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The 2016 thoughts archive

Strategically-minded Account Director wanted

We’re looking for an Account Director with a natural flair for strategy, to lead on a high-class range of brand and communications projects. Working in close collaboration with our creatives, brand strategists and the project management team, you would support our Client Services Director and be responsible for the delivery of projects and the development of client relationships.

The ideal candidate would have bags of drive and stamina, teamed with strong project management skills and are perhaps frustrated by the strictures and structure of their current culture, where there may be little room to grow or develop. This isn’t the case at True North, we welcome original thinkers with a strong point of view and those that confidently and proactively manage internal and external relations. You will be the focal point of contact for your clients, and alongside the creative and strategists will help to shape the answers to their problems. You would assist in the creation of pitches and proposals and on-boarding new clients when successful.

Experience in branding is essential and exposure to more diverse creative disciplines would be advantageous.

If you want to join the team, please send a CV and covering letter to jobs@thisistruenorth.co.uk

No agencies, thanks.

Demonstrating the modern relevance of Shakespeare

Working with the British Council, we have created a collection of essays that explores the relevance of Shakespeare in society, demonstrating the significance, context and connection that Shakespeare has with current matters on a global scale.

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As part of British Council's ongoing Shakespeare Lives programme, which marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the series of essays brings together eminent writers from around the globe, from Nobel-prize winning writers to politicians, exploring themes that are poignant and relevant within their society, and the connection that Shakespeare still has to these matters.  

Each author was invited to write from a personal perspective, and the diverse set of contributors draw on contemporary, social, political and emotional experiences to make comparisons with Shakespeare’s works. Alongside US Secretary of State John Kerry, other authors include: Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin, Ahlem Mosteghanemi – the most popular writer in the Arab world, renowned South African director and actor John Kani, deaf solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie, Lebanese choreographer Alissar Caracalla and Chinese author Hong Ying.   Working with the Shakespeare Lives brand, True North were tasked with bringing the essays to life and producing a piece of print which would be shared through British Council networks across the world.   

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Senior Designer Adrian Newell, explains ‘whilst initially briefed to house all essays within a single publication, we went on to develop a set of typographic essays, each printed with three special colours, which were then housed within a specially designed pack’.  

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Sarah Giles, Shakespeare Lives Project Manager, says: “We presented True North with the challenge of creating a collection of essays that were both beautiful as a physical object, but also accessible for online distribution. The team had the challenge of working with translated texts, fluctuating content and a lack of visual assets beyond the visual identity. They responded with a beautiful collection that feels contemporary and sophisticated, reflecting the serious nature of the content while remaining accessible to a range of audiences. The essays have since generated huge interest from teams around the world, reflecting the success of speaking to an international audience, while garnering established press”. 

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The Living Shakespeare essays are currently being brought to life on screen through a series of BBC World Service short films.  

All the essays can be downloaded from here: http://www.shakespearelives.org/explore/literature/living-shakespeare

Vogue: More than a pretty face?

For the next few months Manchester Art Gallery is exhibiting Vogue 100: A Century of Style, direct from the National Portrait Gallery.

Naturally, as a lover of design and fashion I found myself wandering into the midst of artfully curated covers and beautiful photography from this iconic fashion bible to celebrate it’s work over the last century.

Thanks to this ultimate fashion brand, photography has become an integral part of how we consume and appreciate fashion. All the great names are there from Horst to Testino, but, beyond the beauty of this stunning collection of imagery what really struck me was Vogue’s ability to tell much deeper stories throughout the exhibition.

The exhibition transports you on a journey back in time, from present day to 1916. Featuring everyone you’d expect to see from the Duchess of Cambridge to Britain’s alternative royalty, The Beckham's. But, it was a piercing eyed, squared-up image of Margaret Thatcher to symbolise the Iron Ladies leadership of the 80’s that really got me thinking: is the perceived reputation of Vogue for style over substance right? Or, without realising has this brand succeeded in defining culture for generations?

