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How we arrived at ‘Letting Culture Loose’

A yellow ribbon with Leeds 2023 Year of Culture in bright pink swirls around the words Letting Culture Loose

Last month represented a major milestone in our journey as we unveiled a new visual identity for LEEDS 2023. In this blog, Director of External Relations Abigail Scott Paul sets out the approach we took while Lee Davies, Creative Director at Peter + Paul, describes the thinking behind our new brand.

Abigail Scott Paul: Delivering a new brand identity is never an easy thing to do. Normally the process requires spending time really getting under the skin of an organisation and consulting with a whole bunch of people.  It can easily take the best part of a year to do, before the roll-out itself which can take even longer. 

“We wanted a brand that can help reframe the idea of ‘culture’ and a visual identity that will promote Leeds as an incredible cultural city.”
– Abigail Scott Paul, LEEDS 2023 Director of External Relations

We didn’t have the luxury of time, and lockdown prevented us from running face-to-face workshops with stakeholders. We also weren’t yet a fully formed organisation: we were spinning up during the height of the pandemic and there were only four of us! The task seemed almost impossible! 

Undeterred by the challenge, we started by trying to determine what was the most important thing to articulate through our brand.  After reading existing audience research and through a series of online workshops with Trustees, to understand our values, hopes and fears, we identified a significant challenge: for many people ‘culture’ can feel elitist or inaccessible. So, a bit of a problem for ‘A Year of Culture’!  On the other hand, we know there’s extraordinary creativity going on in communities right across the city. LEEDS 2023 is all about celebrating that and we want everyone to feel able to participate. We therefore wanted a brand that can help reframe the idea of ‘culture’ and a visual identity that will promote Leeds as an incredible cultural city.

Enter Peter + Paul. Appointed after an open tender process, we’ve worked closely with the team there to develop and deliver what we think is an exciting brand for LEEDS 2023. We could not be prouder! 

Now let’s hear from Peter + Paul...

Lee Davies: Being an agency in Sheffield, we’re massive advocates for this region and the creativity in it – the agency itself was set up fifteen years ago around a love for music and culture. Like all of our projects, we had to start this work by really getting under the skin of the subject – in this case, the city of Leeds. We knew there was likely going to be some unexpected things to find there once we got into it, and we also knew we could relook at the city from a new outsider / insider perspective . So, before putting pen to paper, we started by paying field trip style visits to the city talking to the people making cultural work happen there. We ran a number of Zoom chats with anyone we could find who could give us a new perspective and even commissioned two writers to write from the heart about how they interpreted culture in Leeds. 

“Letting Culture Loose’ is a call to arms for the city to fling its doors wide open and show the country, and maybe even the world, how Leeds does culture”
– Lee Davis, Peter + Paul Creative Director

Translating all of this research led us to a central idea – the city is a richly cultural place but some of the time that culture is hidden or not celebrated. Added to the fact that we knew people in the city viewed culture as ‘elitist’ we wanted the branding to be underpinned by an idea that  could reframe these two problems. The result was the line ‘Letting Culture Loose’, a call to arms for the city to fling its doors wide open and show the country, and maybe even the world, how Leeds does culture. 

A male and a female dancer perform as a giant yellow ribbon with the words Leeds 2023 on it swirls around them. The woman is crouching down on the floor and supporting the man, who is leaning back with his arms above his head. This image is part of the Leeds 2023 branding.

All design decisions use these words as inspiration – the flowing logotype, the use of yellow (the colour of pollen), the 3D rendered ‘trail’ representing openness but also a nod to sculpture and movement, two disciplines close to the heart of West Yorkshire. The brand’s approach to language is hugely important too – open, accessible and from the heart. We also want to design an app or filter that encourages anyone to ‘paint’ the ribbon in real space using their phone – a brand in virtual reality!

The resulting work feels, to us, like a rich and energetic visual companion to the city’s culture. Something that will hopefully be recognised as a way to view Leeds from a slightly different lens. Just like we had to do when we started. 

You’ll see Letting Culture Loose and the brand work from Peter + Paul right across our websites and digital channels. Have a look on our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – we’d love to know what you think!