First step in designing new brand was a step back in history


By Jim Morris

VANCOUVER – When Vancouver designers Ben Hulse and Greg Durrell were first approached to create a new brand for Swimming Canada, the pair decided they needed to take a step backward before moving forward.

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Swimming Canada dug through its archives and worked with partners such as the Fédération de natation du Quebec and Ontario Aquatic Hall of Fame to find the thousands of photos of swimmers past and present Hulse & Durrell studied.

Boxes were delivered to their office containing background information, records, posters and even old result sheets. The pair visited the home of swimming historian Jack Kelso to glean more information from his archives and pore over his vast collection of SwimNews magazines.

The more they studied Canadian swimming history the better Hulse & Durrell developed a vision for Swimming Canada’s future look. The end result was the new brand unveiled this week. The slick new look is highlighted by an updated logo and a co-ordinated appearance in Swimming Canada’s presentation, whether it be correspondence or competitions.

Hulse said the research laid the foundation for building the new brand.

“These organizations have history, which is really interesting,” he explained. “It’s a real disservice I think to ignore that.

“What typically happens from that process is some patterns started to emerge or we noticed certain traits. There’s more power in the story when it’s not arbitrary, when it’s related to the legacy of the organization. We didn’t go into this process saying this had to relate to the history, but I think it’s such a wonderful opportunity to incorporate the sensibility and the stories. It just feels right to do that.”

The most noticeable change is Swimming Canada’s new logo. A red Maple Leaf sits atop a light blue pictogram of a swimmer.

Simple and powerful in its message, the logo was born from an exhaustive and complicated creative process.

To help respect Canada’s two official languages, one of the key objectives was designing a logo that sends a non-verbal message. The logo also needed to recognize the organization’s past while maintaining its integrity in the future.

Hulse believes the new logo meets these goals. It’s the same but different. It pays homage to history but appeals to a new generation.

“You can really see the lineage there but the expression and the execution is clearly different,” he said. “Clearly we hope it’s modern but not so expressive it’s going to feel dated in a couple of years.”

Hulse and Durrell knew the logo had to depict a swimmer. They began studying the different pictograms used for Olympic swimming events dating back to the 1964 Tokyo Games. It took weeks of studying and refining before they arrived at an image they liked.

“It’s a much more contemporary expression of this and a more refined expression,” Hulse said.

Creating the logo was a major step on the branding journey.

“The logo is certainly not the brand but it’s the most important cornerstone of it,” said Hulse.

“That’s the one thing that, in this line of work, you need to be OK with taking the simplest thing and looking at all the ways it can be refined. Just like anything in life, having that sense of where you are going and just chipping away until you get there.”

The new brand also incorporates the use of graphics and typefaces. There are guidelines for photography and writing styles.

“It’s bringing consistency to every touch point, every visual that the organization does,” said Hulse. “That doesn’t just mean the business cards look the same as the letterhead which looks the same as the brochure for the event.

“That means the Circle of Excellence is intimately connected to the age group championships. Regardless if you just started swimming in Canada or you are achieving the highest honour, there is that consistent brand you have through your entire career.”

Hulse & Durrell were part of the design team for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. They also rebranded the look of the Canadian Olympic Team. Their work on those projects resulted in Swimming Canada approaching them last July. Rebranding an organization presented new challenges.

“For Vancouver 2010 we were looking to create a brand which spoke to a specific time and very specific place,” said Hulse. “With the Canadian Olympic Team the intention was create more of a lasting brand.”

Hulse & Durrell realized Swimming Canada doesn’t have just one function. The organization encourages children to swim, develops Olympic champions and hosts competitions for people with a disability.

The new brand pays tribute to Swimming Canada’s history and future.

“I would say we are proud but humble of what we’ve done,” Hulse said. “We feel good about the effort that we’ve put into this project.

“We worked really hard to get a solution and elements in place we hope are going to last for the organization and we hope is going to help to take them to new height and gain recognition that perhaps they previously haven’t had. Just like anything we just give our best efforts and it’s up to other people to decide the merits.”

For more information on the brand, please visit:

Scott Harrigan
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