Collins, San Francisco Symphony branding

Rebranding the performing arts

Ballet companies, orchestras and theatre organisations are refreshing their image to welcome new audiences. We look at how designers are tackling this task without alienating existing followers

“Here’s a thing about design: in its broadest sense, it can be a perfect foil to the stuffy, the painfully self-important, and the smug,” says Brian Collins, co-founder of branding and design agency Collins. With this idea in mind, a growing number of institutions in the performing arts space are recognising that design can dress down the ‘high-brow’ image that they sometimes evoke, which can be off-putting to new audiences.

Earlier this year, Collins unveiled a redesign for the San Francisco Symphony, which was given the more informal name of SF Symphony in its new visual identity. The objective was to expand its reputation as a pioneering orchestra, retain its devoted audience and reach new ears, under the new stewardship of its new artistic director, Esa–Pekka Salonen. “It’s an exercise in balancing the timeless and the nascent, the storied and the still-to-come, the universal and the undiscussed,” Collins tells us. The agency responded by developing an identity that blends “dynamic typography” and “the idea of visual musicality”, where timeless, elegant serifs are playfully brought alive using variable font technology.

“From the perspective of an established symphony, tradition can be everything – like oxygen to a fire. But too much can also extinguish what delighted its many audiences in the first place,” Collins says. For him, the key is to both carefully “fan the flames” of tradition, and “add new fuel from emerging and divergent sources for that measure of tradition to play with and react to”.

Top and above: San Francisco Symphony’s redesigned identity by Collins