Author: Theo Demetriou

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Reading University Drum’n’Bass Society Branding

It has always been one of my main goals, to some day work in the music industry as a designer, and hopefully one day creative director. For the last couple of years at university, I have been chasing any work opportunity I can find around electronic music, and more specifically Drum & Bass. It would make sense that combining design with something I personally enjoy would be the ideal plan for my future as a designer.

After the end of last summer term, the Reading University Drum & Bass Society (RUDNB), asked me to create a brand identity for them, since they were planning to start organising and promoting their own events by the following October. Other than an old low-quality wordmark logo, set in the Blade Runner font, the society had no visual identity before that. I was given two weeks to not only produce the visual identity of the society, but also to create a social media presence for the brand, in order for them to be able to gain more members, and better promote their future events and activities.

The new RUDNB logo, created out of a combination of RUDNB in Open Sans Heavy Italics, and the insignia of University of Reading.

The brand identity that was created had to be dark, minimal and gritty. Bold and aggressive typography was used, along with dark photography and abstract 3D visuals, created from the new logo itself. RUDNB now had a new official Facebook page along with a Facebook group to promote member interaction, a new instagram account to share more casual and friendly photos of the members, and a new Soundcloud account, used by the Society’s DJ’s to promote student music production. All the visuals for the social media accounts were under a clear cohesive visual identity, that aimed to promote a new Drum & Bass society.

I was also tasked with managing all the social media accounts of the society for the first month or so, in order to help them grow and build a membership. There was new content being shared every other day, on all social media account, like Track & Mix of the Week competitions, edited photos of society member to fit the brand identity, promotion of music production, etc. etc. In addition to the social media accounts, a direct marketing campaign was set up through MailChimp, to target all the upcoming Fresher’s that would be joining the society in September.

Within a month of the creation of its social media presence and new brand identity, RUDNB’s Facebook account had went up to 200 likes, and the Facebook group had another 150 new members, with a lot of them taking part in in daily discussion and being active members in the society. Shortly after, the first RUDNB event night followed at great success, with people asking the society to buy T-Shirts with our logo and managed to sell more than 30 in less than a month.

All of RUDNB’s social media accounts have visuals under the new brand identity, employing B&W photography and bold aggressive typography that is modern and clean.

Overall, the new brand identity and activity seemed to work well for the society, and I’m quite happy with how the logo and visuals worked out. I was also happy to be given the chance to handle social media accounts and learn how to promote content on Facebook and Instagram, as I have always been interest in Marketing. Through the work with RUDNB, I managed to meet a lot of local promoters, that were giving me design work like flyers and social media banners for their events, which I was also happy to do, since I wanted to expand music design side of my portfolio.

Regrettably, after the last year of working with local D&B promoters and labels, I’m not sure if there’s much to be gained in terms of learning and becoming a better designer. There are a lot of problems that I did not anticipate when working within a niche, local, underground scene as a designer. Most of the promoters seem to be set in outdated ideas about how they should be promoting within the industry. Every single client I have worked with in the past year, has been micromanaging and requesting a lot of absurd obscure ideas that result in terrible design.

With a quick look to the Ivaderz or Playaz music label website, one can see how most of the D&B industry seems to be stuck in its old ways. Terrible vector art created from tracing photos, or loud obnoxious designs with 10 different fonts and all the colours they can possibly fit in, all within a 150 x 210 mm flyer. This outdated practice in design seems to have been plaguing the industry for many years now, and the local promoters are not about to change that any time soon.

This mentality seems to be linked with the industry fighting back against change of the old-school, a way to keep things the same, and a way for the local promoters to compete with the bigger international names in the scene that are growing bigger and bigger with the rise in popularity of D&B as a genre. They see to be using and embracing outdated practices both in their requested designs, but also in how they promote events.

The set of posters and promotional material for the first RUDNB event of the year. The poster was printed in A3 and shared at the society outing prior to the event, along with A5 flyers. The layout was also adaptable to be shared digitally, across different social media.

This is not to say that the whole of the industry is stuck in its ways though. There are several D&B labels that are pushing the boundaries of electronic music design, or at least D&B. Labels like Critical Records have been pushing for a composed high quality visual identity, that doesn’t go overboard with their designs, and seem to be catching up, if not on par, with other genres of electronic music that were always known for boundary-pushing design. When asked about the visual identity of Critical Records in an interview with Fabric, Kasra, the owner of Critical Record’s mentions how since the inception of the label, he’s been fighting against the cliches of the design in the music industry.

“When I started the label I knew that I wanted to combine my love of drum & bass and the culture that surrounds it with some of my punk/American underground guitar music design ethics and my penchant for more minimalistic designs facets. I’ve never really been a fan of the sci fi influenced d&b cliché to be brutally honest, you can be forward thinking without thinking futuristic or using futuristic imagery.”

But then again, he is the owner of one of currently biggest and most well known D&B record label, both in the UK and Internationally. So the problem is not really in the industry itself, but rather the smaller local promoters and music producers being stuck in the old ways of doing things, and being unwilling to catch up with an industry that is moving forward without them. What all this means for a young designer who was hoping to be part of this industry, is that sadly, unless you manage to land a job in one of the bigger names in the scene, there’s little to nothing to gain from a designer’s perspective in experience or learning, which I’m sure holds true for any small and niche industries, and not only D&B.

Some of the edited photography for RUDNB. Each DJ of the society had a promotion photo edited and used as social media profile picture for the month, to promote the launch of the new society branding. Photos were also used for the promotional mixes and music production of the DJ’s themselves.

In the past year, I have enjoyed doing some fun and creative branding work for the RUDNB society, which helped me land several other small jobs throughout the year. But after my experience with the industry, I will more than likely be changing my plans to pursue a career in the music industry as a designer, unless I can land a position as an in-house designer for one of the bigger names. Nevertheless, it has been great producing design work that was out in the public and seen, and to some extent, appreciated, by people that have an interest in the same music as me.

Looking back at  the work and interactions I had with those promoters, I have learned a great deal about what I should be willing to accept as a freelance designer when working with such clients. At the start of the year, when I was first being contacted by these promoters to produce design work, I obliged at every request for small changes and revisions that they wanted, resulting in me working extra hours that I did not originally agree to, due to be excited to start working with people of the industry I was looking to join. In the future, when receiving similar freelance work, I will be more careful when first communicating with the client and in setting the ground-rules for how and what work will be produced.

Overall, I am happy to have produced the RUDNB brand identity as I was part of the society myself, but I am also happy to have worked with those promoters while at university. It would have been much worse if I didn’t have this year’s experience and ended up landing a position with a similar music promotion company, resulting in me having a job that I wouldn’t have enjoyed. After graduation, ideally,  I will be seeking to earn a position at a branding agency, since it is one aspect of design that I’m most interested in. Maybe that will change as well in a year’s time, after I get to actually experience working there.

Lisbeth Poster Competition for TypeTogether Foundry

During the summer term of 2017, TypeTogether organised a poster competition for the Part 2 students of our department in order to showcase their new typeface. Lisbeth was designed by Louisa Fröhlich, a Typeface Design MA graduate from University of Reading, who started working on the typeface as part of the MA. When describing her typeface in a conversation with TypeTogether, she recalls:

“I always liked the idea of a stroke which has a subtle three-dimensional feel to it and which has the ability to somehow move more freely. Not to create a swashy diva, but rather to put this vividness and energy inside practical and efficient letter proportions.”

After seeing the typeface myself when the competition was first announced, it’s this subtle three dimensional feel of the typeface that inspired me and motivated me to take part in the competition and try experimenting with the letterforms to create a typographical poster using Lisbeth. The brief was simple: To create a 70cm x 44cm portrait poster as a digital output in order to showcase and promote the release of Lisbeth, while only using 3 spot colours. The primary audience of the poster would be graphic designers and the secondary would be other type users.

I was excited at the idea of the competition right away, since the brief gives us a lot of freedom on what we can produce and allows for a lot of experimenting with the typeface. As a first step, I looked into the TypeTogether foundry to research other similar posters that were created to promote and showcase other typefaces, eg. the Bree Typeface poster. The common features of all the posters I had found were their simplicity and focus on the letterforms, making sure that the typeface itself is the main element of the poster, with no other competing graphics on the posters.

Next, I looked into reading about the typeface, through the profile page of Lisbeth on TypeTogether, and the interview between the foundry and the designer when the typeface was being released. The unique features of Lisbeth come from its subtle three-dimensionality, its twisted letterforms, and the fact that it was an italic-only typeface.

When I first started working on the concepts of the poster, I focused on the geometry that can be created when rotating the typeface and creating a pattern out of it. While it was fitting of the brief and did a nice work in promoting the unique selling points of the typeface, I found the results to be bland and unimaginative when compared to other typeface promotional posters, in the sense that it didn’t characterise all those features that Lisbeth was described earlier. So I decided to focus on the three-dimensional feature of the typeface and try to create a graphic out of blown up characters using the display font of the type family.

I could not, nor did I wanted to, change any of the shapes of the letters in order to create a 3D graphic, so I had to find another way of really showcasing its three dimensionality. I started to experiment by using the letterforms as clipping masks in Illustrator, and fill them up with different shapes and lines, without corrupting its design, but due to the complicated and twisted characters, it was very hard to add any other elements within the type. On a second try, I started working with the idea to create a blend of a character from the typeface, in order to truly highlight its twisted shapes.

On the technical side, I had to edit the lines and anchor points of a letter, (in this case ‘M’), find all the parallel sides in the character, and try to create a blend for each part, without changing any of its shape. In order to do so, I connected 8 different parallel lines using the blend feature of Illustrator each time, and then manually had to connect each anchor point of each line, in each blend (there were about 16 inner lines for each blend), since not all the anchor points lined up exactly with each other. There are also no parallel lines on the sharp caps of the typeface, so the blend had to be made from a single anchor point, which ended up requiring a lot of editing after the blend, in order to keep the shape of the cap the same with the original letterform.

It took quite a lot of time till I had managed to create the effect out of 2 letters, “L” & “M”, chosen for no other particular reason, other than “L” was one of the easiest characters to create the effect from when trying it out, and “M” being one of the characters with the most parallel features, which really helped highlight the twisted lines of Lisbeth when blown up using this effect.

After creating the blend of “M”, I started experimenting with the positioning of the character, taking up most of the poster. It was really easy to create an aesthetically good result due to the changing twisting lines that when viewed on a screen, can seem like they are moving when viewed in smaller sizes and higher quality. After deciding on the position of the character, I added a secondary copy of it in a parallel line below it, while also making it bigger, with thinner strokes. This allowed me to create a more subtly shown blend, on top of the main one, that helped bring out the three dimensionality of the typeface.

In order to bring out the lighter lines of pink and white against the blue background, I created a grain effect behind the lines, to increase the contrast between the colours. The pink colour created a feminine character for the typeface, but was also overpowering the dark blue background and being very clear and stout, even though the lines of the blend were only at 2pts. After deciding on the rough position of the blended characters and the colours of the poster, I started adding the main text of the poster. I created a tagline using a quote from the book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as I found the characteristics of Lisbeth very similar to the protagonist of the book.

“Lisbeth. Oh, can I call you Lisbeth? I want you to help me catch a killer of women.”

The main tagline was left aligned and was positioned between the interacting arches between the two “M”, in order to make sure that the text was legible and was not hidden away behind the blended characters. Based on the grid that I created for the poster structure, I aligned the TypeTogether logo along with the various weights and styles of the typeface at the bottom of the poster.

Overall, I am quite happy with the end result, even though when I look at it now, I can see a lot of improvements that could have been made. What I really enjoyed during the competition, was not the end result, but rather the process of creating the poster and experimenting with techniques that I wouldn’t usually get to use. The Lisbeth brief for me personally, was one of the most fun and enjoyable projects I took on during my second year and left me wanting to do more similar work in the future. Although, I do understand that such briefs come rarely, I’m hoping to take more similar work in the future. Not promoting typefaces particularly, but rather design work that allows me to use my own personal style and gives me space to try new things.

While winning the competition was a reward in itself, I was more excited about seeing my work first on the TypeTogether blog, and then days later, shared by Louisa Fröhlich herself on her personal social media account. As I haven’t produced much work outside of university so far, it was rewarding seeing my design living outside of the bubble of the university and in the real world. Only thing I can hope for is more Lisbeth poster competitions in the years after graduating.