Bletchley Park was once Britain’s best kept secret. In the 1940s, it was home to the country’s brightest mathematicians and military personnel who cracked German Enigma codes, invented the world’s first computer and helped shorten the second world war by up to two years by deciphering enemy intelligence there – yet no-one outside of Bletchley had any idea it existed.
The centre remained top secret until wartime information was declassified in the 1970s. By then, the red-brick mansion and surrounding site was desperately run-down. It was almost demolished to make way for houses and a supermarket in 1991 but was later declared a conservation site, and a trust was formed to preserve its heritage a year later.
Bletchley opened as a museum in 2004 and has since been awarded a National Lottery heritage grant, museum development funding and financial backing from Google. It’s now undergoing a major refurbishment and its code breaking huts and derelict buildings are being transformed into an interactive visitor centre due to open in Spring 2014.
Design agency Rose was asked to create a visual identity for the new and improved Bletchley Park around two years ago and has been working on the project for about 10 months. After holding workshops and meetings with the board, full-time staff and volunteers, Rose developed a flexible system that references the centre’s code breaking past and the aesthetics of the 40s.
The identity system uses a series of patterns similar to those that Bletchley staff would have worked with. Creative director Garry Blackburn says this allows visitors to be code breakers too, supporting the trust’s desire to turn Bletchley into an immersive visitor experience.
The system is already in use on the Park’s website – which will eventually include interactive games and puzzles – and will be applied to corporate communications, visitor materials, signage, advertising, staff uniforms and merchandise. In the new café, visitors will sip from teacups with codes printed on the inside and saucers will have patterns printed in heat sensitive ink.
The new gift shop will also stock puzzle books with bespoke Bletchley covers – a reference to the centre’s wartime recruitment tactics. (To recruit specialist staff, the government placed difficult crosswords in national newspapers and invited those who completed them to take part in timed competitions).
Verlag was chosen as the typeface for Bletchley as it’s inspired by fonts of the period but has a modern cut. “It would have been too easy to use something like Gill but irresponsible to create a custom typeface – after all, Bletchley is a charity,” says Blackburn.
The logo uses this typeface in two weights to reflect the fact that everyone knows about Bletchley now “but not so many know about the Park,” he says. This two-weight device has also been applied to poster headlines placed in Underground stations and code patterns on signage, allowing visitors to pick out images from the jumbles of characters to find their way around.
The new Bletchley colour palette is inspired by military and civilian uniforms of the 40s and the site’s rural heritage: air force blue is mixed with shades of green and brown and patterns evoking tweed and herringbone alongside brighter shades of blue, pink and purple. It’s a versatile system and one that’s nostalgic without being twee.
There’s been a real resurgence of interest in the period thanks to TV shows and films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the Bletchley Girls. We wanted to design an identity that would celebrate Bletchley’s past but would feel modern rather than clichéd or dated. The Trust doesn’t want to be a stuffy museum where people come to look at artefacts in glass cases – they want to create an exciting, fun attraction,” explains Blackburn. The theme for the project, he adds was practical intelligence. “We set out to design a cost-effective system that Bletchley can adapt and be creative with in years to come. But we also wanted to create something clever. I think good ideas are lacking a little in design these days – really good design should be something that people can engage with and not just something that looks nice. After all, you’re not designing just for a client but for your audience,” he adds.
Rose will be working with Bletchley for the next 12 months, and Blackburn says it has been “a dream project” to work on. “Bletchley has so many fantastic stories to tell and it was our job to lift the lid on them. It’s going to be a great venue and I think with backing from Google and the right partners and exhibitions, it could become an attraction to rival London’s Science Museum or the V&A,” he says.