Museum type. The use of an archetypical 'functionalist' type like Univers is also a clear reference to modernism. The type refers to the original function of the new location as well, because the old logo of the Post Office was also set in Univers.

Often historical references, such as in this case to modernism, are seen as a cynical or ironic gesture, but we absolutely do not intend it that way. In our opinion, a good design must also be about design itself. We see the history of design not as a succession of trends, phases and periods, but more as a spatial structure with an historical dimension: history like a building, with foundations, walls, entrances and exits. We want to make this construction clear to the viewer. For us, the idea of making a construction clear has more to do with modernist ideals than with postmodern irony.
It is interesting in this connection that, considered etymologically, the word 'modernism' does not come from the word 'new' but from the word 'now'. That is ultimately much more interesting: the 'now' as the place where the past and future touch one another, as a synthesis. What interests us in modernism is precisely NOT the 'neo-mania', that caricatural craving for the new. What interests us much more is the idea of modernism as a dialectical system: as the pursuit of a synthesis of theory and practice, a synthesis of art and design, of autonomy and engagement, of asymmetry and balance, etc. etc. It is precisely the paradox contained in the idea of 'historic modernism' that interests us."

Stedelijk Museum Bulletin, issue 2/3, May 2004

Filed under:

Graphic identities

( c ) 1997 – 2024