Griffin Theatre Company is a new writing theatre in Sydney, Australia — that is, it focuses on producing newly written, original plays. A risky venture in a world where producers can put the Wizard of Oz on stage Monday and order their yacht on Tuesday. Approaching thirty years in business and looking to refurbish their facilities, the Company decided to rebrand, generate new interest in their brand and loosen the purse strings of donors in these troubled economic times. Turning thirty can be stressful, gone are your twenties, those promise filled days of limitless potential. Being 2009, it means all the 30-year-old brands for the next decade were designed in the 1980s, that terrible decade where good taste hid under a rock, cowering in fear.
This new identity doesn’t cower in fear at all. In fact,Interbrand’s Sydney office has challenged Griffin to visually strut their stuff, just as their challenging productions do inside the theatre. From Interbrand’s case study:
As you wait for the opening lines in the pitch black of the theatre, you always know to expect the unexpected. And as each new story starts, you slip outside of your comfort zone. You stand on the edge of the cliff and hurl yourself into the deep end. Anticipation meets exhilaration, fear gives way to abandonment. Your senses adjust to an unknown world, and you enter an unfamiliar stage… The brand responds to these emotional highs and lows through the metaphor of “the deep end,” and with an identity that allows Griffin to express its own creativity and personality through words.
The way design companies write case studies could fill an entire opinion piece of its own, so let’s stay focused on the design.
The solution is wordplay, an approach that aligns perfectly with Griffin’s focus on new writing. Lines of large, monospaced sans serif typography create a dramatic, dare I say epic, backdrop, much like a set in the theatre. By arranging horizontal type and turning “on” one letter per row, you spell out a word vertically. As we say in Australia, noice (nice).
It’s an old trick yet appropriate and noicely executed. However I wonder if at any stage the question was asked, “Why not a cute little Griffin?” Obvious yes, but at times the typographic tricks of the identity system confuse or distract. Will the mark reproduce as well in small scale as a McDonalds’ Arches or Nike’s Swoosh? Definitely not, but one imagines the amount of material this brand produces to be of a much more manageable scale than a corporate behemoth. Also, from looking at the mark alone, it has an odd touch of the 80s’ architectural practice to it, one imagines the venue is a rigorous rectilinear affair, rather than a historic stable at the bottom of the unfortunately named alley, Nimrod Street.
When considered in context of a small arts organization, with an even smaller budget for promoting itself, this concern becomes fairly substantial. Clearly the designers have opted for the “design an identity system, not a mark” philosophy. Overall, it does the job. The result has the necessary level of sophistication this sort of client deserves. Whilst it may not hit the lofty mark of the office’s previous work for AWARD it’s left this author in "anticipation, exhilaration, fear and abandonment" for Interbrand Sydney’s third act.