Maine College of Art (MECA)

Contributed by Raffi Der Simonian, director of marketing & communication at Maine College of Art.

MECA logo

A collaboration between internationally known professional graphic designers and a select group of MECA design faculty and majors has resulted in a new visual identity for a historic institution that has been a pillar of the New England arts scene since 1882.

MECA’s new mark reflects the institution’s strongest assets: an extraordinary community of artistically-gifted individuals and a mission dedicated to promoting academic excellence, creative entrepreneurship, and civic engagement.

The new mark is the culmination of combined efforts that transpired over three full (14-16 hour) days hosted on campus in early February, 2013. The entire process, however, has taken much longer. Development for the logo has been in process for several years. We were about to introduce a mark co-produced by Pentagram in August, however decided not to on the grounds that it compromised one of our strongest inherent brand assets: the power of positioning MECA as core to our visual identity. After the three day design intensive charrette, we tested and investigated variations and applications for another two months or so.

Orchestrated under the guidance and vision of internationally known designer, Eddie Opara, partner at Pentagram (the world’s largest interdisciplinary design firm) and MECA graphic design faculty led by professors Margo Halverson and Charles Melcher, a group of MECA graphic design majors were selected to participate. According to Eddie Opara, “The whole process is to establish a way that the students can start to understand how the real world actually works.”

MECA logo

Professor Charles Melcher noted, “This is an avant-garde approach to developing an institutional identity that, to the best of our knowledge, has never before been attempted in North America. What better way to celebrate MECA’s mission than through creating an unprecedented legacy that highlights the college’s creative force and trust and support for our students and faculty.”

Inspired by MECA’s distinctive sense of place and the critical role MECA serves as an anchor in the Arts District of Portland Maine, the new visual identity captures the creative energy that pours out of the historic Porteous building 24/7 into our increasingly interconnected local and global communities.

MECA Porteous building
Porteous building in 1946, credit

Rebecca Swanson Conrad, Vice President for Institutional Advancement, believes that the introduction of a new visual identity is a historic moment for MECA. She said, “The purpose of developing a new mark that more effectively communicates the vibrant pulse of our community is not only to cultivate unity and a sense of pride, but to reaffirm the common thread that holds us all together as a greater sense of whole.”

“The uncommon process employed to develop MECA’s new mark exemplifies creative problem-solving at its finest and underscores the distinctiveness of what makes this such a special place.” said MECA President Donald Tuski. “Not only does our logo signify the unparalleled educational experience and wealth of professional development opportunities found at MECA, it also symbolizes several of our most important defining attributes: the five-pronged ‘E’ represents the five core tenets of our educational philosophy statement —studio, agency, place, community, and ethics; the five floors of the historic Porteous building; and the five educational areas — BFA, MFA, Art Ed, Continuing Studies, and Pre-College, while paying tribute to the iconic red stairwell that unifies each of the departments and majors.”

The following video outlines the process (as well as a few of the other lead concepts).

The chosen fonts we are going with are Cytia and Proxima Nova. The fonts on the mark itself, however, are custom made here at MECA.

Graphic design major Sarah Mohammadi was honored and proud to have been involved in such an important project. “Having the opportunity to work with professional designers and faculty members on a project that had never been done before was truly amazing. As a student, being part of the collaboration that rebranded the school we represent was an experience that is irreplaceable. It was an experience that none of us will ever forget and we all will be proud of for years to come.”

MECA logo sketches

MECA logo

MECA logo

MECA logo

MECA logo

MECA logo

MECA logo

Participating students: Carly Soos, Celia Packard, Dan Heutz, Hannah Sherwood, Kaitlin Callender, Klarizza Cruz, Lucy Henson, Nicole Holmes, Sarah Mohammadi.

Photo credit: Gabriella Sturchio.

Visit the Maine College of Art website.

18 responses

  1. I am stunned.
    All the time and creative energy spent to produce this?
    I, too, wonder if I am missing something.
    But for me, this is not the logo for my school.

  2. The ‘incredible amount of people hours’ is due to the fact that this was more than just a mark. It was an entire workshop for the students to truly dive into a process. They are learning, soaking in, and applying – a path that takes far more time than just simply ‘doing’. The logo is really just the end result of a teaching lesson.

