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  • Julia Woollams

Shades of grey


Making a difference to an organisation through branding and design isn’t always about a ‘big’ new visual idea.


When I used to walk the aisles of supermarkets as a student I couldn’t understand why the super brands like Kelloggs never changed their logos – or so I thought, as they were imperceptibly evolving their logos over time. Their logos had too much equity for wholesale revolutions and they didn’t want to lose their customers along the way.


Making a brand more effective, both for clients to work with and for audiences to interact with, can often mean a visual identity evolution rather than a revolution.


As with most things in life, there’s a scale – shades of grey rather than black and white. I have worked on many visual identity updates over the years that would be defined as evolutions, ranging from ones where the logo isn’t part of the refresh at all (for example our The National Archives work) to others where the core visual idea is retained but other visual elements are completely updated (see our Growthcap rebrand).

Growthcap logos old and new
Growthcap logos: old versus new

I’m interested to hear from other creatives on their experience of making a difference to an organisation through a visual identity evolution, so I spoke to Becks Skinner, Kevin Lan, Rich Rhodes, Jodie Wightman and founders of Osborne Ross, Deborah and Andrew, to find out their views.

 

Becks Skinner


Becks is a Design Director at award-winning Bath based design agency, Supple Studio. After almost a decade working with some of the best branding agencies in London, including The Chase, NB Studio and The Partners, Becks swapped the big smoke for the rolling hills of Bath. Her experience spans a diverse range of clients and sectors, from large international corporations to small start-ups, including Royal Mail, D&AD, Npower, Tesco and London Zoo to name a few. Her work has been recognised by a host of creative awards schemes including D&AD and Art Directors Club.


Find out more about Supple Studio on their website and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.


Julia: Can you tell us about a project you’ve worked on where an evolution to a client’s visual identity made a difference?

Becks: We recently worked on evolving an identity for a co-working space based at a prestigious Bath address. The brand had a logo, colour palette and typeface, but the identity lacked substance and personality. Taking inspiration from the luxurious Georgian setting, we added characterful typography and period illustrations which, with the help of local illustrator Simon Spilsbury, were given a modern and playful twist. We also tweaked the logo to create something more bespoke and considered. Although we only made small changes, these added lots of personality and carved a unique space for them away from the competition.


One of the playful illustrations from the House of St John’s identity (Supple Studio)
Julia: Has there ever been a situation where a client wanted to start from scratch with their visual identity but you recommended an evolution instead, or indeed vice versa?

Becks: Whilst at The Chase I worked with the Zoological Society London to help them create and communicate an ambitious new brand positioning – ‘Let’s work for Wildlife’. This reflected their purpose as a modern, active organisation, who spearheaded conservation and scientific research, as well as owning London and Whipsnade Zoo.


With so many facets to the organisation communications looked inconsistent and lacked a clear brand message. Originally we were asked not to change the logo and to keep as many of the brand assets as possible (as an historic organisation with many long-term stakeholders, there was a lot of resistance to anything but minor changes).


We slowly made small changes to the visual identity, and as these were received the client got more confident and allowed us to change more and more. In the end we persuaded them that the old ZSL logo would limit their ability to live and breathe their new brand positioning and they agreed to change it to bring it in line with the identities of their zoos and public facing work.


We created simple rules for the bold use of typography, and imagery that made animals the hero of communications. The end result was much more considered and unified and importantly helped to communicate their new brand positioning. But you can’t help thinking that if we had been given the freedom to make those more radical changes from the start rather than as a step-by-step evolution, we would have ended up with something bolder and more interesting as a result.


Julia: What’s the most radical visual identity project you have worked on that you’d still categorise as an evolution?

Becks: I worked on the brand evolution of Tesco’s tablet, hudl. Having entered the market only 1 year before as a new name in tablets, SomeOne had initially created an identity designed to give the tablet credibility amongst the technology giants. Having sold well on the initial identity, 12 months later Tesco wanted to reposition themselves as more accessible, fun and family-friendly to stand out from the competition. Focused around the new positioning ‘happy technology’ we created a bespoke, friendly brand typeface, down-to-earth tone of voice and cute and cuddly icons style. Pared back, brightly coloured packaging and fun photography based around the idea of a ‘huddle’ positioned them apart from the inhuman face of the competition, and perfectly suited the not-so-tech savvy Tesco family customer. From the point of view of the visual identity it was a relatively small shift, but in every other way, it was a big change.


The great logos don’t really need to change (or at least it's so subtle that you don’t notice).

Julia: What’s your favourite logo that has evolved over the years?

