Project walkthrough: a vibrant new identity for revitalised docklands

An in-depth look at how design agency Uniform breathed new life into Birkenhead docklands.

Uniform worked with the Peel Group to create a brand proposition and strategy to communicate the vision and the scale of the transformation of Birkenhead docklands in the north-west of England. A toolkit was required to express the brand to various and diverse audiences, and begin to build awareness in the early phases of the development.

Wirral Waters is an ambitious project by The Peel Group to redevelop the docks at Birkenhead over the course of 30 years. Forming part of the Atlantic Gateway and located on the River Mersey, the docks have been in steady decline since the late '60s. When Peel acquired the docklands, it had a bold vision to breathe new life into the area, creating a place for living, working and leisure.

Blue and green tones dominated early ideas

Peel was looking for an agency to help develop a strong brand that sold the development to investors, politicians and government, and engaged and excited residents. With audiences being so varied, there was a diverse mix of people who needed to engage with the brand and a wide cross-section of stakeholders who would act as brand guardians.

As the development is a long-term, generational project, spanning a minimum of 30 years, it was essential that the brand expressed its strong heritage and looked to the future. From our research we knew the history, spirit and diversity of the area would form an essential part of the strategy. Peel understood and valued the processes that are core to our agency's approach. We wanted the brand to be accessible and to be owned by all the stakeholders, not just Peel.

These shapes were broken into fragments, creating a subtle suggestion of the letters

With work on site imminent, Peel needed to begin communicating with local residents, business and politicians. The client required a brand toolkit that would allow it to express the brand to these various audiences and begin to build awareness in the early phases of the development.

As a multi-disciplinary studio our creative process is more fun and engaging because the teams can quickly exchange opinions and have input into the ideas and executions of the brand. For Wirral Waters, we were able to bring the brand to life coherently across print, film and digital.

The scheme is fresh and vibrant, while staying flexible enough to work with the project as it grows and develops

Senior creative Charlie Pastor walks through the project:

01. Engagement

Our research process was a mix of desk and face-to-face research, workshops, audits and interviewing stakeholders and people who will engage with the brand. We also distributed cultural probes to students at local schools and colleges to understand their hopes for where they live.

02. Ethnography

As part of our branding audit, it was important that we spent time around the site that's due to be regenerated and in the local area, observing both the place and the people that live there. The visual stimuli that we collected would later act as a catalyst for the creative process.

03. DNA book

After we had undertaken all the stages of research we distilled our findings down to a concise definition – the ingredients that make the brand. Often we convey this back as a formal presentation, but for this project we felt it was more appropriate to create a suite of books.

04. Strategy

Once the key ingredients had been defined and agreed, we began the strategic phase of the branding process. This involves the designers, copywriters, strategists and the client, through creative sessions and workshops. We defined the positioning idea, and the brand's values, personality and tone of voice.

05. Idea generation

With the strategy agreed we then started to develop creative ideas to bring the brand to life. We explored what the brand idea and brand territories might mean creatively, to develop initial concepts. This formed a mixture of sketches and moodboards for internal discussion.

06. Chosen concept

We often look to create two or three creative routes for a brand, each one focusing more heavily on one particular aspect. However, with Wirral Waters we felt so strongly about one particular idea that we presented only that route, and it was well received by the client.

07. Development

Further development of the brand was required and we wanted to push the creative idea further. One of the key areas we wanted to revisit was the structure of the logo. We felt that the rigidity of the arrangement was restricting the expression of the positioning idea – 'Life Unlimited'.

08. Typography

For the development of the wordmark, we looked at local typographical references and historical maritime references created with handwriting, heavy woodblock printing and sign-writing. We knew we would need a balanced, elegant font, taking unique, refined references from the logo.

09. Animation

We always design identities that can move. In an online world, brands can no longer afford to be static, so very early on we investigated whether the concepts could be made to come to life in a digital environment, with motion designers from the agency collaborating on the project.

Words: Tim Sharp and Charlie Pastor

Tim is creative director and Charlie is senior creative at Uniform. This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 228.