A key to Scott Lambert’s identity for Oxford University Clinical Research Unit shows the colors corresponding to the letters in the alphabet.

Lambert was tapped to develop the brand for OUCRU, which has affiliations all over the word, with a base in Vietnam and partners in Thailand, Indonesia, and Nepal.

So it was immediately clear that any identity would need to read clearly across multiple nations and cultures. Lambert responded by creating a language of colorful "cells."

Whenever an English word appears--from an office placard to the OUCRU logo--it also appears as a system of color-coded shapes, each representing a specific letter.

The colors were assigned randomly, while the length of the cells depend on whether the letter is a vowel or consonant.

He chose the rounded rectangle--a shape that vaguely references medicine--as the shell for his language.

The identity included templates for the center’s web and print publications, as well.

The identity included templates for the center’s web and print publications, as well.

The identity included templates for the center’s web and print publications, as well.

The identity included templates for the center’s web and print publications, as well.

Co.Design

Need Branding That Transcends Cultures? Invent Your Own Language

A thoughtful identity gives a multinational disease research network a new way to communicate.

Oxford University’s Clinical Research Unit is an 11-year-old network of groups that cooperate to track and prevent infectious diseases, from Dengue fever to HIV and AIDS. Though it’s affiliated with Oxford, OUCRU is based in Vietnam and works with partners in Thailand, Indonesia, and Nepal.

So when Ho Chi Minh City-based graphic designer Scott Lambert was invited to develop a brand for the center, it was immediately clear that any identity would need to read clearly across multiple nations and cultures. Lambert, who has worked across Southeast Asia on projects like this brand for Cambodia’s tourism ministry, responded by focusing on the glue that binds any community: language.

Each element of the new identity can be read as a kind of translation. Whenever an English word appears--from an office placard to the OUCRU logo--it also appears as a system of color-coded shapes, each representing a specific letter. The colors were assigned randomly, while the length of the cells depend on whether the letter is a vowel or consonant.

Lambert chose the rounded rectangle--a shape that vaguely references medicine--as the shell for his language. The cells are “purposely ambiguous,” he writes. “They can be viewed as a sequence of chromosomes, a course of medical treatment, or a group of bacteria, even people. They may simply be a colorful respite in a sterile environment.”

Of course, calling a color system a “language” is slightly misleading, in the sense that it’s not truly intended to be “read.” But Lambert explains that language is the keystone of learning and cooperation. Developing a OUCRU-specific syntax was a symbolic gesture--a nod to the center’s mission of multinational scientific cooperation. “What the sequence does represent is the process of searching for answers, making sense out of something that at first has none,” he writes. “It represents problem solving and offers rewards to those that do.”

[H/t Behance]

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19 Comments

  • Ben Boese

    Should the letter Y be a third size, since it sometimes acts as a vowel? I'm only half joking....

    I think too many people are taking this too seriously. It is not meant to be a language, but somewhat a representation of language. Its a colorful change of pace that becomes a recognizable brand. If they showed the Vietnamese brochures as examples instead of the English, I'd still be able to recognize the brand. And if I had to look up the same topic within that brand enough times, I'd be able to recognize that series of symbols as being related to that topic. Everyone is so eager to call foul that they don't look at it for what it is. Loosen up and enjoy.

  • Summer Coley-Ward


    I love it!  Folks... This was a brand-design project, not attempts at launching a new language.  For use as signage, I agree that this is far too laborious to decipher. For quick, cross-cultural reference, i'd prefer to see the use of visual icons (like the skirts and pants used to mark bathroom doors).  As a unique brand-icon, I thinks it's pretty brilliant and adds color to an otherwise glum clinical environment.  Fun and smart.

  • Amit Patel

    Like the DNA encoded theme - however, not universal as mentioned. Again, its encoded with colors and bars, for people to decipher. Might work better on a simpler brand matrix, however, it is complex at the level it is executed. Also, I am not in agreement with this system working across languages and cultures. 

    Amit

  • Andreas Dekrout

    b/w...cant do

    non-english letters...cant do
    self explanatory...cant do

    it does look *nice* but in the end its just a colorful variation of barcode. 
    if you really wanted to make something hard to read while looking playful its the thing for you.

    best, Herr Andreas

  • Mike Williams

    If computers/devices could "read" the bars similar to a bar-code and auto-translate to the local language (rather than transliterate - which is what it is doing now) that would be interesting and helpful for a global organization. But then you'd have to find a use or set of touch points where this would be relevant, so it's usefulness goes beyond what would otherwise be a well-branded QR code.

  • SIM3TRIA

    Visually interesting, not new, but interesting ... transcends cultures? No sir, it doesn't ...

  • Ar.nerd

    Agreed with Mike and Ramon. It's based on the Latin alphabet so how can non-English cultures understand it?

  • Mike Kennedy

    It's not a language, it's just a "pig latin" where you would have to decipher what it says. Non-English speakers wouldn't be able to do it.

    And it loses it effectiveness when used in black and white, unfortunately.

  • Ramon

    I still don't understand how it transcends multi-cultures and languages when it is based on the English alphabet. It's not like someone who reads and writes Sanskrit for example is going to understand what one of many words or labels is going to say by memorising it's colour properties based on ABCs. 

  • Artistmurthy

    actually i wanna add to summer's comment below but i donno how to ... so im responding here...
    the bars also seem to evoke the imagery of the Golden Gate Bridge....i guess because Cisco... SanFran...Cisco. Thanks.Murthy

  • Summer Coley-Ward

    Yes, I can see the similarity, but the bars are used in a completely different context.  Context is what creates symbolism - gives otherwise meaningless objects meaning.  In Cisco's case, it seems as if the bars are symbolic of radio/communication frequency and consistency (which fits).  

  • Summer Coley-Ward


    It wouldn't likely be used in b/w.  This is where establishing a brand-use protocol would be valuable.  Big brands like Remax all use strict brand protocols, even if their logos look okay on b/w.  It keeps the brand's graphical elements from being bastardized or misrepresented. 

  • Sandra

    But it's based on the english language -  so how can that transcend languages and cultures! Looks nice but ephemoral!