Rebranding a campaign

I joined the Labour Campaign for Mental Health team in October 2017, and quickly became invested in designing a new brand that would improve our recognition and reflect the professionalism of our campaign.

The Labour Campaign for Mental Health — time for a rebrand.

After joining the Labour Campaign for Mental Health I spoke to our Director, Joseph Croft, about my desire to help with the campaign’s graphic design. I work in Marketing, and I care passionately about mental health, so designing a brand for a mental health campaign is essentially my dream gig. I was delighted when Joseph said, “go for it”.

Relative to other Labour campaigns (of which there are many), LCMH has a large profile. However, I didn’t feel the quality of our branding matched the quality of our work.

Like many of those other campaigns, we had all the hallmarks of a Labour society — Neo Sans (from the Miliband era), the Labour Rose, “that” red (#D50000, for anyone who cares). Since we were founded there have been two leadership elections, two general elections, and multiple, subsequent updates to the Labour brand. For this reason, it was time for an update.

Sense-checks are invaluable

Most rebranding strategies follow a simple, three step sense-check:

  1. Do you really need to rebrand? Why are you doing this?
  2. How do other brands in your sector represent themselves?
  3. What stays, and what goes, from your current brand?

These tests ensure you aren’t committing yourself to a rebrand that will ultimately achieve very little. This is a check often taken with the bank balance in mind, but as I was completing this work for free it was more to ensure my time wasn’t being wasted.

Applying these three tests — it wouldn’t be a Labour campaign without some solid “tests” to assess everything against — I came up with the following.

Do you really need to rebrand? In short, yes. Aside from being behind the graphic design curve of the Labour Party, we were doing ourselves a disservice with our low-quality graphics. A rebrand would help to reflect the professionalism of the campaign to the wider mental health sector. Some feel branding a campaign is a bit like commercialising a cause, but ultimately the point of good branding is to be recognisable and trusted, and the same can be said for campaigns. It was important our brand stood out, so that people would trust our campaign to get on with our work and see we were serious about it.

How do other brands in your sector represent themselves? There is no single, identifiable aspect of a mental health campaign; the obvious feature of some icons is the head, but quite often campaigns will simply focus on their name without much icon-play; think Mind, CALM, Beat. In that way, it’s easy to be unique, but difficult to be identifiable as part of a wider campaign for mental health. In short, we weren’t tethered to a specific iconography simply because of our campaign’s sector.

Heads Together’s logo is simple and incredibly effective.

What stays, and what goes? Our previous design was made up of three components — the Labour rose, the title of our campaign, and the colour red. For me, the rose represented wasted space; so long as the word “Labour” was on the logo, it was obvious who our campaign was linked to and simply removed the ability to add in any other identifiable icon. The title was obviously key and the red was a nice-to-have.

Building the brand

My first goal when designing is always to be as radical as I can be. I may pull it back and be more restrained in later revisions, but I want to see what the edge of possibility is before I finalise my designs.

I thought about making an icon — a feature of many modern brands in an era when social media dictates your brand must fit in a small circle at the top of your profile. I thought about that Labour rose, and I thought about ways of representing mental health in iconography. And I came up with this:

It’s a brain. On a stick.

It’s the Labour rose! As a brain! In modern, vector line format! I know, it’s genius. But perhaps a shade too far.

As an icon, it worked, it was certainly unique, and a nod to the famous rose that has adorned so many campaigns throughout the years. It received positive feedback from my initial test group (yes, my friends) and, when coupled with Labour’s most recent graphic design phase (Lota Grotesque, softer reds and secondary pastel greens and blues), it did look quite professional.

Modern, clean, bold. But not quite there.

So I’d satisfied my initial concept boundaries as set out in my tests, but I still wasn’t happy. I gave myself a “reset” period — just like with those drunk texts you know you’ll regret, save it to “drafts” and revisit when you’re feeling up to it. You may feel differently in the morning.

Side note — I think reset periods are crucial. In the modern world we don’t often get a chance to breathe and re-evaluate our work after some time away from it, but it helps to focus the mind so if you can do it, you should.

A few weeks after my initial concept, I looked back at it and felt very differently. What had looked sleek and profession just months before now looked cheap and childish. I’m my own harshest critic so I can often unfairly criticise my own work, but I knew I could do better.

In that time I’d also been to see an exhibition called Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? at the Wellcome Gallery. The highlight for me was reading about the birth of Swiss Style design, something that even today influences functional design, from signage on the New York subway to packaging of the medicine we buy. It was from this exhibition that I realise there was a key part missing from my original concept — timelessness.

Swiss Style is so prevalent in graphic design because it focuses on three core principles: cleanliness, readability, and objectivity. My original design satisfied the first two but was not agnostic of Labour’s current design so did not satisfy the third principle. My own issues with our previous logo were that they looked out of date, and my own new design would therefore not pass my own test in three years’ time.

I revisited my design, and switched from Lota Grotesque to Helvetica, a hallmark of Swiss Style. I came up with concepts that played on the head and brain theme, but with softer, traditional Swiss colours and clean typography. The two designs shown below follow the more industrial theme of solid, block lines. The left is the head and the right is a brain.

Possibly more interesting as album covers than campaign logos.

I enjoyed making these designs but the solid, block lines came across as harsh, not a good look for a mental health campaign.

For the final revision I wanted to change this, and include the campaign acronym, LCMH, so that the logo would be easily identifiable even when displayed on a mobile device.

I drew on a simplistic side view of the head, positioning the typography above eye-level, focusing the eye on the title of the campaign while stylistically emphasising the head.

The final design.

This design suits the social media circle requirement, is easily replicable and brings together two characteristics of our previous logo — the name and red (this time #DE312C).

It also looks good in a number of colours, opening up possibilities regarding our future branding applications.

And it looks great when you mock it up on a wall.

It was also easy to replicate the style across an array of concepts — here’s a mockup of a ticket to an event we’d be hosting in Parliament:

Clean, readable, objective.

The final test I try to apply to my work is this — would I be happy with it as a poster on my wall? I’ve made vintage political posters before, and was particularly proud of the fact that every poster I made passed this test.

For the local elections, I made a series of vintage posters. This is my favourite.

Does the new brand for LCMH pass this same test?

I think so.

Overall, I’m very happy with the new brand, very happy that it passes my own tests and have enjoyed the positive response it has received from my colleagues in the campaign.

Ultimately, the Labour Campaign for Mental Health is currently known for its incredible work, but the aim of this new brand will be to ensure the campaign is more recognisable and comes across as professional and as trusted as the volunteers who run it.

Software developer. Graphic Designer.