The brands photography crosses political and cultural issues from the optimism of the 'Swinging Sixties' then back to the post war austerity of the 50’s, expressed through the gritty imagery of London streets and girls with their Victory Rolls saving fashion coupons for clothes from Harrods. Not to mention a rare, stark and symbolic photo-less cover to commemorate the death of King George VI.

What was certainly clear is that amid all the cultural change this fashion brand appears a constant and important element. Vogue is a cultural icon worth much more than it’s designer fashions. Over the years they have proven their ability to place fashion at the heart of our visual culture and make it accessible to the masses, as well as capturing the lives, aspirations and mood of periods of time. It’s certainly a brand expression far beyond the realms of designer handbags and shoes.

It’s definitely an exhibition that proves if a brand gets it right that great design and photography never goes out of style.

Victoria Pinnington
Designer

The EU Referendum and the effect on the 'Made in Britain' brand.

The chance to decide whether we Leave or Remain in the EU is nearly upon us, but are we any wiser as to the potential impact on the ‘Made In Britain’ Brand?. When we think of ’Made in Britain’ we are talking not only about brands that are produced and manufactured here but also the concept of ‘Britishness’; the power of Country of Origin and national identity.

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The ‘Made In Britain’ label is potentially worth £Billions to British business but will it have the same standing and gravitas if the UK were to leave the EU? A Leave decision could signal the beginning of the end for the Britain brand as Scotland look to reopen the debate on independence if the vote goes in favour of Brexit. Is 'Made in England’, or Scotland or Wales, as powerful and marketable as ‘Made In Britain’?

It’s this step into the unknown that has not only the business community, but the population at large, fearful of what the future might hold. It appears that the debate has thrown up more questions than answers, and this lack of clarity manifests itself in anger and confusion for the general public who are often denied the true facts of the consequences, from either side. It seems no-one really knows. It’s a gamble, but one that will have a huge impact on our economy. 

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The Leave campaign have assured us that exit from the EU will offer more opportunities to UK businesses, allowing more unrestricted access to world markets. Those on the Remain side counter this argument with the pledge that we will be stronger as a partner in the EU trade bloc and weaker if we turn our back on the richest single market in the world.

The effect of Brexit on the strength of the £Pound may be felt immediately but the overall impact of Leave on Brand Britain may not be apparent the morning after or even in the following weeks or months but in years to come.

Analysts will watch with concern how the global markets react if Brand Britain was no longer an integral part of the wider portfolio of Europe. Whether the market allows Britain to function productively as a single brand rather than one that is part of the wider European concept remains to be seen. 

A departure from the EU could signify a weakening of the ‘Made in Britain’ brand, the decision appearing as a backward step and an isolationist approach that could leave us in an economic wilderness. A reputation has to be built up over many years, and with a large part of our export going to the EU we could be damaging the reputation of the brand in the minds of our continental European neighbours and indeed the wider world. 

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In 2014 Britain ranked 6th in a worldwide survey of reputable country’s of origin. The research outlined the four key areas that signified the strongest countries of origin; authenticity, differentiation, quality standards and expertise. Each camp in the EU Referendum could claim that these key areas are made stronger by following their preferred chosen path. However a Leave vote could irreparably damage the world’s perception of the British identity and therefore our reputation as a trustworthy brand.

It is also important to consider that a strong country brand has a halo effect on the consumer brands that carry the flag of that country. In the 21st Century, brands that demonstrate a progressive and outward looking philosophy are more likely to be the brand of choice of the more ethical and ecological minded Millennial consumers, the 18-24 age group, 60% of whom would vote Remain. If the country of origin is held in high regard then so are the brands that are associated with it. 

“The trust people have in a Brand is built together with the trust they have in the place of origin”.

Leave or Remain - the whole Referendum experiment may have tarnished the reputation of a once solid Brand, the consequences may have far reaching implications for Britain, its industry and its economic strength. 

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Happy returns 

Last weekend at its annual AMG, the Co-op revealed its latest rebrand which incorporates a return to its classic 1960s cloverleaf logo design. A brave and controversial move which got us thinking… if you could bring back any branding, what would it be and why? Check out what some of the TN team chose and join the conversation here #bringbackthebrand

Ady Bibby
Creative Partner
Mexico ’68

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The Summer Olympics of ‘68 are one of the most memorable in my time. Not because I was around to witness it I hasten to add, but because the branding and graphics live long in the mind. Centred around the Olympic rings and number ’68, the sheer simplicity of the geometric lines radiating out like sound waves, is for me, gold medal standard. Echoing the folk art of Mexico whilst sitting comfortably in the hippy-trippy late 60’s era, Lance Wyman’s solution gives a powerful expression of place, culture and purpose. Creating the graphic language for the Olympics must be one of the most challenging tasks anyone can undertake. It has to cross cultures, language and time. Anyone remember Sydney 2000’s boomerang man, the vines from Athens in 2004 or even the rubber-legged runner from Beijing in 2008? Thought not.

Neil Mason 
Brand Strategy Director 
NASA 1975

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As a child growing up in the 80’s the NASA ‘worm’ logo was iconic. It’s so simple and subtle, but with a purity and confidence that epitomises a golden age of ambitious space exploration. It represented a vision of a glamorous future and a sense of adventure that made every kid my age want to become an astronaut.

Created in 1974 by New York design studio Danne & Blackburn to replace the original NASA ‘meatball’ logo, its beautifully crafted curves and carefully engineered geometry reflect the streamlined silhouette of the space shuttle.

The logo became the foundation of the NASA Graphics Standards Manual, widely considered an incredibly thorough and detailed example of a graphics system. It's very telling that this manual has recently been given a modern makeover by Pentagram’s Hamish Smyth and Jesse Reed, who are hoping to raise funding on Kickstarter to reprint and sell a hardcover version of the manual - they say the manual still has a lot to teach us about design and branding.

Ultimately, although loved and appreciated by designers, many of NASA’s employees hated it and the ‘meatball’ returned in 1992.

Sarah Dutton
Senior Designer
YvesSaintLaurent 1961

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When the new YSL logo was introduced back in 2012 for their ready-to-wear collection, many of the fashion faithful were worried about the classic logo disappearing and raced to snatch up clothing with the original label while they still could. The original was such a classic that it was considered these items would increase in value once it was no longer used. 

I can see why. Created by Adolphe Mouron Cassandre in 1961, this iconic logo reflected the classic fashion house, it’s unique design emulating the character and heritage of this iconic brand. It was and still is one of the most recognisable in the fashion industry. The new version has a much more generic feel. Yes, it’s classic and sophisticated but it could be for any high end brand, lacking as it does that personality of the original that so represented the YSL brand. 

Ed Dunsdon
Artwork Manager
Saul Bass Logos (Various)

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New governance and changes at the top often initiate the need for a brand refresh. The majority of the time this entails the refinement and simplification, or modernisation of an existing logo. Fine tuning, smoothing the edges and removing anachronisms. In the history of logo design there are few people who can improve, or dare, to redefine the work of Saul Bass. The master of simple and iconic logo design and an unparalleled practitioner of the concise. Some have tried and, in our opinion, failed to modernise his immortal classics. Most believe you just don’t need to mess with the work of a genius. Leading examples of the attempts to modernise the logos of Saul Bass include, United Airlines, Dixie paper products, AT & T and Quaker Oats.

Adrian Newell
Senior Designer
British Rail 1965

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I remember walking past this symbol everyday on my way to school, the iconic white and red colour way was instantly recognisable and simply brilliant, explaining the network in one simple marque. Although still used by the now named National Rail, it’s been cropped into a blue circle and accompanied by a poor choice of typeface, it’s just not the same.

