The story of how Stay Up Late’s charity branding has changed over time, why it’s changed, and the lessons learned by a small charity

Stay Up Late, the charity, grew out of the experiences of the band I played bass in; Heavy Load. As we played up and down the country, we saw that people with learning disabilities were regularly denied access to that most ordinary of things — a good night out.

We’d be playing in a disability arts night where the dance floor was rammed by 8 pm with people wanting a good night out, and by 9 pm, it would be empty.

Our branding was deliberately punk, not just because we were a punk band but because punk embraces the whole ethos of how we saw and continue to see what needs to happen to make real change happen.

It’s about embracing a DIY attitude of trying stuff out and making shit happen. (Instead of letting shit things continue to happen.)

“We make shit happen by stopping shit from happening.” Me!

That’s one of my quotes. It sums up our approach. It’s about being purposeful, focused on action, and true to our mission as a charity.

Our Stay Up Late banner (which still hangs in our office) was red and white on a black background. Because of the film about the band, the logo reached a vast audience. It was great; it was in your face, punk, and said everything we were campaigning about.

Berlin

But was our logo accessible?

Arguably not from an easy-to-read perspective, it was all in block capitals.

Some would tell us it was too masculine. Other people said it was too grungy, and others it evoked too much about alcohol?!

Then we unfurled our banner at an arts festival in Berlin only to be told that red, white and black were the chosen colours of racists in Germany. Our logo was actually a little bit racist in their context. So we took it down and didn’t use it there. We continued to use it when we returned to the UK because it had become so recognisable amongst people with learning disabilities and didn’t carry any potential hidden meanings.

All this is from our quickly thought-out logo, which we just wanted to look like a stamp of approval. Something that would indicate a campaign to make a positive change in the world. (And not an object to create offence and confusion!)

But what about the words ‘Stay Up Late’? What if I don’t want to Stay Up Late? Doesn’t that discriminate against me? (We’ve also heard people make that argument even though all our work is about people having the choice to go to bed when they want).

We carried on using the logo, though — what if we’d tried to take on all the feedback and make everyone happy? It just wasn’t possible.

What’s in a name?

It is both very important as well as sometimes not the most important thing. Take The Beatles as an example. I think it’s a terrible name for a band; it’s such a cheesy play on words. What were they thinking?

Maybe they were just too busy becoming the greatest band the world has ever seen to worry about their band name.

Maybe I should have started a charity called ‘Choice and Personalisation’ and gone for an inoffensive pastel palette with flowers and butterflies, as everyone loves those. They’re not at all offensive.

But the words Stay Up Late and the look are intended to evoke what we’re all about and to try and shake things up.

But what do ‘choice and personalisation’ mean regarding accessibility? It’s not an easy-to-understand concept for many people, especially as the paradox of our current social care system is these words get overused whilst not delivering what they promise in practice nearly quite as much.

The old logos

The other problem I created when I started Gig Buddies was that I just asked someone to design a logo for us, and I gave no consideration to how this might link with the charity and had no thought about sharing it.

As a result, when we started sharing it nine years ago, we were free and easy with how projects used the logo or developed their own. I was just pleased that we were growing a community—a force for positive change. It was so exciting.

This is how we looked at the start:

Gig Buddies logo, charity branding

We wanted something that showed what the project was all about. But it dated quickly:
1. Who actually uses tickets like these in the 21st century anyway?

2. Why is it in West Ham/Burnley/Aston Villa colours? I have no idea.

So we changed to this:

Gig Buddies logo, charity branding

This version kept the grungy punk identity behind our charity but went for a louder colour. I loved the strapline as it’s a good double meaning (in my opinion) and says exactly what the project is all about.

The only problem is we’re not all about music, and increasingly, people with learning disabilities told us they didn’t identify with the wheelchair symbol. So we decided to change again.

Our new charity branding journey

We were also getting tired of the old Stay Up Late logo and wanted less masculinity (if that’s how people perceived it) or harshness. It was possibly too punk and excluded people of other persuasions. We also wanted to link Stay Up Late and Gig Buddies. There needed to be more clarity about whether they were two different charities. We even had staff who saw them as separate entities, so we needed to bring things back together. By linking the logos, I wanted to show how Gig Buddies was a project that belonged to the charity Stay Up Late.

We went through a process of focus groups with people with learning disabilities and a branding expert, and it was a challenging but valuable process. The general feedback was that we needed to change the colours and show how our work was about creating connections with people. The problem is that Gig Buddies isn’t just about gigs, it’s about finding friendship through any shared interest. How could we explain that universally just through our logo?

The groups had all sorts of other ideas about images, looks, and accessibility.

As a result, they came up with several initial concepts. Here’s just a few:

Stay Up Late and Gig Buddies logo idea, charity branding
Gig Buddies t-shirt ideas, charity branding

It was hugely underwhelming. The concept logos might look good for some projects, playschemes, or a travel agent, but none floated my boat. How did they connect back to our initial ethos as a charity?

A place where the spirit of punk is a force for change in our world, and don’t we need that even more than ever now?

Looking at these logo concepts, I thought, “What’s wrong? Why don’t they represent us?”

Deciding on the final versions

Then I had a lightbulb moment. They’re not punk enough! Nothing reflected our unique spirit as a charity.

The problem is the old logo seemed too brutal, so channelling the spirit of Polystyrene and X-Ray Spex, we thought about how we could make something that gave the nod to punk but with more appropriate colours.

