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FutureLearn needed a brand they could put to use quickly. Starting with a strategy of ‘learning for life’, we created a lean but purposeful identity that framed learning as a progressive journey.

Technology had democratised higher education. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) now enabled anyone, anywhere to take a university course for free. The New York Times termed 2012 “The year of the MOOC”, when many leading universities – including Stanford, Princeton and MIT – launched free and open courses online. FutureLearn – the UK’s first MOOC – was founded in partnership with the Open University, and with the ambition to create a learning platform more relevant to people’s lives.

FutureLearn were eager to explore this brave new world but first they needed a brand that could do four things: live online and in print; be easy to use and build on; be understood by a broad audience in both age and location; and clearly convey the strategy of ‘learning for life’.

Sometimes working with big brands is like pulling a ferry with a rope. FutureLearn was like a paper airplane – we kept folding, testing and refining quickly until it worked as it needed to.” James Titterton
Five weeks to do it

Working collaboratively, both with our client and among ourselves, meant we could get to the best solutions fast. We looked to keep the process as streamlined as the team, meeting up twice-weekly to share progress and get feedback. This gave an outcome that was lean but purposeful.

We devised a simple, distinctive system based around the idea of ‘onwards and upwards in life and learning’. The logo, featuring a stepped hero icon (with hidden ‘F’) reinforces this and indicates progress. The logo also contains the three basic elements of the FutureLearn identity: icon, type and colour.

A gradual palette

The hero icon was built on a grid, allowing FutureLearn to create on-brand icons on demand, in a fast and efficient way. A colour gradient – instead of a palette – gives a wide range of colour values for FutureLearn designers to work with. The gradient also aids navigation, communicating where a user is in his/her learning journey.

Together with the brand-story-on-a-page, this toolkit formed what we came to call a ‘Minimum Viable Brand’: the minimum set of elements a small business or start-up needs to tell its story.

Today, FutureLearn is a thriving platform. In September 2014 they welcomed their 500,000th learner, while surpassing over 1 million course signups.