Photo: Getty Images og LUNDLUND
Six months after the launch of the Norwegian Opera & Ballet’s new visual identity, almost 60 per cent of all available tickets for the season April 2008 to June 2009 had been sold. The brief? Developing the name, brand architecture and visual identity for the new opera house in Oslo.
The institution’s basis
The Norwegian Opera & Ballet is the largest institution for music and theatrical art in Norway. Founded in 1957, the institution staged its first ballet in Hamar in 1958, while the first opera performance was given in Folketeatret in 1959. In 1999, the Norwegian parliament resolved to build a new opera house at Bjørvika in Oslo. Work on the foundations began in 2003 and the institution moved to Norway’s new Opera at Kirsten Flagstads plass 1 on 7 January 2008. The official opening of the opera house was on 12 April 2008.
Background for the project
Just before the Norwegian Opera was due to relocate to the new opera house at Bjørvika, the institution changed its name to the Norwegian Opera & Ballet. The coining of this new name had to unite 500 employees who up until then had worked in a variety of locations. This in itself necessitated a new logo, and a new visual identity programme was also needed before the institution could begin marketing both itself and its artistic programme to existing and potential audiences. In its new location, the Norwegian Opera & Ballet would be staging more than twice as many performances and would thus have to draw twice the number of people as it had done at Youngstorget. It was obvious that the institution needed to become clearer and more lucid in its communication with the market.
The marketing and communications department at the Norwegian Opera took the initiative to establish an internal project group consisting of nine people with backgrounds from most sections within the opera house. These nine individuals, chaired by Liv Beate Skavdahl, head of the marketing and communications department, were responsible for driving the process forward.
In the spring of 2006, an invitation to tender was issued for the design commission, with no fewer than 27 companies expressing an interest in taking part. A total of 19 design agencies submitted tenders, and meetings were held with each tenderer. The commission was finally awarded to Dinamo Design.
The design brief consisted of a description of the institution’s situation and the challenges it faced, in addition to a recently concluded value and profile project conducted by the consultancy firm MarkUp which was intended to serve as a basis for the Norwegian Opera’s market activities prior to opening of the new opera house.
As an institution, the Norwegian Opera had not until then had a clear, uniform profile. The National Ballet had been perceived as being more modern and innovative, while the Opera was considered to be more “set in its ways” and “high culture” (and thereby less accessible). Nevertheless, the National Ballet was considerably less well known than the Opera, and respondents were uncertain about where the National Ballet belonged. Only 38 per cent of respondents believed that the National Ballet was part of the Norwegian Opera. This meant it was important to build a common brand identity using the institution’s new name. Designing a unifying profile is a challenge when there are three different constituents, especially when the name of the institution is so long.
A strategic decision was unanimously made when work on the profile started: the new opera building was to have a central place, based on the acknowledgement that the opera house’s foremost architectural feature would receive such great acclaim that it would be desirable for both the institution and the performing arts to be closely associated with the new opera house. For this reason, it was decided that the angle of the roofline of the opera house would be a key element in the new logo.
Although the solution encompasses three constituents, it presents itself as a unifying whole, continuing elements both from the former logo of the Norwegian Opera and the new building, reaching out to people on all social levels and appealing to the business market. Furthermore, it has a “stop-now” effect and a high recognition factor, the name and line work well on all levels and the angle creates strong associations to the building.
An important part of the project remit was to include all this in the new name of the institution, and the solution chosen provides room for this. The fact that the profile is based on one common identity is a forte for communication both externally and internally. The design agency is pleased that the number of constituents has been reduced, and that each party (the actual institution - the Norwegian Opera & Ballet, and the companies the Norwegian Opera and the National Ballet) can be presented as a distinct single entity wherever necessary by filling the constituent name with colour.
“The logo, like the opera house itself, has the appearance of a strong and clear framework encompassing all types of artistic expression. The typography was designed especially and represents a continuation of the current logo. In this way, it takes with it part of history, as was the express wish of our client.
Instead of finding inspiration in other opera houses, the decision was made to study the visual world of galleries. The design agency produced a range of different ideas based on two conceptual platforms: art and the building. The Board of the Norwegian Opera opted to use sketches that visualised the building. There was no desire for the logo to emulate the architecture; rather it should be an abstracted interpretation.
“In meetings with Snøhetta, we found ourselves inspired by the principal angle of the building’s architecture: 7.125 degrees,” says Anniken Fjelberg, general manager of Dinamo Design.
The profile’s grid/layout system thus takes as its starting-point diagonals that cross one another, either distinctly or subtly. Art is expressed through the use of imagery, and text can be placed diagonally on images if the user wishes.
The diagonal can be illustrated, cropped or stamped. The diagonals permeate the entire profile – not only the logo – thus giving a holistic and consistent expression. Flexibility in the profile gives one the opportunity to create various patterns and coloured surfaces and a varied and modern expression that can reflect the many different forms of art found in the building. The strong colours in the palette appear as contrasts to the more stylised logo expression on the various communication surfaces, often those that address the general public. In a commercial context, the Norwegian Opera and Ballet may have a severe appearance, but it is never distanced and “affected”. It is also important to appeal to businesses as well as sponsors and visitors.
A mere three weeks after new opera house was opened, and around six months after the new visual identity programme had been unveiled, the Norwegian Opera & Ballet had already sold almost 60 per cent of all available tickets for the season from April 2008 to June 2009. Marketing manager Skavdahl feels that the new visual profile has contributed to this, and what is fun is that it really found favour both with employees and the general public. Sales of t-shirts in the store have been fantastic!
The new visual profile solved the challenges in an excellent way, particularly the problem that the National Ballet has for many years been the invisible little brother of the Opera. The two artistic companies are visual equals, and have given each other mutual marketing help.
“We at the Norwegian Opera have learned a lot, particularly about the importance of brand architecture and consequence in market communication and about how important tiny details can be in the grand scheme of things. Furthermore, we became convinced of the importance of having a logo and visual profile programme with a history to it; that is, you need to have a good and relevant reason as to why things look the way they do,” says Liv Beate Skavdahl, marketing and communications director at the Norwegian Opera.
“Cooperation between the parties worked well, and after a while we developed a mutual understanding that things take time, both during the design phase and the period during which the design became rooted in the institution.”
“As project manager here, I was particularly impressed with how well Dinamo Design understood which needs we had and what type of challenges they needed to help us solve,” says Liv Beate Skavdahl.
“The designers were really put to the test in this project both as regards rooting the project internally in the Opera, and as regards development of a creative solution that would unify three different constituents without ending up with three different logos. Meeting exciting people at both the Norwegian Opera and Snøhetta helped make this assignment highly educational and fun,” says Anniken Fjelberg, general manager of Dinamo Design.