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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Graphic Details: 150 Years of BAM Visual Identity

Image: Detail of the BAM 1995 Next Wave Festival brochure, designed by Michael Bierut

How do you make one thing speak for a place that does many things? And how often should that thing change throughout the course of 29 presidential administrations, two world wars, and the advent of live tweeting?

Most importantly, should it have serifs?

From the 1860s until the 1970s, the BAM visual identity was a motley assortment of styles reflecting shifting zeitgeists and programming. Letterpressed broadsides and hand-drawn invitations for the Civil War years. Civilized neoclassicism for the genteel interwar period. Modernist typeface mashups for the era of Sputnik. In the 1970s, the identity became more focused with the creation of a new logo. In the 1980s, artists and designers like Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, and Massimo Vignelli offered their creative twists.

But it was in 1995 that famed Pentagram designer Michael Bierut developed the iconic BAM identity that persists today today: the News Gothic typeface, blown up to big scale, and cropped in various creative ways. Enjoy this tour of pre-Bierut BAM visual design, together with a closer look at the way designers have kept his original conception alive into the present.

The Old Academy

Nineteenth-century letterpresses often used wooden letters for large typography. Posters could feature over a dozen different fonts, limited only by which sizes and styles the press operator had on hand. This poster was designed in 1864. When a unique and fanciful design was called for, BAM could commission hand-lettering reproduced by lithography.

Designer unknown
Hand-drawn lettering on an invitation. Designer unknown

Prewar Era

When photography was still a relatively new medium, traditional intaglio printmaking techniques (reproduced with inexpensive lithographic printing) remained in common use. Countless depictions of BAM’s opera house were distributed using this technique, gracing the covers of programs for over fifty years.

Designer unknown


Following World War II, American graphic designers were inspired by European modernism, refracted through a New World lens. BAM was no exception. Programs from this era featured Bauhaus typefaces like Futura, designed by Paul Renner. Playful mix-and-match typography gives these pieces an informal feel, while demonstrating awareness of new trends.

Designer unknown

1960s and 70s

Helvetica defined 60s and 70s graphic design. With that iconic typeface, Swiss graphic designer Josef Müller-Brockmann created a groundbreaking graphic system for the Zurich Opera House. The influence of his work is evident in BAM graphic design from this era: simple, organized sans-serif type, bold colors, and empty space. The program below was designed the same year that this new “international typographic style” conquered New York with Massimo Vignelli’s familiar graphic identity for the New York City Transit Authority (now the MTA).

Designer unknown

The First Logo

BAM adopts its first logo. Perhaps inspired by the arched windows on the front of the Peter Jay Sharp Building, this logo endured at varying levels of prominence until 1995. It still shows up unexpectedly throughout the BAM campus, and can even be seen on the gate near the restrooms on the third floor of the opera house.

Dawn of Next Wave

The Next Wave festival began in 1983 as a showcase of bold, pathbreaking work in the performing arts, and with it a logo (designed by Valerie Pettis for Doublespace) with horizontal lines that merge positive and negative space. A decade later, these stripes inspired BAM’s 1995 Next Wave redesign. The Next Wave also initiated a series of collaborations with New York visual artists, including posters featuring art by Roy Lichtenstein (see below), Keith Haring, Alex Katz, Richard Avedon, and many more.

Designer: Alexander Isley

Designer: Roy Lichtenstein

Early 1990s

As the BAM audience bought personal computers, used mobile phones, and watched MTV, graphic trends kept up with the multitasking times. Designs from this era, while individually remarkable, were wildly diverse and lacked a unified voice; this set the stage for the 1995 overhaul of BAM’s visual identity.

Designer: Massimo Vignelli

Designer: Russek Advertising

Designing the BAM Identity
By Michael Bierut
Michael Bierut's original sketchbook from 1995
I was inspired by the legendary mid-century advertising art director Helmut Krone. “I’ve spent my whole life fighting logos,” he once said. “A logo says, ‘I am an ad. Turn the page.’” Instead, he created indelible identities for his clients by making distinctive choices and deploying them relentlessly, most famously on behalf of Volkswagen, still using the combination of Futura and white space that he introduced in his “Think small” ad in 1959.
So I hit on the idea of using one typeface, workhorse News Gothic, but with a twist: we would cut the type off, as if it couldn’t fit in the frame. As I explained to Harvey and his colleagues Karen Brooks Hopkins and Joe Melillo, this suggested that BAM crossed borders and couldn’t be contained on a single stage. But it was economical, too, allowing us to use four-inch-tall letters in two inches worth of space. It was like seeing King Kong’s eye in your bedroom window, I explained. Even if you couldn’t see the whole beast, you knew it was big.
—Excerpted from Michael Bierut’s How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World, Harper Collins: 2015

Designer: Michael Bierut

Next Wave Festival
Special Section in New York Magazine


BAM goes silver. The 1996 Next Wave design drew heavily from the first brochure in 1995 in layout. The differentiation comes chiefly in the technique. A glossy paper is chosen in contrast to the previous year’s matte paper. A silver metallic ink is used, rather than four-color process. This is an early demonstration of the flexibility of the system… nearly everything can change, and it still feels like BAM.

Designer: Richard Mantel

“Happy Clicking”

The early days of the BAM design aesthetic coincided with the early days of the internet. Much of the world was still trying to figure out how best to use this new medium—for BAM it meant a place to list events, describe our mission, post contact information, and offer information superhighway drivers a “bulletin board.” Online ticket sales wouldn’t happen for another 10 years.