Becks: Ooh that’s a tricky one, especially given that the great logos don’t really need to change (or at least it's so subtle that you don’t notice). I guess I’d say the London Underground logo. Famous the world over, and comforting to ever a rain-drenched Londoner, it’s evolved many times over the years, but has remained simple and iconic throughout. And, unlike other brands, it’s still possible to see the old logos alongside the new ones when travelling through London. And rather than confusing matters it simply serves as a museum to its heritage.

 

Kevin Lan


Kevin is a multi-award-winning creative director at global brand agency, Superunion. He leads Superunion’s global creative team for Nespresso, working across a multitude of programmes, including brand strategy, identity, packaging design, and communications. His other clients include Samsung, Stella McCartney, Boots, Vodafone, and Jaguar. He is the recipient of a D&AD Black Pencil for his work with The National Gallery, and his work has also been recognised by over 80 creative industry awards, including Gold and Silver trophies with Art Directors Club, New York Festivals, Graphis, Campaign, D&AD, Clio and Pentawards.


Follow Kevin on Twitter and Instagram.

Julia: Can you tell us about a project you’ve worked on where an evolution to a client’s visual identity made a difference?

Kevin: A great example is one of my current clients, Nespresso – if you searched Google, or even looked back at old machines, their brand has always looked pretty much the same. They’re also synonymous with their relationship with Hollywood star George Clooney, who, at one point seemed to almost overtake the brand. The brand with Clooney, was seen as very masculine, a bit chauvinistic and it was beginning to become disconnected from younger generations. At the same time, the coffee world has exploded over the last five to ten years becoming much more of a lifestyle choice than simply just a beverage. We undertook the creation of a new visual identity, that was the opposite of where they had been. We didn’t change the logo or logotype, but we moved away from the previous dark, black world of luxury to a much more open, bright, and diverse lifestyle world. We used the idea that coffee isn’t just a morning drink, but one that can happen at many times of the day – whether it’s your cappuccino before the train, or a decaf after an even meal – that the time of day can be reflected through light and shade, capturing a moment of relaxation and comfort. This lighter, more feminine, and contemplative visual style also helped to support a more understanding and sustainably-thinking brand. They have recently become certified a B Corp, which has been a huge drive for them to demonstrate their desire to do better.


Left: old Nespresso. Right: new Nespresso (Superunion)
Julia: Has there ever been a situation where a client wanted to start from scratch with their visual identity, but you recommended an evolution instead, or indeed vice versa?

Kevin: I do remember once that we had the opportunity to rebrand Argos. The brand had been in a huge decline, their sales were being swallowed up by the online retailers like Amazon. The laminated book of dreams that I remember from my youth was a mere distant memory, but they were still on every highstreet and very accessible to most. We had created a strategic idea, that Argos was like a “portal”. A portal to the stuff that you wanted, and just like a portal, you could have it in a flash. Sound strategic thinking, right? Well, it certainly led us off down a rabbit hole of creative thinking and we ended up creating an extremely psychedelic logo where each letter looked like a portal. It looked bonkers, but the creative inside me said, “why not?” In the end, the client didn’t go with it and stayed with their existing logo. It would have been amazing to see if it had happened. It would have been our version of the London 2012 marmite job – I’m sure it would have been roasted on BrandNew!


It looked bonkers, but the creative inside me said, “why not?” In the end, the client didn’t go with it and stayed with their existing logo.

Julia: What’s the most radical visual identity project you have worked on that you’d still categorise as an evolution?

Kevin: Not entirely sure you could call it radical, but one that I loved working on was our rebrand for the Connaught Hotel. We didn’t really touch the logo (there were some tweaks in application), but it went from uptight conservative, stuffy hotel to a dynamic and contemporary place to be seen. We commissioned artist Kristjana Williams to create an artwork that narrated the many fantastic stories housed within the historic walls of the building. The result was a truly outstanding artwork, which we then used for the basis of the visual identity – from menus in the Michelin star restaurant, all the way up to the do not disturb signs for the guest doors – it all looked amazing.

Connaught Hotel (Superunion)

Julia: What’s your favourite logo that has evolved over the years?

Kevin: One brand refresh that we have worked on recently was our work for housing charity Shelter. The logo was changed to reflect the charity's need to be more activist for those in need. It took the idea from the previous logo, of the house and the roof, and used it as a symbol of positivity. The visual identity wasn’t all about the logo though. There was a bespoke typeface created, inspired by demonstrative sign painting. This was coupled with a hard-hitting urgent tone-of-voice and strong black and white photographic style helped shift the brand to one of immediacy, presence, and action. This logo and identity fit the brand so well that I find it hard now to think of shelter looking any different. The previous logo was a bit of a design classic, but it never had the attitude and emotion of this rebrand. Long may it stay this way.

