Many years ago I was on holiday in Italy. I commended the hotel waiter on his command of English. He said he went to night-school after work each week. ‘Where do you come from?’ he asked. When I replied ‘Oxford’, he dropped on to one knee and bowed his head in mock genuflection. Not the sort of response I am used to, at least not in a crowded restaurant.
The fact is that the word ‘Oxford’ is a powerful one. Without any more information to back it up, it suggests… well, what do you think it suggests? Quality. I explained to the waiter that I wasn’t a professor, just a designer who happens to live in Oxford. But our company did design books for teaching English.
Many of those books have been for Oxford University Press. It’s notable that it just says ‘Oxford’ on their covers. No more of an identifier than that. The place and the publisher have become one. This is the power of ‘Oxford’ to sell services, whether you are a publisher, or a plumber.
Or an illustration company. When Oxford Illustrators was formed in 1968, they adopted the Radcliffe Camera for their first logo.
Designed by James Gibbs and finished in 1749 the classical domed building houses the Radcliffe Science Library and is one of Oxford’s most distinctive architectural icons.
Although the company had no direct connection with the University, it was a clever move to link them to the University ‘brand’. And it was appropriate – after all most work in the early years was for scientific, medical and technical illustrations.
In 1976, a sister company, ‘Oxprint’, was formed. This made three sibling companies as there was also ‘Oxford Illustrated Press’, a small publishing business which also acted as a production company for publishers.
The Oxprint logo had no image – it was just the name in Goudy Handtooled. Letrasetted in, what was for the time, a trendy lower case it was also meant to lend an air of traditional class to what was a brand new company. It suggested ‘publishing’ rather than ‘graphic design’.
The Oxprint logo
Unfortunately, the name ‘Oxprint’ also suggested printing which wasn’t a core part of the business. As a result, the name later changed to ‘Oxprint Design’. By then, the company was keen to expand out of publishing to embrace commercial graphic design, and the new type design reflected that.
With the move from drawing boards to computers, the Radcliffe Camera logo took on a new ‘3D computer graphics’ design, in the form of an exploded diagram.
3D Radcliffe Camera
Oxford Illustrated Press had already been sold, so it was just the two companies that formed the new Oxford Designers & Illustrators in 1998.
The new design adapted the Radcliffe Camera again and brought these two together in a very simple typographic solution using the Optima previously used by Oxprint. These were two mature, experienced companies with a loyal customer base that wanted to reflect that with a quiet sophistication.
The Oxprint Design logo
Now, since 2013, the current logo ‘swirl’ uses New Johnston ITC as the company font. Designed originally by Edward Johnston for the London Underground system and first used in 1916, versions of this have only became available for commercial use relatively recently. Johnston, the supreme calligrapher of his age and steeped in arts and crafts philosophy, created one of the greatest and most long-lasting corporate identities in the world.
Oxford Designers & Illustrators logo
Why is this an appropriate typeface for ODI? As specialists in designing for young children, they need to use educational letterforms. Letters such as the lower case ‘l’ need to be distinguished from the capital ‘I’ and ‘1’. Johnston had his own reasons for requiring the legibility of letters – they had to be read in dark spaces and at speed.
The fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the company is a cause for celebration and the start of the next chapter in their history – with this new identity. They say that ‘knowledge is power’. Through their design and artwork, ODI will continue to help empower children (and waiters in Italian hotels).
Oxford Designers & Illustrators Gold Edition 2018 logo