First taught in 1976 for new Christians attending Holy Trinity Brompton church in central London, the Alpha Course — U.S. website here — is a 10-week program where participants meet for a meal, a talk, and discussion that explore the basics of the Christian faith. Alpha Courses can be held anywhere; in churches, schools, prisons, and so far has been adopted in 169 countries, run in 112 languages, with a cumulative 22.5 million people taking the course. Recently, Alpha introduced a new global identity designed by an independent group of London designers — a few of them Wolff Olins colleagues — that included Robyn Butler, Campbell Butler, Rosie Isbell, Fleur Isbell and Ije Nwokorie.
Brands are normally afraid of questions because it makes them look unsure of their position. For Alpha it was perfect because they want people to openly explore questions of the Christian faith. Our aim was to design a brand that would work in 160 countries, across new digital platforms and low-tech environments. The new brand is designed to be useful, adaptable, interactive and easily replicated with a logo that can be customised by anyone and a layout system that is easy to implement.
The logo is a red question mark on an angle. The dot remains consistent, but the user can change the head of the question mark to any typeface they like. A different question mark each time. It’s simple in form so that it can be easily built, applied and animated by anyone. Alpha were then brave enough to let people go out and make there own logos and applications, which has been wonderfully successful.
The previous logo, although imaginatively communicating how weighty questions about faith can be, wasn’t anything but an amateurish-looking logo that made the course look like a single, church-basement group attended by a local dozen people, not the global juggernaut it is. The new logo — perhaps losing the charm of the wispy-haired, long-sleeved gentleman — links Alpha with a universal, non-gender-specific symbol that is simple, striking, and adaptable. With the name in the dot of the question mark, the logo forces itself to be used big so that the name can be read and in turn increasing the impact of the logo. The flexibility is both good and bad: good because it empowers the many organizers to choose (and inevitably make) their own, and bad because not all question marks are created equal and some start to lose impact and rhythm with the big dot.
In application, there is a great energy with the packed typography and multiple questions crowding the question mark. I particularly like that the Alpha in the dot can be rotated, it gives even more flexibility to the system. Overall, it’s a definite improvement and the identity has replaced the more preachy-looking serif communications it had and gained some youthful, text-message-y dynamism.