Lovers: a new agency from YCN’s Alex Ostrowski

Former YCN Studio director Alex Ostrowski has set up a new creative agency, Lovers. We take a look at some of its recent projects, including visual identities for Blink Art and the Royal Court Theatre, some animated films for NSPCC addressing violence and sexual abuse and a new series of handbooks for The Scouts.

Lovers was set up by Ostrowski 18 months ago and is a company member of YCN. The agency is based in London, but its central team works with a network of just under 100 creatives from around the world. The team has been working on a range of projects throughout the past year and has just launched a website showcasing its work to date.

Projects include a new identity for the Royal Court Theatre in London, designed to communicate its reputation for staging experimental and innovative work by new playwrights. Lovers was asked to reflect the idea of ‘a theatre on the edge’ and developed a flexible system which sees its logo placed at the edge of print ads, stationery and communications, often running off the page.

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The colour palette combines red (which has long been used in the Royal Court’s signage) with bold yellow and black, and type family Bureau Grot is used to dramatic effect: while the agency has established a strict set of rules on which weights to use for certain points of information (e.g. titles and dates), these are occasionally used interchangeably to create an abrupt change of tone. Plays are also assigned different typographic identities, adding some variety to programmes and ads.

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The idea of being on the edge also inspired wayfinding and signage in the theatre, with lettering applied to the corners of walls and bespoke icons cut off at the edges:

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The bold typefaces and colours are accompanied by some equally eye-catching photography, shot by Sarah May, Leandro Farina, Luke Kirwan, Joyce Kim and Amy Currell. Surreal shots of the theatre backstage promote its ‘live lunch’ programme (a series of lunch time plays), while promotional imagery for productions feature abstract and unsettling or unusual imagery inspired by the scripts. For communications promoting an entire season, images can be spliced to create a grid offering a glimpse of several different plays.

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The identity has now been rolled out across the theatre’s communications, advertising and signage on the front of the building, giving it a much bolder and more playful look.

Alongside its work for Royal Court, Lovers recently created a new identity and website for Blink Art, based around a typographic system which places more emphasis on artists’ names and a series of playful pictograms which draw on the dot from the ‘i’ in Blink:

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And has been working with NSPCC to create some moving animated films to encourage young people to use ChildLine. (Ostrowski previously worked on films for NSPCC while at YCN, creating a beautifully animated short with Buck back in 2013).

In one film, a young women from Eritrea recalls how she was taken to France by a group of men after her father died and subjected to horrific violence and sexual abuse (she was eventually rescued by her aunt and taken to the UK):

While another, titled Pete’s Story, recounts one man’s experience of being beaten by his mother as a child:

The animations are sensitively handled, providing a visual accompaniment to voiceovers without using imagery that might frighten or upset its vulnerable audience. Creating films addressing abuse, neglect, trafficking and violence is a challenging task, but Ostrowski says the agency works closely with NSPCC’s commissioning team to learn about each issue and the experiences many children face before designing animations.

“There’s only so much you can get across with words on a screen, which is why the charity takes the trouble to put moving image content at the heart of those resources. They do a lot of testing and feedback collection with these pieces once they’re up,” he adds.

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On a happier note, Lovers has also worked with The Scouts to design a new series of handbooks for children aged six to 16. Publications are tailored to suit each age group – the Beavers handbook reads like a children’s picture book, while one for Explorers (for age 14 and up) feels more like a manual, but the same type family (Akzidenz grotesque) and use of bold colours and illustrations ensures some consistency throughout.

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Beavers handbooks feature colourful characters used to introduce readers to the Scouts badges and activities
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“One of the main problems with the previous Scouting Handbook is that it was simply too heavy and thick to find its way into young Scouts’ lives. There’s so much information about Scouting available online now, that the printed resources really have to earn their place as physical objects.”

Lovers created a series of animal characters for the Beavers books to introduce children to the Scouts and talk them through the different badges they can earn. The cubs handbook uses animated objects to represent different activities, from pots and pans to binoculars while the illustrations in Explorers books are hand-drawn with a more grown-up feel.

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Cubs activity books feature colourful chacters which represent different activities
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“When we’re communicating with young people we have to constantly check our assumptions and presumptions as to what they’ll connect with, because it changes every day,” says Ostrowski. “We rely a lot on our clients to bring quality research and insights into projects, so that we can make decisions confidently based on facts. Aside from this, we just remember not to patronise and not to bore,” he adds. Illustrations have since been used to create merchandise for the Scouts group and Lovers says sales of the books and merchandise have shot up since the redesign.

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Explorers handbook, for Scout groups aged 14 and up

Lovers is now working on the identity for Green Man festival in 2016 and another film for NSPCC and Ostrowski says he is hoping to grow its network of creatives in different countries.  You can see more of the agency’s work at lovers.co

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