  3. What particularly interested me about this project was how the MECA students got to spend time learning from one of Pentagram’s partners. What a fantastic addition to their course.

    Also of interest was how the “several years of development” included a different design co-produced by Pentagram, but it was binned just before the release date last August. That reminded me about a quote from Michael Bierut’s Creative Mornings talk, “My clients are the same as yours.” Sometimes projects run smoothly and the job is done relatively quickly. Sometimes they take much longer than expected. Sometimes what you create isn’t used (assuming it was MECA who decided against the mark, and not Pentagram).

    There are a couple of Photoshop mockups toward the end of the embedded video that show the MECA “E” being used as a pattern. They were unsuitable for screengrabbing, but pattern can be a useful tool.

  4. A really interesting look at process (my favorite part of creating). Congratualtions to all involved. I look forward to seeing your work all over Portland.

  5. Richard, you are missing something. Logo design isn’t about opening up Illustrator and voila. In fact, 90% of design work is done before doing any mock-ups. The amount of time to research what works, color schemes, a look and typography that will reflect the clients (in this case MECA) goals/mission/history, be current, hip, yet become classic…then of course researching the demographic that the client is trying to get a response from, what that response is, etc. Then come the ideas on paper, I have no doubt that this team probably drew out many many many rough ideas. Then those have to be narrowed down and modified. Then those narrowed down and analyzed. Then the final choices perfected. Of course you have to see how the logo looks in every medium it will be portrayed in (website, email, signage, big, small, business cards, stationary, black and white, color, etc etc). The design process is not as easy as you might think, it isn’t just some hippie art students twirling around making rainbows and glitter because its so fun and pretty! SO much goes into design. As something that seems so accessible, I often find myself defending my profession more than any profession (do electricians have to justify the importance of an efficient electrical system in a house ever? We just accept that they know what they are doing). Good designers make a design *look* easy, but it’s not.

  6. Hi David, absolutely, I too appreciate the identity design process as a learning activity, it does have an intrinsic sense of ownership. This however hasn’t been leveraged as a visual solution, especially compared to some of the generative institutional indents we’ve seen recently. OCAD comes to mind.

    As is, in my opinion, it’s incredibly limited in its scope and falls short on educating students in the practice of broad, multi-dimensional communication. Nor is that kind of time reflective of a commercial engagement I assume the students are hoping to attain.

    The ‘logo-as-a-pattern’ is an unimaginative shortcut to further assets – which is fine for tiny jobs – but here misses an opportunity, at the very least, to add a little more communicative, cohesive breadth and diversity. Diversity being perhaps the strongest asset they had during the process.

  7. Hi Jessie, I assure you I’m very clued up on design strategy. I’m also aware of how important it is not to get hung up on a single asset such as a logo-type.

    I’ve read process articles from design agencies who spend days on interaction, print, environmental experience and tone of voice only to spend a couple of hours on a logo. To place so much value on an single asset, which is what appears to be the case here, isn’t much help to students who plan to enter a communicatively diverse world where brand experience and identification is led by many other designed elements far more influential than a piece of type work. I do like the type, but don’t think you need that many people contributing to or drawing up variations of. There could have been so many diverse elements to come from such an intense three days.

  8. That write-up is rather cinematic, or is it just me? I expected dramatic music and that bloke with the cool voice narrating it with all its avant-garde approach, unprecedented legacy, creative force and pouring creative energy.

    Getting the students involved is a lovely idea, and what a great thing to add to your CV and portfolio.

    On to the design itself, it’s an improvement on the previous serif font with a square they had before. I think. I still don’t really get the name, though, and can’t find out when and why the acronym MECA was adopted. Like Rich, I find the five-pronged E a little limiting, not to mention a little funny to look at, and when I read ‘iconic red staircase’ I expected a pillar box red rather than a russet.

    I’d like to see a lot more of the applications: brochures, posters, signage, letterheads, etc. The website is OK, but it doesn’t exactly wow, plus it’s a bit of a pain to navigate (way too many links). It all seems a bit unfinished to me. Sorry.

