Newspapers attack designers over 'new' NHS logo and identity

The latest criticism of public sector rebranding by newspapers is insulting to designers – and fundamentally untrue.

Stories criticising expensive new brand identities are regular newspaper fodder, despite the articles often being poorly conceived rubbish. 'How much for a logo?!' is a easy story to write, knowing that most readers won't understand that the fee – which is often much lower than the quoted amount – has paid for a full new identity. With a huge amount of collateral. After a long process of client and user research. You know, taking a grown-up, businesslike approach to brand rather than – as these stories imply – drawing a logo on a napkin over lunch at The Ivy and sending over an invoice for a million quid.

Anything involving the public sector – involving the money of 'hardworking people' like you and me – deserves extra bile and hyperbole. But a story in yesterday's The Telegraph – which was also picked up by the Daily Mail – pushed this hackneyed 'journalism' to ludicrous levels.

The NHS roled out new graphic identity guidelines in January, which – according to The Telegraph – is going to force 'already cash-starved' hospitals to spend huge amounts of money on new signs, leaflets and other collateral to fit centrally imposed "diktats". "Every hospital ordered to change its logo by NHS 'identity managers'" screams the headline.

This is, of course, fundamentally untrue – as is the underlying assumption behind the piece that money spent on design in the NHS is a waste.

Hospitals – and other NHS services and places – don't have to do anything until new collateral is produced. The NHS Identity's site explicitly says "Implementation of the updated NHS Identity guidelines should be gradual. There is no need to go back and change existing offline materials. They should continue to be used until they need to be replenished or replaced to ensure there is no waste.

It does say that "existing digital channels, such as websites and social media accounts, should ideally be updated within a year as they are usually easier and quicker to change" – though "should ideally" should prevent enforced processes trumping common sense.

The site says that there are six key elements to what's actually a minor tweak to the identity – which is largely in light of increasing use of digital services and increasing privatisation in the NHS:

  • A single, consistent logo format for all NHS organisations and services.
  • An extended, but more defined colour palette.
  • Reduced number of permitted fonts.
  • New digital guidelines.
  • Clearer guidelines for third party providers of NHS services.
  • Clarity on use of the NHS logo by NHS organisations for commercial ventures.

Which is a lot more sensible and thought-through than you'd expect from The Telegraph's story.

The article says that NHS managers have condemned the move, though fails to quote any, even anonymously.

The only people the Telegraph did quote were the chief executive of the Patients Association – who seems to believe the erroneous premise of the story – and the Taxpayers Alliance, who will whine on demand in exchange for the oxygen of publicity about anything that costs money and takes longer than seven words to explain its benefits.

Normally, external branding agencies can be blamed for 'ripping off the NHS' with extortionate fee – but these changes to the NHS's identity were made in-house. But still The Telegraph highlights that there were two people involved "on salaries of between £56,000 and £69,000 and £40,000 to £48,000 each", as if paying a couple of designers the market rate is an affront on the underpaid nurses who haven't had a real payrise in years.

The NHS – along with much of the public sector in the UK – is among the worst target for these kind of pieces. Yes, waste, the creation of pointless fluff, thoughtless rebrands and poor decision-making (largely by stakeholders, not creatives) do exist – as any regular reader of Private Eye knows. But the principles that the likes of GDS and NHS Identity have brought to the public sector design process – with thinking, practice and user research done in the open (you can see a PDF the NHS Identity research here) – are what's for both the service and service users. Nonsense written by newspapers helps no-one (except their owners to make money).

Health is an area where good design is of great practical use – whether it's making health information easier to find and understand, or using art on wards to help patients get better more quickly (which has been proven to work). This should be celebrated – as we have here.

Morag Myerscough's geometric patterns for Sheffield Children’s Hospital's new wing. Full story here.

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