Skip to content

Read our thoughts

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

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.


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. 


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. 


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. 


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


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


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


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)


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


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 ( 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


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.


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.


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.


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.

United through conflict

Last month saw the launch of our latest work for IWM, a brand campaign to mark the reopening and £3 million transformation of the American Air Museum at IWM Duxford.

Based in the historic air base and working airfield of IWM Duxford, The American Air Museum tells the story of the collaboration between Britain and The United States in 20th and 21st-century conflict. As well as housing the best collection of American aircraft on display outside North America, this newly transformed exhibition tells the personal stories of the men and women whose lives were touched, changed and intertwined through war. Told through personal accounts and multiple perspectives, it’s the tale of two nations brought together through war, loss, love and duty.


At the heart of the 'United through war' campaign is the unique relationship which Britain and America have forged during conflict. Putting people at the heart of the campaign, authentic archive photography is combined and over-laid in a montage imagery styling. The creative execution highlights how the lives of these men and women will be forever connected with this historic air base and the aircraft that flew here.

Creative Director Karen Hughes explains “The role of IWM is to challenge people to look at conflict from different perspectives, encouraging a deeper understanding of the causes, course and consequences of war and its impact on peoples’ lives. Therefore, what better way to tell the story of American air power and its role in modern day conflict than through the eyes of the people whose lives were shaped by it.”

85 personal stories are told throughout the exhibition, ranging from the engineers who worked on the planes, the pilots who flew them and the war brides who married American servicemen during the war. The stories are told from contrasting perspectives, giving a rounded view of the consequences of war.


Strategy Director Claire Rigby explains “Personal stories and recollections are a powerful way of connecting modern audiences with past conflicts. By focusing on the human side of war the Museum can appeal to both traditional air enthusiasts, as well as audiences interested in discovering more about the varied and significant impact of the US-UK relationship on people and society in general”.

“Through their work with us on the launch campaign for the transformed American Air Museum at IWM Duxford, True North have creatively and successfully encapsulated the concept of two nations united through their experiences of war.” Says Penny Hamilton, Head of Brand & Marketing Imperial War Museums

Connecting people and communities through storytelling

Yesterday saw the launch of the name and identity we created for Storyhouse, a new £37m cultural centre for Chester.

The innovative new centre designed by architects Bennetts Associates is the biggest current Arts development project outside London. It features an 800 seat theatre, capable of conversion to a more intimate 500-seat layout, plus cinema, studio and cafe bar. The building will also house the city’s library, in an innovative mix of cultural and art offerings unique in Britain.


In addition, Storyhouse will curate and produce a diverse range of events and festivals throughout the Chester and West Cheshire region, including Grosvenor Park Outdoor Theatre, Chester Music Festival and Moonlight Flicks.

Artistic Director of Storyhouse, Alex Clifton says: “We will be running a building like no other. It needs a unique name to reflect its unique offer. This is a place to discover, make and share great stories. It’s a place to bring inspiring ideas to life. Storyhouse brilliantly captures and communicates the creative spirit of our integrated library, theatre and cinema.”

Our research saw us engage with funders and stakeholders across the Arts, Political and Commercial landscape, as well as with existing Arts providers in the region and the general public in a two day consultation.

Inspired by the original art deco building and the organisation’s role of connecting people and communities through storytelling, the visual identity is made up of a number on interconnecting geometric shapes.

Creative Director Karen Hughes explains. "It was important to us that the identity reflects the values of the organisation as well as feeling like it belongs within the space. The brand identity that the team has created feels reassuringly and instinctively right for both the building and the organisation, ensuring it has authenticity and longevity."


Over the next 12 months True North will continue to grow and adapt the brand as the buidling nears completion.

Senior Designer Adrian Newell says “Rather than creating a rigid set of guidelines, we will continue to work alongside the client team, helping them to bring the new identity to life as the building develops, enabling the brand to adapt and respond as Storyhouse takes shape.”

"We’re over the moon at our new identity. It’s a straightforward expression of the journey we have been on as a company and where, together, we are going in this amazing new building.” says Andrew Bentley, Chief Executive of Storyhouse.

This website uses cookies to anonymously enhance your browsing experience, but does not store any personal information. By closing this message and continuing to use the website you are agreeing to our Privacy & cookies policy.