Authentically African? How The Partners created its new identity for Tusk Conservation Awards

The Partners’ new identity for Tusk Conservation Awards features a typographic logo cleverly hidden in a custom pattern. We spoke to creative director Stuart Radford about designing a system that felt ‘authentically African’ for the pro-bono project…

The Partners’ new identity for Tusk Conservation Awards features a typographic logo cleverly hidden in a custom pattern. We spoke to creative director Stuart Radford about designing a system that felt ‘authentically African’…

The Conservation Awards were founded by UK charity Tusk Trust last year to highlight leading conservation work in Africa. The Partners was asked to rebrand the scheme by co-organiser Investec (a client) this summer, and spent six months crafting a system based on an original black, white and orange pattern inspired by traditional designs.

The new logo is also based on the pattern – the letters ‘T’, ‘U’, ‘S’ and ‘K’ are hidden within the design – and graphics are used alongside black and white photography in the awards catalogue and on its website:

 

Stuart Radford, creative director at The Partners, says the aim was to create a system with a strong personality for the awards, that would in some way reflect the graphic language of certain regions of Africa.

“When we were brought in [to work on the project], we felt it was a great opportunity – from a design perspective, the awards have a very clear focus and it’s a really interesting subject matter. After the first ceremony, we had a chat about how we could help Tusk, and they spoke about their ambition to create quite a prestigious and well recognised award – off the back of that, we started to discuss their visual identity,” he says.

 

Above and below: the new Tusk Conservation website, a single page design, features elements of the new pattern throughout (web design by Rob Day)

Initially, Tusk was keen to retain a silhouette of the African continent in the awards logo, but Radford says The Partners quickly realised this wouldn’t work and persuaded the charity otherwise. “At the beginning of the process, we didn’t have a particularly strong view on it, but it soon became apparent that it was going to be quite limiting – it gets you to ‘Africa’ very quickly, but doesn’t feel African, in the sense that it doesn’t have much personality. There’s nothing particularly celebratory about it,” he says.

 

 

The idea of using patterns was raised early on in the process, but Radford says the challenge was working out how to do so in a novel way, using a pattern that Tusk could have ownership over.

“We could have just appropriated an existing pattern, but there wouldn’t be any integrity in that. We thought for a long time about how we could do something interesting and after a lot of trial and error, we stumbled across the idea of using typography within it,” he adds.

 

 

To devise the pattern, The Partners researched existing examples in textiles, art and ceramics from different regions, identifying shared elements. “A couple of things we observed were that they often employ quite a rigid, vertical, almost column-like look. We also paid close attention to recurring geometric details,” says Radford.

The pattern was initially black and white, but was deemed too sombre and orange was chosen to add some brightness and contrast. “We looked at four or five colours, but it was too much, so we stripped it back – the orange retains some connection with the Tusk Trust brand [which has a deep reddish logo] and we felt this shade of orange was the strongest option in terms of feeling authentic,” he adds.

 

 

As Radford explains, the biggest challenge when designing it was positioning and refining letters to create a word marque that was clearly legible and fitted within the pattern – even minor changes to one letter could throw the whole design out of synch, meaning other letters also had to be redesigned. The finished pattern is worth the headache, however, creating a flexible system that can be easily adapted for both small and large-scale applications:

 

 

To help raise awareness of the awards, The Partners also commissioned a group of women in Enkiito, Kenya, to create 35 wristbands bearing the logo, which were sent out to key supporters including Bear Grylls and Kathryn Jenkins. Proceeds raised from the project were donated to the local community to help send children to primary school.

“We were looking at cost-effective ways to raise the awards’ profile, and were keen to use traditional techniques. Wristbands came up in a number of conversations and after looking into it, we thought it would be even better to have them made in Africa,” explains Radford.

“It was quite a challenge trying to art direct them from the UK – there were some issues incorporating the logo in to the beading technique, so we had to send a kind of bead-by-bead guide, and the women making them would send photos of what they had done and any issues they were having,” he adds. In the end, the pattern had to be adapted slightly by adding white columns between letters (columns are made from recycled plastic and make the design more rigid).

 

 

It’s a rare thing to see a rebrand almost universally praised, but since The Partners’ announced its work for Tusk this week, the response has been overwhelmingly positive – and deservedly so. Yes, the ‘tribal’ route is an obvious one to take but rarely is it carried off with such skill and verve. The design is contemporary but authentic, the overall visuals have a strong personality and the word marque is instantly recognisable. Some may find fault with the idea that a continent as visually diverse as Africa can be reduced to one vernacular style but it’s great to see a modern design that also celebrates traditional techniques and aesthetics, and the bracelets are a brilliant way to promote the awards while also raising money for local communities.

“It became quite a labour of love,” says Radford. “Tusk was great in terms of being very open and receptive to our ideas, and that allowed us to create a really powerful identity – even if it’s a pro-bono piece of work, you still want to do the best possible job, and we’re really happy with the final outcome,” he adds.

 

Credits

Creative Director: Stuart Radford
Designer: Oli Bussell
Wristband liaison: Robyn Forsythe
Web design: Rob Day

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