Our new visual identity for the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art was built out of a year-long process of community consultation and research into the local area.
It began as our response to MIMA’s idea of the “useful museum”, informed by John Ruskin’s notions of learning through making and thinking through doing.
One important element was involving the local community in all aspects of gallery operations, while visits to local sites provided certain cues – for example, the Tees Transporter Bridge that once carried workers to the (now defunct) steelworks. We used paint colours that we found splattered on the bridge as the palette for MIMA’s new brand, and fabricated exhibition furniture from perforated steel to acknowledge the industry’s historical importance to the area.
Over the course of the year, we were regular visitors to MIMA and ran workshops with both the team there and the general public. We invited participants to reflect on the relationship between art and society, and on their expectations of the museum. Their poetic and insightful responses – formatted using creative systems and methods of typography design instigated by us – formed two evolving exhibitions entitled ‘Where Are We Now’ and ‘Print Room’.
For ‘Where Are We Now’, we asked all 40 of MIMA’s team to carve their answers into linoleum sheets, which they then printed. Their carved alphabets became the basis of the museum’s interim visual identity. For ‘Print Room’, we hacked a plotting machine of the type typically used by architects before the invention of CAD. Accommodating the limitations of the machine’s automated pen, we designed a geometric typeface made of a five-line stripe. Contributors answered questions on a website, which were then automatically printed and displayed in the gallery. Over the course of the exhibition, the space was filled floor-to-ceiling with hundreds of replies. It was a simplified version of this typeface that became the core of MIMA’s new brand.