University rebrands, celebrity chefs and theme parks: designers’ trickiest projects

Last week, we wrote about Birkbeck, University of London’s new graphics, which – like so many university rebrand projects – has received mixed reviews, with some criticism. Now, designers tell us about the most challenging projects they’ve worked on.

Sam Bompas, co-founder, Bompas and Parr. © Ben Ottewell
Sam Bompas, co-founder, Bompas and Parr. © Ben Ottewell

“Chocolate and climbing walls should never be combined. The designs for a climbing wall theme park ride with a chocolate waterfall flowing at 12,000 litres per hour was the nearest we have come to a culinary disaster. The chocolate mix was changed every other day and with a crew tired of orchestrating the bouldering, the pumps were opened in the wrong direction and a tidal wave of molten chocolate headed towards the ornamental lake. If it hit it would have been a cause of algal blooms in the lake. Thankfully, the theme park had its own hazmat team who stemmed the flow with the same equipment normally used on oil spills. With hard work, grit and swagger we managed to pull through. Watch the project unfold here.”


Afroditi Krassa, founder, Afroditi Krassa
Afroditi Krassa, founder, Afroditi Krassa

“The creation of Dishoom. I was tasked with the concept creation, design and branding of this start-up restaurant. At the time, Indian restaurants were so loaded with negative clichés and stereotypes that it took a very long time to convince the client and the world that you can create an innovative and authentic Indian experience without the flocked wallpaper. It went on to become a game-changer for the industry. It takes some guts to challenge the status quo.”


Nick Finney, creative director, NB Studio
Nick Finney, creative director, NB Studio

“The most challenging design project? I’m naming no names. I’ve been involved in a fair few education rebrands and I’m still alive.

As a designer concerned with how an organisation presents itself to the world it inhabits, I’m aware everything my team and I create will be judged one way or another.

There’s a skill involved in paying attention to constructive feedback – ignoring naysayers and sticking with the design programme you’ve fought hard with your client to create is at the outset. But also keeping an open mind on the journey and being able to adapt to what you find along the way is the key.”


Erika Clegg, co-founder, Spring
Erika Clegg, co-founder, Spring

“About 15 years ago, I worked with a large European corporate which had commissioned one of London’s most iconic new buildings. The building had become known by a word that was hardly dignified – rather than by its official name – and the brief was to rectify that. Needless to say it proved impossible to do so, and taught me a valuable lesson. If the public have taken something to their hearts to such a degree that they’ve given it a pet name, it’s usually worth trying to work with it rather than stamp it out.”


Dave Dunlop, creative director and partner, Else
Dave Dunlop, creative director and partner, Else

“I think the most challenging projects are often the most rewarding. Sometimes they’re challenging because the conditions within the project are chaotic, whether that’s due to differences of opinion, individual motives or an uncertain destiny. But design often helps bring people together. I think the trickiest projects are the ones that are personal, smaller, and owner-led.

One project that springs to mind that was particularly challenging was a good few years ago — a restaurant website for a celebrity Michelin Star chef. At the time, his restaurant was voted the best in the world and people went there to experience his mastery. The website was all about extending that experience to those who couldn’t get there and preparing people who were due to visit. Delivering something so personal for someone gives you a heightened sense of responsibility for what you are creating. You have to really understand where they are and where they want to be, and get into their frame of mind. When things don’t go well, it’s personal and it becomes an obsession to get it right.

It all worked out well in the end though. I think he’s even still in business!”


Natasha Chetiyawardana, creative Partner and co-founder, Bow & Arrow
Natasha Chetiyawardana, creative Partner and co-founder, Bow & Arrow

“One of the reasons university projects are tricky is because of the vast number of stakeholders and opinions they, quite rightly, cast. This is the case with big branding, culture and change projects within any people-based organisation, which I’ve found to be the most challenging. If you do not involve, listen and act on the voices, opinions and feelings of the human beings involved in an organisation – I say this from experience of big organisational branding but even down to redoing our own brand – people don’t feel ownership or emotion towards the outcome, and are likely to reject it or pick holes in it. It can also feel like that on-the-ground research and listening can just be part of a process, but invariably it uncovers true nuggets of inspiration that can lead to revelatory results.”


What’s the trickiest project you’ve ever worked on? Let us know in the comments section below.

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