  9. Whilst I love the premise and the approach of getting stakeholders involved (totally respect and appreciate it in strategic context), I can’t help but agree with Richard Baird and the first few posters. I think Richard is being particularly harsh, as from viewing his blog with all due respect he does like a certain look as all the identity he features tend have certain samey look and this couldn’t be further from that. However whilst I don’t think this had to look like those identities featured on Richards blog, it can’t be denied the outcome is very underwhelming and lacklustre and lacks the depth one would have expected given the time and people involved.

    I am total advocate of an informed approach to design and unlike Richard I think the process outlined here is as valid as any. The process is both admirable and ambitious as it involved inexperienced students and would have needed particularly meticulous plannng and guidance involved to pull it off but given the outcome one has to wonder about the implementation of the process and facilitation, Pentagram partner involvement or not. I agree with Jessie that designing a new identity isn’t about just opening up illustrator and drawing out an idea – unfortunately the final outcome looks exactly like that – with the patterns and other characteristics feeling like tenous partstacked on at the end.

    As final point, I have noticed from seeing many identity for art schools, that ironically most art schools tend to have quite terrible identities given that they’re meant to be nurturing the future talent of our industry!

  10. If you just flick through my blog you may feel that there is a particular aesthetic I’m drawn to but if you dig deeper – past the summaries – you’ll find that what really binds all the projects featured on the site is a broad but cohesive communicative diversity. That is to say the use of graphic design, material choice, print finish and occasionally proprietary photography – check out Storyline, great example – to deliver a richness that extends past the one dimensionality often provided by logo-centric solutions.

    Ash, as I mentioned in my early comment, I do think it’s an interesting and commendable strategic approach. I just felt that the size and diversity of such a group (student, lecturer and professional) wasn’t fully utilised and it’s reflective within the result. I love strategy and process, and this project looks like it was a lot of fun but you’re always going to struggle to infuse this into a logo only solution. The themes of individuality (student) and the collective (institution) are completely missing when these should have been the easiest things to attain with such a group.

    I don’t really think I’m being harsh, the result is professional, I just believe that the process should have delivered more from the size of the group and the time spent working together.

  11. I am in agreement with you Richard that the process should have delivered more, where I disagree with you is that strategy and process can’t be infused into the final outcome which I would agree is missing and I say as as said before in my view that is probably due to a poor plan and facilation on the part of the project leaders. This project needed a rigorous design process planned in advance before it began to account for the facilitation of inexperienced people involved as they would be learning on the project. I don’t get the impression that this was in place – I would agree with the other Richard that the description is a little bit hollywood and its not clear what the stages were in order to get to the outcome.

    In summary there are points I agree with you and points I don’t. I did state a criticism of your blog, that’s not to say I don’t appreciate the work you post as some of it is interesting and as a designer I can appreciate some of the craft but at times I do feel its design for other designers (which I am of course!) and theres a certain aesthetic catalogued. Of course if I ever need to research that aesthetic for a project I’d head straight to your blog!

  12. I think the thing that I am trying to say in terms of outcome is that, even if I didn’t like the identity on a taste level I could have appreciate it if I could see it was successful in its messaging, with the messaging being informed by the process. I don’t see any evidence of that here, it doesn’t really really say anything – it just looks like a bland corporate identity.

  13. Perhaps some of the difficulty with the logo comes a bit from what Richard Knobbs said. Why did it take so many impenetrable paragraphs to simply say it was a collaborative process between a design firm, faculty and students? And that everyone is happy with the outcome and the students will benefit having taken part in a real-world project?

    There’s nothing wrong with the logo but describing a rebrand in so heavy-handed a manner is exactly the kind of thing that puts a wall between designers and ordinary people.

  14. As an ex-secondary school teacher, I’m always 100% buoyed by any project that inspires others to collaborate and produce something different to what they would’ve on their own. Logo works well, the process and the concept are inspiring.

  15. So… Don Tuski is Presdient [sic] of MECA! When so much is made of the collaborative effort invested into the identity design process for a college, how on earth could such a basic spelling error creep into the video (at 5:23)?

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