ICMD brand identity design

The International Classical Music Database (ICMD) is a nonprofit organization located in Beijing, China. They exist to promote, educate, and archive classical music for people the world over. They approached Metagramme with a request for an identity that would be elegant, simple, and scholarly, yet contemporary to suit their focus on new media.

IMCD brand identity design

IMCD brand identity design

IMCD brand identity design

The final logo concept plays on the global nature of their work, and the broad range of musical styles which can be labeled “Classical.” The classroom globe is found in schools around the world and has become a symbol of learning at all levels. This speaks to their academic approach. The type-within-rings-of-type also resembles a bank vault, speaking to ICMD’s mission of preservation for future generations.

IMCD brand identity designICMD logo unused concept

The musical reference found in the symbol and logotype lock-up is not obvious in the mark as it stands alone. But it becomes apparent in the application of this identity, through usage of the five musical staff lines as a graphic element in print and online communications. These lines can be of any length, bleeding off the visual plane and moving forward.

ICMD brand identity design

ICMD brand identity design

ICMD brand identity design

ICMD brand identity design

ICMD brand identity design

ICMD brand identity design

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February 27, 2012


Hi Christian,

Thanks for the comments. We explored a 23 degree tilt for C, M, and D, but felt it threw the logo, and lock-up with the horizontal stripes, out of balance. Our compromise was to tilt only the C – and yes, it’s right at 23 degrees. :)

I think it makes a bit more sense at the angle that it currently sits, as it also slightly references a G-clef (easier seen with the 5 ‘staff’ lines in the larger designs). I’m a musician, so I see the G-clef more than I do the globe.

I love everything about this – the colors, the overall aesthetic, the idea of the lines running off the page, the typography… Everything except the logo, which I find a bit contrived. But overall, a gorgeous system.

@Matt: I would have tried to tilt only the axis formed by the “I” on top of bottom. But it’s reassuring to know that you have explored this and incorporated it in a different way. Great design.

Not music to my ears I’m afraid, which is weird because all the bits really work on their own very nicely.

The colour is lovely, (Tiffany® blue is always charming). The ‘Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow’ style deco-esque mark is grand and well cut…

But like a John Cale composition (you know, like that quiet one he did), there’s just not enough going on, not enough engagement with the subject. It’s a really rich seem to design for. There’s technology and data and all that crazy, cutting-edge white hot technology that is becoming more and more the building blocks of our personal and societal lives and then there’s that awesome world of classical music. I mean, come one, you put something on your ipod, a bit of Purcel’s music for the death of Queen Mary (nice) or that great ‘music from the Hovis® ad’ and then there’s all the modern stuff and you’re off!…. The point I’m stabbing at is that both of the core aspects of the service are not coming across to me. Then there’s the globe. I know that this is an icon but it’s going, it’s anachronistic, it’s becoming less and less important. The ‘planet’ icon will remain relevant, but the notion of a ‘globe’ as a go to instrument in the classical sense will be like an old brass diving helmet, telephone boxes and in some parts of America, cutlery. (and as a globe it’s a little contrived).

I know everyone on the string above thinks it’s good and slaps on backs have be offered but you have to cut through the bonhomie. Look at what is there, right in front of your face. You gotta ask the question is it good? Is it right? Where’s the music, where’s the technology. Like a great bit of music, I want to look at this and be transported, I want the composer to give me visions of the music, of the technology but I’m not getting that. I’m getting something else.

@Gareth, I appreciate your thoughtfulness, and can see the reasoning behind some of your points. But, I don’t quite agree with a few things you said.

Our intention with the mark was for something academic, rather than Sky-Captain-esque per se. I can see how you get that from the globe reference, but “deco” was certainly not our goal. We started with something that more closely resembled a globe (as in the spinning object held by a brace), and moved toward a more abstract representation that was more about typographic balance and harmony than obvious representation of a globe or vault. In that sense, to continue the globe reference might indeed seem contrived to some people.

As M pointed out, many people see a g-clef through the logotype and staff line arrangement. I wonder, absent any project description, if you would catch the globe reference upon first glance? We have enjoyed hearing the different interpretations from viewers here and elsewhere, which given the subject matter seems perfectly suitable.

