Q&A | ‘It’s really Blackpool, but in a new way’

Blackpool's new museum, Showtown, has just won gold at the global Brand Impact Awards. Leanne Heatley explains the secrets to its design success
Geraldine Kendall Adams
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The new museum is due to open in 2021
The new museum is due to open in 2021

Blackpool’s new museum of fun and entertainment, Showtown, recently won two awards – including gold – for its brand design at the international Brand Impact Awards. The museum’s playful visual identity, which was created by Manchester-based design agency True North, won gold in the Culture category and bronze in the Illustration category, fighting off competition from high profile cultural institutions across the globe.

Museums Journal spoke to Showtown’s Leanne Heatley, who was on the branding team for the project, about creating a visual identity strong enough to ensure the museum stands out on Blackpool’s busy promenade when it opens to the public next year.

Leanne Heatley
Finance and Administration Manager, Showtown
What were you hoping to achieve with the brand design for Showtown?

We knew two things at the start of this process. Firstly, our brand has to appeal to our potential audience who are predominantly non-traditional museum goers (residents and visitors to Blackpool). Secondly, we are creating an experience that is a hybrid of museum and visitor attraction and our brand had to reflect this balance. One of our values is fun and we absolutely knew that it had to look and feel instantly fun, lively and colourful. The brand had to be inspired by and celebrate all the great things about Blackpool, putting our seaside and entertainment heritage centre-stage.

This was an exciting opportunity to design a visual identity which could be used in a variety of media and for a full range of applications, such as signage, way-finding, online, social media, merchandise, marketing collateral, uniforms and many other things. We needed a complete brand family.

How did the design process work?

We knew Truth North were the right team for us. It was definitely a collaborative approach throughout the process; True North led the process but extracted insights from our team and various key stakeholder groups to understand the offer and our objectives. This was followed by the development of the brand territories and a naming workshop, where the name Showtown was agreed. A brand workshop was next; and we were presented with three different creative designs. We instantly loved the use of blocks and the versatility it gave us and we had fun choosing imagery and typeface that would complement the brand. The initial concept ideas provided by True North grew into a full identity toolkit that we could use to promote Showtown.

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What is the thinking behind the different elements of the design?

The first element was to give the museum a name. The team and stakeholders were asked to consider a range of names and taglines. The consensus was that the name Showtown would hold up in the Blackpool visitor attraction landscape and doesn’t present a barrier to our potential audience of non-traditional museum goers. We agreed that we needed the tagline "the museum of fun and entertainment" to assure a quality experience. True North then came up with the concept for the brand - to invite everyone backstage to become part of the story of how fun defines us and how Blackpool plays a unique role in bringing joy to millions.

Their excitement for the brand ideas and how they could see it developing was infectious. They then presented the visual identity and how that would be applied across all areas of the organisation. The playful brand blocks, symbols, graphics and colour palette represent the different themes you will find within the museum and have a fresh and contemporary feel. The tone of voice used in the brand is fun, friendly and in plain English to appeal to our audience.

Why do you think the end result has been successful?

We love the end result and you can see why it has been award winning. The simplicity and flexibility of the brand icons, mixed with the fresh colour palette and boldness of the logo have combined to create a brand which is uplifting, exciting and distinctive.

How has the brand been received by the public?

We launched the brand at the start of 2020 with an evening of entertainment in the Blackpool Tower Circus. The invited guests were people from all over Blackpool and the country who have worked really closely with us on the development of the museum. Their feedback was really positive telling us it is really vibrant, colourful, confident and refreshing. Most importantly to us, it was really Blackpool, but in a new way. Our plans to begin our public programme off the back of having revealed our name and brand were put on hold due to the pandemic. We hope to see the brand out and about more in 2021.

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What advice would you give on developing a great museum brand?

My advice would be to make sure you work with a great creative team, but ensure it is a collaborative approach. Go into it understanding your current position and where you would like to be. Be bold, don’t be afraid to be different and trust the process.

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