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Fourteen Years of True North....

On the morning of the 9th July 2001, True North came into the world.

Weighing in at three people, two macs and a printer, we were a tiny new life. Fourteen years later we’re twenty-five people high, 3 printers wide and have more macs that we’d care to admit - boy how we’ve grown.

Over the years we’ve had the opportunity to work on an amazing range of projects, with a wonderful range of inspirational clients. We asked some of the team to talk about the projects that really had an impact on them. This is what they said: 

Tree Tabernor, Head of Operations remembers working with The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum on the project Breaking the Chains. 

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"In 2007, as part of a programme of events to mark and reflect upon bicentenary of the abolition of slavery, True North was selected to design the exhibition graphics and marketing collateral for ‘Breaking the Chains’.

I remember our reaction after first reading and digesting the sensitive and sometimes shocking content of the exhibition, and understanding from the start the importance of getting the job absolutely right. 

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On seeing the creative concepts, the eventual chosen look and feel leapt out of the page. It was bold and striking, yet simplistic and clear. I felt very proud to play a part in bringing it to life, using it as a way to weave all aspects of the exhibition, print and marketing together to create a successful and impactful exhibition.

But the real pleasure working on this project for me, despite deadline pressures and long hours, was that it felt effortless because of working with such a great, professional team. Anne Lineen, the exhibition Project Manager was always honest, passionate and totally trusted us to handle the work with skill and care. The design team worked around the clock to lovingly craft the panels and get maximum clarity and impact, leaving no barrier between the audience and the story they were designed to tell. The results were that visitor numbers exceeded initial target figures, an Art Fund Prize top 3 placement (an event at which I sat at a table and chatted with Joan Bakewell, which was a personal thrill!), and lastly a benchmark for me of how a successful project could and should work."

Ady Bibby, Creative Partner on Imperial War Museum North.

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"Imperial War Museum opened its ’Northern branch’ on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, in the summer of 2002. As a newly formed creative trio, the chance to work with and launch such an iconic project was high on our wish list. We pitched as rank outsiders against the good and great of the creative world and were cock-a-hoop to be chosen by a brave client.

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Warfare and art aren’t always natural allies so we chose to promote a series of major art exhibitions at IWMN by recreating war-related imagery in the media of each artist. Bold and thought provoking, the images conveyed IWMN as a great place to see art.

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The work won us huge praise from the client and creative juries alike. And importantly, it helped cement with the three of us that brave ideas should be at the heart of everything True North produced."

Adele Littler, Designer on The Jersey Post Superman Stamps.

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Two of my favourite things combined, a geeky topic and expensive print processes. The Jersey Post Superman Stamps were created to celebrate the release of Man of Steal staring Jersey native Henry Cavill. The set are something I’d happily put on my wall, alas only as an admirer as I can’t take credit for them. The imagery is Hollywood grade so the production had to match with each stamp illustrating one of the superhero’s many powers. Techniques included printing on Simili silver foil reflecting strength, transparent film to achieve the effect of flying, glow in the dark and heat reactive ink, one even had granite from Beauport Bay, Jersey. It didn’t just stop at print techniques with one of stamps triggering an augmented reality app. For me this is an example of what can be achieved when working on a vision with a client and investing in creativity and production." 

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Karen Hughes, Creative Director on Peel and Gudgin.

Unfortunately, I can't take credit for this one, but for me it's ideas like this simple clever identity for Peel and Gudgin opticians that attracted me to work at True North in the first place. Unassuming, yet pure graphic wit. I can't help but feel lifted a little every time I see it. To me, ideas like this are just sat there waiting to be found, just wish I'd been the one to find it. Of course, times have moved on a lot since the days of brands living purely on a set of stationery, but for me there will always absolutely be a place in brand for these 'I wish I'd thought of that' ideas. After all, those are the ideas people remember.

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Dan Horsfall, Placement Designer on the 2012 London Olympic Stamps. 

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"The Gold medal stamps for the 2012 London Olympics has to be the project that really inspired me. The idea of designing for a sporting event of that size and magnitude is incredible. To successfully create stamps within a 24 hour period and for them to be completley up to date with daily sport results is an amazing acheivment."

Extraordinary discoveries, every day

On July 13th, Chester Zoo will unveil ‘Islands', a £40 million development recreating six South East Asian Islands right here in the UK. Over the past year True North have worked with Chester Zoo to create a brand positioning and identity that could truly represent this unique attraction. Chester Zoo’s aim was to allow ordinary visitors to become intrepid explorers, taking in the sights, smells and sounds of these unique habitats and enable everyone, young and old, to see the island's wildlife up close and personal. 

