SomeOne has developed a new identity for Christ Church – a constituent college of the University of Oxford – taking cues from a 1968 crest found in a rare, archived book.
Christ Church Oxford was set up in 1546 by King Henry VIII and holds a unique position among Oxford colleges due to its dual status as both an academic institution and the cathedral church for the Diocese of Oxford. Its grand architecture – including the Tom Tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the dining hall which inspired Hogwarts’ Great Hall in the Harry Potter film series – also adds to its reputation.
SomeOne founder Simon Manchipp puts Christ Church’s significance not only down to its “historical and architectural standing” but also its “continued influence on British politics, arts, and culture”. Among its alumni, there are 13 British prime ministers, while other notable figures such as Albert Einstein, W.H. Auden, and Lewis Carroll were associated with the 500-year-old college.
Manchipp names one of the challenges of the project as “balancing Christ Church’s historical allure with its modern academic aspirations”.
After winning the work through a credentials pitch, Someone set about designing a more “cohesive” identity that would be able to cope with the demands of digital application, while remaining “historically grounded”, says Manchipp.
Christ Church’s crest appears on everything from the walls and furniture to the architecture. During Someone’s site visit – which lead design director Andy Goode says was “one of the most fascinating parts of the project” – the team met the college archivist Judith Curthoys who, on the studio’s request, had uncovered a rarely seen example of it.
Manchipp says the “previously overlooked, one-of-a-kind, hand drawn and painted interpretation” of the crest lay in the opening pages of a rare book and the design team “immediately gravitated towards it” due to its “balance of clarity and compact composition”. He defines heraldry as “a series of symbols combined in unique ways to embody values, history, location and ownership” and, despite that fact that many heritage brands have moved towards “simpler symbols and systems”, SomeOne wanted to pay homage to Christ Church’s history.
As well as the core elements of the crest such as a sable-pattern on a cross, a red lion and four azure leopards faces there is also a prominent red hat on top of the crest. This is the Cardinal’s hat – a recognised moniker of Thomas Wolsey who became King Henry VIII’s almoner in 1509 – and sets it apart from other heraldic crests, signalling the religious connotations.
“Technically, aesthetically and theoretically accurate”
SomeOne devised nine different versions of the crest for the identity, including a full colour, a black on white and a white on black version. These three variations are applied in three different sizes, with each part redrawn and simplified depending on the size. .
Manchipp explains why “you can’t take a heraldic crest, make it black and white and deploy a negative version of it” because, if this was the case, white unicorns would turn black, light backgrounds would become inverted, and blackbirds would instead appear as white doves. This means the symbolism behind each creature, motif and element would be subverted and no longer convey the original meaning.
Since the Christ Church brand represents “the finest achievements in academia”, Manchipp felt the design work should be “technically, aesthetically and theoretically accurate”.
“The craftsmanship of the crest”
SomeOne developed a series of patterns and watermarks from the crest to be used as graphic devices. Manchipp describes them as “more decorative but equally powerful”, adding that elements like the lion and the chough bird highlight “the craftsmanship of the crest while also capitalising on the recognisable Christ Church visual assets”.
Previously, Christ Church used the Garamond typeface, which has now been replaced by a sans serif typeface designed to perform at different scales and provide contrast to the detailed crest. The new typeface – Rework – is a “high legibility font” that takes influence from “multiple eras and processes”, says Manchipp, from 19th century architectural lettering to copperplate engraving and 20th century phototypesetting. “It even references William Caslon IV’s Two Lines English Egyptian, the very first printed sans”, he adds.
Christ Church’s cardinal red, black, blue and gold hues are derived from the college’s original heraldry. An additional stone colour also appears in the identity, taken from a type of limestone known as Cotswold stone which Manchipp says has been used for centuries in the region, giving many of the Oxford colleges their “characteristic honey-coloured appearance”.