What designers can learn from Heraldry
People say you shouldn’t have boundaries in creativity but I disagree. If there are no boundaries there is nothing to focus on and things become ‘wishy-washy’, generic and ineffective. This is why a concise brief is crucial for effective design – if we don’t have one, it’s our job to create one, in partnership with the client.
Designers should approach constraints in a brief as both a challenge and an opportunity: it is always a challenge to answer every aspect of the brief in a unique way without going off track; but there’s always an opportunity to educate the client and use your knowledge and expertise to stretch the brief a little – or a lot!
“It is always a challenge to answer every aspect of the brief in a unique way without going off track; but there’s always an opportunity to educate the client and use your knowledge and expertise to stretch the brief a little – or a lot!”
Creative Director and Founder, Silverback®
An unusual set of constraints
We found ourselves faced with a very unusual set of constraints, and unearthed some great opportunities, when we were approached by The Fishmongers’ Company, established in London in 1272. They initially asked us to design a new website, but our conversations led to us reimagining their brand as a whole – creating detailed brand guidelines, brand architecture, signage, event collateral, print collateral, filming, photography, animation and branded items.
So it was a great opportunity, but this venerable institution also presented us with a whole new set of challenges.
Getting to know the Company
As we got to know the Company we learned that over the centuries it has acquired many layers of rules, traditions and conventions. With these come many stakeholders from different generations and departments, who needed to be consulted and satisfied before the work was approved. You can imagine how much pressure this put on our timeline, so a great project manager was crucial to keep both us and the client on track.
And that was before we came up against the rules and conventions of heraldry! One of the oldest graphic design traditions in the world, it’s full of arcane rules and conventions governing the different designs and colours used, and the relationships between them.
The Full Achievement, generally known as the Coat of Arms, needs Royal approval before it can be used!
Finding a helping hand
At this point we held our hands up and sought professional heraldic advice. Luckily enough my old Uni mate Quentin Peacock sprang to mind. A 90’s-skateboarding-illustrator-extraordinaire-turned-heraldic-guru, Quentin was delighted to advise us and illustrate the full achievement.
Quentin educated us a great deal about heraldry. He explained that the anatomy of the Full Achievement is made up of multiple parts: Crest, Mantling, Helmet, Coat of Arms, Supporters, Compartment and Motto. Each piece of the Full Achievement is unique to the company and is essential for the Royal seal of approval.
“It has always been my aim to demonstrate how beautiful heraldry can be created digitally and even to look as if it has been hand painted. Digital heraldry will never (and neither should it) replace hand-created heraldic art, but we are in a digital age and the need for professional digital heraldry is growing. It is my intention to make sure that it is done well and even to serve as an inspiration to other artists. All of my work is achieved through vector-based graphics which are a versatile and professional method of creating the highest quality files for printing and for use on screen.”
Honouring tradition while modernising the brand
The Fishmongers’ Company’s full achievement is more interesting than most as it comes from a merging of two companies: the Saltfishmongers and Stockfishmongers way back in 1512. The keys and the three stacked heraldic dolphins are from the Saltfishmongers cost of arms and the crossed fish from the Stockfishmongers.
The detailed Full Achievement had been the Company’s visual identity for centuries, and it could not be tampered with unduly. But being so detailed, it was awkward from a design point of view. We obviously wanted to maintain the tradition that makes the Company special, but we also wanted to create a simpler look and feel for the brand, that would work well in a contemporary setting.
We had lots of conversations discussing the logo with the Company. They had originally envisaged the Full Achievement as an icon with the wording alongside to create the logo. However, we knew that this would not work due to the detail involved, especially when used with different media, and the smaller it was used the more illegible it would become.
Bold and future-proof
To get around this we visualised this in different situations and also showed how a more simple logo would work, whilst using the Full Achievement as more of an accreditation. They accepted our advice and the logo was added to the brief. We also created a version of the Full Achievement for a couple of situations where appropriate, for example the brass engraving at the entrance of the hall on London Bridge.
The logo design involved various routes to simplifying the Full Achievement, both by deconstructing the element and redrawing with a simplistic, stylised approach. By using the three fish from the centre of the shield as a standalone icon, we maintained the link with the past, while creating an elegant logo that is unmistakably the Fishmongers’ Company. The three fish icon is very bold and future–proof. It has since lent itself beautifully to lots of other applications, including animations, signage, mouldings, and wearables including cufflinks, pin badges and tiepins.
This went down really well with the client, so we built on it with the next iteration. For example we highlighted the Company’s Charitable Trust status within the brand architecture, which has really helped the company make the public more aware of what they do.
An enjoyable and effective process
This project is a perfect example of how working collaboratively with the client is such a valuable part of the design process, for both defining clear direction from the brief and also the success of the end result.
A crucial part of the design process is the relationship with the client. With The Fishmongers’ Company we created a very strong relationship from the outset. We were in contact during the pitch process and built on the relationship through the project. This kind of relationship creates more of a partnership where you work together, making it easier to solve problems at a less hierarchical level. And it makes design a much more enjoyable and effective process, and of course helps ensure further projects to follow, with a brand that you know so well.
“I am extremely proud of what the team has accomplished. Initially we set out to launch a new website but with Silverback’s guidance we quickly realised there was an opportunity to do far more. It was very important throughout the project not to ignore over 700 years of history; to maintain the heritage and tradition of the Company whilst making it relevant for today. The branding piece has exceeded our expectations and we are all excited about the the future for The Fishmongers’ Company and our charitable causes. Thank you Silverback”
The Fishmongers’ Company
Over to you
Have you ever had to work within a very unusual set of creative constraints?
How did you rise to the challenge?
What creative opportunities did you discover?