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It was important that this brand identity truly represented not only the ‘islands’ unique spirit but also the conservation element of the project, in a way that was educational, captivating and thought provoking.

A diverse audience would be targeted through Chester Zoo’s marketing and so the identity also needed to speak to each of these. From children and their adults, to the press, local residents and tourism partners.

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After considering all these factors, the brand territory was identified and “Extraordinary discoveries, every day” was born. This concept put visitors at the heart of the brand to reinforce the immersive and exclusive sensory experience on offer. From exploring the forests of Sulawesi to tracking tigers in Sumatra, Chester Zoo will provide an experience like no other. Highlighting the contrast between every day lives and a day on the ‘islands', the identity shows that no matter who you are, you’ll be given a rare opportunity to embark on your very own expedition. 

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With the help of 422 Manchester we created a TV Ad, one of the main campaign outputs. We began by creating an element of mystery and surprise. We’re introduced to each character in their own natural habitat before showing that this ordinary person was actually embarking on their very own expedition. The viewer might think Peter Jones is in his own garden before panning out to reveal he’s in the tropical forests of Sulawesi and that Jackie Thomas might be at the local market before panning out to reveal she’s browsing the markets of Sumba.

We wanted to give the viewer the feeling that they were on this journey and that they to could make their own extraordinary trek.

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‘Islands’ at Chester Zoo opens on Monday 13th July.

How can you tell if someone ran a Marathon? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!

Karen, Kev and Sarah before the Great North Run

Designer and resident runner bean, Sarah Hardman, on her marathon prep and the reason behind running twenty-six miles.

Last year Karen, Kev and myself headed to Newcastle to take part in the Great North Run. We crossed the finish line with an enormous sense of achievement, but our blistered feet and tired legs made us swear we’d never, EVER run a single mile more.

But, like Mothers who remember labour pains as being less extreme than they actually were (I can’t speak from my own experience, but I know a few mums) - we forgot our oath and signed up for a full Marathon - this time, down the road in Liverpool. Why not, we figured, we were half way trained already...

And so, we embarked on a 20-week training plan, sticking to it most weeks, coming unstuck others! Running club started up again in early January with our minds set on the big day. Sunday the 14th of June felt like a long way away back then, but now here we are, in the final throws of training, ready to hit the streets of Merseyside for a rock and roll marathon. Running through our lunch hour, over the weekends and even all the way home (once) - a 22 miler from Manchester to Warrington being our final long distance run.

Just as we began to train, some friends of mine became aware that their eighteen month old daughter Elspeth had a condition called Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a progressive neuromuscular disease in which faulty nerve cells prevent muscles from functioning properly. Elspeth has SMA type 2, which whilst not the most severe form, means she cannot stand, crawl or walk. In time she will face her share of challenges as the disease progresses.

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The timing of our marathon seemed ‘meant to be’ and we saw an opportunity to raise some money for this precious little girl. Looking to the immediate future Elspeth will greatly benefit from acquiring some wheels. The NHS is not able to fund powered wheelchairs for under 5s and the one which will suit her best costs just over £20,000.

If you would like to help us contribute a portion of the money needed for Elspeth to get mobile and help her face some of the challenges ahead then you can sponsor us here: http://gogetfunding.com/marathon-for-sma/

To find out more about SMA, Elspeth and the wheelchair you can visit www.elspethswheels.weebly.com

Politics and the social media soapbox

TN Artwork Manager and Green Party Local Council candidate Ed Dunsdon talks about the impact social media has had on smaller parties in the run up to Election day. 

It’s Election day and if the pollsters are to be believed, it is going to be a tough one to call. What we have seen, which we didn't see in 2010, is a sizeable impact on the political scene by the smaller parties. After a century of predominantly two party politics we've witnessed a shift, and the rise in the prominence of what would have been regarded, or derided, as 'fringe' parties. The SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and The Green Party. Today will see whether this hyperbole and bluster will correspond into votes, to bums on seats in the Commons or whether actually the voters prefer the status quo.

The smaller parties have taken the opportunity in this election to reach a far greater audience than they ever have before. As well as the TV debates, the social media soapbox has allowed the opinions and policies of these parties and their supporters to be disseminated far and wide. 2010 saw the first major impact of Twitter and Facebook on the general election but the last five years has seen a huge rise in the use of social media, for gathering and distributing information, by ordinary voters not just the media twitterati.

A third of young people (18-24) think that social media will influence their vote (10 March 2015 IPSOS Mori) second only to the television debates. Social media has allowed the Green Party to raise its profile nationally and to allow smaller local parties to organise and promote themselves. The last 12 months saw the ‘Green Surge’ when membership quadrupled from 14,000 in March 2014 to 55,775 in March 2015, in no small part to the use of social media. This took party membership above that of UKIP and the Liberal Democrats.

