EMBL sub-brands – EMBL Communications

EMBL Communications

Informing, inspiring, and engaging society with EMBL’s research, services and training

EMBL sub-brands

We are beginning to look at the thorny issue of EMBL’s sub-brands. Do we need them, and if so, how should we accommodate them in our design system?

A sub-brand is an entity in the brand map that refers to the umbrella brand but carries its own name and strategic positioning. It is distinct and has its own brand assets and standards.

EMBL’s most developed sub-brand is EMBL-EBI, but we have many others such as ELLS, the Science and Society programme, EMBLEM, and a plethora of (somewhat) connected or associated brands such as EMBL Australia, EMBO, Elixir. We also have a lot of disassociated brands, notably in EMBL-EBI’s online services such as Ensembl.

In this post I give you a peek into how we are approaching the issue of sub-brands. Let’s look at the case of the EMBL-EBI sub-brand.

Where we are now

EMBL-EBI is a well established sub-brand in EMBL’s current Brand Map (exercise). How much colleagues at EMBL-EBI identify with the European Bioinformatics Institute (rather than with the parent brand EMBL) becomes obvious when you ask them for which organisation they work. The most common answer is, “I work at EBI”. I take this to be an identification with the place – the EMBL site within the Wellcome Genome Campus – but also with the field of bioinformatics. Given that this field has expanded so rapidly in the past years, this sub-brand has naturally grown.

Further to this, I have also observed that colleagues who are based on the Cambridge site commonly think of “EMBL” as referring to “EMBL Heidelberg”. EMBL people are not using a common language. This is a problem for the organisation.

Should we reinforce the sub-brand or focus on establishing one unified EMBL brand?

As most answers in design, the response is: it is not about what we would like to have, but about what best serves the organisation’s needs in alignment with its strategic positioning.

We also need to find out how well established EMBL-EBI is as a distinct brand and how our target audiences feel about it. Being in people’s minds and vernacular is a big value which always has to be put in relation to efforts and motivations in changing the brand map. We definitely want to strengthen EMBL’s brand by strengthening all brands and sub-brands and not strengthening one unified brand by undermining sub-brands. All these topics and questions will be explored in our next corporate design sprint 2 (cd-sprint2) which starts this week.

Look back to learn and create the future:
the history of EMBL-EBI, naming and logo

I wanted to find out why EMBL-EBI has a different name and to understand its past trajectory as a brand. EMBL has 6 sites, but EMBL-EBI is the only one to have its own name. Why is this? Organisational history is about stories and perspectives, and is highly subjective, so I needed to gather stories.

One story I uncovered was that during the FP5 funding round, the then EU Commissioner for Research, Philippe Busquin, wanted to exclude intergovernmental organisations from applying for framework funding. The new outstation at that time therefore had to try and raise as much funding as it could from other sources. To do so, it rebranded itself as the European Bioinformatics Institute – a new and exciting entity that had a clear focus on an area where partners from industry could see the value for alignment and support.

The first EMBL EBI logo, created by Graham Cameron.
A subsequent version of the EMBL-EBI logo had an image mark that was clearly related to or inspired by EMBL’s.

With this rebranding came a first version of the logo, which was created by Graham Cameron. At this point, ‘EBI’ was distinct from ‘EMBL’.
Later on the logo was changed to a simplified version:

And at some point designed to have the same image mark as EMBL. Thus we have now the same image mark with two different meanings.

The current EMBL-EBI logo has uses a different name, but the same image mark.

Do you have any other insights or information about naming, logo and history of EMBL-EBI? Please let me know! For more on the history of The European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) see this video from 2014 when EMBL-EBI celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Next steps

Based on the design principles defined in cd-sprint 1, we will focus on cd-sprint2 to further explore EMBLs Design Language System and how to support sub-brands. The deliverables are to come up with two brand design examples: One which shows a strong sub-branding for EMBL-EBI (and maybe generally sub-brands of EMBL) and a second design example which is aligned to our new Brand Map and our goal of showing a unified organisation. More insights on this will come soon.