The phrase comes from journalist, Linda Grant. She was talking about clothes but, it seems to me, the thought applies equally to brands. The brand (what you see on the surface) is important because it is often the first (and sometimes the only) aspect of an organisation that you can judge before you have in some way committed yourself to an association (say, by buying).
However, the brand has to express authentically the depths of an organisation – its heritage for example and its value – or else it falls flat. We can all, I suspect, think of brands that fail to resonate with target markets because there is too much of a disconnect between the surface message and the reality beneath.
A brand, then, is about so much more than logos, colours and fonts – and one might truthfully say that ‘you can’t have surfaces without depths.’
The approach of a big birthday, celebrating 140 years of Northampton High School in 2018, prompted us to revisit our brand and to consider how well it was encapsulating the depths of our school – its history and core values, its current record and standing, and the lived experience of its students, staff and associates.
The rebranding project itself was a fascinating undertaking and, as a non-specialist, I felt privileged to be on the inside of such a complex, dynamic process. Many people – students, staff, parents, alumnae, governors and external advisors – contributed to the research and development phases and our discussion and debates (and, occasionally, disagreements!) took us to the very heart of what the School means to all of us.
Here, then, is the fruit of our labours.
We chose to return to a crest as the central symbol of the School in order to reconnect with an important part of our heritage. However, this is the traditional crest with a contemporary twist. The rose and crossed keys, both part of the original crest, reflect the fact that the School has been part of the life of Northamptonshire (rose of the shires) for generations and that, for many of those years, it had an active connection with the diocese of Peterborough. Besides this, keys are, of course, an excellent symbol for education, being a visual shorthand for the work of unlocking potential and opening the doors of knowledge and understanding, opportunity and enhanced life chances.
The Charles Rennie-Mackintosh-inspired motif (upper left quadrant), a new element, reminds us of the historic connection with Derngate in general and No. 78 in particular. The reference to an iconic motif of modern design – and an aesthetic that was years ahead of its time – also parallels the emphasis in our own philosophy and that of the GDST on being revolutionary pioneers in girls’ education. When the High School was founded, it was still relatively rare to educate girls beyond a basic level. That pioneering tradition persists in the way we embrace innovative methods, for example in using digital platforms and social media, to enhance our students’ life prospects.
Finally, the Eleanor Cross symbolises our proud place in the heart of Hardingstone for the last 25 years. It also neatly references the qualities of learning and leadership for which Eleanor of Castile, Edward I’s much-loved queen, was renowned. A powerful woman in a tough, male-dominated world and a patron of learning, she is an apt role model for our times.
Heritage and pioneering courage, strong links to our community and a commitment to educating and empowering women – these, then, are the messages conveyed in our re-imagined crest.
Alongside the visual symbol, we wanted to find a single phrase that distilled the unique essence of the education we offer. There were many things we could have chosen but, ultimately, it boiled down to one simple, compelling article of faith:
We believe in our girls
And they believe in themselves
as the key to their success and the essential ingredient that we contribute towards that success.
Qualifications are hugely important – yes, undoubtedly
Wonderful opportunities to learn new skills and broaden horizons matter – equally, yes, of course
These we take as read.
But, beyond these, the confidence to be oneself and to stride out into the world with integrity and self-possession – this is the key to fulfilment as well as success in life. Without it, the qualifications and skills alone mean relatively little. Our belief in our girls, which stems from our knowledge and appreciation of them as individuals, makes all the difference in the world as they learn and grow in pursuit of their dreams.
Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress