Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Creating a new brand – FutureLearn

Creating a new brand - FutureLearn
So to articulate the design brief for FutureLearn. We needed to know three things. Firstly, what is the brand in the world to do? So FutureLearn, their purpose was learning for life, so learning not just for learning’s sake but learning to help you move on and up in life. So how do we express that and bring it to life? Secondly, was who is the brand for? So FutureLearn’s open to everyone, anywhere in the world. So we knew that it needed to be a universally accessible identity. And third, where is the brand going to live? So FutureLearn is predominantly an online platform and with lots of interaction.
So we needed to create something that could work on screen easily, be functional and recognisable but also something that could translate to print easily as well.
The journey to the solution was a case of trying to solve each of the three points of the brief in a way that connected them all. So our first thoughts were around was the most recognisable, universal method of learning. And the way FutureLearn works, the weekly module learning, got me thinking about the building blocks that you use a child and that you can arrange them in different ways, however you want to. So our next thought was how to use these blocks to communicate learning for life. So we started playing around with them and stacked the blocks up into this upward staircase. At it seemed to fit with learning that took you on and upwards in learning and in life.
And then we extracted that and stripped it back just to the steps icon, which became like the hero icon and then also conveniently it had hidden F in there as well. So the next thought was like, OK, we got these blocks and these icons, so how can we get them working in a digital world, so for touch screen application. So we took the F-icon, the Steps icon, and gridded that up, and then built out all the other icons from that. So we had this real simple system that made all these recognisable icons that all that sort of direction running through them where possible.
And then once we cracked that system of squares and icons, it was, OK, how do we make this feel right tonally? We started looking at work like Josef Mller-Brockmann and real Swiss graphic designs, really paired-back and ordered but with a sense of freedom. That inspired the icons and the grid and the typeface choices as well. So we picked something that was very modern, sans-serif, and geometric typeface. And then the last thing that we looked at was colour. So we looked all other competitors in that sector, the colours that they used. You had blue for social, green for growth. And we felt that colour for could work a bit harder and that that should also communicate learning for life as well.
So we hit upon this idea of using colour to show where you were in your learning journey– so sort of this gradient that went from dark blue for unknowing to yellow and enlightenment, and in the middle, that pink is the now. So wherever you are in your journey, it’s always pink. If you were to look back and what you learned, it would be sort of dark-blue. And look forward to what you what you’re yet to learn, it would be yellow. And that was the final piece in the jigsaw.
So to get the brand out in the world, we needed to understand where FutureLearn were in their lifespan and also where they wanted to go. So as a relative start-up, we knew that we had to create something simple that could enable them to tell their story easily but also have real simple, solid principles that could translate to anything that they wanted to produce. And so we created this simple kit of the three tools, really– the type and how to use it, the colour with the gradient and how to use that, and also the icons and the blocks and how to use those as well.
So as long as those three things were present, and they all had these same principles behind them of onwards and upwards, as long as those three things were present, they could play with them and make them work for whether purpose they needed.

FutureLearn is, of course, the platform on which this course lives. Wolff Olins created a brand identity for FutureLearn in 2013. Here designer James Titterton reveals the story behind the design. As you watch, assess which of his design ideas you think is the most important for building this new brand.

FutureLearn is a digital start-up brand: how do you think that fact influenced the creative process?

This article is from the free online

The Secret Power of Brands

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education