Design studio Spin has created a new visual identity for the University for the Creative Arts, a group of art and design colleges in Kent and Surrey. We spoke to Spin’s Tony Brook and UCA vice chancellor Simon Ofield-Kerr about why the university needed a rebrand and the thinking behind the new look…
The new logo
The identity is based around a logo featuring the acronym UCA in stencil lettering alongside the university’s full name in Lineto typeface, Circular. Letters can be stacked or arranged horizontally on posters and stationery (shown top) and are used alongside the names of each UCA campus. Spin has also devised a series of graphic patterns to use within letterforms on prospectus covers and posters, which Brook says loosely reference different approaches to making.
The logo replaces the university’s previous marque – a recognisable but rather uninspiring design which was launched in 2008 after the group of schools in Canterbury, Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone and Rochester changed its name to UCA:
UCA’s old logo
And will be rolled out across campuses, communications and publications over the next year. The studio has been working on the identity for around six months, and Brook says it aims to better reflect the creativity and diversity of UCA.
“For me, the old identity just wasn’t representing the spirit or the values that UCA holds dear,” he explains. “It was a very corporate looking logo…we did a lot of research and consultation meetings with staff and students and the thing that kept coming through were all the things you hoped would with a creative environment – people excited about making, collaborating and experimenting – yet the identity had none of that in it. it was quite a stark contrast,” he adds.
Ofield-Kerr says he also wanted an identity that would place more emphasis on the names of individual colleges. “There’s been a lot of change [since the previous identity was introduced] – UCA is quite a complex institution, and we wanted something that better represented that complexity,” he says.
“When universities come into existence, they often want to establish themselves as singular entities, but we’re much more relaxed about what we are now. There’s 120 miles between UCA Farnham and UCA Canterbury, and each of those campuses has a different history and portfolio of courses. There are lots of different sub-brands too, such as Farnham Film School, and we wanted a system where all of those could exist within a whole, but it wouldn’t wipe all of that difference out,” he adds.
As well as consulting with staff, students and alumni, Brook says he looked to UCA’s architecture and campuses for inspiration when constructing the identity, drawing on the mid-century aesthetic of some of its purpose-built buildings.
“The buildings [at UCA] are quite robust. Rochester, for example, has quite a strong brutalist feel and looks very dramatic, and the kind of confidence it had just wasn’t being represented [in the old identity]. It didn’t connect with it at all,” he says.
The identity also aims to reflect the university’s new positioning, which places equal emphasis on creativity, freedom, criticism and rigour, while the stencil lettering alludes to the idea of craft and making, says Brook.
“Architects, fashion designers and anyone who’s making things often use stencils, so it’s a signifier of something being made, of work in progress. It felt like a nice place to start and also links back to the visual language of the buildings,” he adds.
“We wanted to get that balance between something quite rigorous and skills-based and a high expectation of creativity, and the stencil idea was very strong in that regard,” adds Ofield-Kerr. “[Stencils] are also there to be played with and re-imagined.”
Spin has already applied the identity to posters and prospectuses and Brook says the studio will be creating a range of applications over the next few months, from 3D graphics for buildings to interior installations and exhibition stands. With the university keen to make the most of limited resources, it has also produced a series of stickers which will be used to update recent publications that are still relevant but feature the old branding.
“UCA hated the idea of things just being trashed, so we printed a sheet of stickers so they can put the old logo over the new one. You’d think it would look expedient, but because the logo is so robust, it works really well,” says Brook.
“You don’t want things just being tossed in skips – we also wanted a bit more of a transition. Over the course of this year, we’ll run down everything we’ve got, which seems like the responsible, sustainable thing to do,” adds Ofield-Kerr.
Rather than adopting a single colour palette or too many fixed elements, Brook says the identity will change over time. He also hopes that students will be involved in its development.
“UCA has to be creative – it’s in its name – so the plan is that every year, the colours can change and the visual language can develop. As long as you have the core of it, the stencil aspect, you can switch and play with the rest. I’m hoping animation students will be given a brief to experiment with it, and that all of the courses can make things out of it and stretch it. We’re making some posters now, for example, which photography students are taking the pictures for,” he adds.
As reactions to Pentagram’s new identity for University of the Arts London demonstrated in 2012 (designed by Domenic Lippa, the Helvetica-based design aimed to unite UAL’s six art schools and provide a platform for the work of students and tutors, but was widely criticised for looking too neutral), there is, understandably, an expectation for art schools to adopt visual identities with character and a sense of personality.
“It’s such a tricky project in a creative arts institution – we have branding experts, graphics experts, people with a lot of different opinions, and we work with different visual imagery all the time, so you have to have a brand that will address all of those opinions, and work with a range of materials. The challenge is to create something that works with the work of our artists, designers, animators and film-makers,” says Ofield-Kerr.
With no obvious visual starting points, Spin faced a difficult task in creating a single system to unite UCA’s various schools, but has managed to create a distinctive, flexible and playful system while still hinting at the critical thinking and rigour which the college was keen to convey. Involving students in the making of a school’s identity is often discussed yet tricky to implement, but with its simple, solid design, Spin seems to have designed a system that can withstand some experimentation, and it will be interesting to see how UCA’s visual language develops over time.
As with any college or university rebrand, there will no doubt be questions over the cost and value of this exercise but in UCA’s case, a new look was clearly needed: the old design looked more befitting of a medical corporation than a school for the creative arts, and with rising fees making students more selective in their choice of course, universities like UCA are facing real pressure to present themselves as exciting, dynamic places to study – particularly if they want to attract the attention of bright young minds from overseas. It’s still in its early stages, but it’s certainly a much more exciting and memorable look for the university.
“The response so far has been great, there’s a real sense of pride in it, and it seems like we have something that recognises the strength and diversity of UCA,” adds Ofield-Kerr.