1861 - 2016

Designing the BAM Identity

Brooklyn Academy of Music

20 Years of the BAM Identity

The Old Academy (1861—1900)
Nineteenth-century letterpresses often used wooden letters for large typography. Posters could feature over a dozen different fonts, limited only by which sizes and styles the press operator had on hand.

When a unique and fanciful design was called for, BAM could commission hand-lettering reproduced by lithography.

Prewar Era (1900—1938)
When photography was still a relatively new medium, traditional intaglio printmaking techniques (reproduced with inexpensive lithographic printing) remained in common use. Countless depictions of BAM’s opera house were distributed using this technique, gracing the covers of programs for over fifty years.
Modernism (1950s)
Following World War II, American graphic designers were inspired by European modernism, refracted through a New World lens. BAM was no exception. Programs from this era featured Bauhaus typefaces like Futura, designed by Paul Renner. Playful mix-and-match typography gives these pieces an informal feel, while demonstrating an awareness of new trends.
60s and 70s
Helvetica defined 60s and 70s graphic design. With that iconic typeface, Swiss graphic designer Josef Müller-Brockmann created a groundbreaking graphic system for the Zurich Opera House. The influence of his work is evident in BAM graphic design from this era: simple, organized sans-serif type, bold colors, and empty space.
The First Logo (1972)
Perhaps inspired by the arched windows on the front of the Peter Jay Sharp Building, this logo endured at varying levels of prominence until 1995. It still shows up unexpectedly throughout the BAM campus,
Dawn of Next Wave (1983)
The Next Wave festival began in 1983 as a showcase of bold, pathbreaking work, and with it a logo (designed by Valerie Pettis for Doublespace) with horizontal lines that merge positive and negative space. A decade later, these stripes inspired BAM’s 1995 Next Wave redesign. The Next Wave also initiated a series of collaborations with New York visual artists, including posters featuring art by Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, Alex Katz, Richard Avedon, and many more.
Early 90s
As the BAM audience bought personal computers, used mobile phones, and watched MTV, graphic trends kept up with the multitasking times. Designs from this era, while individually remarkable, were wildly diverse and lacked a unified voice; this set the stage for the 1995 overhaul of BAM’s visual identity.
Designing the BAM identity
"I was inspired by the legendary midcentury advertising art director Helmut Krone. “I’ve spent my whole life fighting logos,” he once said. “A logo says, ‘I am an ad. Turn the page.’” Instead, he created indelible identities for his clients by making distinctive choices and deploying them relentlessly, most famously on behalf of Volkswagen, still using the combination of Futura and white space that he introduced in his “Think small” ad in 1959.So I hit on the idea of using one typeface, workhorse News Gothic, but with a twist: we would cut the type off, as if it couldn’t fit in the frame. As I explained to Harvey and his colleagues Karen Brooks Hopkins and Joe Melillo, this suggested that BAM crossed borders and couldn’t be contained on a single stage. But it was economical, too, allowing us to use four-inch-tall letters in two inches worth of space. It was like seeing King Kong’s eye in your bedroom window, I explained. Even if you couldn’t see the whole beast, you knew it was big." —excerpted from Michael Bierut’s How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World, Harper Collins: 2015
“Happy Clicking” (1996)
The early days of the BAM design aesthetic coincided with the early days of the internet. Much of the world was still trying to figure out how best to use this new medium—for BAM it meant a place to list events, describe our mission, post contact information, and offer information superhighway drivers a “bulletin board.” Online ticket sales wouldn’t happen for another ten years.
Next Wave Festival (2000)
This is the first time that Bierut’s specified horizontal bars become translucent. Type is no longer completely obstructed by these forms, but becomes less visible.

In 2001 the Next Wave Festival focused, for the first time ever, on a single country’s performing arts culture. The design took a turn as well, as typography appeared to flip onto the southern hemisphere. The axis of the crop remains horizontal, but the letterforms are flipped ninety degrees. A clever graphic manifestation of the programming.

Here, the type breaks from a horizontal baseline, drifting and shifting scales and exploring cropping in a new way as letters overlap one another. This design introduced new possibilities for cropping beyond the horizontal line, influencing much of BAM’s graphic design since.

This season’s look plays between black and white, positive and negative. But what’s impressive is what’s absent. This “implied crop” is a graphic trompe l'oeil—tricking the viewer into seeing forms that are not there. Rather than cut off entire typographic stems, the crop is mid-form. This creates the illusion of an entirely other typeface by adding variance in stroke weight.

At BAM, stripes usually crop type; here they’re converted into containers. As the stripe colors shift, so does the scale of the letterforms, allowing the eye to quickly differentiate what could have easily become a jumble.

BAM celebrates 25 years of Next Wave, and neon pink pours into the frame. Color and letterforms are painstakingly woven into each image to create an illusion of typography in real space with the performers.

Continuing the exploration of letterforms in real space, type for the first time breaks into the third dimension, weaving through photos, cropped by performers’ bodies. Subtle lighting effects add to the illusion.

For the first time since 1987, BAM opens the doors to a new building. This 21st-century arts space, named in honor of Richard B. Fisher, allows BAM to present work from emerging artists, for smaller audiences, in a more flexible space. The design strategy was to brand the Fisher performances with a graphic system similar, yet distinct from, the other Next Wave Festival shows. This identity featured dramatic black and white photography by Nina Mouritzen, all shot in the Fisher Building while it was under construction.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of BAM, its rich history was recreated in the form of a 384-page hardcover book. Tonally distinct from the attention-stealing typography used in seasonal communications, the book features a classic, refined typographic style with large black type, sparingly used for emphasis. The visual impact lies primarily in the archival photography, and the book anchors the sober end of News Gothic’s capacities.

The identity for Spring 2014 employed an edited color palette, a templated photo-inside-a-photo layout, and type at a massive scale. Words are completely obscured as they weave through space, revealing fragments of typography that leave meaning behind to become pure form.

BAMcinématek Calendar (1999)
A new venue, and a new take on the BAM style. With the opening of BAM Rose Cinemas in 1999, a separate but connected identity was designed for BAM’s expanded film programming. The cornerstone of this plan was the bimonthly calendar. This bible for BAM cinéphiles has been published without interruption ever since, and while it underwent a format shift in 2012, the core of the design remains.
BAMcinemaFest (2014)
By its sixth year, BAMcinemaFest had grown into one of the primary New York presenters of high-profile film premieres. To celebrate its growing status, designer Katie Positerry reimagined the BAM typeface, News Gothic. The letterforms reference a neon sign, creating a typographic metaphor for projected light. A shifting circle, when animated, also becomes a spotlight illuminating hidden forms.
BAMkids (2015)
With the opening of the BAM Fisher and continually expanding programming for children and families, BAM committed to creating a new sub-brand. BAMkids takes the hallmarks of the BAM visual identity, and adds a secondary kid-friendly typeface called Frankfurter. Children of BAM staff and friends served as models.
Migrating Forms (2016)
At BAM, it’s not uncommon for the seed of a design to originate in print and only later be adapted to video. But for Migrating Forms, a boundary-pushing film and video festival, that model was turned on its head. Ideas were passed back and forth between print and video, each informing the other. As with BAMcinemaFest, BAM’s typeface was completely reimagined into an ever-changing animated system, creating the illusion of motion and depth. It maintains legibility while flirting with obfuscation and formal abstraction. It also echos the festival’s hard-to-pin-down programming with an identity that is always in flux.
Brooklyn Academy of Music
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