Sitting on a desk in The Partners office in London is a thick slice from the trunk of an oak tree. An irregular ring has been sawn into the trunk, sanded smooth and stained a deep shade of red.
This sliver of wood is cut from one of the many trees used to build Shakespeare’s Globe in the 1990s. It was also used to create the theatre’s new logo. The logo is part of an identity system that aims to challenge perceptions of the Globe as a heritage site aimed at tourists and instead show it as an exciting place to experience Shakespeare’s work.
Shakespeare’s Globe is a modern reconstruction of the Globe Theatre built by William Shakespeare’s playing company in 1599. (More on the Globe and its history here.) The theatre is open-air and has a distinctive round design with standing and seated areas.
The site is also home to a permanent exhibition explaining the history of the theatre and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – an intimate venue named after the US actor and director who led the creation of Shakespeare’s Globe. The Globe’s education department runs a year-round programme of Shakespeare-related talks and workshops as well as guided tours of the venue.
Michelle Terry was appointed artistic director of the Globe last year. The programme for her inaugural season was revealed last week – along with a new visual identity for the theatre created by London agency The Partners.
A 20-sided logo
The theatre’s new logo – a 20-sided ring that resembles an ‘O’ – references the theatre’s distinctive shape.
The shape was carved into oak by furniture maker Nathalie de Leval. Printmaker Peter Smith then created a woodblock print of the shape. (You can read more about the process in this Medium post on the new identity.)
The ‘O’ can be moved around and has no fixed position – it appears in various places and at various sizes on posters and printed material created so far.
The identity also features an all-caps wordmark in typeface Effra (chosen for “its historic roots”) and a red, black and white colour palette (the colours available to printers in Shakespeare’s era).
The Partners also developed a grid system based on the layout of the First Folio – the earliest printed collection of Shakespeare’s works published in 1623. A new season brochure features blocks of type in the middle of the page and wider than normal margins. Everything from employment contracts to press releases and letters now feature layouts inspired by the First Folio.
The identity has been applied to a set of posters as well as new season brochure and the Globe’s website. (The site has been given a temporary “reskin” and a new website will launch in April.) It can also be seen on signage around the venue. Over time, the system will be applied to everything from steward aprons to merchandise.
The Globe’s identity was last updated in 2010. Its original logo – which has been replaced by The Partner’s design – was created by Alan Fletcher and featured an illustration of the theatre housed in a red or black circle with white type.
Katherina Tudball, design director at The Partners, says the previous system was “typographically led” with the theatre using one main typeface across its communications. Each of the Globe’s departments – from Globe Education to Globe Theatre – would use the same logo alongside a different lock up. “They had logo lockups saying ‘Globe Exhibition’, ‘Globe Theatre’, ‘Globe Tour’ and so on, which made sense internally, but I think to the audience it’s all Shakespeare’s Globe,” she explains. Each department now uses the same ‘O’ device and the same word mark, which can be arranged horizontally or vertically.
The new identity is part of a broader strategy to introduce a more joined-up communications strategy at the Globe – and make audiences more aware of the range of productions and events it puts on.
A new brochure for the 2018 season places details of lectures and talks alongside comments from the Globe’s academic experts and listings for theatrical productions – something it hasn’t done before. The identity is also designed to reflect the Globe’s new mission statement: “We celebrate Shakespeare’s transformative impact on the world by conducting a radical theatrical experiment.”
Nick Eagleton, creative director at The Partners, says the agency didn’t set out to create a new identity for the theatre.
The Globe had brought in cultural strategy advisers Morris Hargreaves Macintyre (MHM) to review its communications and research audience perceptions of the theatre. MHM’s research revealed that people saw the Globe more as a tourist destination or museum instead of an exciting place to watch new theatre. Research also found that the Globe was best known for its Shakespeare productions and less so for its educational initiatives.
MHM worked with the theatre to develop a strategy that would address this. The Partners was brought in to help articulate the theatre’s mission and what makes it unique. “They had gone through that process of soul searching … and we came on board to write a story – to try and put into words what the story was that had emerged from that process,” explains Eagleton.
The Partners’ creative team set about learning everything they could about the Globe and Shakespeare’s work – they visited the site, read numerous plays and researched everything from the structure of the building to popular colours in Shakespeare’s era and 17th century printing methods.
At this stage, the only aim was to help the theatre articulate its vision and values. The process resulted in a set of 25 ‘ideas’ or ‘stories’ about the Globe which were packaged up in an A3 book alongside design experiments inspired by those ideas. Most of the stories related to three key themes – wonder, experience and alive – and ranged from stories about printing and typography to ideas around the theatre being a place for artistic experimentation.
