LEEDS 2023 - BRAND Identity & Activation


In 2014 Leeds undertook a large-scale and ambitious consultation programme to ask its residents whether or not they thought the city should throw its hat in the ring for the title of European Capital of Culture 2023. The result of nine months of workshops, discussions, media debates, guest blogs and focus groups was a resounding yes, with 80% of the city in favour of a bid and the local media lobbying for the bid to go ahead the city officially agreed to bid in March 2015.

A bid of this importance would need to be carefully and thoughtfully communicated to a range of audiences all with different interests. The brand would need to unite the city rather than take its place among the scores of divisive brands that have spearheaded similar campaigns. The activation of the brand would need to speak to residents whose communities would want to benefit, to politicians nervous of spending on high profile marketing campaigns, a panel of international judges watching from afar, an artistic community with an expectation of involvement and a critical eye on the artistic programme and a business community without whose help and support the bid would not be possible.



Although the bid process is a lengthy four years in the making the timescales for communications were much tighter. The consultation process had been open and transparent and we wanted to continue this as far as possible across all communications, from the tone of voice used across social media to the choices we made about where to place advertising and how the brand developed.

Our first job was to commission a new brand for the bid that could be flexible and adaptable for a range of audiences. The brand had to be accessible but early focus groups and testing revealed a desire for something fresh and contemporary that ‘didn’t look like something Leeds would do’ and was a departure from the norm. Working with brand specialist Lee Goater and type foundry Dalton Maag, we opted for a new Leeds 2023 type face that would form the basis of the brand, be used to create the logo, and applied creatively as a headline to all marketing collateral.

Our goal was to create a brand that would become instantly recognisable to a range of stakeholders, not simply a logo that would sit in a footer and be forgotten. We wanted a brand that make people sit up and take notice. The type-led approach would allow the photography we commissioned to do the talking, alongside a key ‘hero’ word that would always be active creating energy and dynamism – for example DANCE, SHINE, MOVE, CREATE, PERFORM. We didn’t want to create a restrictive brand with a specific set of colourways that felt corporate and controlling so opted to keep the colour choices at the discretion of the user reflecting the diversity of the city and those helping to create our bid and creating the freedom to play with the brand across a range of campaigns. The brand underwent vigorous testing from focus groups from across the city including a number of groups with accessibility issues all of whom felt the brand challenged them to look again whilst still being accessible and legible.

Creating a brand alone would not do the job. We needed people to wear the brand with pride, to feel that it belonged to them and that they could use it and be part of the bid without having to sign a major sponsorship contract and hand over thousands of pounds in cash – it was important that the consultation ethos of a bid for the whole city was retained throughout.

For the release of the brand we created specific brand lock-ups for sponsors and partners who were investing financially to show their brand alongside the new Leeds 2023 identity. For organisations and individuals we issued and open invitation, if you wanted your name in the unique Leeds 2023 font you could have it, just contact us and we’ll create your own personalised nameplate. The brand release saw more than 200 requests for personalised graphics using the font which were shared across a range of social media channels reaching in excess of a million users and growing the following across all Leeds 2023 social media accounts by more than 40%. The national and local media supported the brand with coverage across Design Week, It’s Nice That, BBC, Yorkshire Evening Post, Yorkshire Post and a range of local community media.

LEEDS 2023
All Images: Lee Goater