The 1965 Marque, accompanied by the iconic manual guidelines which can be seen here (http://www.doublearrow.co.uk/manual.htm) is a marque that can stand the test of time, it’s as modern and fresh now as it was then. Just like Co-op reverting back to its original simple bold marque would make British Rail feel as new and groundbreaking as it was in the sixties and maybe, just maybe make those delays a little more bearable.

Calandra Pavey
Account Manager
Penguin 1944

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Since I was a little girl I have lived for stories, and when it comes to fictional literature, I don’t think there is a more widely recognised publishing company symbol than that belonging to Penguin. The characterful monochrome icon was created to stand proud on a spectrum of boldly coloured book covers, lessening the need for busy and complex book cover design and instead representing an instant stamp of quality. But I can’t help feeling that the little penguin we all recognise today, was much more appealing in its earlier form.

My favourite form of the Penguin logo is from 1944 - The dancing penguin.  His creator, Allen Lane, described him as ‘Dignified but flippant’ a description that is instantly appealing to me! This little guy represented warmth, excitement, movement, progression and pure happiness! He is so full of life, you can imagine him dancing across the pages of books, relishing every word. I’m much less keen on his modern day counterpart, who has lost his personality almost completely, instead he stands frozen, staring bleakly out at us, trapped in an orange bubble. Although I cant deny the nostalgic appeal that this marque still retains, I do feel sad at the loss of the happy, lively little penguin that preceded him and if I could, I would bring him straight back to life.

Brand Britain

Last week saw the reveal of the new kit designs for the Great British Olympic and Paralympic team. As with the 2012 games it was down to Stella Mcartney and Adidas to take on the responsibility of kitting out those who will be representing the nation. The 2012 kit was well received; it felt fresh, strong, striking and proudly British; exactly what was needed to wear in front of a home crowd. Unfortunately, for us however, this 2016 model falls at the first hurdle.

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The latest design doesn't have that same simple, bold but understatedly British design aesthetic. Primarily, this all feels like it is trying too hard, too hard to be patriotic. The combination of both the Union Jack and the Coat of Arms feels over-designed and both visual elements are fighting for attention. Secondly, the use of the Coat of Arms as a silhouette means the detail and symbolism that these crests hold is lost, leaving a graphic device that feels crude and unconsidered, it almost feels like a piece of clip art.

But who are we to tell Stella Mcartney and Adidas how to design our nation’s kit?  Well, having designed the 2012 Olympic stamps for Royal Mail and being responsible recently for re-interpreting the Royal Arms and Scottish Royal Arms for The Royal Collection Trust, we feel we have earned our stripes where considering how to design a contemporary representation of Britishness.

This kit design feels crude; the Coat of Arms specifically could have been drawn or interpreted in a much more elegant way, symbolising the craft of British design. Although the application is obviously different and textiles for athletes are not the ideal place for detailed and crafted illustrations, looking at the crest drawn by Christopher Wormell for the Royal Opera House provides a beautiful start point for how heraldic design can be given a sympathetic modernisation. Interestingly, if you compare this to Wormell’s own updated club badge for Aston Villa you can see again the problem with the use of silhouette. The detail from Wormell’s original design is lost when translated into the silhouette used as part of the club’s badge, and we say goodbye to the craftsmanship and beauty of the original illustration.

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For us the 2012 design felt much more successful, by stripping back the design it felt much braver and more confident, it didn’t shout for attention, it just demanded it. Similar to this, the ‘Made in Britain’ campaign marque creates an abstract arrow from the Union Jack; a bold but useful brand device that can be placed successfully next to or on any kind of product. Very simple, very understated, very British.

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In conclusion, designing something to represent Britain is never going to be easy,  nor could it possibly liked by all, but for us the attempts that work best don’t try too hard or shout too loud. Designs based on simplicity, quality and craft best represent the understated confidence of what it means to be British. And this new Olympic kit feels neither simple nor understated.

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