E Roon Kang and Richard The's new visual identity for the MIT Media Lab isn't a logo – it's 40,000 logos. The designers have created an algorithm that randomly remixes a simple pattern of coloured spotlights into thousands of different combinations. This means that every member of staff at the lab will get their own unique logo.
The concept was developed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Media Lab, which brings together science and arts disciplines to research the effect of emerging technology on society and culture. "At the lab these people cross paths, collaborate, and inspire each other, and that's the magic of this place," says The.
Kang and The's logo is based on the idea of intersection. Underlying the pattern is a five-by-five grid. On each iteration, three coloured "spotlights" start on a randomly assigned point and expand out to a square of four randomly assigned points. "There is a set of rules that limits some of the variety, in order to ensure coherent aesthetics," says Kang. For instance, there has to be at least one intersection between spotlights, and at least one has to reach the outer edge, or some logos would be very small. The colours are taken from a mural by Kenneth Noland in the original Media Lab building, fine-tuned "so that it can feel vibrant while keeping the heritage". The underlying grid, left invisible in the finished device, represents the physical, academic and intellectual environment provided by the lab.
Even with the constraints Kang and The wrote into the algorithm, more than 40,000 permutations are possible – enough to last another 25 years. Could other organisations follow the lead of the Media Lab and develop their own generative logos? Kang isn't sure. "It made a lot of sense for us because this is for the Media Lab, where there's a strong emphasis on individuals' own interests," he says. "Not all organisations are necessarily like that or need to communicate that, but when it does make sense, there is a lot to explore. As our culture becomes more dynamic, there will be an increased need for a new kind of branding where a brand manual doesn't detail every single aspect of a brand."