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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.

Print Sale

24 Days of Lever St launches today. A True North project that has seen us turn the side of our Northern Quarter building into a giant advent calendar. Sitting behind each of the 24 windows is a specially commissioned piece of artwork which will go on sale as an A3 print each day. The prints are available to buy from the project website. Just click here.  


24 Days of Lever St

True North, in collaboration with interior design practice Sheila Bird,have brought together a number of Manchester designers and illustrators to count down to Christmas in style, creating a giant advent calendar on the side of 24 Lever St in the city's Northern Quarter.

Behind each window sits a unique illustration, specially commissioned for this project. Earlier this year, we decided we wanted to celebrate the festivities through creativity and collaboration and so went about uniting all of the organisations based within the building, as well as guest illustrators from across the city, to bring Christmas cheer to the people of Manchester.

Each design will be sold as a print throughout December, via the 24 Days Of Lever St Website

All profits from the print sales will be donated to Wood Street Mission, a charity which helps to alleviate the effects of poverty on local children and their families.

Keep up to date with all the latest designs on Twitter and Instagram or pop over to the office and take a look.

Printed Matter

At least once a week, I find myself wandering into Magma, the Northern Quarter bookshop. A small store in the midst of Manchester’s creative hub packed with an artfully curated selection of books and magazines. It's the love of print that drives me there, or more specifically the love of printed media. I could spend hours and hundreds when I get in, much to the amazement of many around me. By now, it's an old debate – why buy magazines when you can find all the same content online?

As a lover of print, it is an argument I often find hard to win. That’s why I was comforted this week after reading The Guardian’s interview with Anna Jones, CEO of British Magazine Empire Hearst. Jones believes that the future of magazines lie in both print and digital – not just one or the other. For her, it’s a matter of catering for consumers and giving them what they want.

Sitting firmly on the print side of the fence, it was not only good to hear but also surprising. With so many companies thinking with their digital first, it was refreshing to hear about an audience led approach.

I agree that different audiences will always require different things and, as with the type of magazines we choose, the medium comes down to personal taste but for me nothing will ever beat a printed publication, whether that is a magazine or a book. It makes me sad to see bookshops and libraries closing down and people sat on the train staring at a screen instead of engrossed in a paperback.

For me it's the interaction with a physical magazine. I look forward to getting home and opening the fresh pages, being able to fold down the corners, circle things I like, and, go with me on this one, I like the smell of the print. I like feeling the pages, I like the way my stack of Vogue’s look on my dressing table and my stack of home magazines sitting under my coffee table.

For those who tore out our favourite pop stars and stuck them on their bedroom wall, for those who always buy a magazine to read on the plane, for those who like curling up on a Sunday afternoon with the glossies from the Sunday papers, the experience of magazines can never be replaced.

Amid all the change, the one constant and important element is that magazines know their audiences and serve them with relevant, useful and compelling content whatever format they prefer. It’s just that for me, that format must always be printed.

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