Not many prospective students get the kind of introduction to college that designer Tony Brook had at University for the Creative Arts. When the school hired Brook’s studio Spin to replace its dated green logo, they set up workshops for him on all four campuses south of London, as well as interviews with teachers, students, and administrators and tours of the grounds. “Walking around made me want to go back to art school,” Brook tells me over the phone from Spin’s London office. “It was such a strange feeling—I suddenly wanted to try my hand at pottery, make a few silkscreens.”
Brook made his way around the school, camera in hand, with the intent to photograph campus signage and the monolithic mid-century buildings, “but I ended up taking pictures of the old prints and kilns. Not until I started looking through my photos did I realize I’d been taking this atmospheric, evocative love letter to art college.” And that’s how he landed on his challenge: to communicate the inspiring feeling of being at a school with top facilities and passionate staff. “They have everything, yet there was no way their identity reflected that.”
Back at the office, Brook and a small team flicked through brochures from other art schools, parsing the best and avoiding the cautionary tales—like Brook’s alma mater Somerset College of Arts and Technology, which rebranded during his time there with a target-like logo, crosshairs and all (“Could you imagine doing that for a school?”). By contrast, he set the wonky, wavy graphics for University of the Arts Helsinki as a benchmark. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s definitely a creative institution.’”
Based on the fervent response to the UCA redesign, Spin may have even topped that. By creating a dynamic stenciled acronym for the logo (solid ground for the university’s full name in Lineto Circular), the designers reference the brutalist feel of the campus architecture while emphasizing the creativity implicit in the name. Rows of dots and dashes appear to buzz across each character, suggesting a high-tech world, whereas the stenciling itself alludes to old-fashioned craftsmanship. The monochrome lettering sits against a flash of vibrant fluorescent orange—“a real pow,” says Brook. “I like the counterbalance between the expressive, refined structure and the zingy orange. You’ve got the freedom of expression on one side, with rigor and structure on the other.”
The redesign was big news for Spin in a year bound to bring more—chief among it a new look for the typeface design studio Monotype. There’s also an identity in the works for London furniture designer Simon Pengelly. And the studio continues to self-initiate projects, with its publishing arm Unit Editions a going concern. “We do a lot of digital work, but we all love print, so doing books takes over that labor of love.” Brook name checks the tome he produced in 2012, Herb Lubalin
American Graphic Designer (1918—81), and his most recent commission, a monograph of Lance Wyman, designer of the 1968 Olympic Games logo, among his favorites.
Meanwhile, he expects the UCA identity to evolve: for animation students to toy with its movement, textiles students to fiddle with the patterns, to take the basics and run with it. “Over time, the form can change, the construction can change, the colors can change, but the key is keeping that stencilled feeling,” says Brook. “As long as they keep that sensibility, they own it. It’s a seed that’s been planted.”
I imagine that might be hard to watch. Though Brook has had a fair bit of experience seeing his logos morph, having designed some of Britain’s most recognizable brands. The stencilled “4” of the UK’s beloved Channel 4, for instance, floats across the screen dozens of times a day in a life of its own. But Brooks is sanguine about it. “The first time it happens it’s really strange, seeing your baby wandering off. You feel slightly abandoned for a while. But you get used to it. Sometimes people mess it up and we have to tidy things, but it’s mostly worked.”