In January 2013, London studio Rose was asked to review and update The Old Vic’s branding. The project is now complete and changes include a new set of typefaces from Colophon and a Royal Crest redrawn by artist Chris Mitchell…
Rose has been working with The Old Vic since 2004, when it was asked to design the theatre’s production programmes. The studio has since worked on more than 25 campaigns, communications and identities for sub-brands, including The Old Vic in the West End and its 24 Hour Plays Celebrity Gala. Last year, it was asked to review The Old Vic’s identity, define a brand strategy and decide which of its brand assets should be retained or replaced.
“[The project] came about over the significant period of time we were working with The Old Vic,” says Rose creative director Simon Elliott. “The original brand guidelines…outlined the assets [such as the Royal Crest and the theatre’s official typeface], but didn’t provide any guidance or inspiration on their usage. As we started to work with different areas of the business, the need for clear guidance and the limitations of some of these original assets became increasingly apparent,” he adds.
The Old Vic’s previous logo, in which type was arranged in an asymmetric stack
The new, justified design
Despite this, the theatre’s identity was working remarkably well, says Elliott, as internal departments used Rose’s marketing material for reference when producing communications. The studio suggested, however, that with a clear set of flexible assets and guidelines, its visual language could be even more consistent and easier to implement.
One of the key concerns, says Elliott, was the Royal Crest used on all of The Old Vic’s communications. While the mark has historical significance (it is carved into the building’s facade), the intricate design was illegible at small sizes.
“It’s an asset which adds a lot of gravitas to many organisations. But from a practical perspective…when it’s reduced down in print, or online, and particularly in press ads where the quality of print is often an issue, the crest is so detailed that it would lose all readability.”
The old crest
As the theatre was keen to continue using the mark, Rose decided it should be redrawn and commissioned icon specialist Chris Mitchell to update it. Mitchell created four new crests, including positive and negative versions and one for both large and small applications
“Chris worked with us on BAFTA [when he redrew the organisation’s bronze mask mark] and in our opinion, is the best in the business at crafting beautiful and timeless marks and icons, with an economy of line-work that really suited this brief,” explains Elliott.
The biggest challenge in redrawing the crest was addressing the mark’s legibility issues while making sure viewers would still recognise its key components: the rampant and unicorn, the smaller lion with a crown at the top, the coat of arms, the scroll at the base and the foliage which represents each constituent country in the UK.
The new design retains these elements but is considerably more flexible and has a much more contemporary feel. Elliott says it’s designed to reflect both “the refined quality” of The Old Vic, “with charm, craft and a touch of theatre”.
The new design
Rose also suggested that theatre’s official typeface should be redrawn to include additional weights and a lower case version. “We found the existing font – a bold weight only in uppercase – increasingly limiting in application” explains Elliott.
“Despite its limitations, it’s a highly distinctive typeface which over time, has become visually associated with The Old Vic,” he adds. “From our long term relationship with the Tate and working with their equally distinctive font family, we recognised the value in having a publically recognisable typeface [which is why] we recommended it should be retained, but refined and added to,” he says.
Spacey, the theatre’s existing typeface, was only available in bold uppercase
Colophon’s Baylis is available in three weights, all with upper and lower case versions
The new font family, Baylis, includes light and regular weights and was designed by Colophon founders Anthony Sheret and Edd Harrington. The pair redrew the original font’s letterforms “to unify weight and balance across the alphabet” and from this, were able to apply the same rules and similar joins and forms to a lowercase version, designed to sit “harmoniously” with the uppercase version.
“Expanding the family from an extreme of the previously existing bold weight, we went all the way down to light, with a regular filling the void in-between. A full Latin character set accompanied the redraw, along with modified numerals, going from odd, oversized old style numerals, to a more conventional and modern inline numeral set,” they explain.
As well as commissioning the redrawn crest and type family, Rose devised a new colour palette for The Old Vic, updated its photography and illustration guidelines and revised the theatre’s logotype, which previously sat within the crest in an asymmetric stack.
“We wanted to create a neater solution, which could be more flexible in its usage…with this in mind, we created a three-lined justified solution which sits directly under the crest, enabling it to work successfully whether locked up, in a corner or centred,” explains Elliott. A single-line solution was also designed for use online, and the studio has put together detailed guidelines on internal and third party use of all assets. “The guidelines included an applications section, to guide and inspire the creative teams in all future communications,” he adds.
Rose worked closely with The Old Vic’s marketing director Catrin John and head of design, Stephen Long, throughout the project. Part of the reason for the review and update was to allow the theatre to produce its communications in-house, which it will be doing from now on using the guidelines Rose has drawn up.
“Having a really detailed set of guidelines makes a huge difference, and saves you so much time,” says Long. “You’re not having to re-invent the wheel every time you design something or think about what colours you should use, because you already have a set of options to choose from,” he adds.
New programmes, posters and playscripts using Baylis, and Rose’s updated colour palette for The Old Vic
Long is keen to point out that The Old Vic’s branding update has been a prudent exercise: instead of embarking on a radical re-design, Rose has made the best use of existing assets, making subtle but significant refinements to create a flexible system that should save the theatre both time and money in the long run.
“I’m very fond of the brand and the team, [and] hope there will be future opportunities to collaborate with them again. But for now, the brand review and resulting decisions and outcomes feels like an appropriate culmination of our relationship,” adds Elliott.
Baylis in use on wine bottles and the theatre’s signage and bathroom mirrors.