Only is a strategy and design consultancy based in Leeds. We recently spoke to their Founder and Creative Director Matthew Tweddle.
Why did you decide to found your own studio in 2014?
Dan and I setup Only with a shared belief in the transformative power of design and an ambition to establish the best design studio in the North.
Dan was working at a large strategic consultancy in London, handing over presentations to clients and finding the lack of opportunity to feed into the end product frustrating. Whilst I was working as Head of Design at a digitally focussed agency, and increasingly seeking to input earlier on in the brand and strategic process.
We saw an opportunity to combine two very complimentary sets of skills in a way that would enable us both to produce our best work.
What are the benefits to having a small team?
We believe the best work happens when a small team of experts come together to work towards a common goal.
Having a small team enables us to maintain a strong working culture and for every member of the team to play an important part in the process. On each project, we ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. When we don’t have the skills in-house, we’re able to partner with experts from around the world to create experiences across a range of touchpoints to the highest standard possible.
Do you plan on keeping it small?
We’re currently five people and are in the process of appointing two more. We are also moving into a bigger office in April that will enable us to accommodate a few more in the next year or two.
We are excited by the prospect of growth and convinced of the need for diversity within the studio. But we are keen to stay relatively small to maintain the quality of everything that we do.
“We chose to evolve the wordmark from Helvetica to Graphik by Commercial Type, which is better suited to digital applications.”
Can you explain the typographic choices for the University of Suffolk identity?
The University was recently granted degree-awarding powers and official University title. It was keen to signal this change to the local community and define a brand aesthetic that would appeal to top-tier staff and students. But the University were also mindful of the history of the organisation, the views of current students and alumni – and the well documented problems some universities have had when attempting to rebrand.
We started the project by conducting research, speaking to staff, students and local businesses. These insights informed our brand and creative strategy, which focussed on creating a modern evolution of the previous identity.
The old identity had all been set in Helvetica. We chose to evolve the wordmark from Helvetica to Graphik by Commercial Type, which is better suited to digital applications and works well in long form copy and in headlines.
To offer greater flexibility within the brand system and cater for the many faces of the University, Graphik is supported by the display face Sharp Sans 1, which offers a plethora of weights for communicating in a wide range of tones. The diagonally sheared terminals are sympathetic to the wider graphic identity and offer distinct personality.
There must have been a hundred different ways to execute the forward-facing angle in the icon. Why was the chosen one the way to go?
The University’s core proposition related to the idea of a university custom built for an ever-changing world. A forward-facing 45 degree angle was chosen to position ‘change’ at the very heart of the brand identity.
As a new university, it would have been disingenuous to attempt a coat of arms or shield. But we knew we had to visualise something that was unique to Suffolk.
All previous iterations of the University’s logo featured a square form and felt it important to retain that in the new marque. Research with prospective students revealed how few knew where Suffolk actually was. The position of the 45-degree angle within the square serves to reference Suffolk’s geographical location in the South East of England.
How do you see the Helbers identity evolving when sitting alongside future collections?
The Helbers identity was created to represent a menswear brand that places timelessness at the heart of its value system. Permanence of style and a design process driven by utility and end use are themes central to a menswear brand that celebrates the concept of forever fashion.
As such, core aspects of the identity will remain consistent, serving to underline the individual expression of the brand that comes through each collection.
“A series of angles were derived by drawing lines between the points of the star of the EU flag.”
Can you explain the concept behind the flexible geometric system used throughout the Design for Europe identity?
The Design for Europe project was created by the European Commission to underline the value of design to business and organisations across the continent. As with all programmes of its kind, it was important to allow for brand ownership by cities and nation states whilst serving to underline what businesses and governments departments across Europe all have in common.
We devised a graphic system that would encourage individual expression, within a framework of continuity. A series of angles were derived by drawing lines between the points of the star of the EU flag. Two triangular shapes drawn from the angles are placed on top of each other to form a unique morphed star graphic, symbolic of European unity.
Each star graphic can contain textures and images unique to the host city and event. The resulting aesthetic is inherently European, connected and design-led.
“The press itself was rarely switched off and we wanted to capture that speed and constant movement by placing it at the heart of the identity.”
What inspired the visual aesthetic of the Printworks identity?
The Printworks was once the largest printing facility in the whole of Europe. The press halls still contain many of the original features, including some of the old printing presses and several soundproof rooms that line the cavernous main spaces.
We were struck by the enormity and industrial scale of the techniques used in newspaper printing. We looked at newspaper design and the attention grabbing headlines deployed prominently and confidently across front pages. The press itself was rarely switched off and we wanted to capture that speed and constant movement by placing it at the heart of the identity.
Can you talk about the creation process of the Only site, and what you feel you needed to communicate with it?
Our approach to design takes inspiration from real people and has its goal in the clarification of purpose and meaning. For the design of our site we wanted to communicate the two sides of our business, in strategy and design – and underline our commitment to research and understanding as part of the design process.
Beyond that, we wanted to place the work front and centre with no fancy layouts or imposing design choices. All UI and UX decisions were retained when they were seen to enhance the experience of viewing the work. We’re strong believers in only taking on the kind of work that you would like more of. The examples in our portfolio are adverts to potential clients working in similar areas.
With nearly all of your projects involving a large portion of digital work, how does it impact the way you create?
We’re very interested in the intersection between branding and digital. Increasingly digital is where brands exist and engage the most, and where the traditional model of branding is no longer fit for purpose.
Considering digital opportunities during the branding process can lead to interesting results. For example, the Printworks identity we released recently. The brand lives and breathes on screen, with movement and interaction central to the brand identity.
What’s next for Only?
After nearly three years in Leeds, we’ve recently taken the difficult decision to move the business to Manchester. We recently signed for a new space in the Northern Quarter, and are looking forward to joining the many great design businesses operating out of that area.
We’re currently working on a major new European music festival due to launch in 2018. And have just started working with an incredible software company to support them through a major relaunch.