Creating a complete identity for any brand is a daunting challenge. When that brand embodies creativity, has a strong legacy, and demands a dynamic presence that can stand up to the silver screen, the task takes on added layers of difficulty.
Such was the brief to redesign the brand persona of The Sundance Institute—the nonprofit organization’s first brand refresh since 2005. The new identity, created by Pentagram designer and partner Paula Scher, is based on a bright yellow circle—a simple framework that was also flexible enough to accommodate the Institute’s broad range of ventures and platforms.
"We were looking for a more dynamic identity that would be adaptable to use in new programs and would scale well in digital space. But as an organization with a long history, it was also important we remain true to that history and to the spirit of the organization by providing real continuity with our past logo," says Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam, pointing out that the previous incarnation also paid homage to the sun.
The new sun-based logo has a cleaner, more contemporary look, with a type placement that signifies forward motion, and it is just one element in a broader identity system Scher produced for Sundance Institute, which, in addition to putting on the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, also runs a multitude of programs year-round to support artists working in film, theater, and music.
"My goal was to unify. This is really always the case with identity systems, and they’re always systems," says Scher, who has worked with corporate clients and numerous arts entities like The Public Theater, The Museum of Modern Art, and The New York City Ballet over the course of her 40-year career. "It’s not like a logo, and you stick the logo on everything. Clients have to make lots of materials. The question is, how do you recognize one place [in this case Sundance Institute] over a broad array of executions?"
Scher ultimately created an identity system based on an expandable visual vocabulary that will allow the nonprofit to speak with a collective voice yet also allow for differentiation, and it will be employed in designing everything from printed material like stationery, posters, and brochures to digital applications such as websites and social media as well as the logo animations that appear at the start of films produced at Sundance Institute. "The real job of design is designing what I call liquid identities, which are identities that are recognizable in every form of media because of a kit of parts that are used in combinations and in repetition," Scher says.
The kit of parts relies on circles that can be arranged in series and patterns to showcase still images depicting the natural beauty found in Sundance Institute’s home state of Utah as well as scenes from the films and plays backed by the organization. This is demonstrated in the graphic signature for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, which Scher also designed, taking cues from her larger scheme for Sundance Institute. (Scher was also behind the identities of the 2012 and 2013 festivals).
The circles can also be infused with color—bright yellow, mustard and warm orange, and when type is used, the font is Trade Gothic, chosen because it is a simple font that comes in a number in weights. "The overall goal was to keep the kit as simple and clean as possible because we cannot control the amount of people who are going to work with this identity," Scher explains, noting, "Identities work best when they’re mostly managed with a really strong in-house art department, and that will be the case with Sundance Institute because they’ve begun to build one."