 

Rich Rhodes


Rich is the Executive Creative Director of SomeOne, creating and reinvigorating some of the UK’s best-loved brands. In addition to being highly awarded, Rich focuses on creating work that truly works, by differentiating clients within their respective sectors.


Find out more about SomeOne on their website and follow them on Instagram and Twitter.


Julia: Can you tell us about a project you’ve worked on where an evolution to a client’s visual identity made a difference?

Rich: The best evolution has to be my recent work for Norwich City and the development of their club crest. To add some context, the crest was created 50 years ago (via a competition in the newspaper), that’s 12 years before the birth of the internet. Of course there were various technical and aesthetic issues, but more importantly, you’re dealing with something that’s been around for decades, is embedded within the fabric of Norwich and even tattooed on numerous limbs.


You’re dealing with something that’s been around for decades, is embedded within the fabric of Norwich and even tattooed on numerous limbs.

Understanding such significance and sensitivity played a huge role in the project. After extensive consultation – including 5000 supporters, club directors, club legends, fan groups, staff, first team and academy players – the message was clear that this was very much an evolution and not revolution. This informed the solution, which was to ensure there was the perfect balance of enough history with enough modernity to future-proof the crest (for another 50 years).


As expected, the immediate fan reaction was one of concern, but now the work is firmly embedded, the development is seen as a huge success.


Norwich City crest – old versus new (SomeOne)
Julia: Has there ever been a situation where a client wanted to start from scratch with their visual identity but you recommended an evolution instead, or indeed vice versa?

Rich: I once worked on a pro bono piece for the Jimmy Mizen Foundation. It's a sad story, but also one of hope and determination. In 2008 Jimmy was tragically murdered in an unprovoked attack. Shortly after his family bravely set up the charity to tackle and educate on matters of youth violence. After briefing, we went through the motions of evolution (which definitely ticked the boxes) but one thing always stood out to me, the family had always said they wanted to keep Jimmy’s name alive. The evolutions performed both visually and verbally, but they didn’t really explain who Jimmy was and why the foundation was so important. For that reason I proposed the name For Jimmy, with the idea that every endeavour undertaken was For Jimmy. Educating For Jimmy, Fundraising For Jimmy, Working For Jimmy. The new name was a resounding success and brought Jimmy back to the heart of the charity.


For Jimmy (Rich Rhodes)

Julia: What’s the most radical visual identity project you have worked on that you’d still categorise as an evolution?

Rich: My work with D.Thomas attempted to change the face of skincare. To give context, the skincare sector is awash with beautiful people (and spas), so I knew the identity couldn’t be a radical departure. The key to D.Thomas’s success, is the artful nature in which the treatments are performed – they are lovingly and expertly crafted to suit everyone’s individual needs. This gave the inspiration for the visual identity, one that shows beauty (and imperfection) without falling into sector tropes. The solution involved creating impressions in a bed of powder, then photographing the result. The beauty of these images is that they are not foreign to the sector, whilst remaining distinctive.

D. Thomas Clinic (SomeOne)

Julia: What’s your favourite logo that has evolved over the years?

Rich: I think JKR’s recent work for Burger King is a great evolution. Throughout the 90s the brand definitely lost its way. The JKR work does a great job of taking BK back to its roots, whilst still feeling contemporary – a healthy balance of then and now.

 

Jodie Wightman


Jodie started her design career in London, then set sail for New York, where she worked for five years, producing branding solutions for global clients such as Intel. Jodie is now a Creative Director at Together Design and has a passion for helping brands use design as a tool to solve business challenges. Her work has been recognised by D&AD, Design Week Awards, Art Directors Club and Type Directors Club.


Find out more about Together Design on their website and follow them on Instagram.


Penguin’s logo has been iconic since its first iteration in 1935, and it didn’t need changing in order for Penguin to remain fresh and relevant.

Julia: Can you tell us about a project you’ve worked on where an evolution to a client’s visual identity made a difference?

Jodie: I have been working with Penguin for the past 5 years. Our work has spanned everything from brand architecture, messaging, environment guidelines, sub-brand strategy and expanding their visual identity. Penguin’s logo has been iconic since its first iteration in 1935, and it didn’t need changing in order for Penguin to remain fresh and relevant. However, Penguin's ever expanding offering that now covers events, podcasts, video content, CSR initiatives, merchandise and more, meant that a broader, more versatile visual identity was going to be essential. Giving the team the right kit of parts and guidelines, means everyone at Penguin has what they need to apply the Penguin brand effectively for a variety of formats, platforms and audiences. We hope our work will play a role in helping Penguin to remain iconic for the next 90 years.


