Designing a new logo and brand identity for the ACDL

Designing a new logo and brand identity for the ACDL

For a while, the graduate students in the ACDL, or Aerospace Computational Design Lab, of whom I am one, have pondered a rebranding effort. We presently use the logo embedded as the titlecard for the page, which, at the time was pretty cool. But today, it's out of date and a little bit stale.

Long being a fan of minimalist design in general, and particularly the work of people like Saul Bass, Massimo Vignelli, and Michael Beirut, I started to think about a concept for a new logo.

For a while, I had been sitting on the idea for a block lower-case typeface characterized by extreme geometric simplicity and truncated vertical forms, and so I put together a prototype of those characters when I learned about Inkscape. At the advice of my colleague, Michael Kapteyn (who is the inspiration for having a personal website/research blog, anyway), I was able to work in the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics globe logo.

This logo, developed by Opus Design, is very interesting in design itself: its circle represents the Earth, in whose atmosphere flies an aircraft– the leftmost triangular shape in the diameter– at high speed, inducing a shock wave– the second triangular shape in the bounds of the circle– as well as a spacecraft, the third triangular shape which is clear of the circle's diameter. The three forms also evoke the forward progress of science. The simple geometric shapes and deep symbolism of this design is fantastic.

The result of my study is the following. We start with the bare logo for the ACDL:

New ACDL logo.

From here, I added the rest of the MIT AeroAstro branding for an alternate logo, with care to incorporate it in a spatially resonant and coherent way:

ACDL logo with MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics branding.

Last but not least, I wanted to put together a full-form official logo. including text of the name of the lab:

Full-bodied ACDL logo.

The work of the lab is at the heart of the design. The simple, modernist approach for the logo represents the foundational nature of the work of the lab. Everyone who works in the lab works on tools for aircraft engineering and design, not on the end product, aircraft and spacecraft themselves. Often the work is very close to the most fundamental questions in applied physics, math, and computer science that enable the modern aerospace industry. I think the simple design of the base logo captures this idea very well. The lab's work varies pretty wildly, but its common point of both departure and– usually– of return is the aerospace industry, and with that the placement of the AeroAstro logo at the center of the A takes on a similar symbolic meaning.

The choice of typeface for the full-bodied logo was challenging. I wanted to find a typeface that complemented the primary type and, if possible, the MIT AeroAstro type. I shied away from serif fonts for a while, but ultimately my preference for a sans-serif font gave way in order to distinguish text from the two block fonts already in the logo. I returned before long to an old favorite, Adobe's Big Caslon for the name type. I like it for two reasons. The seriffed font brings a classical air to the full-bodied logo, in contrast to the stark minimalism of the rest of the logo; this is a reference to our location within the academy and the natural academic conversation with thinkers of the past. Big Caslon also represents an omnipresent font, one licensed to countless platforms. I was hesitant at first to use it for that reason, but I eventually realized that the techniques employed by the lab, while concentrated on aerospace, are widely applicable to the outside world. When you can see how they are useful, you begin to see their promise everywhere. So, too, with Caslon.

Last but not least, we can extend the concepts to the member reasearch groups of the lab. For example, I work for Prof. David Darmofal. We can extend the ideas above to a visual identity for the Darmofal Research Group: