Last month, I made a trip to the Library to delve into the archives of the University. Together with colleagues in Imaging, Design and Printing Services (IDPS), the plan was to get a crash course on brand design.
The head archivist, Lizzie, had sourced boxes full of printed materials for us, ranging from prospectuses to annual reports, promotional posters and pamphlets.
As designers we were first drawn towards the prospectuses. Published annually, it provides a fascinating insight into the prominent design trends in the year of publication. Our 90s 'rave' period is probably one to forget.
As is often the case, our most interesting discovery came from a rather unexpected source.
Development Plan Report Number 1
In 1965 an unassuming document outlining plans for the new University in Bath was published. With a brown and cream two-tone cover and type set entirely in Helvetica (known at this time as Neue Haas Grotesk) Development Plan Report Number 1 wears its 1960s origins proudly on its sleeve.
The report itself is a beautifully typeset outline of the plans for the proposed University of Bath. It’s stuffed full of abstract, organic diagrams and line drawings that are almost cellular in their approach. Throughout the report living, studying and social spaces are referred to as organic entities, flexing and changing to suit the needs of their occupants.
Origins of the logo
The first real surprise adorned the back cover - A large black and white photograph of the Sulis head found in the local Roman baths.
The creative decision to position this particular image here has had long-lasting ramifications for our design direction. The Sulis head has been inextricably linked with the University from its conception.
Which is why it was such a delight to discover a small hand-rendered version of the icon on the inside front leaf. This subtle design element cements the relationship between the nascent University and the Sulis head icon.
The first diagram of the university
Having discovered the impact the report had made on the University's brand identity we dug deeper, looking for yet more insight. In the first section - Aims and Principles - we found 'The first diagram of the university' (the actual title of the image).
This incredible diagram illustrates a number key design tenets repeated throughout the report - namely a campus that grows outwards from a central hub (the spine/nucleus), close integration of residential, academic and social spaces and restrained (but not constrained) campus structure.
The beauty of this diagram is how well it effectively communicates relationships between traditionally disparate spaces. The campus is visually described in anatomical terms - It feels like a living entity, exactly as intended.
Development Plan Report Number 1 eveals that the University of Bath was conceived from the very beginning as something new, something different, an institution to challenge.
The plan discusses possible residential and social patterns at length. Two of these patterns are based on the structure of existing academic insitutions - A traditional 'Redbrick' college and the 'Oxbridge' model. A third proposed pattern is considered new and unique to Bath.
In the Redbrick pattern there is little relationship between the academic activities of the departments and the social activities of the students. These elements remain isolated from each other.
With Oxbridge the pattern consists of a loose ‘community’ of independent colleges and scattered teaching departments. Colleges lose some of their academic significance to the departments and students live either within the college or in separate lodgings.
In the Bath pattern both study and socialising are closely linked in a concentrated urban setting. The university is conceived as a single varied community. There is no attempt made to separate or isolate the different facets of student life.
A parade of limited length
At the core of the proposed new campus is the parade. Designed to flex and grow as requirements change, the parade is never more than (about) 2000ft long - roughly 8 minutes walk from end-to-end at a leisurely pace.
Once again the thinking behind this concept it outlined in a series of beautiful abstracted images. Lacking in actual detail these illustrations still manage to convey a sense of movement and space between the edifices that make up the central area of the campus.
That the last illustration (the selected option) is still recognisable as the parade today is incredible.
A view of the future
It was clear from just the short time we had to spend with the Design Plan Report Number 1 that things hadn’t changed as much as we might have originally thought. The founding principles of the University still hold true today including the Sulis head representing the University at a core level.
The beautifully executed line drawings summon up an image of a sophisticated, unified campus blending all aspects of student life into a seamless experience.
We came away inspired, motivated and with renewed optimism that the University brand was not far off alignment.