How Johnson Banks branded an online teaching platform in a week

With a focus on clarity, accessibility and speed, the identity for Oak National Academy visually unifies the UK government-backed open resource for teaching during lockdown.

21 April 2020

As most schools in the UK remain closed except for children of key workers, millions of others are missing out on their usual education. To plug the gap, a new collaborative online teaching resource has been launched by 40 teachers from schools across England, funded by the Department of Education. The platform provides access to 180 one-hour video lessons per week for every year group from reception to year 10, spanning subjects including maths, art and languages. Pulled together in a staggeringly short time and ready to launch asap, the academy was still lacking one important thing: a brand. Which is where Johnson Banks came in, delivering the visual identity in a week.

Given the name Oak the design team delved into visual research around this theme to come up with the core concept. “We were initially taken back by the sheer volume of oak tree, oak leaf and acorn symbols already in existence,” says studio founder Michael Johnson, who lead the project with senior designer Alice Tosey. On further development, the designers fell upon the symbolic image of an acorn, the seed of an oak and an apt metaphor for education. “As it falls, it releases seeds and renews. Just as the apple allegedly fell on Newton’s head, or the ‘penny drops’, we realised that the moment just before impact could be perfect.” Hence the logo, illustrated by Peter Grundy, is an acorn captured just before it hits the ground, signifying the lessons ready to plant inside the minds of students.

With their deadline in the near distance, the team quickly tested the concept in static and animated forms (animation by Matt Ingram), and developed the colour palette and typography using free fonts, prioritising clarity and accessibility. The identity includes a set of icons, such as play, pause, stop, etc. and social media icons, all using the graphic language of the logo, a green symbol floating above a small shadow. The subject icons (for English, Maths, Science, etc) also feature just the shadow, but are more detailed and employ a mixture of colours from the palette. Johnson Banks also made a set of social media graphics and templates for the academy to spread the word.

Not only did the identity have to be created, but the site had to be built for that same deadline. So, again, simplicity was front of mind for the online platform itself. And it’s still evolving. “The product itself is very much a work in progress,” Johnson says. “We've done small identity projects fast before – but creating a nationwide brand across multiple channels, in a week? Very very testing. But very rewarding to do something which is already proving so useful to thousands of teachers, parents and families.”

Oak National Academy launched on Monday 20 April and the website had received 200,000 unique visitors by lunchtime, with over 250,000 lessons started on day one.

GalleryJohnson Banks: Oak National Academy identity

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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