Following on from our chat yesterday about the early years of the collaboration between Alphabet and Belvoir, today we’ll be looking at the past three years, over which time a complete redesign and repositioning of the theatre company took place.
What’s particularly interesting about this period is that it demonstrates just how far a healthy design collaboration can go. When both parties are willing to push the work in a bold new direction, the results can be extremely positive for both the business and the studio. The difficulties involved with encouraging clients to take risks and push past established ideas are not uncommon to most designers – but the 2011 Belvoir revamp is the perfect case study to demonstrate not only how it can it be done, but that that it can have a transformative effect.
The 2011 rebrand sees a remarkable shift in tone and style from your earlier work with Belvoir. What inspired the change in direction? Can you talk me through what was happening both at Belvoir and Alphabet at the time?
Tim: This was very much inspired by the change of artistic director to Ralph Myers for the 2011 season. That and the sense that it was time anyway for a shift in the look for Belvoir. Ralph was interested in a new simplicity. Starting with the name itself: Company B Belvoir became just Belvoir.
Paul: Wherever possible, anything that could be reduced to something simpler, it was, whether it was the use of language, typography, photography, and so on. Attempts to imagine the style of production for the purpose of the photoshot were done away with. Dark images were replaced with a lighter, fresher approach to photography. Yet, somehow, with all of that change, we didn’t want to alienate the already loyal Company B Belvoir patrons. The new look had to retain something of the old, without looking anything like it!
Did the audience change?
It probably hasn’t changed as much as its simply grown. So, most of the long-term subscribers are still very enthusiastic about the company and the new direction, but the company has also had success in drawing a younger audience to the theatre.
Can you talk me through the concept and process behind the redesign?
The basic idea came out of a discussion we had with Ralph shortly after he’d been appointed as artistic director. He was talking about how theatre relies on the audience to be an equal creative participant in the storytelling process, as much as the actors and creatives who are presenting the story. The audience needs to believe that a chair could be a horse, for example, in order to empathise with the story. Unlike in the cinema, where the special effects and big budget do all the work for the viewer, all they need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
So, we held on to this ‘chair is a horse’ idea and let it inform much of what we explored in photographic approach and so on, then at some point we realised that this simple notion could be represented in a very basic graphic style and be the new logo.
What was the response to the new identity from the Belvoir audience? Were you able to attract new theatregoers?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Both from within company and from the audience. The horse has even been nicknamed Troy. The broader identity seems to have resonated with the existing, very loyal Belvoir patrons, whilst appealing to new audiences.
In addition to a refocus on photography and more minimalist typography, colour has played an important role in Belvoir designs since the rebrand. How important is colour choice to creating a tone? I’m particularly interested in the soft pastel colours used for the 2012 campaign, in conjunction with the somewhat wistful photography.
The original reference point for the broad multicoloured palette in 2011 was the London and Paris underground maps. At the time it seemed to give the design some sense of playfulness and also to express something about the diversity of the season and worked as a good counterpoint to the stricter approach to typography. For the 2012 season we developed a concept that evolved the diverse palette from 2011 into softer background tones in the photographs.
The challenge every year is to come up with a very concise set of images, yet to ensure that each of the 14 productions is also seen as unique. In 2011 and 2012, colour really helped to achieve this. In 2013 we obviously did away with that altogether and used different visual tools to achieve the same aim.
What about the typography itself? What inspired your choices throughout the last few years?
Simplicity again. Also something about the basic functionality of fonts for subway and road signage seemed to work. So Helvetica seemed a logical choice. Versatile enough to be bold for 2011, elegant for 2012, and supportive for 2013.
The evolving styles behind Belvoir could also be seen as the evolving voice of Alphabet. How has the studio changed over that time, both structurally and in terms of your interests and process?
At the time we repitched for the Belvoir work for the 2011 season, we really did see it as a chance to redefine and confirm our studio style. We had each worked separately on Bell Shakespeare and Company B Belvoir up until that point. The rebrand presented a great opportunity to combine all we had learnt from working over many years with both of those clients. The new Belvoir identity was somehow informed by all of that experience, yet stood as something completely fresh and different from anything we’d done previously. It was a challenge to rethink familiar territory while adhering to established and important associations with Belvoir and what it stands for. Our studio has also grown and we have been fortunate enough to collaborate with some really talented people, among them, Kevin Tran, Pim van Nunen, Lara Juriansz and Ashleigh Steel. We have a good time at Alphabet and we care a lot about the product. Belvoir is about great story telling and Alphabet employ that approach to much of the work we do. To listen to a clients need to communicate it in an engaging or challenging way is the best part of the job. The retelling of stories utilising graphic and visual language is enormously satisfying and core to our approach. We call ourselves Alphabet because the initial visual expression of that story often begins with the setting down of the graphic symbol of a letter, the first intriguing words, and it all grows from there.