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The 2015 thoughts archive

Communicating the Museum in the modern age

The Whitworth, Manchester

Strategy and Communications Intern and Philospohy and Spanish student Andrew Bennett considers the role of communication in today's museums and galleries. 

Cultural centres, whether they be galleries, museums or theatres, have a fairly unique privilege, not felt in other forms of business. While profit remains a front-runner in their list of deliverables, this is often trumped by concept, meaning the one is rarely dictated by the other.

In recent years, artistic emphases on personal freedoms and rejections of authority have resulted in an irony of sorts. Fuelled even further by the endless possibilities of the Internet, everyone can now participate in cultural debate and criticism, leading to a rejection of the artistic authorities that introduced the very concept.

This contemporary audience is now so acutely aware of its preferences that galleries and museums are increasingly threatened by other sources of ‘culture’, e.g. TV, online and rival establishments. Curators and authors have been demoted and the lines have been blurred between amateur blogger and academic.

The audience has to be pulled in and listened to for any significant engagement.

This fierce competition forces cultural institutions to move away from the inhibitive,‘culture is pure’mantra. Instead, a thing or two could be learned from marketeers. Rather than pushing information and agendas onto the public, the audience has to be pulled in and listened to for any significant engagement.

The biggest indicator of this is that, according to the Meaningful Brands framework, “most people would not care if 74% of all brands disappeared for good”. So, it is no longer enough to just be trusted by consumers; brands must make a meaningful impact on lives. Cultural centres must therefore change their focus from merely presenting exhibits to genuinely interacting with their guests.

Brands must make a meaningful impact on lives.

All in all, to stay relevant in the modern era, establishments must balance visitors’freedom to roam with their own, institutional presence - the very thing found, for example, at The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester.

Situated near the areas of Moss Side and Hulme, the gallery’s recent £15m redesign prioritised making itself accessible to those who may not ordinarily go to museums. They looked to be much more engaged with their audience, and were clearly successful as there was more than a fivefold increase in visitors in the month after reopening.

This increasingly attentive approach is also channeled elsewhere, as the gallery also runs after-hours cultural events and many wellbeing projects, the latter exploring the roles of art in child development and stroke recovery. This is all targeted at enabling guests to enjoy art individually, with the gallery positioning itself as the essential platform from which this takes place.

Ultimately, The Whitworth has reinforced itself as a meaningful brand, building on its location to directly engage those coming through its doors. As many other arts institutions suffer from budget cuts, they could take inspiration from The Whitworth to understand how to stay relevant, despite increased cultural competition. Although many may not be able to afford a redesign, the gallery’s repositioning still has many lessons to offer.

Five of our favourite: Cultural brand identities


Queensland Art Gallery

This strikingly simple visual and verbal system pulls the two brands together whilst simultaneously celebrating their differences. Each gallery has it’s own distinct personality and tone of voice which creates conversation and interplay across the two sites, giving visitors a more rounded experience.


Jewish Museum

The brand’s identity system revolves around a geometric grid based on the Star of David. This comprehensive and visually consistent range of assets invites surprise and flexibility across all media, while always unified in visual language. 


The Simone Handbag Museum 

This solution provides the museum with an elegant, modern identity and strong flexibility through a diversity of assets. The contrasting colour palette and use of both cut-out and close-up photography neatly reflect the themes of past and present.


Basement Theatre
This intuitive but simple logotype works well as both an edgy, bold identity and a handy flexible framing device. Resulting in a brand that successfully combines the theatre’s young, roguish energy with a refined and consistent structure but with plenty of room for flexibility.



By just using four letters set in a bold frame this pinned poster inspired identity and it’s monochrome palette creates a strikingly simple identity system, which can house this traveling theatres’ ever changing content and venue.

Jenna Chattwood, Creative

Health Innovation Manchester

Manchester’s Liverpool Road Station, once the first ever inter-city railway carrying passengers and produce between northern cities, has, since 1983 been home to Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry. A place seeped in the history of the industrial north, a place dedicated to the exploration of scientific and industrial innovation and the place where, in June 2014, Chancellor George Osborne launched his vision for the “Northern Powerhouse.”

A fitting stage that saw the now First Secretary of State outline plans to liberate the northern cities from the shadows of London. “Not to rival the South, but to be its brother in arms,” by devolving power from Whitehall to the regions.

Fast-forward six months to February 2015 when the cogs in the devolution machine began to turn and it was announced that Greater Manchester would take control of a £6bn health and social budget. Last Wednesday evening this became a reality when representatives from academia, science, national health and industry signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding.’ Health Innovation Manchester was born.


The vision for Health Innovation Manchester is to transform the health of the population in the region by driving research and innovation into every day medical practice.

For us at True North, this launch was a culmination of an incredible and insightful piece of work, which saw us create a name, vision, purpose and identity for this first of its kind partnership.


We started this project with a focus on collaboration, spending time with a diverse range of stakeholders and partners, interviewing them to define their vision and establish guiding principles. Discovery, development and delivery through transformative healthcare solutions was a vision that resonated with each and every partner and so, this became the focus that bound the brand.


