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RCA2020 Visual Identity: Representing People and Practice

Designing the visual identity for the Royal College of Art’s annual summer graduate exhibition has in the past been reserved for alumni. This year, for the first time, RCA students from across the College were invited to pitch for the project. Sean Steed, George Dutton and Philip Jay Veech won the commission. The team, students of the MA Visual Communication programme, pitched a design concept aimed at creating an identity representative of the diversity of people and practices at the RCA.

‘In preliminary interviews we found that students didn’t seem to care about the identity design. They didn’t have a connection to the way in which they were being represented and, in many cases, couldn’t even remember what the design from previous years had looked like’, says Philip. 

When asked by the team what the design of the identity should do, one student said it should be able to mix up various disciplines in order to start conversations between Schools and Programmes.  

Toolkit for RCA2020 identity design
Toolkit for RCA2020 identity design
The team took this to heart and designed a set of stencils that students across disciplines and Schools could use to design the glyphs ‘2’ and ‘0’ to form ‘2020’. Using these stencils in design workshops, students dreamt up hundreds of variations of ‘2’s and ‘0’s. The outcomes of these workshops formed the basis of the visual identity. 

Workshops were informed by eight rules:  
RCA2020 identity workshop
RCA2020 identity workshop

  1. Draw a two or a zero
  2. Stay on the page (draw vertically)
  3. Draw outlines (no fill)
  4. Aim for expression, not perfection
  5. Draw a minimum of four shapes
  6. Overlaps are allowed
  7. Use both sides of the stencil
  8. Use and combine various stencils

‘For the January Work in Progress (WIP) Show, we wanted to reflect the spirit of what “work in progress” means. We designed banners, vinyl display windows and other marketing collateral using preliminary experiments we did with students from across the College’s three campuses. We also used outlines, as opposed to filling in the numbers, as a nod to the unfinished nature of the show and students’ work on display. This acted as a test and soft release for the final summer show’, explains Sean. 

WIP Exhibition signage, RCA2020
WIP Exhibition signage, RCA2020

‘Our intention was to run many more workshops after the WIP show to enable more extensive cross-College engagement. However, the pandemic made this impossible. We needed to rethink the concept for a digital environment. That said, our desire to create a visually diverse identity representative of the student body remained at the core of the project elaborates George.

The team’s focus shifted from a collaborative workshop-led design process to a pragmatic approach under the constraints of COVID-19. They now faced an entirely different question: How to design not only a representative visual identity but also a platform to accommodate the work of the entire 2020 RCA cohort? 

For the online platform, the team extrapolated from designs that emerged from student workshops, run in February and March. They incorporated elements from different student designs in order to create a typographic language. The final identity reads ‘2020’, with each number taking on a different design, representing each of the College’s four Schools. The team noted that, in designing the user interface of the platform, they wanted to ‘ensure that the students’ work is the main focus of the platform by making sure the site design is complementary to the work, not overbearing.’

‘Although RCA2020 is no longer a physical show they explain ‘we believe it can be seen as an attempt to adapt and respond rapidly to unprecedented circumstances.’

Discover RCA2020, 16–31 July 2020

About the Author

Ricky's academic background in both humanities and design gives her a unique creative edge. It enables her to specialise in research-based projects that use the power of visuals to solve problems, change behaviour, democratise information and communicate big ideas. She has a special interest in health care, social justice and design that makes a difference. Ricky now splits her time between Johannesburg and London working as a freelance designer, researcher and consultant using design orientated solutions to solve 'real-world' problems.