Dn&co wanted to create an identity for a scientific institute “without resorting to cliché test tubes, lasers and space travel”

The brand consultancy and design studio developed the brand strategy and identity for Harwell, the UK’s leading science and innovation campus, with a playful mood.

16 November 2021

Nestled away in the quiet of the Oxfordshire countryside stands the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, home to over 6,000 scientists, engineers and innovators working to make change and solve some of our most critical problems which face the planet. At a crucial point for the institute, Dn&co was brought on board to create a brand to coincide with the creation of its masterplan, which will see it grow into an even bigger facility.

“We wanted to create an identity that was global in reach and that used the language of science without resorting to cliché,” says Patrick Eley, creative director, Dn&co. “Test tubes, lasers and space travel are very much part of Harwell’s everyday, but using these sorts of visual devices would have been obvious and reductive for the scale and diversity of innovation coming out of this world-beating campus.”

“Science is the foundation of our understanding of the world around us,” continues Eley, “a truth never more apparent than over the past couple of years – and the universal language of science is mathematics.” When the design team saw that they could substitute the “A” in Harwell for a caret (^), which is the mathematical notation symbol that represents an exponent or power – Eley tells us that it “perfectly reflected the way in which Harwell powers our understanding of the world and raises it to the next level.”

Dn&co wanted to create an identity that would be “as at home on the side of a rocket as it was on a business card,” states the creative director. The team always felt that a logotype, out of which they could extract a relevant marque, “was going to be more successful than an identity dominated by a playful marque that drew too much attention to itself,” expands Eley. Thus, Harwell had to come first: Dn&co wanted to build recognition for the name. “Harwell is an enabler of innovation,” argues Eley, “so we wanted to create a brand that could foster a sense of community and collaboration and a marque that could act as a stamp of authority. The identity is robust and strong; the typography is opinionated, yet it’s not flippant.”

Whilst the name of the brand had to stay the same, the previous brand was mainly memorable as a colour, argues the creative director, so the design team limited its use of a bright yellow to a highlight, “rather than covering everything in bright yellow,” says Eley, “and introduced a broader palette adding supporting darks and lights. A sharp bright green has equal prominence as a brand hero.” They also brought a new typeface on board: “Everett is opinionated and recognisable without being overbearing,” thinks Eley, “Its deep pinch points in letters such as the “W” or “V” echo the angles of the caret, but it’s also relatively neutral elsewhere which keeps things legible while having enough weights to create plenty of distinction for communication.”

Dn&co: Harwell brand identity (Copyright © Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, 2021)

The design studio set itself the challenge of creating something that was intelligent, “but not exclusive or elitist”. Since the Harwell audience is of a certain brainy ilk, the design team wanted people to be able to decode the identity but didn’t want to “make something overly complex”. It was important for the team that it could stand alone without needing to be explained. “The story of the caret is a clever one,” says Eley, “but we didn’t want to repeat it endlessly. At its simplest, the caret can be read as an upward-pointing arrow that is a fairly universal symbol for growth, transition and progress.”

Eley believes that modern brands need to be animated, “even when they’re static”. He’s not alone: almost every contemporary rebrand or new brand will now feature at least some hint of animated elements to keep up with the development of seamless social sharing. “Figuring out the graphic language of growth and determining how the identity could move as well as how it could sound were interesting challenges,” says Eley, so the team created a grid structure that allowed them to “express the idea of growth in a flexible way without always resorting to the same layouts,” he continues. “It was a useful technique to introduce hierarchy in messaging and allowed us to foreground much of the playful language and tone of voice we developed alongside the graphic system.”

Dn&co also worked with Coda to Coda to create a supporting acoustic identity. The identity uses layered sounds that are built upon the “psycho-acoustic phenomenon of the ‘Shepard tone’ where interlocking ascending pitches appear to keep on rising indefinitely,” Eley explains to It’s Nice That. “It was important not to make this feel too unnerving or sci-fi however, but for us it neatly encapsulated the concept of growth and expansion so present at Harwell.”

Dn&co created the brand strategy, brand identity and brand architecture. The new Harwell brand launches this month and will be rolled out across print, merchandise, signage, films, photography and online, with further applications planned for on-campus in 2022.

GalleryDn&co: Harwell brand identity (Copyright © Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, 2021)


Courtesy of dn&co.

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Dn&co: Harwell brand identity (Copyright © Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, 2021)

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About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.

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