So yes, there is some nostalgia here. Is it a brass diving helmet? I (and my client) don’t think this logo is nearly that anachronistic or passé. At least, not yet. Maybe it will be, but I think the same could be said for quite a large number of objects. And at any rate, our final execution was not a very literal representation. If anything here is heavy-handed, it’s the staff lines. While classical music is certainly an ongoing contemporary development, it has a rich history, and the entry point for many newer listeners is the Bachs, Beethovens, and Stravinskys which preceded us by decades or centuries. And for many people, classical music involves collection of tangible objects, whether it’s LPs or instruments with storied pasts for musicians. So in that sense, the classroom globe seemed an appropriate point of departure. As far as technology and innovation are concerned, we feel that the color palette (it’s actually closer to mint than Tiffany) and typography bring the system into the 21st century. And the L-R movement of the staff lines pushes the system away from stasis.

Like many people who see a logo applied to a very small group of things, you found yourself wanting more. Totally understand. To that, I’ll say stay tuned as we apply the system to more things and flesh it out. And at any rate, our gauge of success is not design industry bonhomie, but happy clients who pay their bills and continue to work with us. We’re blessed to have all boxes checked in this particular case.

Hey Matt, thanks for the creator insights. Couldn’t agree more with you last line. At the end of the day it’s all about clients being happy with the end product they receive. They are paying the bills and call the tune, even if it’s something we can’t all agree want to dance to.

I still stand by all of my observations, not as a designer, just as a consumer, that’s how I always look at stuff. Just as a quick test I asked 4 people in the same building as me what they thought the isolated logo was for. All of them mentioned jewellery and scientific instruments and machinery and globes. No music, no global and databases were right out. I’ll keep my eye out. Be interesting to see how it matures out in the wild.


@Matt, I can easily see where you’re coming from with the globe, it feels ‘proper’ and about education.

I agree with @Gareth on a few points though, with some logos like this one, the connection isn’t always to clear, but then again, it’s like that for academic logos. Now that I think about it, the upper class academic highschools here in Australia don’t always speak ‘highschool’ to the viewer on a first glance. Instead you’ll be looking at a shield with a cross, or some wheat, or book, and a Latin motto underneath. None if this really gives the impression of highschool, nor of achieving, but from an academic perspective, it can be a sign of success, or be a reminder to the student that they’re up there with the high academic achievers, and have to live up to the school name, and the spirit of the school.

So, I think I can see what this is about, how the logo isn’t so literal, it’s bringing together what the ICMD is about, it’s all for archiving, sorting, backing up, databasing and keeping classical music in a safe environment, and then sharing and teaching others on a global level. It’s a truly wonderful organisation by the sounds (pun not intended) of it, and the design seems to express the ideas and concepts behind it.

When I think about it, I couldn’t possibly pull off a project like this—heck, I’m only studying graphic design now! I really admire what you’ve done, Matt, I couldn’t imagine any other visual solution.

Also, the colours are really fresh and wonderful, they’re friendly, modern and warm (one of the rare times mint has not looked ‘cold’). The type is spot on, I love the use of sans-serif and serifs, as the contrast and balance between them is visually appealing (that’s what I learnt in design philosophy), the whitespace is a breath of fresh air, thankfully a designer such as yourself understands how important it is to open up and let a design breathe! I wouldn’t mind seeing that burnt orange/red in future designs though, but the current colour scheme is pretty darn solid.

As for the lines next to the type, I’m not sure they’re needed, but like with any design we must ask, “Are they needed?” “Would it work better without them?” and so on. Yet with this design it works with and without, the lines are so fine that they don’t intrude to begin with, and I can see a link to writing sheet music, as well as archiving in a linear fashion.

One of the reasons I also clicked on this identity is because I saw the Chinese characters in the first image, and I’m a sucker for Chinese and Japanese design, I just love the design of the characters from the different languages, how each one is a design in itself, and I love the stamp-like quality and power they have when integrated into a design, and especially when printed.

Overall, I’d say this is a success, I’m heavily impressed, and I hope to see more exciting works from you and your team! And yes, the client has to be happy, sometimes you find a balance between your happiness and theirs, sometimes you just give them what they want, but it pays the bills, and adds to the portfolio. That said this is much, much more than that, it’s something that should definitely be added to the portfolio, and I hope you and the team are proud of what you’ve achieved :)


Wonderful job, especially with the color palette. I have one question: why Roman characters for an international organization based in China? Are most of the organization’s communications in English as well? I’m curious how/if the language barrier played a role in the process.

Thanks, John! We used English for the logo, because ICMD wanted to build an international brand that wasn’t specifically Chinese. After all, classical music comes from all corners of the world. And English is (for the time being) still the lingua franca. We designed two sets of stationery – one in English, and one in Mandarin for their domestic communications.

Early on, they said the decision to hire us (a U.S.-based firm) was driven by a desire to avoid anything that looked too overtly Asian. So our sources of research and inspiration were equal parts European, Asian, and American.

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