Penguin logos through the years

Julia: Has there ever been a situation where a client wanted to start from scratch with their visual identity but you recommended an evolution instead, or indeed vice versa?

Jodie: We start every project with a lot of questioning and listening and discussions with a number of people from different areas of a company. The results of these conversations mean we often find our true brief is a far cry from the initial reason they reached out to us. A simple refresh can sometimes result in a complete name change and repositioning. We find those early discussions so valuable in our clients asking themselves what they really need and from there we can establish how we can best help them.


At the other end of the spectrum, one of Penguin’s imprints, Bantam, were adamant that a new logo should not have any reference to their current chicken that they did not have fond feelings for. But we felt that, with the name ‘bantam’ meaning small chicken, and the fact that their logo had been crowing from the rooftops since the 1940s, a refresh was more appropriate. The new logo was spruced up to reflect the bold titles that Bantam publish today and perched atop a weathervane, confidently facing-forward, just as their books do. The client loved it and felt proud to embrace their heritage instead of being embarrassed by their old rooster.


Before and after of Bantam logo (Together Design)
Julia: What’s your favourite logo that has evolved over the years?

Jodie: Maybe it’s growing up in a small town where the biggest shop we had was a Co-op... but I loved their re-brand which re-visited their 1960s logo. Simple, friendly and iconic.

 

Deborah and Andrew of Osborne Ross



Osborne Ross is a design consultancy based in London. Founded in 2004 by Deborah Osborne and Andrew Ross, their clients include: John Lewis, Arts Council, Christies, the Home Office, Little Brown Publishing, National Portrait Gallery, RIBA, Royal Collection, Royal Mail, Royal Mint, Somerset House and Vogue.


Find out more about Osborne Ross on their website and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.


Julia: Can you tell us about a project you’ve worked on where an evolution to a client’s visual identity made a difference?

Deborah and Andrew: We were approached to evolve an identity for a lingerie company. They recognised that their existing mark and their marketing materials were looking a little heavy and lacking in refinement. They were looking to appeal to a younger audience and asked us to revise what they had.


We kept the spirit of their existing mark but looked to emphasise the calligraphic movement which, whilst there, needed amplifying. For their promotional imagery we looked to create photography which was lightly observed rather than heavily staged.


Everything we created for them involved small incremental changes, but all these things added up to creating a brand which looked younger and more vital. The client started to be stocked again by department stores who had dropped them some time ago, and their sales increased by some 25-30%.


We felt that they also had to consider the good will that resided in the marque: this can count for a great deal, particularly in the sphere they operate in.

Julia: Has there ever been a situation where a client wanted to start from scratch with their visual identity but you recommended an evolution instead, or indeed vice versa?

Deborah and Andrew: We are currently working on an identity for an historic cultural institution who asked us to create a whole new identity for them. They considered their existing marque too historic and chained to the past. We suggested that the marque had an integrity and historic significance which other newer organisations would love to have. We felt that they also had to consider the good will that resided in the marque: this can count for a great deal, particularly in the sphere they operate in.


We developed other routes for presentation but in the meantime looked at simplifying the existing marque and showing how this could work with cleaner, modern imagery. We argued that they should look on their marque as being an endorsement of quality which should not change; everything else around the marque could come and go but the marque itself should be their one constant.


Having been through this exercise, the client has chosen to keep their existing marque and we are currently developing the identity with them.

Borderline annual report design (Osborne Ross)
Julia: What’s the most radical visual identity project you have worked on that you’d still categorise as an evolution?

Deborah and Andrew: Probably the most radical project we’ve worked on, in terms of altering the way in which an organisation thinks about itself and how it is viewed by others, didn’t involve redesigning a logo.


A homeless charity contacted us to design their annual reports and, whilst not changing what they were saying, we found a way to visually express their aims in a way which stood out in their sector whilst bringing the focus back to the people they were looking to help.


The annual report became a flag for the staff to rally behind and we could sense a change in the way they talked about their organisation. The report won a Third Sector award for them, where they were pitted up against far larger organisations with far larger budgets; this in turn resulted in them winning significant funding which changed the amount of help they were able to give the homeless.


The organisation has since been swallowed up by a larger charity but we still remain in contact with the directors. This is the project where we saw what we do make the greatest change for the good.


Julia: What’s your favourite logo that has evolved over the years?

Deborah and Andrew: The Shell logo: it benefits from being a pictorial marque which doesn’t need a word with it, in the same way that Apple doesn’t.


It still looks distinctive and modern whilst retaining the spirit of the original marque drawn up over a hundred years ago.

 

Thank you to Becks, Kevin, Rich, Jodie, Deborah and Andrew for sharing their views.



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