Only’s rebrand for studio space network Pirate stretches Arial to its limits

Intentionally stripped back and in-your-face, the identity was designed to be easily deployed to keep up with the rapidly growing company.

11 February 2021


Pirate was started in Bristol only a few years back and now runs over 700 for-hire rehearsal and recording studios in the UK, US and Germany. Its USP is being affordable and accessible 24/7, targeted at young aspiring musicians, producers, podcasters and dancers. Growing at pace and receiving significant financial backing, the company tasked Manchester-based branding studio Only with revamping its visual identity, to better speak to its audience and shout about its mission. Through research with the company, Only’s design team identified “democratising creative space” to be at the core of its principles, so aimed for the rebrand to be more direct, accessible and utilitarian.

“The process would take Pirate back to basics, presenting an authentic brand that promised to empower people to create something real,” explains Only’s creative director Matthew Tweddle. “The first step was to lose the corporate logo. The URL would instead become the calling card.” For the wider identity, it was vital the creative assets could be produced easily, Tweddle says, “by anyone, anywhere,” so the team chose Arial as the brand’s corporate typeface, “one of the most democratic, widely available and freely licenced fonts in the world”. In the brand guidelines, Arial can be stretched to three scales, 50, 100 and 300 per cent, which Tweddle says creates a “distinctive aesthetic” and clearly defines information hierarchy.

Then, for an icon, Only looked to the ℗ symbol, which stands for phonogram and is used in sound recording as a copyright symbol – and handily, in this case, happens to also stand for Pirate. Adapted from the Arial glyph set, the icon acts as a useful digital shorthand in the branding.

Type is used in a shouty way, emblazoned in stripped-back compositions using black and white, peppered with a new suite of photography featuring its own studio users. You can see it stretched over billboards and building exteriors, signalling and celebrating the local area, and inside the studios as a can’t-miss-it wayfinding system.

Only has experience in this realm, having developed the identity for Printworks – the former printing press-turned-music venue – and Transmission Roundhouse, the online radio station for the prestigious Camden performance venue. Like Pirate, these identities showcase a deft use of a stripped-back black-and-white palette with impactful typography.

Tweddle concludes that the identity “celebrates the passion, diversity and authenticity of the Pirate community,” and that its “transparency and openness” in design has been very well received “at a time of heightened distrust of large corporations”. In turn, Pirate has launched a series of initiatives to make sure it’s delivering, by making space available to some of the most underserved creative communities in cities around the world.

GalleryOnly: Pirate identity (Copyright © Pirate, 2021)

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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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