Author: Siu Yen Lo

Brand refresh for the British American Security Information Council


The British American Security Information Council (BASIC) is an independent think-tank and charity that truly believes that nuclear disarmament is possible. Their work is aimed at developing international dialogue to help states reduce dependency on the ‘doctrine of nuclear deterrence’. This dependency adversely causes nuclear proliferation and hinders nuclear disarmament. BASIC helps to encourage conversation and mutual understanding across different nations and does this by being ‘non-partisan’ and ‘non-judgmental’.

I began involvement with this project at a unique stage of their brand refresh. I was informed that BASIC had already engaged a firm, AesopStu.dio, to revamp and relaunch their website. This firm had formulated a colour palette to be used for all the touchpoints of the brand. A consistent photographic and imagery style was also established, and this can be seen on the new website, currently live. This ‘Brand Book’ would be consulted by BASIC for future branding purposes.

The BASIC website

BASIC was seeking to refine and refocus their messaging and core mission to be able to attract more funding opportunities. A refined visual style encompassing typographic sensitivity and use of colour and imagery will help to communicate BASIC’s message and mission more clearly to potential stakeholders.

  Restating the brief

The Brand Book from was at an early stage of development when it was shown to me in early 2018. After discussions during Real Job and supervisor meetings, it was decided that while I am unable to decide the overall graphic style of the eventual branding and identity BASIC would adopt, I have the knowledge to be able to contribute in the areas of the branding and identity where typographic styling is concerned. Essentially, I would help BASIC create a house style of sorts for any brand application that included written language.

In restating the brief, I split the project into three main phases:

    • ‘prep’ phase – for quick completion of small deliverables,
    • phase 1 – for deliverables with high priority,
    • phase 2 – for deliverables with low priority.

This structure allowed both myself and the client to be more flexible in deciding as the project moves along what deliverables could be completed first. BASIC did not map out a clear list of items they required nor did they have a clear timeline to place these items against, and this structure allowed us to work together and evolve the work to be done in future meetings. My supervisor Gerry suggested the inclusion of the prep phase to start with so that I could work to formulate designs for and deliver minor variables crucial to the day-to-day operations of BASIC, like a letterhead, business cards and a donation form.

  Design process

What was very clear from the start was that BASIC wanted me to design business cards for them to use for upcoming conferences and events where the cards would help facilitate networking. A natural companion to the business cards was the letterhead that BASIC would use for both internal and external circulation. Before I could begin work on the business cards and letterhead, we had to confirm typeface choices and the logo. 

Original logo
updated logo with the BASIC wordmark in Roboto Sans, small caps

The existing logo for BASIC was functional and appropriate. The use of red communicated the urgency of nuclear disarmament, and commanded attention. BASIC chose to retain red as their brand colour. The ‘BASIC’ word mark in the existing logo seemed to be in Akzidenz Grotesk, set in uppercase and with poor spacing. I suggested that we change the typeface to one that was free to use and available from Google Fonts. This would facilitate typographic consistency throughout all of BASIC’s internally and externally circulated materials as the office was working with the Google Docs suite of applications, and incorporating a typeface from Google Fonts into existing documents was seamless. In addition to this new sans serif, I chose a serif typeface to pair with the sans serif typeface. After discussion, we chose Capitolium 2 and Roboto Sans. The new logo was created with ‘BASIC’ set in small caps in the Roboto Sans typeface, and the word mark is now centred in the bounding red square to make up the new logo.

early iterations of the business card with explorations in composition


the final business card design


the back of the business card was kept simple and understated

After a few iterations, we finalised the design of the letterhead and business cards. Because the team’s work was integrated in the Google Docs suite, I created graphics for the top and bottom margins of the letterhead, and placed them into a Google Doc for the team to use freely as a letterhead template. This meant that they did not have to bulk-print stationery to use, and also facilitated consistency with digital communication. Early iterations of the business cards showed more varied use of colour, but the final design we arrived at was much simpler and clean in feel, helped by the 2-colour palette of red and grey.

the letterhead template usable in Google Docs

Beyond these early deliverables, I worked on some postcards for BASIC. These postcards were to be used at events and conferences where BASIC would share the research and work they are doing. The work up to this point constitutes the prep phase. 

postcard designs and the reverse (bottom right)

BASIC asked for a donation form to be designed for them to use at events to explore potential funding opportunities and receive donations from people signing up to become ‘Friends of BASIC’. Most of the work I did for BASIC after the prep phase was centred around the creation and fine-tuning of this donation form to a usable standard. I sought to create a form that was user-friendly. This meant the reduction of rules and lines where they would add visual clutter. I made use of a light tint of grey as the background to make fields in the form easier to distinguish. I employed a baseline grid to segment fields into groups of fields to make it clearer to the user of this form the information they needed to provide. I suppressed the division between fields belonging to the same subgroup of information, and this allowed the form to be less visually cluttered.

an early version of the form
the form in progress
a final version of the form, where I have provided for a white border to allow for BASIC to print these in their office ad hoc

  Learning points

One issue with working with BASIC was that because the exact scope of the job was not decided on from the point we agreed on the restated brief, the scope changed as the job progressed. This suited the client well, and the client was also appreciative of the fact that I had other work to focus on and was happy to work around my schedule as we progressed. I was comfortable with this, but this resulted in a few deliverables ending up not being worked on. As we reached the end of 2018, it was decided that we would conclude this phase of the project with the above deliverables, with a leaflet being the only deliverable to be worked on after. This leaflet is still being worked on now.

