Corporate Design Sprint 5.1 – EMBL Communications

EMBL Communications

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

Corporate Design Sprint 5.1

Here’s a roundup of what we’ve been thinking and doing in the first part of the fifth corporate design sprint.

Clear direction

The Heads of Units meeting in June, where Dan and Anna-Lynn presented some options for the design system to EMBL’s senior leadership, gave us a clear direction for the design system and the EMBL brand:

  1. One logo: EMBL
  2. Sub brands expressed as text
  3. Default order of importance for content: EMBL > What > Who > Where
  4. Only sites are sub brands

One of the consequences of this is that we won’t be using a separate logo for EMBL-EBI anymore. We need to explore what this means for the corporate design system and how we can introduce changes with minimal interruption for EMBL-EBI assets.

Digital first, but…

We wanted to start with something finite and manageable that would allow us to look at content for the whole of EMBL as well as from one of the sites.  To being with, we chose those three brochures:

  • EMBL annual report,
  • EMBL EBI scientific report 2017
  • Embl Etc..

Each brochure has a different target audience, a different communication goal as well as a different visual concept and scope.

The task for this two-day sprint was to come up with a new visual concept and strategy for all of them, built on the corporate design work accomplished to date, notably:

  • Typeface: IBM Plex
  • New EMBL colours (CDSprint 3—> link)
  • The officially agreed brand model (see above)

Content is king, principles are queen

On day one, we got inspired and gave ourselves the space to explore designs that felt right for each product. On day two, we needed to structure all the output we created on that day before being able to extract more visual design principles. We defined applications for logo, font hierarchy, grid and use of images.

Go one step back to be one step ahead

During the first design phase on these three products we applied new design prototypes to existing content. But to make the three brochures not just ‘pretty’ but perform well, we needed to dig deeper and think about the overall concept of each product. Who are they for? What are they intended to achieve?

We realised that these simple questions are not clearly defined for the EMBL Etc magazine, which has morphed from a staff newsletter into a much more slick products, but still retains a community feel. Should we continue its progress towards being a magazine, or should we pull it back to its roots as a community newsletter?

We decided to explore the possibility that EMBL Etc. could become a publication that inspires new audiences to get to know EMBL, with other products, such as the Annual Report, becoming much more targeted (e.g. on updates and facts and figures). As a community building tool, the bi-annual publication cycle of the magazine just feels too slow (as would be a quarterly cycle in this digital age). Under the model of EMBL Etc. becoming a tool to inspire and to hook new audiences in to caring about this amazing organisation, we could have the freedom to dial down the ‘wonder’ aspects of other publications as we could distribute them alongside the magazine.  Etc. would be the content that appeals to the heart, more targeted publications targeting the mind, but the two often packaged together.


The hero of our visual framework is content, and so the next step will be to imagine what direction each of these publications could take in terms of content. We plan to explore types and structure of content design as well as visual details.


Each new sprint continues to uncover new questions, but we are making good progress. The fact that we’re now touching on content strategy is a sign that we are beginning to work more holistically across the Strategy and Communications team, which is leading to really exciting results.

Thanks to our great team for all your outstanding contributions: Spencer Phillips, Iulia Cartasiova, Anna-Lynn Wegener, Dan Noyes, Mark Boulton, Ken Hawkins.