Maine College of Art puts its faith in students, goes in-house for ambitious new logo project

Posted May 03, 2013, at 2:48 p.m.
Maine College of Art students Sarah Mohammadi, left, and Hannah Sherwood pull the sheet off the school's new logo, created during a three-day intensive workshop by a team of MECA students, faculty and consultants. The unveiling took place during a Friday news conference at the Portland school.
Maine College of Art students Sarah Mohammadi, left, and Hannah Sherwood pull the sheet off the school's new logo, created during a three-day intensive workshop by a team of MECA students, faculty and consultants. The unveiling took place during a Friday news conference at the Portland school. Buy Photo
Maine College of Art Director of Communications Raffi Der Simonian describes the three-day workshop process in which students and faculty at the school developed a new logo for the institution.
Maine College of Art Director of Communications Raffi Der Simonian describes the three-day workshop process in which students and faculty at the school developed a new logo for the institution. Buy Photo
One of the first places Maine College of Art students saw their school's new logo Friday was on chocolate bars handed out at a news conference to unveil the mark. The logo will soon appear on the college's Congress Street sign, website, T-shirts and other paraphernalia.
One of the first places Maine College of Art students saw their school's new logo Friday was on chocolate bars handed out at a news conference to unveil the mark. The logo will soon appear on the college's Congress Street sign, website, T-shirts and other paraphernalia. Buy Photo
Maine College of Art students Hannah Sherwood, Sarah Mohammadi, Carlin Soos, Klarizza Kruz, Nicole Holmes and Sabrina Volante kneel in front of the institutional logo they helped design and document over a three-day workshop with faculty members Charles Melcher and Margo Halverson, standing, Friday. Other students on the design team not pictured are Kaitlin Callander, Lucy Henson, Dan Heutz and Celia Packard.
Maine College of Art students Hannah Sherwood, Sarah Mohammadi, Carlin Soos, Klarizza Kruz, Nicole Holmes and Sabrina Volante kneel in front of the institutional logo they helped design and document over a three-day workshop with faculty members Charles Melcher and Margo Halverson, standing, Friday. Other students on the design team not pictured are Kaitlin Callander, Lucy Henson, Dan Heutz and Celia Packard. Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine College of Art students and faculty unveiled the school’s new logo Friday morning, calling it an important step toward affirming the institution’s brand and, because designing the mark was an in-house job, showing off the capability of the students.

Margo Halverson, a MECA professor who worked with a group of student designers on the project, called it “truly a professional experience and a professional result as well.”

“From the get-go we said, ‘We have the students who can make this happen — we will not fail,’” Halverson said during a multimedia Friday morning news conference that included two short documentaries about the logo development process. “This really doesn’t have a precedent. There are a lot of art schools where students work for clients, but we are our own clients.”

The logo — which features the acronym letters “M,” “C” and “A” in simple white capitals and the letter “E” stylized in orange with five fingers instead of the usual three — was designed over an intensive 72-hour charrette workshop guided by Eddie Opara, an internationally known designer and partner at Pentagram, the largest interdisciplinary design firm in the world.

During the three-day collaborative, students discussed what the new mark should convey and then sketched multiple different designs, absorbing feedback from Opara, Halverson and fellow faculty member Charles Melcher, Halverson said Friday.

Raffi Der Simonian, MECA director of communications, said during the process the nine-member student design team kept returning to the idea that the logo should reflect a “sense of place” — of Portland as a distinctive destination for both art, history and the 131-year-old institution’s place in that city.

The Maine College of Art was established in 1882 as the Portland Society of Art. It has been located in at least three of the city’s landmark historical buildings, including its current home in the prominent 1904 downtown Porteous building, named for the five-floor department store which once occupied it.

“In terms of what it says about the school, it says quite a bit,” Der Simonian said Friday. “The narrative that really informed the design was the importance of ‘sense of place.’ The ‘E’ represents the five floors of the Porteous Building, as well as the five prongs of our educational philosophy statement, as well as our five core educational offerings — MFA, BFA, Art Ed, Continuing Studies and pre-college.

“It also represents the stairwell that’s often referred to as the lifeline of the institution, that ties in all the majors and disciplines together,” he continued. “So the mark itself has a lot of meaning behind it, which is one of the reasons I think it’s such a success.”

The school’s five core philosophical tenets are studio, agency, place, community and ethics, according to a statement by MECA President Donald Tuski.

“The uncommon process employed to develop MECA’s new mark exemplifies creative problem-solving at its finest and underscores the distinctiveness of what makes this such a special place,” Tuski said.

The new logo will be placed on the Congress Street sign of MECA’s historic building, as well as the school’s merchandise, website and, as Der Simonian said, “virtually every single piece of media that MECA produces.”

“Having the opportunity to work with professional designers and faculty members on a project that had never been done before was truly amazing,” said Maine College of Art senior Sarah Mohammadi, one of the students who worked on the design team. “As a student, being part of the collaboration that rebranded the school we represent was an experience that is irreplaceable. It was an experience that none of us will ever forget and we all will be proud of for years to come.”

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