Designing the modern Scouts and Girlguiding

With both undergoing considerable image changes and integrating new digital tools over the past few years, Design Week explores the mission of bringing heritage organisations into the present day for leaders and members.

From lessons in thriftiness and folklore, to human rights and first aid, Girlguiding and the Scouts have offered extensive education for young people in their respective 109- and 112-year histories. But as times have changed, so too have the groups’ needs.

In recent years the organisations have had to modernise through design. Both have implemented new brand strategies to reach new audiences and to counter commonly held misconceptions about what each stands for.

But they have gone beyond this, changing the way they reach young people by providing them with a redesigned experience which offers skills tailored to the modern world. Now a new digital infrastructure is being rolled out helping leaders to stay on brand, keep organised and work more efficiently.

The previous identity predated the uptake of digital

“Inflexibility was holding us back”

“After doing some public research into the issue, we found that beyond the badges and the uniforms, people just couldn’t give us a compelling answer as to why we existed,” says Chris James, head of brand at the Scouts.

In the Scouts’ case, much of the problem lay in a visual identity that hadn’t been updated since the very early 2000s. As James points out, it was a brand that largely predated the digital revolution, and as a result struggled to keep up with modern demand.

“It was really the inflexibility of our old image that held us back,” he says. “Just looking into the logomark itself, it was so complicated that it couldn’t be reproduced small enough to fit on people’s smartphones.

“Rather than help carry our messages to our audience, it felt like we were constantly having to break away from and fight against our own brand, which is never a good position to be in.”

Scout leaders now have a host of templates they can work from, like this on created by NotOnSunday

“Everyone had their own version”

Such a rigid brand wasn’t just fought against in head office, but also across the Scouts’ 8,000 groups and 638,000 members. What the organisation needed was an identity that could be easily used by its 163,000 volunteers, who largely run and promote their groups without any formal design training.

“Before, everyone had their own version of the brand and the essence of the Scouts was getting lost in that variance,” says Wayne Trevor Townsend, co-founder and creative director at NotOnSunday, the London-based design and brand consultancy tasked with the rebrand.

Establishing a brand that could be used at all levels, among other things, pointed the team in the direction of the Scouts’ iconic fleur-de-lis logo, which was complicated and hard to reproduce. Not wanting to design it out of the Scout identity altogether, Townsend and team created a paired back, flat line-drawn version of the symbol.

“A lot of brands nowadays talk about logos not being as important as they used to be,” he says, “but something like the Scouts’ fleur-de-lis serves to badge the movement and allow members to take ownership of it. We knew we didn’t want to get rid of it completely.”

Townsend’s comment speaks to the wider point about modernising heritage organisations – choosing what to bring forward into present day and what to leave behind is a key part of the endeavour.

The simpler, flat line design of the fleur-de-lis created by NotOnSunday

“Reimagining a movement”

In the Scouts’ case, the rethought fleur-de-lis was accepted by the design team and staff alike as an important bridge between its history and now. But elsewhere, the team realised steps needed to be taken to keep the brand current.

“We knew reimagining a movement that’s 112 years old for this generation was a mammoth task,” says James. “Scouts is a movement for young people and as such needs to be attractive to them.”

This was a challenge similarly faced by Girlguiding, which in the last 18 months has overhauled its activity programme and badge system. “Girls’ lives today are not the same as they were 50 years ago, and we realised the badges and skills they were undertaking needed to reflect that,” says Florence Howell, head of marketing at Girlguiding.

Some of the 187 Girlguiding badges redesigned by Red Stone

“Some of our badges, things like hostessing and home skills, just weren’t relevant anymore,” she says, adding that in their place, badges for things like digital design, entrepreneurship and human rights have been introduced.

In the process of overhauling the activity programme, the organisation’s 187 badges themselves were redesigned by London-based consultancy Red Stone. Largely the project worked to consolidate these more “future facing” badges into appropriately more modern designs.

“We didn’t want to be overly constrained by how things were in the past,” says Chris Davis, Red Stone creative director. “The badges needed the freshness of contemporary Girlguiding to be able to really represent the fact they were doing something new and different.”

November 2019 marked the first ever digital issue of Girlguiding magazine

“New digital culture”

While the two groups have comfortably began to consolidate heritage and modernity, an entirely new path to tread has been the move to digital. It has been embraced by Girlguiding and the Scouts, not least because it allows both organisations to easily reach their broad membership bases.

For Girlguiding, its newly launched digital magazine acts as a wide-ranging resource for members of all levels, with organisational news, human interest stories, activities and opinion pieces sent out to its over 500,000 members.

“The magazine has long been a part of Girlguiding culture, but the new digital version shows how we’ve shifted and will continue to do so,” says Howell.

Meanwhile for the Scouts, a recently launched digital activities library looks to ease access to Scout activities for members and non-members alike. “The Scouts has always had an amazing amount of skills and activities, but it was all hidden behind membership logins,” says Kevin Yeates, head of creative at the Scouts.

So far, it has collated some 500 activities into easily teachable online lessons, with the intention of expanding indefinitely as more are added. It provides users resources to organise single sessions, or plan multi-year programmes, complete with learning outcomes, instructions and helpful illustrations and animations from the design team at Young Studio (example shown in video above).

“The ambition of this project was really to bring to light what we do. Here are 500 things anyone could pick up – a teacher, a parent, a social worker – and engage with.”

Beyond creating a more cohesive national organisation, a positive knock-on effect for digital uptake is the easing of pressure on volunteers. “Making things easy for our volunteers is really important,” says James.

Yeates adds: “We would never underestimate our volunteers, but the beauty of this new system is that everything is available in one place. For the branding, it all uses a free typeface and has templates available for download, and for the activity library, all the methods and learning outcomes are right in front of you.”

“Fit for the future”

For organisations that have long traded on tradition and heritage, modernising has been no easy feat – so why undertake the task? At its core, the mission seeks to broaden the organisation’s beyond public expectation.

James says: “We could quite happily have concentrated on attracting the children of former Scouts, and then attracting their children’s children, and so on – but to do this would be to ignore huge communities who don’t have a family history of Scouting.”

The creation of its “welcoming and inclusive” new brand image has proved successful, according to James, who points to inhouse research conducted by the team showing parents in black and minority ethnic communities said they were much more likely to enrol their children with its new approach.

Similarly, Howell notes that in Girlguiding’s case it is imperative the organisation shows it understands the world young women are growing up in today, rather than being prescriptive in the skills it offers, which many have interpreted as old-fashioned and restrictive.

One effort Girlguiding has made in that direction is the Future Girl initiative. Created by a consultation of 76,000 girls, it is an enterprise that gives girls in Guiding the opportunity to explore ways to change the world, from teaching respect and self-belief, to saving the planet and going on adventures.

Now is the time to use design to drive change, according to Howell, who says: “We’ve been a part of girls lives for over a century and things have changed hugely in that time. For us to have stayed still as an organisation would have made us irrelevant. This way, we’re fit for the future while still acknowledging our past.”

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  • Jonathan November 24, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    It’s a shame the article spends so much time focused on the visual elements. The biggest transformation is the use of service design thinking to look at the whole movement. The logo is the least important element of all this.

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