Personal best: Howard Wakefield
After a disastrous result in the Danish general election, the political party Det Radikale Venstre (Social-Liberal Party) called on Studio Parris Wakefield to turn its fortunes around with a brand overhaul.
“Through my work with the Danish soft furnishing company Kvadrat, where I designed their new logotype and implemented their entire communications programme, I developed a strong working relationship with their marketing manager Henrik Kjerrumgaard. Constantly on the phone, we would discuss concepts and strategy late into the night. Working with Kvadrat, which is in quite a niche area of design, but an important one nonetheless, we were designing for designers and architects, considered by many to be the most critical of audiences. Rather than spoon feeding them with literal interpretations, we visualised the theoretical inspiration behind Kvadrat’s products.
“But, then Henrik left the company in search of a new challenge. We had succeeded in transforming Kvadrat from a much loved Danish company from the 1960s to a global company that belonged in the 21st century. Henrik had moved on and was press officer for a political party, Radikale. About 6 months after he took the position at Radikale, Henrik called me to say they were really in trouble. The recent general election had left them reeling with just 3.6% of the vote and they had lost a great number of seats. Henrik asked me if I could help.
“Not only did Henrik have the belief that we could solve the party’s problems, but being English we didn’t have any preconceived ideas about the party to cloud our judgement.
“Due to Radikale’s grass roots policy no one in the party was obliged to use the previous identity, including the logo. So only 5% of the party was using it and, as a consequence, they looked disorganised and disjointed. It lost them a great deal of seats in the last election. We were asked to help reinvigorate them internally, generate support for the new revised policies and look at their identity to achieve consistent communications.
“My opinion on what had been done before? It was dull and boring and I wasn’t surprised no one liked it – let alone the voting public. A dull palette of purples and browns mixed with Times New Roman and Perpetua fonts and a logo that was so open spaced it had to appear tiny to fit on anything. This, coupled with it being only 2 years old, meant it had to go. There was no heritage about it, nothing to like and I hoped everything could be changed.
“We were given all the previous communications materials to look and a brief history about the party and the brief itself was really quite simple. They asked: ‘help us communicate our policies in the most effective way – we must look like a political party, but nothing like anything that has gone before.’ It had to reflect their modern forward thinking values.
“Henrik wanted some quick changes and suggested that we have an intensive week of design, but he wanted to sit with us and see it happen live here in the studio. Our whole design process was now going to be looked at by the client, but this was countered with instant answers to our questions and it turned out to be a very productive week.
“In the beginning, Henrik ask us to look at campaign posters within the existing identity. At this point we didn’t know for sure that a total redesign was necessary. But very quickly we found that none of the previous identity worked and as I suggested new elements, like trying a new typeface, it made a huge difference. This compounded the effect on the existing elements to make them look even worse. So, now we had a working typeface. Next question: do you have any new photos? Yes! – another huge difference. Now that logo really does look wrong, can we change it? A quick phone call to the party leader….yes!
“In a matter of days we had a new logo, new colour palette, new photographs. Basically, a new system, which was given over to the party members to get some feedback. Initial feedback was good, but after a while there was a growing sense that Helvetica was a bit too cold and we searched for a replacement. We found Praxis which had good clarity for maximum legibility, and its rounded corners gave their messages approachability. We tried the logo in Praxis but it wasn’t as strong as the Helvetica bold, so we merged the two to make a hybrid of Praxis and Helvetica.
“All Danish parties are designated with a letter which alphabetically lists them on ballot papers. Most parties incorporate their letter with their logo, but Radikale had decided not to use theirs. There was some debate about whether it was needed to be part of the logo, but I argued that it would act constant reminder of the party’s ballot paper position and it was re-instated.
“The two main parties in Denmark are coloured red and blue, and as Radikale sits in between the two we thought we could combine the two opposing colours. Ink produces purple, however on the light spectrum red and blue make magenta. For us, we see light as a good analogy for thought, so it seemed appropriate as they are seen as an intellectual, forward thinking party. As we started to implement the system we found that maybe there was going to be too much magenta, so we assigned different colours to areas of policy. The challenge was to have not only a lot of colours but they all had to have high legibility.
“When we visited the party HQ in Copenhagen, we were welcomed with open arms. Everyone loved what we had done and rather than 5% using the identity we found that 86% of the entire party across the country was using it. As such, the fund raising leaflet we designed was actively being used. Prior to implementation they raised 1000 Danish Krone (£118) per month, now they raise 130000 Danish Krone (£15,370) per month. In the polls, Radikale were at 3.6% in August 2009 and by August this year they are at 7.1% – almost double.
“An important factor to this project was about being able to positively answer vociferous demands. Had we considered legibility? Yes. Had we have consulted the Royal National Institute for the Blind? Yes. Had we considered the colour blind? Yes. Having these answers enabled us to get as many of the party on-side as possible and to have those vociferous voices on side is far better than not.
“Radikale sit in the centre of Danish politics and our own views are fairly central too, but I can imagine if a party and their design studio are at opposing sides then they just wouldn’t be the right candidate for the job and probably wouldn’t be selected anyway. Had they been extreme then I doubt we would have even been considered and equally we would not have worked with a client who we don’t believe in. Our studios design philosophy is one of honesty in our designs – we don’t make our clients look like something they are not and it is important for us to work with clients who we can connect with and believe in.
“Even though I have worked on some amazing projects, this was the first major identity to come out of my own studio, Studio Parris Wakefield. Having worked with Peter Saville for a number of years I was curious to know what he thought. Not being shy to voice an honest opinion, I was delighted when he described it as ‘exceptional’.”
Updated 16.09.11: “Denmark had an election yesterday and Radikale have doubled their share of the votes and the number of MPs. They are now the 4th largest party in Denmark and have entered into a coalition with the Social Democrats. Together they are forming the new government. Our campaign was chosen as the best by voters too.”
Info: Creative Director, Howard Wakefield, began working as a graphic designer with Peter Saville at Pentagram Design during the early 90s. He founded Saville Parris Wakefield alongside Saville and Sarah Parris in 2002, which was renamed Studio Parris Wakefield in 2009 when Saville left to concentrate on his own projects.
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