On Thursday night we were joined by the client and agency teams behind the award-winning rebrand of Shakespeare’s Globe.

Reworking the visual identity of an established and recognisable cultural institution is an intriguing challenge for any design agency, where the briefing, strategy and execution of a project must create relevance for a modern audience while celebrating and protecting a rich history, heritage and spirit. 

As part of a series of events that seeks to draw learnings from past projects and successful partnerships, we were delighted to welcome the masterminds of Superunion's 2018 award-winning rebrand of Shakespeare's Globe, who talked through the ideas, briefing and design processes and creative strategy behind the finished concept. Superunion is the global brand agency launched by WPP in January of this year, and they worked with the Globe's cultural advisors in order to craft a story that captured the wonder and excitement of the shared experience of live theatre. From Superunion we heard from creative partner Nick Eagleton, and creative director Kath Tudball, and offering a client perspective was Hannah Yates, design manager at Shakespeare's Globe.

Here’s what we learned. 

This project, Nick began by telling us, was no ordinary rebrand. “A year and a half ago we embarked on a journey that would change us forever.” From the very beginning, the approach was different, and both Kath and Nick agreed that they “worked in a way like never before,” by letting “the answer emerge from the process.” In line with this, they kicked off the talk with a showreel of the finished product before revealing the journey they took to get to it. Nick described the initial process of landing the project and realising the enormity of the task – a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to tell the story of a unique and world-famous theatre. “There’s literally nothing like it in the world. There’s only one Shakespeare’s Globe.”

Theatrical immersion

They began by trying to get a feel for the very essence of the building, absorbing both its physical and intangible characteristics with trips to watch the theatre in action, with the team, and with family and friends: “from the very beginning it became a family affair.” The immersive experience of live Shakespeare resonated with everyone (“we immediately became obsessed”), and both Nick and Kath confessed to having never been before, despite living in London. Their shared misconception that it was a bit of a “tourist attraction” was one of the things they hoped to debunk with the project; the story they hoped to tell would reflect the “incredible, physical [...] universal, human and powerful” nature of the Globe. 

“Branding brings me out in hives.”

From the outset, the team took a different approach to past briefs. They set out not to “solve a problem,” instead “gathering and listening and observing”. It was an exercise in research. An early conversation with the Globe’s Director of Education set the tone for the creative process: Nick remembers being told, “branding brings me out in hives”, and “don’t you dare oversimplify”. “Those words will never leave me.” Taking this advice on board, they “just ‘maxified’ all the way through,” collecting pieces of inspiration wherever they could find it. The method “was way un-slick,” said Nick. “Bits of paper on boards… we just had to roll with it.” Kath: “we just thought, ‘where does the truth most lie?’” The Globe’s “cause” statement, which includes words like “transformative”, “radical” and “curiosity,” helped to inspire “a story called ‘alive’.”

“The Alchemy stage”

The team quickly found that their “un-slick” methodology complemented the magical chaos of live, open-air dramatics at a theatre that was “built as an experiment”. Kath emphasised the importance of involving the client in the thought process, engaging with them through workshops and brainstorming sessions, before presenting their ideas. “We had more than thirty ‘sort of’ ideas that we proposed to the Globe.” It was a collaborative process, and “at no point did we make a distinction between the creative team and the client [...] it was a lovely way to work.” With the theatre’s unique “circularity” in mind, along with the “visceral quality” of the oak from which the Globe is built (Nick: “it’s part of the performance!”) and a limited colour palette of white, blacks and reds, they “started playing around with all of these ideas”. “It was an awful lot of playing around and having fun,” added Nick. To be close to the spirit of the globe, it was important not to be “too tidy.” 

Serendipitous oak

When the team found out there was one piece of wood left from the building works, they knew they had to incorporate it into the narrative. Nick’s wife painstakingly cut and smoothed the oak before it was taken to an engraver, who, over half an hour, created the first woodblock prints of the red ‘O’ that dominates the visual identity of the project. Everyone agreed that there was something beautiful about the “physical connection” of “printing the Globe logo with an actual bit of the Globe,” and, as Kath said, it was then that “it became the beginnings of something real.”

Organic style

As with everything else in this collaboration, Kathy describes the establishing of guidelines as an “organic” process. The guidance for typography, for example, “was ‘just feel it’.” The range of fonts they decided on were varied so as to be able to reflect themes like comedy, tragedy, drama and history respectively, as were the colours – traditional-looking Shakespearean shades of white, black and red. These “‘not’ guidelines” were grounded in “feeling” and “instinct”, and thanks to the collaborative nature of the creative process, the Globe’s internal creative team were able to reproduce and replicate this abstract set of style guidelines perfectly. “We’d all been on this journey together,” said Nick.

Waiting game

Once the project had been handed over (“nervously”) in December 2017, the Globe began the “mammoth task” of bringing the work to life. Any worries Nick and Kath had about the work vanished when they saw the first results in the form of an Instagram campaign in early January. Then posters appeared “all over London,” a rave review and, later, a deluge of praise and awards. Nick attributes the project’s appeal to the “incredible depth” of the theatre and its history, and says he is proudest of “the impact it’s had on the Globe,” where different segments of the organisation have been brought together by a common goal – the celebration of “a radical cause without watering anything down.” For Kathy, “it was very gratifying” to see positive responses in the design world, but most touching were the reactions from those “really engaged in Shakespeare”, or “people who work at the Globe.”

“Authenticity is naff.”

The magic ingredient in this project is authenticity. Although often an elusive quality rendered meaningless by its buzzword status in creative industries, Kathy and Nick achieved it through open-mindedness, their relationship with the client and trusting their instincts. The openness of the brief was also a factor in its success; “it wasn’t complicated, it was alive.” This word “really helped,” Nick says. “It really encapsulated the story and the beating heart. [...] We didn’t have any rules to fall back on – we had to rely on a new visual language.”

Durability of design

With a limited colour palette and loose guidelines, Hannah recalls people saying: “it’s going to get really old, really quickly.” Her view is that “if it does, we’re not doing it right.” She started the inhouse team at the Globe six years ago, and has been building it up ever since. Thanks to the Globe’s diverse events programme (as well as theatre there are talks, guided tours, family events, exhibitions, conferences and concerts) the inhouse creatives are “constantly” producing a huge amount of content and “always trying to do something differently” within the design parameters. The legacy of Shakespeare's Globe lives on, especially in those involved in this pivotal rebrand. As Nick says: "it's definitely changed the way I work, but it's changed us as people too."

In the words of Henry V: “And shall this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France / Or may we cram within this wooden ‘O’...”

All photography Sam Bush.

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