Inspired by this idea of the continuous and connected system, a visual identity was created that reinforced the vision. An abstract infinity symbol becomes a powerful brand device, flowing across and connecting all brand communications.


This same brand device was used in the brand film, produced and edited by Gate Films. A series of seamless transitions from once scene to the next demonstrate the system’s joined-up approach, reinforcing the close connections and the blurring of the lines between academia, industry and healthcare providers.

The overall look and feel of the brand is that of an energetic, forward thinking organisation. One that has movement and pace, capturing the sense of positive momentum behind this transformative brand.

Fresh Nominations

Proud to have been nominated for six Fresh Awards. Here's what's in the running:


Learning from the Radicals

The demise of Kids Company last week brought up an all too familiar question: When faced with a loss of government funding, how are those organisations reliant on it to cope and progress? It’s a question we faced last year when working with People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester. Now, the situation PHM found themselves in was not on the same financial scale, nor had the sensitivities and complexities of the recent Kids Company closure, but each faced the same challenge: how can we open up new streams of revenue to mitigate the effect of a reduction or withdrawal in central government funding?

In the case of PHM, we decided to take an innovative approach. The 15% of their income which came from central government was going to disappear in April 2015 and all ‘business as usual’ ways to replace or top that up had been explored. There was definitely going to be no additional public sector financial support – from local or national authorities.

Unlike Kids Company, PHM suffers from a lack of profile and it has next to no history of philanthropic support. What’s more, its core story – the development of democracy and rights in Britain – is not a subject matter closely aligned with the agendas of potential corporate of private philanthropic donors.


These were potentially insurmountable obstacles, but we preferred to think of them as brilliant ingredients for a radical and innovative solution. We created the ‘Radicals’ brand and campaign to reflect the brave actions of the people whose stories are told in the Museum and to show that Museum management was prepared to follow their lead.  How? By ‘rebelling’ against the financial status quo and getting ‘Radical’ in order to secure their future. So, a unique package of benefits was put together, to encourage donors to build a closer relationship with the Museum and its team in exchange for their financial support. A celebration of the efforts of Radicals from British history became the core of the approach, with a ‘radical’ solution, celebrating the Museum’s brand DNA, to a potentially immovable obstacle.

Thanks to the prioritisation by the Museum board of efforts to replace the disappearing government funding, a strategic plan with time to implement and our bold and brave voice to a new style of fundraising, the Museum successfully ‘filled the gap’, and more, and has a pipeline of donors for the future.

This isn’t to suggest that the situation facing Kids Company and People’s History Museum were identical; but that a combination of strategic planning, management focus, genuine courage and a willingness to innovate went a long way to heading off a potentially crippling problem. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, but it helps to have brothers and sisters that combine strong management, creativity of approach, a genuine grasp of your own brand and the ability to leverage it in new ways.

Product of a Placement

For the last year, we have had the pleasure of hosting three placement students from the University of Central Lancashire. Anya, Beth and Dan have become a vital part of our team and it is with heavy hearts we have to say goodbye as they head off to complete their degree. Ahead of their departure they embarked on one last hurrah, Dan and Anya explain all.  

Our placement journey began last summer when we were delighted to discover that we’d be spending a year at True North. As graphic design students at UCLAN we chose to complete a placement year in between our studies to gain experience, contacts and skills that we hope will stand us in good stead for when we finally graduate and are thrown into the design world.

Although a placement year isn’t compulsory, we would highly recommend it to anybody wanting to work in the design industry. Not only have we met and worked with some amazing people, but we have gained invaluable experience and been given the opportunity to work on fantastic projects for clients such as The People’s History Museum, Royal Mail and many others.

Our placement will soon be over, but before returning to our studies, we decided to create something for the team to remember us by and for us to pass onto the students who’ll replace us; A helping hand from one student to another!


The concept of creating a handbook came about when we were comparing our daunting first weeks of placement. That’s when the idea of sharing our own knowledge and experience through a handy guide was first spoken about.

Our aim was to create an informal, interactive yet informative book containing useful information about True North. The guide is split into 4 sections. ‘Welcome to the team’ introduces the students to the team and their roles, as well as a fun fact about each team member.


‘Placement duties’ gives the students a heads up about some of the responsibilities they will be taking on (brewing up being first on the list of course!).


The next section, titled ‘Important bits and bobs’ is the boring but necessary stuff that they will need to know such as fire precautions (yawn).


‘Top tips’ is the final section of the guide, it consists of 10 tips about general studio life, and a few personal tips about members of the team that we have learnt during our time here. A personal favorite is top tip number 3, ‘Don’t challenge Ady to a game of darts,’ Dan in particular can vouch for this one!


We attempted to make each section engaging and fun by adding our own doodle style illustrations relating to each point.

Once we had the content for the guide, we looked into various formatting styles, paper stocks and binding techniques. We wanted the handbook to feel interactive and almost unfinished, allowing new placements to add content where prompted, and take things from the book if they wish. Binding screws allow this because single pages can be easily taken out or added. The colored dividers give the handbook structure and make it easy to find specific information.

We hope the future generations of placement students learn as much as we did.

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