Selecting a new typeface for EMBL: Fira

[This blog post was penned by the entire team that took part in the first Corporate Design sprint]

We have been using Helvetica Neue as EMBL’s official typeface for some time now. We wanted to test whether this is the best and most sustainable choice for the organisation moving forward. There are few fonts as iconic as the Helvetica family, but it also comes with baggage:
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Mapping brand structure to support communication

During EMBL’s 43 years it has grown in size, scope and geography. Today EMBL has six sites, many activity areas and focuses on five related but distinct missions.

There is a very strong unifying concept at the core of EMBL. However, during those years of growth a solid conceptual view of how websites, brochures and newsletter relate to each other has not yet been forged and adapted holistically.

Today, products vary in look, format and feel — some of that is for very practical reasons and some reasons are largely attributable to entropy.
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Our Design Principles

The design sprint that started a couple of weeks ago began with the team describing their visions, their ideas, and thoughts of what a new EMBL corporate design could look and feel like. Central to describing and understanding why something looks the way it does are our design principles.

Many organisations have design principles to guide their work. They are often described as ‘the star to sail your ship by’; a set of common beliefs and guidelines for a project, product, organisation, or initiative. Some of my favourites are documented here.

Here is our first draft of a set of principles that came out of the last two weeks working together. This is just the start. As per principle #2, we’re showing this as early as we can so we can get feedback and iterate.
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Name it for what it does

A lesson re-learned in naming GitHub repos 

As part of the Corporate Design sprint, we had need to set up a GitHub team and repositories to home and share work on the EMBL Design Language and Design Lab (more on what those are in a future post).

As an abstract task, it’s easy. Except what to name the team? What to name the repositories?

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CD-Sprint 1: getting excited about the brand

Our framework for the first week is to focus on the brand map as well as the brand strategy and related initial design principles. We started with a brainstorming session, so called “the first burst”. That implies answering questions like “what do we need”, “what are the blockers”, “what does success look like” and “what are our design principles”, including capturing “governance” and “risks”.
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CD1: on EMBL’s brand

The word “brand” has become a common word in our daily language, but it is used in different contexts with different meanings. The word has its origin in ranching, when branding marks were seared into an animal’s skin to identify its owner. Television and print advertising saw the word being used more broadly and branding has now come to denote all the features that can distinguish an organisation or product as distinct from its rivals.

There are different types of brands, and the type that EMBL chooses to be will affect almost all levels of its communications.
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Why design matters

In the 20th Century the Modernists believed that good design was about usefulness, how well an object performed its function. For others, good design is more subjective, it’s about style and taste. I see it a little differently: I define design as the deliberate creation of value for an organisation. Good design fosters more dynamic and purposeful cultures within an organisation, stimulating higher visibility and delivering tangible bottom-line results.
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