Nice & Serious has been making creative work the world needs and helping brands and charities to creatively communicate serious environmental and social issues for over a decade.

“Advertising has a remarkable power to create change. But let’s be real – right now, it’s not doing us any favours. It creates false needs and fake desires. It claims the world is on fire, then chucks more fuel on it. We know the world doesn’t need more of the same. It needs us to draw a line in the sand, and back the people fixing things. It needs us to change minds, and make people demand better. As a creative agency with real purpose, we do just that. So the world can get what it really needs.” – Nice and Serious

In 2020 they became a registered B-Corp, which means that they’re legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their team, clients, community and the environment. To help them stay true to their values and beliefs, they created a tool that enables employees to vote on new briefs so that they can collectively decide what brands they work with called the Moral Compass.

Earlier this year, one of the brands that made it through the Moral compass was the National Tutoring Programme (NTP).

The coronavirus pandemic has forced more than 160 countries to close their schools which has affected over 1 billion students. In August, the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that this has led to the largest disruption of education in history. In the UK, the National Foundation for Educational Research warned that the learning gap between rich and poor pupils had grown by almost half between March and July with one Head Teacher telling the BBC that it could take up to two years to bring some children back to their correct attainment level.

To address the learning gap, the Government announced that children in England would benefit from a £1bn Covid catch-up package to tackle the impact of lost teaching time. Working alongside the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and The Sutton Trust, the Government set up a National Tutoring Programme to increase access to high-quality tuition which they hoped would reach two million of England’s most disadvantaged children.

Ahead of their launch, the EEF and Sutton Trust enlisted the help of Nice and Serious to create a brand identity for the NTP that would gain the support of headteachers and potential tutors. I spoke with Peter Larkin, Creative Director at Nice and Serious to learn how they developed a new brand, during a lock-down in with unbelievably tight timings.

When you were approached by the NTP, what part of the brief caught your attention?

The pandemic has impacted society in so many ways but the impact that the lock-down has had on our education system has been hard to ignore. We won’t know the long-term impact for a while, but many argue that the fallout from their disrupted education may follow children for the rest of their lives. Like so many others, we were worried about this, so when we saw the brief from the NTP and learnt more about their platform, we wanted to help because we could see its potential.

Have the team been affected by the school closures? Did this give way to any personal insights that helped shape the development of the brand?

Several members of the team have children and some were struggling to juggle work with home schooling and keeping motivations up. I think that everyone has a newfound appreciation for the incredible work that teachers do. Because the primary audience for the NTP was teachers, our team needed to better understand their needs. To help us do this, we quickly developed a survey and though our network we tried to gather as much insight as possible. Even though we didn’t have much time, we learnt, rather unsurprisingly, that teachers were overwhelmed and struggling to keep up with the Government’s guidance that seemed to be changing by the hour. Teachers that hadn’t heard of the NTP were slightly sceptical about the platform at first. We realised that we needed to position the platform as a tool that they can have in their arsenal, at the ready, if and when they need it. We needed to let them know that the platform wasn’t in any way designed to undermine the brilliant work that they’ve been doing and will continue to do. This insight became a bit of a guiding light in how we shaped the tone of the visual identity of the new brand.

The visual identity of the new brand is based on the Meccano set. How was this idea conceived?

We started by exploring three different themes. The first had a real sense of energy to it and was around the NTP giving you a ‘boost’. The second was about ‘unity’ and bringing the right people, teachers, tutors and students, together. The third theme was around ‘support’ and how the platform could be used as a plug to connect people.

Our designers were experimenting with arrows to represent forward progression and someone commented that the designs looked like the connections in a Meccano set. We agreed and felt that this creative idea had potential, so we developed it further. The great thing about Meccano is that it symbolises connection, it has this great ‘tool like’ quality which is exactly how we wanted to position the NTP.

For the logo, we took inspiration from both Meccano and the ‘greater than symbol’ with the three points denoting the relationship between the teacher, tutor and students. Through the visual expression we wanted to tell the story that learning is best facilitated when teachers, tutors and students combine forces, that their efforts are greater together.

The new brand was developed in a record-breaking turnaround. How did the team find working at this pace remotely?

We had 4 weeks from the brief landing in our inboxes to delivering guidelines. In that time, we had to put together a proposal, conduct research and facilitate workshops. It was a record for us. For a project this size, we’d normally take three months to develop a brand for a new client but it can take up to 18 months. Like everyone else, the team has experienced the many ups and downs of home working, but the pace of this project helped to give us all something to focus on. Working from home meant that we were able to get into the zone easily without all the distractions that come from working in an open-plan office which was good for us. Using Slack helped us keep on top of each part of the brand review, ensuring that all the details were covered, and everyone was informed of the project’s status.

One of the main things we miss about our normal working life is being able to source inspiration as easily as we used to. In the past we’d go to exhibitions and events, we’d meet with different people and go to different places to spark creativity. But as time has gone on, we’ve adapted. We’ve had a Slack channel where we share interesting things which helps us to inspire creative thinking and we’re about to start virtual coffee mornings to recreate those water cooler moments.

How has the brand been received to date?

The Education Endowment Fund and its partners were really pleased with what we delivered. When we initially shared the early design concepts with them, we had such a great positive reaction which was a relief given the tight timings. We won’t know if the programme has been a success for a while as it has only recently launched, but it seems to be creating a buzz which is great as education is such an important issue now. Along with the rest of the country, we were upset and angry with the Government’s handling of student’s exam results. Despite their promise to help plug the learning gap, their grading system hit pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds the hardest. We hope that the NTP achieves its objectives and reaches at least two million students, allowing them to reach their full potential.

Are there any issues that the Nice and Serious team would like to tackle as things slowly begin to return to normal?

Mental health. It is something that affects us all and has been exacerbated by the pandemic. With so many people losing loved ones, their jobs and their homes, we need to ensure that everyone has the support that they need. Mental health is an issue that is close to the team’s heart so we’d love to support an organisation with a focus on helping people’s emotional wellbeing.

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