Lapses in communication on my part resulted in the work of this leaflet being dragged on longer than it should have. This helped me realise that even though I am comfortable as a designer with a loose timeline, this might not suit the way different types of clients operate. In the long run, it is also detrimental to the designer, as you have no clear idea of exactly when a job will be concluded. A definite timeline will be crucial to my day-to-day operations if I should take on freelance work in the future.

BASIC was pleased with my decisions surrounding the typographic style of their brand refresh, and the work I did to refresh their logo has gone down well with the whole team. BASIC was also grateful that I was available to make numerous small changes to wording and positioning of elements in the form. This would not have been possible if we stuck to a strict timeline and delivery method. We both recognise that communication through email became patchy in the summer of 2018, which led to the work on the leaflet being dragged on. I should have managed this better on my end.

I enjoyed the opportunity to have meetings with BASIC in their office at Whitehall in London before they moved to Oval. The first meeting with them in early 2018 gave me a better understanding of the organisation, and helped in my formulation of designs for them. This taught me the value of meeting clients face-to-face, and I learnt a lot from being able to go for these meetings. BASIC was a unique client to work with, and I am grateful that I was given this opportunity to contribute in some small way to BASIC’s tireless work in making this world a little bit safer for everyone.

Wedding Playbill


I decided to take on this project despite the quick turnaround because the subject matter was something I particularly was interested in. My client was Cathy Haill, who approached the department with a brief to design and produce a printed keepsake for her daughter’s wedding. The client works at the V&A and has knowledge of 19th century printed paraphernalia, and wanted me to create a playbill for her daughter’s wedding happening in Chianti, Tuscany. The playbill would be a pastiche of 19th century theatre playbills, and content (supplied by the client) would list the entire guest list of the wedding.

Restating the brief

Because of the nature of the project my supervisor, Rob, and I agreed that we would begin the design work as we formulate and confirm the restated brief. This project was straightforward, with a single deliverable, and the client knew what she wanted. These conditions were appropriate for me to begin research on 19th century commercial types and begin drafting the playbill’s design ahead of finalising the restated brief. I maintained constant communication with the client and provided drafts of the design for her to check and make changes to. Another element that made it challenging to formulate a restated brief was that the client was working to finalise the guest list as we worked on the design.

Design process

The design process began with some research on theatre playbills and the type designs popular during the time they were produced. Having the technical knowledge from Rob was also key in shaping the final design. Rob helped me make adjustments to the typographic treatment of different elements on the playbill so that they would be sympathetic to the way these playbills were produced in the 19th century. While we were fully aware that this playbill would reflect the present technology it was created with, we felt it was still important that it honoured typographic tradition it was inspired by and based on.

An early iteration of the playbill had type in too many sizes. Letterpress printers then would not have the same display face in many sizes, and my playbill design had to reflect this constraint. Furthermore, the early design had too much variation in the types of rules used. The spaced ellipses separating content on the same line was also unusual for the time. Both these elements were pared back in the final design. Rob also suggested I adjust the kerning settings to make the spacing between letters look ‘wrong’. This would reflect the way letterpress printing created slightly more irregular spacing between letters as they would not have been kerned the same way they are in desktop publishing softwares.

an early iteration of the playbill

When the design was more or less finalised, I suggested to the client to consider having the playbill letterpress printed. In order to achieve this, I explained to the client that we would have to order the plate for printing from Lyme Bay Press early to allow a few days for delivery and for me to produce the playbills in the print workshop. This change in production method spurred the client and myself to work towards agreeing on the final design and make all content changes necessary quite in advance.

the letterpress printing block ordered from Lyme Bay Press; etched photopolymer plate delivered with backing to raise it to type height ready for use

The final design of the playbill was letterpress printed from a single block specially made by Lyme Bay Press for this project. The photopolymer etched plate we ordered was delivered to us at type height, ready too print with, and was able to capture the tones of the small image at the top of the playbill. A few tries and adjustments with ink application and quantities was needed to create a print that was richly black but still showing slight imperfections unique to the letterpress process. 

Learning points

Through working closely with the client on this project, I was able to appreciate the level of detail and motivation the client was working with. Cathy was very enthusiastic and complementary in her communications with me, but was still very firm and clear in her instructions and wishes. In a way, working to such a tight deadline and so closely with the client really pushed me to want so much more out of this project than I initially expected. By throwing myself fully into this project, I became fully invested in achieving the best possible outcome I felt was realistic for the timeline, and I did not want to let down the client in any way.

I was given the freedom to invest all my attention into the design from when I was assigned this job instead of finalising the restated brief before beginning work. I understand that not all jobs should be approached this way, but both Rob and I felt it was appropriate to move on with the design work early on.

My largest takeaways from this project were the knowledge I’ve gained from supervisory advice and feedback from Rob regarding 19th century commercial printing types, and the close working relationship I had with the client that drove the design process and made the project enjoyable.