Amanda Shepard, Vice President & COO
One of the great surprises of my career (going back to my days training as a painter with no idea where I’d end up) has been the innumerable ways that my bachelor’s degree in studio art has served many important decisions in the life of the Museum over the last 10 years. I loved painting more than any other studio discipline, but I was secretly jealous of the graphic design students because they wielded a cool factor over others in the program. They seemed to have inherent knowledge of highly sophisticated computer programs, and they exuded an “in” status with the professors that came from top positions in the corporate world. I took some of the same classes they did, but I couldn’t easily transition from my ethereal, painterly disposition to the kind of logical creativity that design requires.
Still, I did well enough and absorbed what I needed to understand what good design is and the rules that govern it. At the very least, I listened to the professionals that had impressive industry experience and learned to imitate their vision for good design, holding fast to what I knew was good art. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, though each occupies a specific realm of the visual world. Studio artists intuitively know that a good design can help them make good art, and designers no doubt employ the free exercise of creativity in even the most commercial work. And yet, art is made for its own purposes and design is in service to some end.
In 2021, I am secure in the fact that I stuck with painting and didn’t try to be something I’m not. I still think designers are pretty cool, especially the team at One Lucky Guitar (OLG) in Fort Wayne. When the FWMoA team committed to a website redesign and new brand development, I had a gut feeling that OLG would be on my short list of agencies to consider. I’d been watching their work for years and admired the team for their integrity in the community. With 100 years of service to the Fort Wayne community, I knew the Museum’s new look needed the creativity of this group of people.
Museum brand identities can range from predictable to puzzling. Popular looks of the last decade include logos that imitate museum architecture or those that boil down readable letters to abstract shapes. Neither approach is necessarily bad, but there’s no reason to hire a creative team just to be like other museums. I also wasn’t stressing novelty at all costs: the brand should invite, not repel with needless artistic obscurity. The painter in me needed to live in the reality that though a brand identity should be creative and unique, it also must serve the purpose of inviting the community to take part in the Museum.
The first round of designs presented four unique looks that could have taken us in very different directions. I appreciated the opportunity to consider the implications of each design. One design gave a rectilinear treatment to the acronym “FWMA” that I felt was too austere and communicated an outsized adherence to Modern art. This would betray our identity as a museum that strives to show art of many schools and time periods. Another design we looked at arranged our name circularly, presenting readability challenges and perhaps suggesting a radio dial or old school postage mark, two mental images that don’t make much sense for an art museum. One more potential look was a simple type treatment of “Fort Wayne Museum of Art”, which can be a good solution for museums that want to keep things simple and avoid becoming trapped by a “look”. It would have been a safe bet, but safety can be as risky as sensation.
I was drawn to a solution that presented the FWMoA acronym in a way I had never seen any other museum do. The design was logical and artistic, readable but conveying the freedom sought and known by artists. Sufficiently contemporary, the design is squarely planted in today but not so much that it scoffs at the past nor risks becoming passé. And yes, I liked that the strokes were a nod to those of a painter, the icon of artmaking that requires little more than the artist and basic materials. Artists and museums offer something beautiful for our world, and our logo needed to communicate that.
Moving in this direction, it was time to refine. It was time for us to look objectively at this design and ask if it would serve our needs as not just a place of learning and refreshment, but as an organization that needed to make sound business decisions now and in the future. Was I being too dreamy about those painterly strokes? Would they translate well in all kinds of printed and digital media? Would people of all ages see something they can relate to? Our team concluded that our new look was fresh, grounded, and the right visual identifier for a museum that understood itself well and sought honestly to show everyone that art was for them.
The decision to turn the FWMoA acronym into a quadrant of letterforms was an acknowledgement that, though ours was a clunky set of letters (unlike the elegant “MoMA” or fun to say “LACMA”), the “FW” and the “MoA” could be broken up to our advantage. Instead of a logo that demanded to be read as a word, what about a logo that could be seen as an icon? In that sense, the stacked letters become an image, proudly asserting our city initials and not omitting the little “o” that can be pesky for some designers. But a good designer knows that every element must be used to their advantage, and if no advantage exists, the element hits the digital recycle bin. In this case, the little “o” anchors the large letters in space, gives unity to the acronym, and offers a subtle bit of delight to the logo.
Though I knew we were close to the finish line, we adjusted the weight of the strokes to achieve visual balance. The weight of the “F”, in particular, was important to get right since my eye was starting there in the FWMoA acronym. In the first version of this logo, the top stroke was much thinner, which didn’t seem natural to me and lacked authority. The designers came back with a fuller top stroke—just one change—and everything clicked. Each letter had presence and its own identity but fit beautifully in relation to the others.
Looking back on our history, our logos have changed, as one would expect from a century-old organization. Though I didn’t know it when our designers in 2020 wooed me with the painterly look, our very first logo in 1926 (pictured above) also used a painter’s palette and brush to carry the brand of The Fort Wayne Art School. The artist of that first logo cleverly positioned the brush like a torch, fanning the paint around the tip like beams of light. Certainly, art is more than painting, but to liken a brush to a torch and its paint to light tells us that from our earliest days art has been the guiding beacon of our organization, shining a light on the path before us.