Established in 2017 and originally operating pop-up exhibitions around the UK, the Vagina Museum is the world’s first bricks and mortar museum dedicated to “vaginas, vulvas, and the gynaecological anatomy” that opened this past October in London’s Camden Market with a full-time location. Founded by Florence Schechter, a Biochemistry major, known for her YouTube science-themed channel, the vision for the museum is “of a world where no one is ashamed of their bodies, everyone has bodily autonomy, and all of humanity works together to build a society that is free and equal.” With its opening last month and its inaugural exhibit, “Muff Busters: Vagina Myths and How To Fight Them”, opening this weekend, the Vagina Museum introduced a new identity designed by London-based Passport.
The challenge was that the branding needed to sit comfortably alongside talk of BDSM one minute, and FGM (female genital mutilation) the next. Therefore, the logo needed to be neutral enough to work in many different contexts, but with a flexible supporting visual identity system that allowed the brand’s personable wit to shine through when appropriate. Secondly, it is precisely because of the huge stigmatisation that we were asked not to include any actual imagery of vulvas or vaginas in the logo itself, as it would have an impact on their ability to advertise.
A slightly more refined approach was necessary; we decided to focus on a clear, direct and unapologetic typographic direction that placed emphasis on the word ‘Vagina’ itself, with a supporting identity that really celebrates rebellion, inclusivity and individuality through the dynamic combination of unexpected typographic styling alongside an unrestricted colour palette, where expression and freedom are paramount. We have also created a secondary logo where ‘Vagina Museum’ is arranged in a ‘V’ shape giving the illusion of open legs to give the option for a more playful usage when appropriate.
Given the museum’s topic and the plethora of imagery possible it perhaps comes as a letdown that neither old nor new logo are either evocative of the subject or provocative with the subject. The opening quote explains the understandable reason that a more overt logo would limit the museum’s ability to advertise publicly but even with that in mind, both logos are surprisingly, well, unsurprising. The old one at least had an exaggerated circle-y “G” which was sort of interesting — perhaps even a nod to “the G spot” — but it got the bolding wrong, making “Museum” more important than “Vagina”. The new logo corrects the hierarchy and gets its priority straight but the typography is even more unassuming than before, to the point where it’s almost unrecognizable as a logo. The higher crossbar of the “E” and raised-pants effect of the “M” are maybe a little interesting but there is nothing else to it. Even when the logo opens up it’s hard to figure out what one is supposed to read into it — “open legs” was definitely not on my list of initial interpretations. While I do understand the hesitation to make the logo more graphic, the lack of any graphic gesture seems extreme.
Making up for the logo is the choice of The Designers Foundry’s Grandmaster, a strongly condensed sans serif with some very unique lowercase characters that give the identity its most interesting visual expression and the kind of attention-grabbing device that the logo is not (which, in application, also feels at odds with the condensed font).
While the color palette is very interesting, in a wide variety of muted dark and light colors, the layouts feel like they struggle between being more of a buttoned-up institution through the use of the thin lines and minimalist layouts and being more edgy using provocative imagery, which doesn’t quite hit the way it needs to. For the most part, while everything is very well executed, it’s like two or three visual languages operating separately in the same layouts.
Overall, there is something in here that’s interesting and on the right track of balancing demure and naughty, educational and thought-provoking, but has yet to come together in proper harmony.