The new visual identity for the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania is informed by the museum’s architecture: the arrangement of its various spaces and the paths visitors take to move through them. The new website presents these paths in a digital space that encourages visitors to explore the relationships between current, past, and upcoming exhibitions, programs, publications, and posts.
This process started for us in June 2012 with a brief from ICA staff across all departments outlining their goals for a new website they wanted to launch in celebration of their 50th anniversary. As a kunsthalle—a non-collecting institution—they wanted to provide access to their vast archive dedicated to contemporary artistic practices and invite members of the community to come to ICA to discover connections on their own. Specifically, they wanted to:
· Be thoughtful about how exhibitions are articulated online as a curatorial extension of ICA’s space
· Let exhibitions and images drive the site, and think about new ways for them to be archived online
· Create a narrative that makes logical connections between content across the site
· Breathe life into and make available a selection of ICA’s extensive archive of printed matter, images, recordings, and catalogues, in order to make the archive available online as a resource for academics, art lovers, students, and the global art world
· Reimagine how archival content (both ephemera from exhibitions and documentation of programs) can be presented
Their interest in connecting their rich history with current exhibitions and programs was all in service to a bigger desire to show that ICA is—and always has been—a space to explore and discover contemporary art, artists, and ideas. Their mission statement (pictured above) articulates this and was used to develop three main strategies for the website:
FREE FOR ALL: “Free” means—literally—“no charge.” Now, it would also mean open access to vast quantities of digitized archival material: installation photos, videos, and audio of performances and talks; correspondence, curator’s notes, invites, and ephemera; and a rich history of publication. All of which, taken together, represent an exhibition from all angles.
ENGAGE AND CONNECT: The website is built entirely of connections between current and past exhibitions, programs, artists, ideas, publications, works, curators, and staff members. Viewing a current exhibition might lead you to a past performance; the postcard for a past exhibition could lead you to a blog post about an upcoming one.
OUR TIME: Not just contemporary, “our time” represents a shared sense of the collected nows from the last half-century and the role ICA continuously plays in shaping the present. An archive that connects past and present, the website provides space to reflect on a contemporary narrative.
The hierarchy amongst different types of content is flattened on the website, both in the content’s presentation and how it’s authored in the backend. We developed a custom content management system—called Other Management System—that allows ICA staff to connect all of this content without predetermined taxonomies for tagging or categorizing. Relationships emerge organically as pages and images are embedded, linked to, or related to each other.
The user experience is built around the two distinct ways we make choices on the web: clicking and scrolling. If clicking is about hopping decisively from place to place, then scrolling is about wandering—taking a stroll and not knowing exactly where you’ll end up. As you scroll down through the site, you endlessly meet new—but related—pages.
In between these pages is a space—signaled by its gray background—that reveals material from ICA’s digitized archive. This mimics the experience of discovering something by accident in a physical archive: choosing folders or boxes at random, and perceiving or uncovering relationships by chance. These offer an exit from the endless scroll as well as the start of an entirely new one.
In tandem with the website we redesigned ICA’s visual identity, which needed to mark the museum’s 50th anniversary and then transition seamlessly into the future.
The continuous scrolling through the site is analogous to the wandering paths visitors take to move through ICA’s building—which forms the basis of the grid behind the visual identity.
ICA, buildingICA logo gridICA logotype grid
This grid extends to the typographic setting of the full name of the institute, with “Art” dropping down a line, continuing the suggestion of a wandering path and highlighting ICA’s role as an artist-first institution. It can also be read as an illustration of ICA’s relationship with Penn: they are part of the university but physically sit just outside of it — across and down the street from the entrance to the main campus.
The identity is built around a single typeface, Blonde, by Swiss designer Aurele Sack — a contemporary take on early experiments with sans-serif typography known as Grotesques. Blonde recalls a moment in flux, and a straddling of past and present that mirrors ICA’s mission. And practically, our use of a single typeface forces a flattening of typographic hierarchy similar to what is happening online between page types.
ICA, new identity applicationsICA badgeICA exteriorJason Rhoades, banner back
ICA is a vital hub that connects the University of Pennsylvania, the city of Philadelphia, and the international art world. The new identity honors their past, looks to their future, and reaffirms their role in shaping the dialogue about contemporary art. Through the new website, ICA extends opportunities to experience and think deeply about “the contemporary” both to locals and to people who, due to distance, may never visit the museum in person.