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]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.