Alphabet Studio – Tim Kliendienst and Paul Clark
A rebranding of Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre to coincide with the launch, in September 2010, of their 2011 season. Art direction of the full campaign: season book, street posters, postcard series, venue signage, subscriber cards, bookmarks, etc.
Paul Clark - Designer Tim Kliendienst - Designer Pim van Nunen – Designer
Paula Scher: The identity is witty and consistent. The posters are charming. Mark Randall: The quirkiness of the logo really works and is very memorable. All of the elements of the identity are cohesive, fresh and fun. It is simple but allows for lots of variation. Bonnie Siegler: This came very close to winning. It communicates the very nature of the theater. The suspension of disbelief is the nature of pretend. And it is an elegant cohesive identity which allows for much “play” (ha!) and let’s the content be the star. Arem Duplessis: I was convinced when I saw the horse prop that actually becomes the icon. Really smart, innovative design at play here. It is complex, but simple. I love it. Steven Heller: Simplicity is sometimes its own reward. The mark is so, well, goofy – yet totally sophisticated. It reads perfectly as a horse, but also as a chair and a boot. The typography could have a little more nuance, but the concept of the campaign is delightful.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
The biggest problem to solve was to rework a brand that we had built ourselves. The client had a strong commitment to a brand that was unique to them, potent and highly recognisable amongst the Sydney theatre community for the past 10 years. When theatre and film director, Neil Armfield, stepped down from his long and acclaimed position of Artistic Director, Alphabet Studio were invited to pitch against other agencies to continue the contract and to reinvent, refresh and re-articulate the theatre under the realm of a new director. The challenge was to maintain integrity to the product we had worked on for 10 years whilst crafting a look reflective of the direction and vision of the newly appointed Artistic Director. It was exciting in that it really forced us to pull apart existing methodologies and visual process ingrained in the existing and very successful brand. A huge and difficult undertaking - it required an objective and critical analysis of our own work. We had to start from scratch.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
Our point of view was that the essence of the theatre remain in tact - the visual representation of it had to be packaged differently, however it was our job to remain true to the core product. The main challenge for us was to prove directly to the client as well as the wider arts community that we as the incumbent agency were very capable of evaluating, addressing and creating a progressive, innovative design solution while maintaining our signature style and approach to both concept and design.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
There were two key considerations - One was to clearly reflect and articulate the vision of the new Artistic Director. The change of guard was heavily publicised and the success of the new “Belvoir” was under enormous scrutiny, especially given how revered Armfield is in the wider Arts community in Australia. We worked closely with the younger, much less experience Ralph Myers to ensure this was approached competently, confidently and honestly.
The second was the existing patrons. The brand loyalty of patrons is significant and defines and reiterates Belvoir Theatre. We did not want to alienate a steadfast audience. It was imperative to reference the essence of the product and what it means to its patrons. But to also surprise them with a look that was somehow both new and familiar at the same time.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
The process underwent 2 approaches. One was to integrate existing brand tools into an evolution of sorts - a shift into the new with remnants of the old. The second was to refit the entire visual approach. Both were based on the same key brand values and brief objectives. Our knowledge of the product is from an inside out position - We know the culture, the process, and the limitations because we predominately design for the Arts in Sydney. Our client base ranges from Bangarra (Indigenous Dance Theatre) to Musica Viva -(International chamber musicians touring nationally.) Limited budgets and resources are typical of the Arts category in this country. Utilising innovative and lateral process to inform strategy involves close collaboration with both the theatres creative team (directors, actors, writers, set and costume designers) and the marketing team.
A range of creative approaches were presented and discussed as work in progress - options developed and discarded along the way.
The process was 4 weeks of intensive concept and design development. The latter of the options was deemed the most appropriate - Refitting the visual brand with a nod to the well embedded essence of the theatre was explored more comprehensively, ultimately leading to 2 proposed design solutions. Many companies invest in expensive and extensive strategic audits to help them define their values and visions. Its our experience that the information is all there and the key players know it intrinsically but perhaps struggle articulating it. Over a coffee with Myers (the new Artistic Director), he explained how companies like Belvoir need to be resourceful and innovative... a frugal approach to all things. He went on to explain that it is totally unfeasible to feature a live horse on stage - instead theatre relies on the potence of imagination to suspend disbelief and except that that something as plain as a chair is in fact a horse. This statement, for us, concisely defined the wonderful thing that is theatre. We used this statement as the core defining point for all creative developed for our design proposal.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
The social value of our design is to cultivate the significance of interpretation and intrigue. To promote the desire to find out more. An emotional engagement that reflects both complex and base human expression... perhaps this sounds a little grandiose, but as you sit in the theatre and engage with the offerings of story tellers, actors, directors, composers, set designers – you are immediately provoked to consider, question, debate, rethink and assess - whether it be political, social, carnal, racial, religious - the platform is provided and is enormously important and relevant to peoples of all types. This is inherent to culture and education. As designers we have the task to represent and package these offerings - through design we communicate and invite the involvement and interaction of people. Our design endeavours to intrigue and evoke curiosity. The campaign materials we design for the theatre are in a sense the beginning of the theatre’s storytelling experience by giving just a hint of what may unfold when you come to see the production.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
At the time - it was a stressful undertaking as it was reinventing something familiar and personal. In hindsight we may have been a little less precious and a bit braver earlier on in the process to let go of existing process and methodologies - There was a lot of internal objective critical assessment to be done before we felt confidant to completely start fresh whilst remaining loyal to past tried and true design solutions. Ironically, it was this process that made for a stronger outcome... a challenging time that brought with it unprecedented reward and satisfaction.