This year, Windmill Theatre Co underwent a complete brand transformation and the graphic designer behind the creative process was communikate et al’s Ashleigh Abbott. Windmill and Ashleigh began working together five years ago after she graduated from University of South Australia with a Visual Communication degree and a post-graduate diploma in Visual Arts.
We sat down with her earlier this month to chat about her work, her connection with Windmill, and our new branding.
You started working at communikate et al back in 2015. What is your role there and what does it involve?
I am the Lead Creative at communikate et al. As a truly integrated agency, I work together with a diverse team made up of all the moving parts of marketing, PR, digital, graphic design and stakeholder engagement. With a strong background in brand development for large corporations and boutique companies, I specialise in all areas of graphic design from corporate identity, stationery, collateral development and advertising, all the way through to packaging, signage, exhibition work, illustration as well as electronic media and website design. I’m involved in the whole process from the briefing, to concepts and development, all the way through to the delivery of the final outcome.
When did you first start working with Windmill Theatre Co and how did this working relationship come about?
My relationship with Windmill Theatre Co started at the end of 2011 when I was approached to pitch for the 2012 season creative. That was over five years ago and I’m so proud to have had an ongoing role with Windmill since then.
Did you always want to be a graphic designer?
I always wanted to do something creative and I worked out over time that being a graphic designer was perfect! I get to strike that wonderful balance between being playful and being organised by experimenting with various concepts and mediums, but then still implementing them professionally. Often I like to mix my carefree fantasies with the right amount of reality-based perspective. This all comes into play, especially when I’m working with such a creative client like Windmill Theatre Co.
What inspired you to become a graphic designer?
Passion. I was born with a creative heart, soul and mind, and so my career has emerged from a lifelong passion for art and beautiful design. I’m constantly looking at everything and seeing creative possibilities everywhere. I find inspiration in all aspects of life. Visually, I love to develop new ways of looking at things and that outcome is what inspires me each and every day.
How has your design work evolved as Windmill has evolved over the years?
I believe all graphic designers grow over time through experience and working different jobs with different people who influence you. That’s definitely the case for me. The illustrations and branding collateral created over time has been used to communicate aspects of Windmill appropriate to the season and its target audience. This opened up a range of connected, yet individual visual treatments.
When I first started designing and illustrating for Windmill, I used simple, bold shapes taken from the Windmill Theatre logo. I cut the shapes, flipped them and combined them to form abstract and minimalist characters based on the current season theme. I used bright colours on bold backgrounds to really capture the attention of Windmill’s younger audience.
As the seasons went on and Windmill expanded its audience, my illustrations and designs became more detailed and sophisticated. I began to develop illustrations and through great imagination, I formed characters for the 2013 program that evoke humorous personalities.
The theme of 2014’s season was ‘Foxy’, so I created a range of beautiful forest characters and background settings that formed the backbone for that. I found that the creatures and the settings added endearing humour and dimension to the visual theme.
In 2015 I played even more with dimension and perspective. I embraced the season theme of ‘Zoom’ and took our audience on an adventurous journey of discovery and new possibilities. That season almost ended up like a picture book!
The current Windmill branding has more of a fresh, modern and clean look to it and is much more sophisticated. I’ve used bold colours and typography that allows the beautiful photography, direct from the theatre, to really pop.
How do you capture the essence of Windmill when designing for us?
I think about using clean, contemporary, bold, playful and inventive styles paired with elements of smart, sophisticated and stylish designs. I also like to throw in an element of surprise too!
The branding you designed for Windmill is unique and reflects the bold and innovative theatre that we produce. What were your influences?
We’ve been evolving the new Windmill brand for four years with the aim to develop a structured direction. When working with Windmill, it’s always important to appeal to audiences of all ages, not just the young theatre-goers and their families, but also the older audiences. It needed to be versatile and provide longevity. Ultimately I was influenced by vivid colour, shapes and Windmill’s beautiful artistic creation.
I aimed to reflect the personality, style, vibrancy and artistic vision of the company to create an audience driven delineation throughout the brand.
When developing the logo, I used existing elements from Windmill Theatre’s established mark. It made sense to springboard from this and inject change for a new phase of life. I worked from the core circular shapes in a clean linear form whilst considering other visual dynamics that could be injected to provide a range of possibilities. I wanted it to have future opportunities; to explore texture, pattern and variation within the brand to create diversity and playfulness for years to come.
The slight angle within the mark has become part of the visual direction, particularly in relation to the accompanying typography and photography. I think the strength of the identity comes from the combination of these soft shapes and strong lines.
I chose the typeface so it could add strength and weight to the identity and impression of the company. I’ve created it so that the shapes and forms of the characters connect with the symbol. The deliberately clipped angle on the ‘T’ and the diagonal line it forms together with the ‘W’ resonate further and unifies the whole composition. This has subsequently been used throughout the branding applications and on most collateral.
Were there any challenges you faced when designing new branding for Windmill?
I find the process of developing a brand can often be a challenging exercise as it’s something that everyone is so passionate about and has an opinion on. Thankfully, Windmill were great to work with and clear in their vision. We were able to work closely throughout the process, collaborating to resolve problems and coming up with the perfect outcome.
What’s the best thing about working with Windmill?
I love working with such creative, colourful and passionate like-minded people. I’m so honored to be a part of Windmill Theatre Co in some way. The work they produce is full of creative genius, devotion and beautiful style from all aspects of the company. I’m excited to see what the next five years holds for the company as it continues to take the world by storm!
Not only did you develop the new branding for Windmill; you also design company collateral. Give us some examples of the collateral you have designed and how important it is to stay on brand?
A brand is much more than a logo; it extends through the whole of the business. From collateral, signage and advertising to the website, fit out and uniforms and all the way through to how you interact with clients or customers. Strong, consistent brands carry a huge amount of equity and when well designed, can really evoke thoughts and emotions.
When I approach a branding project, I have to consider all the possible applications. This includes colour, shapes, forms, fonts, imagery and graphic devices. Most importantly, these elements need to communicate cohesively and succinctly as a package and be easily reproduced across a wide range of corporate and marketing material.
In addition to Windmill, communikate et al have been responsible for the rebranding of Katalyse, Adelaide Farmers’ Market (Showgrounds and Gawler), developing a completely new brand for a national discount pharmacy chain and Health Shed. We’ve also run campaigns for the Barossa Trust Mark, Loreto College, Rostrevor College, Northern Adelaide Senior College, SA Water, Colonnades Shopping Centre, Siepel Health and Carers SA.
Have you got any tips for aspiring graphic designers who might be interested in the field?
Do what you love and you will be successful. The Vincent Van Gogh quote “What is done in love is well done” particularly resonates with me.