Creating a new families identity for the British Museum

Designed with the inhouse team and John McConnell

As part of the development of a new visual language for the Museum, a way of distinguishing family offers was needed. Previously, the way of visually defining things for families across the Museum was not consistent and the bold shapes and colours previously used often dominated the objects and didn’t fit with the new visual language — aiming to keep Museum objects at it’s core. Therefore a method of placing the objects to suggest a face was developed, which could be used from posters to mobile applications.

An example of the identity © Rebecca Smith, British Museum

Initial ideas included using well recognised icons (such as the pointing hand) and arrows or dots defining a trail to link objects together. We also looked at using punctuation marks to make faces (a bit like emoticons) and realised how little you need to suggest a face.

Face concept using punctuation marks

I was always keen on the idea of using a face of some sort for children (as my son, then 6 , loved anything with a cute face on it) and I had been reading “Design as Art” by Bruno Munari, with his variations on the human face.

We had a look at what objects might work for faces, at first using really obviously shaped things — a necklace for a mouth, coins for eyes and an adze for a nose, then realising it was often the more surprising objects (in terms of their shape or scale) that worked better, and as we had discovered earlier, through playing round with simple shapes, a face could be easily recognised with very little cues. So, using objects that were not immediately obvious as features, and more key objects from the collection, helped to create faces that reflected the bredth of the collection and had a nice balance between being objects and being a face. The faces that worked best were not overly cute, or made to be too recognisable.

I realised this when my son saw the British Museum homepage, which then had a face out of objects on it and he said “can I do one” and he drew a simple sketch, using more abstract shapes than I had (which he said were a shell for an eye, and rock for a nose), and I realised that his drawing had the key to making this idea really work.

Jimmy sketch, age 6

While creating and observing the faces, the impression needed to be a balance moving from the objects to the face, without one dominating the other. The faces worked best if they weren’t too obvious.

Therefore, this allowed for less restriction of objects used and freed up what we could do with the concept — for example faces could be made more easily from highlight objects, or for a theme such as Ancient Egypt. We created digital ads (which winked), ideas for printed material and a mobile app where you could swipe through a range of objects to create your own face.

Faces created for British Museum Families identity, © Rebecca Smith, British Museum
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