Opened in 1997, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) is an artistic, cultural, educational, and civic center in Newark, NJ, and one of the largest of its kind in the U.S., with its main hall having capacity for 2,800 people plus three other auditoriums. NJPAC presents more than 400 concerts (classical, jazz, rock, pop, urban, and world music), plays, recitals, spoken-word performances, and many other cultural experiences each year that cover everything from dance to musicals, comedy, poetry and family programs. Last month, NJPAC introduced a new identity designed by New York, NY-based Pentagram partner Paula Scher.
The designers developed a custom proprietary typeface called NJPAC Sans, exclusive to the Arts Center. The font is based on ARS Novelty, designed by Angus Shamal, which blends an elegant high contrast serif and a geometric monoline sans. Working with the Pentagram team, Shamal expanded on this for the NJPAC typeface, drawing new letters, tweaking existing letterforms, and developing a completely new book weight, along with italics for each weight. The classic-contemporary hybrid is a nod to NJPAC’s previous logo, which mixed serif and sans serif typography, and suggests the range of experiences at NJPAC. The NJPAC logotype appears in all lowercase, to make it friendly and accessible.
The defining feature of NJPAC Sans is its distinctive swashes, which add quirkiness and a defining signature characteristic to the branding and suggest the multitude of programs. There are several different swash alternates for certain letters, as seen in the “j” in the logotype. In applications, the typography and its multiple letterforms appears dynamic and dramatic, transforming across fields of type. The approach gives the typeface a unique look that doesn’t really exist in any other geometric sans serif fonts. The swash alternates are used for display copy and titling.
The old logo was bad in its weird level of contrast between the serif and sans serif combination where it’s not immediately evident they are different styles and the tilted oval only muddied things further. It looked like a California New Wave style gone stale. The new logo keeps the notion of mixing sans serif with something else which, in this new iteration, are swashy curls (or curly swashes). In the logo, the “j” certainly stands out amidst the more classic geometric sans letters. I kind of like the idea but this particular curl is not totally convincing me. Like it needs 25% more visual drama or more exaggerated curves that make it look more on purpose. I do like how it adds a sense of whimsy to an otherwise serious and stately wordmark.
The bulk of the sentiments about the logo and applications rely on whether you like the custom type family or not. I like the idea, the numerals are lovely, and the “f” is a fantastic “f” but the “g” and “y” kill it for me, especially that “g”. There is also something off about the “e” that breaks the rhythm of the geometric-ness of the vowels and my eye is always drawn to it whenever it appears in a word. In short, I guess, I’m not a fan of the font itself but how it’s used helps its cause.
The type is complemented by a graphic treatment that isolates titles and secondary typography in staggered color blocks. This provides a flexible system that helps highlight, organize and unify information. The blocks can also be used in lockups to create sub-brands for various programs, departments and initiatives. Endlessly flexible, the visual language can be adapted to different layouts, and lends the graphics a sense of movement and play that perform in space. The approach accommodates different types of imagery–color or black-and-white photography that is available or commissioned for different artists and performances. The identity provides a framework where the individual programs and performances can shine within the institution.
In application the logo is used big as a bold anchor and the type is placed in staggered boxes that, in combination with the contrasts of the letterforms, add up to dynamic layouts and a fun visual texture. The season brochure cover is an example of the identity working at its best, giving the sense that a lot of very different things happen at this performing arts center and it isn’t just one kind of event. The identity adapts nicely to all the event types, looking classier when paired with photos of orchestras and looking funner when paired with a photo of Savion Glover. Overall, the identity captures the vibrancy and variety of the center and has a very functional adaptability.