Case study: how to make a historic emblem relevant for a modern brand

Case studies

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When Reading Blue Coat – a long-standing client of ours – went through a process to legitimise their coat of arms, we worked alongside them to translate a heraldic design into a suite of symbols that work for a modern school.

As design fanatics, this was an exciting challenge for us to bring a historic emblem to life in a way that feels appropriate to the world we live in today.

The College of Arms

Reading Blue Coat had been using a number of versions of their coat of arms for different applications and the origins of the ‘correct’ symbol were not clear. The then Headmaster wanted to ‘get things right’ and raised an internal investigation with the school archivist to discover the origins of their symbology. This revealed that they did not actually have an official coat of arms awarded by the College of Arms (a common scenario we’re sure!).

This set the school on the fascinating journey to commission the production of a heraldic achievement, a process full of tradition, to create an official coat of arms.

From a framed artwork to a digital asset

After much form filling and hoop jumping, the newly granted heraldic achievement was delivered to us complete in its golden frame. This impressive artwork was the starting point for our work to digitise and adapt the official coat of arms for marketing purposes.

The emblem was beautifully hand drawn and full of character. It was incredibly important to us that the level of detail remained – we didn’t want the digital version to lose the effort and personality that the artist had poured into it. Over a period of several weeks we diligently traced every line and reproduced each colour until we were sure we’d done the original justice.

With a perfect digital replica complete, we took a step back to look at how it would fit into the brand identity.

This posed two key challenges:

Balancing tradition with modernity

Like any institution with a rich history dating back to the 16th century, Reading Blue Coat knew it was important to balance tradition with their modern ethos. For parents to feel connected to the school, trusting them to prepare their son or daughter for the changing world of today, they needed symbology to represent these values.

Making it work in a digital world

As marketeers will know well, logos with small, intricate details do not work well on social media and online. The beauty can often get lost and it’s hard to recognise the brand. Simplified branding is key for digital use.

The shield

Prior to this project we had been working with the school to develop their brand and convey better the school’s academic performance. There are few symbols that convey an ‘academic’ message better than a shield. This made it an easy decision to promote a modernised version of the shield section of the heraldic achievement to become the main logo for the school.

A style that is seen in a lot of modern brand logos is ‘flat design’: a minimalistic approach with reduced intricacy and no shading, texture or shadows. We used this approach to simplify and modernise the shield. It’s paired with a crisp sans serif font to create the right balance between the old and the new. There was, of course, a much geekier level of design finessing but we’ll save you from those details.

The finished symbol is clean, crisp, and perfectly aligned to the positioning of the school and great for use online.

The full heraldic achievement retains a place in the brand, on the back of booklets, stationery and around the school, but it’s used as a sturdy foundation to the brand rather than its primary symbol.

Rbc 2019 Shield Lock Up Rev2

Key take away

School marketeers need not feel burdened with the weight of historic symbology. Making it relevant for your school today can be a challenge, and there is a finely tuned balance to be found between the old and the new, but done well it can be beautiful and effective.

See more of the project