Creating an identity for an 800-year-old church that will attract a new audience, without alienating its existing one, is a challenging task. But since launching early this year, Spy Studio‘s branding for Oxford’s University Church has had a positive response from both newcomers and loyal visitors.
University Church was founded in the 13th century, when it was used to host religious services and academic lectures by students and teachers at the University of Oxford. It still hosts Christian services and non-religious events, such as talks, poetry readings and concerts.
The building was refurbished in 2012, and associate priest Alan Ramsey, a former account director at Wolff Olins, says the church was keen to update its communications and signage after reopening.
“When I started working at University Church in September 2013, the building had just undergone a £5 million restoration, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The church looked stunning, but the communications didn’t,” he says. “The website and publicity materials were incredibly dated, the signage wasn’t working as hard as it could. And the confusing variety of names for the church (The University Church, St Mary the Virgin, St Mary’s, SMV) was something that needed to be rationalised.”
The identity is based around a slanted device, which can be used across and under images and as a placeholder, and is also featured in the church’s new word mark, in Lineto typeface, Brown. Ramsey says the device is both a reference to light (the University of Oxford’s motto is ‘The Lord is my light’) and the church’s desire to “provoke and illuminate.”
“The whole look and feel needed to have a sense of gravitas but also vibrancy that would appeal to a younger audience, especially students given our setting,” he adds. The aim from the outset was to avoid anything that would be seen as too conservative or traditional, including religious motifs, and obvious references to the building.