The National Citizen Service (NCS), former prime minister David Cameron’s youth scheme, is set to be rebranded, which could cost up to £10 million.
The organisation, which offers three and four-week programmes to those aged 15-17 across the UK, aims to teach young people new skills and boost their employment. Those who want to take part show interest by filling out a form on the NCS website. So far, 500,000 young people across the UK have been involved.
The request for a branding or creative studio to complete the rebrand was published online in February, and has since reached its deadline.
“Inspire more young people to participate”
It called for a consultancy to come on board to “design and deliver the brand identity project”, then “continue as the lead creative partner” working on campaigns for two years in total. This could be extended to four years, on a provisional basis.
As part of the rebrand, the NCS is hoping to “grow and inspire more young people to participate in the programme”, and wants a new brand identity that is “fit for purpose in the digital age” and a website that “cuts through the clutter”, to help the organisation become the “best known and loved youth movement brand in the UK”.
The cost of the project has been priced at between £4 million and £10 million, depending on the longevity and the services required.
The announcement has caused backlash, with the Local Government Association (LGA), an organisation that represents 370 councils in England and Wales, saying that the scheme uses too much funding to help too few young people. It adds that these “millions of pounds” should be devolved to local councils and used to tackle knife crime and gang culture instead.
“Funding youth services would be more effective”
The rebrand comes amid 600 youth centres shutting down in the UK between 2012 and 2016, the LGA adds, as well as central Government funding cuts on local youth services, which had their funds nearly halved between 2010 and 2018, from £650 million to £350 million.
The LGA says that the NCS has dominated the Government’s youth services budget in recent years, having been assigned “95%” of it, totalling at £630 million.
Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, says: “It is not right that £10 million of Government money is to be spent on a brand refresh for the NCS.
“While we recognise that the NCS can be a positive experience for those who take part, funding all-year-round youth services in local communities would be far more effective in reaching out to young people and helping them thrive and prosper.
She adds that funding these local services would also help to curb the “shocking surge” in knife crime and gangs that have affected young people over the UK in recent years, particularly in London, with money being invested in youth centres to “help them stay safe”.
There have been 10 teenage victims who have died from knife crimes in the UK in 2019 so far, including Jodie Chesney in East London and Yousef Ghaleb Makki in Great Manchester most recently.
“£10 million will not be spent” on brand refresh
A spokesperson at the NCS says that £10 million is the “upper limit” of the budget and says that this amount will not be spent on the brand refresh.
They add that £1 million will be spent per year for “ongoing marketing and creative services, which includes a brand refresh”, and that no Government funding will be spent on the rebrand part of the contract. It has not confirmed where this funding will be sourced.
“We are ambitious to expand and therefore it’s necessary to market a national programme of this size,” they say.
The spokesperson adds that the NCS “wholeheartedly agrees” in boosting funding for local youth services.
“NCS Trust works with a host of youth organisations and councils to help deliver NCS and we strongly value their work in enabling as many young people as possible to take part.”
The existing branding for the NCS features a forward-slanted hashtag symbol, set in pink, yellow, green and grey, which is segmented to form the letters “NCS” within the hashtag. This is circled by the name of the service in an all-capitals, sans-serif type, all of which is encapsulated in a roundel. The logo is sometimes seen in monochrome.
Slack’s hashtag logo
Until January this year, collaborative working tool Slack also had a slanted, hashtag logo made up of many colours. It has since been rebranded by Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, adopting a more abstract hashtag shape with separated graphic parts.
On a first look, the NCS rebrand seems like a costly exercise given that funding to UK youth services has been so drastically cut in the last decade.
While the organisation has confirmed that the £10 million benchmark is only an “upper limit”, with this likely to be spread out over a maximum of 10 years by devoting £1 million a year to creative and marketing services, the figure seems astronomical to those who see branding as merely a new logo.
Crucially, the criticism that the project has already received does not recognise that the hefty spend is part of a staggered roll out, which could ultimately increase brand recognition, help raise investment from other sources, better communicate what the organisation does and even make it more effective.
Could a rebrand help the NCS reach more people?
There is scope for this gradual rebrand — which also involves future campaigns and marketing — to drastically increase the reach of NCS, if applied in a way that successfully targets a swathe of young people throughout the UK.
To be this successful, the rebrand needs to not only focus on a shiny new logo, but a full identity that is marketed intelligently to a wide range of young people. This means diverse people photography, advertising through social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, a digital-first identity, and a tone of voice that is approachable and fun without treading into patronising territory.
How social design can help people’s wellbeing
Debates around the use of public money for branding projects have been going on for years, with a recent example including the NHS’ Identity Guidelines, which sparked fury from some onlookers over why NHS money should be spent on improving signage and make logos consistent across different trusts.
While this is completely understandable, if changes like this enable patients to understand NHS digital services or printed letters they receive by post in more depth, and find their way around hospitals more easily, surely this goes some way in easing anxiety and improving the general care experience. This must be a reason to invest in such a project.
Branding aside, other social design projects have gone a long way in trying to make stressful and painful situations more comfortable for those receiving hospital care. Cancer hospital, The Christie, recently unveiled charming, colourful animal illustrations inside its children’s ward, which looked to turn its “clinical, white walls” into a “friendlier, safe space”, says Nicki O’Donoghue, creative director at Music, the studio which worked on the project alongside illustrator Jane Bowyer. The main purpose of projects like this are to make distressing situations more bearable, even if only by a small way.
Will the money make a real difference?
The worth of the NCS rebrand relies on this crucial point — whether the money spent makes a real difference to those the non-profit is trying to help. If done well, it could successfully reach and encourage more young people to get involved in the scheme, and therefore the new design would have hopefully helped to improve their skills and employability, as well as their happiness and wellbeing.
If it manages this, could this boost in engagement then kickstart a reduction in gang crime and knife violence related to young people? The use of design for public services should not be underestimated.
While the full extent of the rebrand is difficult to speculate on now, the NCS must focus on an intelligent and well-focused brand, coupled with campaigns that reach a diverse range of young people across the UK — in terms of gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, disability, neurodiversity and more — if it is to achieve its full potential.