What is an art museum? At best a purveyor of art; a boring building storing objects at worst – but also an active educator.
As the largest art museum in the United States, the fourth largest in the world and the fifth most visited museum of any kind, the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York – better known simply as The Met – strives to be much more than a building. Through its youth programs, The Met organizes classes and workshops for children aged 11–18 to develop their skills and help them connect with art, ideas and other young people.
One such program is The Met Teens Career Lab, designed as a gathering place for teenagers thinking about life beyond high school. In special workshops hosted by the Lab, museum professionals and creative experts host their own breakout sessions to give teens an opportunity to try out some aspect of their jobs.
When we learned about the chance to host a breakout session at The Met Teens Career Lab’s workshop about branding, we immediately set the plan in motion. Jee-Eun Lee, our Design Director at ThoughtMatter, featured as one of The Met’s curated workshop panelists and led a breakout session to give teens a glimpse into the world of branding and what it’s like to design brand identities.
On March 16, we kicked off the “What’s Your Brand?” workshop in The Met’s Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education. The ice breakers revealed that the teenagers who attended had diverse backgrounds and interests, and went to a wide range of public, sectarian, independent and home schools. They welcomed insight from Jee and the other five panelists on what it’s like to work in the field of branding, as well as guidance on how they got to where they are today.
Jee began her breakout session by asking the teenagers about brands they like and dislike, the logos which they attempted to draw from memory.
She then established what it means to brand, taking the students through the historical significance of the word, its evolving definition and its practice in the modern age. She outlined the difference between the product (what you sell), branding (creating an image about what you’re selling) and the brand (the resultant perceived image of the product).
How do we create a desired image? Jee expanded on the role of design in branding the way anyone from a design studio working with cultural institutions would: by displaying and breaking down the brand identity of The Met itself.
We played a game of “Brand Charades” to highlight the strong associations people develop with brands over time. The students had to guess the name of the brand with the help of visual and audio clues, like the talking gecko from Geico, the red tube icon from YouTube, the hopping desk lamp from Pixar, the “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle from McDonald’s and the hissing “Pop ‘n Pour” signature from Coca-Cola.
The conversation progressed to a discussion about how to brand responsibly. Consider, for instance, Greenpeace’s brand jamming campaign tactics to make corporations like Coca-Cola and Lego more accountable. It’s not enough to create a successful brand – the product should be just as good.
We concluded the workshop with an individual activity, to inspire the students to think about how one could create a visual identity or an image of themselves. The goal for each student was to create something that represents their identity using found objects.
Jee primed the students with examples of conceptual art by Cyrus Kabiru, Frederun Scholz, Pablo Picasso and Christoph Niemann. They were encouraged to be as imaginative as possible – if you were a typeface, what would you be? What colors support your essence? What kind of texture are you? What kind of sound are you?
The resulting artworks (pictured below) were thought-provoking.
Here’s a museum trying to foster a sense of community and weave itself into the social fabric. A museum that cares about making the art rather than just displaying it in sprawling rooms and well-lit hallways.
We were more than eager to help The Met engage with a new generation of museumgoers and at the same time cultivate a renewed understanding of what it means to “brand” something: fulfilling a purpose that looks beyond the bottom line.
Photography by Johan Vipper