At a local level, in Bolton, the Green Party trebled its followers on Twitter over the last twelve months. The Party's use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have given its Parliamentary candidates a platform, usually out of reach with the financial constraints, that can make an election campaign a very uneven playing field. The unfair financial advantage of the leading parties can be significantly negated through the effective use of social media. It has allowed smaller groups like these to link up and connect with other groups and organisations, empowering them collectively and politically.

Parties like the Greens are using social media effectively to help bring them into the mainstream and challenge preconceptions. The various social media platforms have to be used with integrity and constraint, as we have seen it can be a double-edged sword for any party. If you make a misjudged comment or post something you immediately regret, it is out there for the full scrutiny of society, and your rivals are waiting for slip-ups. Natalie Bennett had a couple of “car crash’ interviews early in the campaign that were rapidly distributed on YouTube and Twitter, it could have been disastrous but supporters were able to react immediately, in this hyper connected environment, and come out in support. 

This election has raised the profile of the Greens, whether it will translate into seats is yet to be seen, but from today the Greens can start to build a credible narrative, build on the ‘Green Surge’ and plan for a positive future.

Brand Politics

After a lengthy six weeks, the votes will today be cast as the campaigns by the leading political parties draw to a close. The photo opps, the missed opps, the jibes and the slips ups which have played out in front of the British public over the passed forty two days will be acknowledged, considered and judged as we head to the polling stations to cast our vote. For us, it's the culmination of a project we started back in January of this year, when we were introduced to Michael Taylor, former business journalist, co-founder of Discuss Manchester and the Labour candidate for Hazel Grove. Together with Michael, we worked to develop his brand and campaign ahead of the election.

Its important to point out that not everyone who worked on this brief is a Labour voter, not everyone who works in this office is a Labour voter, but there are a few things we all agree on. Firstly, we believe in the power of brand as a catalyst for change and the most important tool for generating engagement and building trust. Secondly, we had all, at some point, felt apathetic towards the political system like many voters across the country. And thirdly, we felt incredibly strongly about the fact that creatively, political parties are clueless.

We worked with Michael to understand him, what he believed in and how he intended to help the people in his constituency. We looked at what voters wanted from their candidate and, on a national level, the perceptions of politicians and their parties. We quickly reallised, it’s not about them.

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As Michael was a relatively new face it became clear there was an opportunity to create a brand that could change people’s perceptions and give a voice back to the voters.

The aim was to reframe the narrative around politics and move it away from personalities, instead focusing on issues people care about at a local level. It wasn’t about telling people what a party could do, but inviting them to engage and share what’s important to them. By creating a very stripped back, direct visual identity we cut through the noise of traditional political literature and got directly to the heart of what matters.

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Lend me your ears...

A Midsummer Night's Dream: Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse

Faced with an hour and forty minutes of Shakespeare you could be mistaken for thinking you’re back at school. Not only because now, the prospect of the bard can’t help but summon memories of Double English but because The Liverpool Everyman’s latest production of A Midsummer Night's Dream takes you away from mythical Athens and places you slap bang in the middle of a high school.

The play opens in front of an oversized door, crowned with a clock, instantly transporting you back to those seemingly never ending days, feeling so small and counting down the minutes until the next free period. The sets blackboard walls, scribbled with juvenile graffiti “Hermia loves Lysander” and the cast’s school uniforms do nothing to alleviate the memories of boredom. Instead reminding you of the real and more interesting dramas that unfolded in the playground, and the lessons we learnt there.

It is an interesting angle to take, placing Shakespeare in the setting where most of us first encountered him. However, as the play unfolds those memories of dread start to drift away and you’re reminded that, even after 425 years, the plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream resonates with everyone in the audience, just as it did when first performed.

Lysander is that boy who was always unsuitable in your parent’s eyes. Helena, that friend who won’t take no for an answer, constantly sending those hopeful texts even though we all know he’s “just not that into you.” Oberon and Titania, that couple disagreeing and playing games, despite being old enough to know better.

And then there’s Nick Bottom, the hapless fool and light relief. That ever optimistic, eager and, lets be honest, rather annoying pal who can take on any challenge, knows more than the rest of us, but who you can’t help but like. In this performance, reminding me more of David Brent – the Bottom of our time.

So even though the language has evolved, the names sound daft and the use of magic seems absurd, Shakespeare continues to hold a mirror to our lives. It’s hard to believe we’ll ever bore of the bard.

A Midsummer Night's Dream runs until the 18th April at The Liverpool Everyman. 

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