It’s exciting when there’s a lot of press activity about your work. There have been some great articles from DesignWeek and Creative Review about the new UK Parliament visual identity. The agency that we collaborated with, SomeOne, also shared a post on the development of the visual identity. We'd like to share a little more about why this project was so significant.
The new visual identity is for when the Lords and Commons are speaking with one voice, which was something that hadn't been revisited for a long time. It was in need of a full redevelopment to create consistency as our audiences and users engage with all the different UK Parliament platforms, channels and services. The visual identities of the Lords and Commons will remain the same.
Collaborating across Houses and organisations
This work is the result of sustained hard work over several months by many people.
It’s fair to say when people talk about collaboration it’s somewhat of a cliché. In this case, however, colleagues from the Commons, Lords and PDS really did come together as one team to work with the agency. This approach brought together a broad range of different skills, experiences and knowledge, combined with a fresh, independent view.
We asked the agency to review the ‘Houses of Parliament’ visual identity used in UK Parliament communications and think about how we could have more effective and consistent communications, particularly on our digital channels. It was real collaboration, across both Houses and organisations, to make our services better.
It isn't just a name or logo
When we talk about the visual identity, it isn’t just about a name or a logo. It’s about clarity and a clear direction on so many elements that people interact with every day.
Typefaces for optimal readability, consistent use of colours to help people distinguish between different types of content, iconography to help people quickly identify sections at a glance. Over a number of years, our visual identity had become diluted and a bit of a mess.
What Parliament means to people
As a team, we had various hypotheses that we needed to test with research. Research found that people conflate Parliament with the House of Commons, or the House of Lords, or with the building that the Houses both share, which is commonly called the Houses of Parliament (though its proper name is the Palace of Westminster).
A consequence of this is that it can be unclear what the term 'Parliament' is being used to refer to. And this can accentuate the problem of Parliament being London-centric.
So we commissioned the agency to help us with this as it’s an important piece of work that we hope will last a long time. It was essential to have independent, impartial expertise to guide the team.
Taking a digital-first approach
We already knew from user research that the identity wasn’t performing well online or on devices that people commonly use to engage with Parliament. As a modern Parliament, it was important for us to take a digital-first approach. One of the important elements was for the identity to be accessible on all devices.
We use the term accessibility a lot, but what does it actually mean? Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to websites, by people with disabilities and access requirements.
When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality. In its broadest meaning, it's making Parliament more open and transparent to all.
That's why the Portcullis was redrawn to be digital-first. Now it maintains its legibility better at smaller sizes and is more suited for digital use. Also, over 50 different variations of the Portcullis had evolved over the years. It's pretty useful to have just one.
Putting the font first
In terms of accessibility, it was most important to get the typeface right. We’ll write a separate blog post dedicated to this later for all you typography fans but, in short, we reviewed a number of fonts and our main considerations were its approachability, readability, and accessibility.
With this in mind, we have introduced two new typefaces – National and Register. For the website National will be our first choice. It has a number of characteristics that make it good for reading on screen and for accessibility. During the process, we referred to guidance from the British Dyslexia Association and worked with the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC).
DAC reviewed the font alongside the previous font (Helvetica) with people who have a range of access needs. They favoured the use of National and provided some feedback on some of the individual characters to improve its readability. Based on that feedback we worked with the producer of the font to make the recommended adjustments.
Using it in real life
Sometimes designing hypothetically and from a distance means that concepts can fall down in real life, so it was important that we properly tested our ideas.
We applied some co-design methods and together with the agency, members of the project team, and designers across Parliament we attended workshops where we pulled apart concepts and tested them on existing digital and print materials at every stage.
As part of the overall redesign process, we’re continually listening to feedback and testing with users to improve the experience and accessibility of the beta website. This work isn’t finished and we’ll continue to monitor and review how the new identity performs.