University of Cardiff rebrands, celebrating the eight Welsh digraphs

For a long time, Welsh has used the same graphemes as English, but a new look for the country’s biggest University underlines unique linguistic qualities that exist.

29 November 2023

The Manchester design studio Only is responsible for a new look for the University of Cardiff. If you’ve ever visited before, you’ll know the University adheres to Welsh Language Standards, which says that any text-based material displayed publicly in Wales must also be translated into Welsh, and that the language shouldn’t be treated less favourably than English. The rebrand, then, acts as an interesting example of a dual language identity where balance between the two, a consistent issue in our industry, is a requirement, not a nice-to-have.

Only worked closely with Commercial Type, Paul Barnes (who drew the original typefaces used) and the Welsh language board at the University, who advised on development and readability. Marr Sans and Darby Serif are the two typefaces chosen for the project, across the English and Welsh faces. Only has also extended each typeface with custom digraphs, which is when two letters combine to form a single sound – in Welsh, there are eight instances where symbols combine to form single letters, like Ll.

“Welsh has, for a long time, used the same graphemes [a unit of writing referring to a single sound] as English, printed from the same presses,” says Only co-founder and CD, Matthew Tweddle. “There isn’t a tradition in Wales of using a different style of writing, as there is in other languages like Irish. But there are unique qualities to the language that we wanted to celebrate.”

But embracing heritage isn’t always simple, particularly when you start to rely on history. A studio building a Welsh brand face, for example, might look at the last moments when the language was still the most proliferated language in the country, inadvertently and incorrectly framing it as a deceased script. That’s why Only didn’t hark back to medieval examples of the Welsh language, or similar.

The wider visual language is simple and adaptable, but subtle inspiration has been taken from the idea of collective action. Only looked to “Wales’s notable history of socialist and labour movements”, without weaving implicit political bias into the work. The refreshed red and unfussy typography are both examples of this reference in action.

GalleryOnly: Cardiff University, type in partnership with Commercial Type (Copyright © Only, 2023)

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Only: Cardiff University, type in partnership with Commercial Type (Copyright © Only, 2023)

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Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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