The answer was pink and yellow, and yellow and pink, proper punk colours too. The same logo was reversed for the charity and the Gig Buddies project; different but the same.

I spoke with the designer about the change, and he said, “This is great; it’s part of the journey we like to take with customers and an important part of the process”.

I told him my ideas for making it more punk but also having paint splashes to make it look like the sort of thing people could stamp or graffiti.

He said he loved it but then said something that made me think: “The only thing is we had thought about some of this, but we also wanted to make it accessible. It will be very difficult to make your new ideas as accessible.”

Current research does suggest that lower case, or sentence case, is easier to read than upper case letters.

Do recognisable logos need to be accessible?

So I spent a few days walking, as I love to do when I want to think, and considered this issue. As I walked, I started to spot things that inspired me.

It was logos; how accessible are any logos? What about those logos we recognise without words: Nike, Adidas, Mercedes, The Olympics, Apple, Windows, The Red Cross?

Or those that do have words Burger King (black capitals), Google (made-up nonsense word), NASA (acronym), NHS and BBC (initialisations), and LEGO (Danish). And yet all these brands mean something to us, and we generally know what each organisation does or stands for.

I went back to the designer and said….

(…and just a warning that you might spit your tea over your screen as you read this next bit).

….“I don’t think it needs to be accessible; it needs to be recognisable.”

And so we settled on these as the final versions:

Stay Up Late and Gig Buddies logos
New logos

The value of our charity branding

The whole concept of Gig Buddies is about making everyday life accessible to all. But that’s the purpose of the project, not of our logo.

Our logo must be easy to recognise, something that our community supports, and something that means something to potential new volunteers, funders, local authorities, and partners.

That’s when we realised the value of our logo. It’s about growing our community as a force for good, something we’re all united in; it’s not something we find people involved in the project are too worried about.

Charity branding lessons learned

Going through a change of branding can be a time-consuming and complicated process, and some of my learning and reflections on this are:

1. There are more important things to talk about

There are many more important things for us to talk to the people we work with than lots of meetings about logos. What about their experiences as Gig Buddies or in the wider community?

Those are the things I want us to focus on.

2. Trying to create a logo fully democratically is impossible

Imagine you wanted to re-design your kitchen and invited a group of people to be your steering committee. I wonder if you’d be able to accommodate all their ideas.

3. It’s just a charity logo; it’s not carved in stone

If we need to change it again in a few years, it’s not the end of the world.

4. I wished I’d thought this through better at the start!

When we started sharing the project in new places I was so pleased our work was developing in this exciting way I wasn’t thinking about branding. I wasn’t even imagining the project would grow in this way.

So have more ambition than me and think things through! Dream big, imagine what it would be like if you shared your project in over 20 places and ask yourself:

“How will the branding show we’re all part of one big community?”

5. Keep the original vision in focus

It’s hard to take loads of ideas and feedback on board as some will be helpful, but others will be conflicting or unhelpful. Listen to that part of you where you had the original idea, too. Don’t lose that.

6. Some people get more invested in change than others

I don’t care so much about changing things as other people may do; in fact, I get quite excited about it! So it’s also important to be mindful of that. Listen to their feedback, see where they’re coming from, compromise if you can or just be clear about why you’re sticking to a different idea.

7. Being accessible?

This is a difficult one as there is always more that can be done, and as a small charity, it can feel overwhelming constantly trying to find ways to open up your project to the people most in need.

Even the words’ Gig Buddies’ aren’t accessible, but it says what we’re about in two words. People get it especially new volunteers, the people the project couldn’t run without.

I doubt ‘Activity friends’ (an arguably more accessible description) has the same impact, though!

8. Be more directive

One issue we had was new projects wanting to call themselves other names than the area they were located in. This is fine if people are ‘in the know’ but what about people are new to the area, or have only just found out about your project.

When I started Gig Buddies, that’s what it was called, and we were unique. We now call ourselves ‘Gig Buddies Sussex’ so we can make our project more accessible to people with learning disabilities and autistic people living in our county.

The name of the locality helps people know where the project is.

Another piece of feedback we’ve had from time to time from potential new partners is

“But we’re not punk”

They’re not sure the logo reflects their organisation’s branding.

My reply to this would be “You bloody well are punks because you’re wanting to become part of our community of change.”

Punk is not about music or haircuts.

It’s about giving a shit when you see something that needs doing and doing something about it.

Becoming a community of projects

Changing logos and branding can become a big issue, especially if you want to make it a democratic process. We’ll all have to give and take, and we’ll all feel differently.

By writing this article, I wanted to share some of the lessons we’ve learned and how we’d do things differently if we could.

But if you can’t start again and need to change, then don’t see it as a massive issue. I know it’s a headache to change everything, like banners and leaflets, but that can fade in. You can use your old leaflets until they run out; nobody will mind. We’re all punks, right? We can break a few rules!

Or like us, do a bit of DIY making. Turn it into a creative activity with the people you support.

Our logo is our flag – our charity branding is about creating a movement

It’s important to us as a charity that we can say, “We’re the community of Gig Buddies projects,” to do that, we need to show some coherent sense of belonging to each other. It’s the flag we all fly together to hopefully draw more people into our community of change.

That’s the most important thing for us that we work together as a force for positive change.

And don’t we need that more than ever?

Read more on getting projects started quickly in our Starting New Projects – Punk Survival Guide

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Paul Richards Executive Director, Stay Up Late

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