Case Study by Michael Barker RGD, Acme Art & Design
To reflect their maturing practice and raise their profile, critically-acclaimed Toronto outdoor theatre company Shakespeare in the Ruff required a new logo and comprehensive visual identity that would fit with their forward-thinking outlook.
“When it comes to Toronto’s outdoor summer Shakespeare game, the Ruffians are hard to beat…”
—Jordan Brimm, Now Magazine, August 2017
Founded in 2012, Shakespeare in the Ruff reinterprets, rewrites and renews classic stories for a contemporary audience. Having outgrown their humble origin as a rag-tag company of actors on a make-shift stage in Withrow Park, this critically-acclaimed, risk-taking and professional company wanted a new visual identity to reflect their matured, boundary-pushing artistic practice.
I stared working with Ruff in 2016 when they commissioned me to create the creative campaign for their production of Romeo & Juliet. This was followed by collaborations on creative campaigns for A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2017, Portia’s Julius Caesar in 2018 and The Winter’s Tale in 2019. Each new collaboration afforded an opportunity to experiment, improve on our collaborative process and better leverage the tight budget constraints to punch above our weight.
The opportunity to redesign the visual identity arose naturally out of our ongoing working relationship, but the development of the new identity took a couple of years. It was a slow and iterative process that overlapped at least two productions, a shuffle in the company’s leadership and a complete redesign of the website. The process also had a significant (and very productive) reboot in the middle when the board of directors joined the process.
The original logo riffed on an Elizabethan ruff, and my early concepts did too, until we ultimately abandoned this obvious direction to search for a new visual language that fit with Ruff’s forward-thinking outlook.
In rejecting the Elizabethan ruff, we needed to redefine what “ruff” means in the context of the company’s mission. The core concept of the new identity is the idea of the “ruff” as the space in which the company works—both theatre in the park and the public commons. In graphic terms, the core of the visual identity is the four letterforms in “R-U-F-F” occupying the corners of Shakespeare in the Ruff materials as a framing device in which the content sits. This frame appears whenever strong branding is desired and space and context allow. While this frame is the core logo for the company, in applications where the RUFF corner logo will not work either because of the format, layout restrictions or context, such as logo bars, there is a simple alternate wordmark emphasizing the “Ruff” in “Shakespeare in the Ruff”.
Insights & Observations
I am grateful that Ruff invested so much time and energy into the development process—that they didn’t settle for simpler and more obvious solutions and that they ultimately chose to adopt an appropriately bold and challenging new direction for their visual identity.