Designer: Pegasus Internet

15th Anniversary Next Wave Festival

Otherwise adhering strictly to the BAM style guide, the 15th Next Wave Festival brochure expanded on the BAM look by incorporating the heavier News Gothic Bold into titles—but only in the ‘x’ and ‘v’—forming the roman numeral for 15.

Designer: Rafael Weil

BAMcinématek Calendar

A new venue, and a new take on the BAM style. With the opening of BAM Rose Cinemas in 1999, a separate but connected identity was designed for BAM’s expanded film programming. The cornerstone of this plan was the bimonthly calendar. This bible for BAM cinéphiles has been published without interruption ever since, and while it underwent a format shift in 2012, the core of the design remains.

Designer: Jason Ring

Next Wave Festival & Spring Season


In Beirut’s initial executions, the type was interrupted by horizontal bars. Here, the bars are transformed by scale—thin lines are stacked tightly to become metaphorical waves for Next Wave and grass for the Spring Season. These brochures are also of note as they’re two of the very few in recent BAM history that don’t feature a photo.

Designer: Jason Ring

Designer: Jason Ring

Next Wave Festival

This is the first time that Bierut’s specified horizontal bars become translucent. Type is no longer completely obstructed by these forms, but becomes less visible.

Designer: Jason Ring

Next Wave Down Under

In 2001 the Next Wave Festival focused, for the first time ever, on a single country’s performing arts culture. The design took a turn as well, as typography appeared to flip onto the southern hemisphere. The axis of the crop remains horizontal, but the letterforms are flipped ninety degrees. A clever graphic manifestation of the programming.

Designer: Eric Olson

Next Wave Festival

Here the type breaks from a horizontal baseline, drifting and shifting scales and exploring cropping in a new way as letters overlap one another. This design introduced new possibilities for cropping beyond the horizontal line—influencing much of BAM’s graphic design since.

Designer: Eric Olson

Next Wave Festival

This season’s look plays between black and white, positive and negative. But what’s impressive is what’s not there. This “implied crop” is a graphic trompe l'oeil—tricking the viewer into seeing forms that are not there. Rather than cut off entire typographic stems, the crop is mid-form. This creates the illusion of an entirely other typeface by adding variance in stroke weight.

Designer: Eric Olson

Next Wave Festival

At BAM, stripes usually crop type; here they’re converted into containers. As the stripe colors shift, so does the scale of the letterforms, allowing the eye to quickly differentiate what could have easily become a jumble.

Designer: Ian Searcy

25th Next Wave Festival


BAM celebrates 25 years of Next Wave, and neon pink pours into the frame. Color and letterforms are painstakingly woven into each image to create an illusion of typography in real space with the performers.
Designer: Clara Cornelius

Spring Season

Continuing the exploration of letterforms in real space, for the first time type breaks into the third dimension, weaving through photos, cropped by performers’ bodies. Subtle lighting effects add to the illusion.

Designer: Adam Hitt

BAM Fisher Inaugural Season

For the first time since 1987, BAM opens the doors to a new building. This 21st-century arts space, named in honor of Richard B. Fisher, allows BAM to present work from emerging artists, for smaller audiences, in a more flexible space. The design strategy was to brand the Fisher performances with a graphic system similar, yet distinct from the other Next Wave Festival shows. This identity featured dramatic black and white photography by Nina Mouritzen, all shot in the Fisher Building while it was under construction.

Designer: Clara Cornelius

BAM: The Complete Works

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of BAM, its rich history was recreated in the form of a 384-page hardcover book. Tonally distinct from the attention-stealing typography used in seasonal communications, the book features a classic, refined typographic style with large black type for emphasis used sparingly. The visual impact lies primarily in the archival photography, and the book anchors the sober end of News Gothic’s capacities.

Designer: Clara Cornelius

The Ignite Campaign

Ignite was a three year, $15-million capital campaign to support expanding arts education at BAM. The campaign broadened participation by encouraging smaller donations ranging from $15 to $250. To reach, inform, and energize these new donors, the campaign focused on newer media channels—with an expanded interactive web presence, a series of original videos, emails, and social media outreach.

Designers: Patrick Morin, Ryan Rowlett, and  Ben Cohen

Winter/Spring Season

The identity for Spring 2014 employed an edited color palette, a templated photo-inside-a-photo layout, and type at a massive scale. Words are completely obscured as they weave through space, revealing fragments of typography that leave meaning behind to become pure form.

Designer: Patrick Morin


By its sixth year, BAMcinemaFest had grown into one of the primary New York presenters of high-profile film premieres. To celebrate its growing profile, designer Katie Positerry reimagined the BAM typeface, News Gothic. The letterforms reference a neon sign, creating a typographic metaphor for projected light. A shifting circle, when animated, also becomes a spotlight illuminating hidden forms.

Designer: Katie Positerry


With the opening of the BAM Fisher and continually expanding programming for children and families, BAM committed to creating a new sub-brand. BAMkids takes the hallmarks of the BAM visual identity, and adds a secondary kid-friendly typeface called Frankfurter. Children of BAM staff and friends serve as models.

Designer: Michelle Angelosanto

Migrating Forms

At BAM, it’s not uncommon for the seed of a design to originate in print and only later be adapted to video. But for Migrating Forms, a boundary-pushing film and video festival, that model was turned on its head. Ideas were passed back and forth between print and video, each informing the other. As with BAMcinemaFest, BAM’s typeface was completely reimagined into an ever-changing animated system, creating the illusion of motion and depth. It maintains legibility while flirting with obfuscation and formal abstraction. It echos the festival’s hard-to-pin-down programming with an identity that is always in flux.

Designers: Kyle Richardson, Alison Whitworth, and Kaitlyn Chandler

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