OPX Studio has refreshed the Design Council’s branding with a simplified design system and graphic language to help support the Council in communicating the importance of design.
In what has been described as a “first”, the brand refresh is launched alongside a sustainability and accessibility audit by Mia Allers, design lead on the gov.uk project, aligning with the Design Council’s belief that “good design serves both people and planet”.
Minnie Moll, Design Council chief executive explains that with the branding not reviewed since 1996, “it was time for a refresh. The world we live in has changed so much since then and so it was time to update our visual language”.
As national strategic advisors on design, “we needed graphic tools that communicate modern, dynamic design to be a credible voice in championing the sector”, she adds.
OPX originally contacted Moll after seeing her speak in 2021. “It got us thinking about what design means for everyone and led to a simplified visual language that we hope will help support the brilliant work they do”, says OPX creative director David Bennett.
Larraine Datta, client services director at OPX explains that the branding sought to champion the sector in this way by communicating design’s importance to different groups.
Funding represents an ongoing challenge for the Design Council, according to Datta who says: “In the funding pot that they’re within, they go up against science, innovation and digital.
“Securing funding is a challenge when people don’t understand the importance of design [..] Minnie said to us way back that you can have lots of innovation in science and product innovation, but without designing it, it’s just an idea; it’s not a real thing”.
But it was also important to communicate to the general public – part of the Design Council’s responsibility as a Royal Charter Charity, Datta explains – as well as prospective students of design.
“We went off and wrote our own brief and came back to Minnie with some thoughts”, Bennett says. OPX presented an initial film looking to define what the Design Council means by design, focused on the tagline “Design made it possible”. After developing the concept, a film was published on the Design Council’s website, setting the tone for the brand refresh.
“We took the film and started thinking about how it can manifest into an actual brand”, Bennett says, mentioning the pace and use of white space as key factors.
Working with the 1996 design by Edinburgh-based Tayburn McIlroy Coates, OPX kept the red logo with its Quay Sans typeface designed by David Quay and Freda Sack, which Bennett describes as “steeped in history and heritage”.
He adds that during the research process, OPX came across “mid-90s, early 2000’s reports that are really crafted, beautiful designs. But then that all kind of faded away, and I think maybe with that the Design Council brand faded away a bit”. OPX wanted to “take what I’ve known of the Design Council and resurface it”, he adds.
The approach was to “simplify everything”, Bennett says, starting with a “systemisation” of the brand, which previously “felt quite scattergun”, he says. While previously there were varied visual styles, OPX decided to “strip all that out”, he says. “We started afresh with what we can do with the typography, what we can do with the colours.
“You know you’re a red and white brand, [but] have a think about how that works. Play the typography up, play the hero image up. Think about it in a slightly different way”.
Bennett says that a “eureka moment”, was when they removed all black copy, which felt too “heavy” and “masculine”, working instead with a deep claret. “It just felt a bit more colourful, less mundane. It had a bit more of an energy behind it and everyone seems to love it”, he says.
In terms of photography, where previously everything was “turned up to 10”, there was a need to “introduce more levels”, distinguishing between hero and secondary images.
OPX also urged the Design Council to think more about the context of what was being produced, such as a report for the government, or a hand out at an event. “Think about how it’s going to be digested. Would it be a short digital print run, or is it an interactive PDF? That was something they’ve never done before” he adds.
Reflecting on the project, Bennett says that OPX “jumped at the chance” to work with the Design Council, “who sum-up everything we believe in”.
“Because you are the Design Council, everything you create or we create on your behalf has to be brilliant design”, he says. Though they and the client are confident in the work, the existing logo and identity was “quite a good jumping off point”, he adds. “I think it just got put in a draw somewhere and needed to come out and be refreshed.”
Moll adds: “It can be tempting to be too clever or too showy when designing for the Design Council but OPX Studio has done exactly what we wanted.”
Sustainability and Accessibility Audit
As part of the process, the Design Council asked Mia Allers, design lead on gov.uk at the Government Digital Service to audit the new brand guidelines, providing recommendations for physical and digital applications.
For non-digital applications, it follows the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) where appropriate, the Leserlich contrast calculator and industry best practices. For digital, the accessibility audit was based on the AA rating for WCAG 2.1, published in 2018.
Minnie Moll, Design Council chief executive says: “Good design serves both people and planet and ensuring accessibility in your communications should now be standard practice.
“We really want to “walk the talk” when it comes to our Design for Planet mission. There is a huge gap in the conversation around how graphic and digital designers can lower the carbon impact of their work through their design choices.”
The new Design Council branding launched today across its website and all print and digital applications. The full branding guidelines have also been published, and Moll comments: “We encourage designers to talk to us about their own journey to Design for Planet and help us continue on ours.”