“There was never the express intention to reinvent the identity … but it was quite obvious that what had emerged through that process was way more radical, more irreverent and physical and experimental than [the previous identity] so they said ‘go away and show us what our identity could look like if it was really radical’,” explains Eagleton. The team then set to work turning these ideas into an identity system.
This might sound like a fairly standard process for a redesign – reviewing a brand’s current positioning and audience perceptions before holding workshops with various stakeholders to define the core of an organisation – but with no fixed brief Eagleton says the creative team felt unusually free to experiment.
“We tend to approach projects in a systematic way otherwise you’d never be able to complete them but there’s a sort of dogma to this [process of] ‘you do your immersion stage, then you present three routes and then you develop one or two routes depending on your philosophy’. Right from the beginning, you’re searching for an answer and you’re constantly under pressure to solve it,” he explains. This time, Eagleton says the process was more like an art project: “We watched plays, we gathered quotes, went to the theatre and looked at materials … we just had rooms of stuff … and we put it all together and talked about it and lo and behold things emerged.”
Two themes the team kept coming back to were ‘alive’ and ‘experimentation’ – “everything we did we’d ask ‘does it feel alive?… It couldn’t be a neat and tidy identity – it had to feel alive and full of life and different each time,” explains Tudball.
The identity system is designed to offer flexibility – allowing in-house designers to put “their own stamp” on posters or social media assets – but there are some strict guidelines to ensure consistency.
“There’s a rigorous underpinning in terms of how the logo is used and its relation to the word mark and there are certain angles within the 20-sided shape which inform how we treat the typography,” explains Tudball.
“There are alignment rules – so the word mark can move around – but it always aligns to the centre. The symbol can scale up or down but the word mark has a sizing rule depending on the proportion of the page. Typography is free in terms of typeface choice because it’s treated as imagery but there are a certain number of 18 degree angles [that designers must adhere to when placing type],” she adds.
The red, white and black colour palette also allows for flexibility while ensuring a consistent approach. The palette includes ten blacks, ten reds and five whites: whites range from bright white to cream and reds from scarlet to softer pinkish tones.
“[Designers] might use white [as the main colour] for one season, with black and red as supporting colours. They might choose to go all typographic or all photographic or all illustrative – there’s tonnes of potential for this to run for a really long time and we hope it does,” says Tudball.
Designers are free to use any kind of imagery – from hand drawn illustrations and etches to CG animation – provided it is in keeping with colour guidelines. Imagery must also have a collage-like feel.
“We wanted to create something fun for other designers to work with,” adds Tudball. “It’s a very simple identity to package up – you could give the basic guidelines to any graphic designer, animator, lettering artist or painter and say ‘what’s your favourite Shakespeare play? What’s your favourite quote? Here are your conditions – do something with it.”
Type is treated as imagery on posters and guidelines encourage designers to choose fonts that reflect the feel of a production. “[Designers are encouraged to think], ‘is it passionate? Is it angry? Is it tragic?’ and that’s how you pick your typeface,” says Tudball.
The end result is an identity that feels dynamic and messy but also controlled. One of the most interesting things about the Globe’s new communications is how different it feels from the kind we’re used to seeing from London theatres. Most venues produce posters that focus on the name of a play or its cast. The theatre name appears alongside dates and ticket prices giving the impression of the venue as little more than a space to host the content being promoted.
With the Globe’s communications however, the venue is given equal prominence. The ‘O’ on posters for Hamlet, As You Like It and Othello acts like a stamp – one that tells audiences that this will be a unique performance. In this sense, it becomes a poster not just for Othello but the Globe’s version of Othello. “The prominence of the symbol is because the space is a huge part of the experience,” adds Tudball.
The response to the identity has been positive so far. Some have pointed out that much of the detail in the ‘O’ is lost at small sizes – but having a flexible device has allowed the Globe’s social media team to create some engaging content for Instagram in both landscape and square formats.
While Alan Fletcher’s logo for the Globe was a much-loved mark, there were some things the previous identity couldn’t do. And with a new focus on “radical theatrical experiments” the Globe needed a system that would spark curiosity among those who had previously dismissed it as a tourist attraction.
The identity is designed to capture the attention of people who might have misconceptions about the Globe rather than existing fans of the theatre – but longtime visitors will no doubt approve of the many references to the building’s history and architecture.
The previous identity was great and as Eagleton points out it has served the Globe well. But as someone who has lived in London for five years and still never been to the Globe, this makes me want to visit. There’s a boldness and playfulness in posters for Othello and Hamlet and Red Not Dead – a sense of energy and fun and excitement that I wouldn’t have previously equated with the theatre. And those red, black and white posters will certainly stand out on the Underground.