Communications to bridge science and policy

Stockholm Environment Institute
Branding, Digital, Editorial, Film and animation, Publication design, Strategy

Effective communications need firm foundations. We helped the Stockholm Environment Institute to establish the branding and digital infrastructure it needed to project its global vision.

A variety of SEI branded products (left to right): a folder cover, business cards, publications and name badges.

The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) was created by the government of Sweden in 1989. Since then, it has played a pioneering role in generating and using scientific evidence to drive policy change on sustainable development.

By 2015, SEI had set up a network of centres across the globe, pursuing an ambitious and highly effective programme of work. But its communications had not kept pace. Its visual identity appeared dated, and its online presence was fragmented and difficult to navigate.

We were first brought in to complete an in-depth strategic review of SEI’s digital communications and content. They wanted to gain a better understanding of their audiences and how they could engage with them online.

It quickly became clear that the existing visual identity was not aligned with the organisation’s ambitious global strategy. It wasn’t helping the organisation communicate the depth and value of its activities. It also didn’t represent the values and personality of the people we encountered who were working at and with SEI. After we reported back on this initial discovery work, SEI took the decision to commission us to carry out a full brand refresh.

A banner with the text "SEI is: International, Trusted, Credible, Relevant. Only joined-up research can solve joined-up problems: our work makes connections across the natural, physical, and social sciences, allowing us to take new angles on key issues and offer robust, insightful policy advice."

We set about getting to know SEI even better, with further interviews, a staff workshop and audits of their existing identity and territory. From this, we came up with a narrative that emphasised SEI’s role as a bridge between science and policy, and reflected their global approach. We also built a personality for the brand that centred around their fiercely independent, practical and fundamentally honest nature.

A trio of images showing: a large SEI-branded poster (left), a mock-up of an SEI-branded figure viewed on a mobile device (top right) and a complex SEI-branded figure (bottom right).

There was a general acceptance within the organisation that the visual identity would need to be updated to reflect the new brand narrative and personality. But SEI staff were also keen to retain some element of the existing logo. We repurposed the core concept – a Fibonacci spiral – to create not only a new logo, but also a bold and dynamic visual brand language that could be applied in varied ways across SEI’s communications.

The Fibonacci spiral broken down into the six key SEI brand elements, in white on a green background.

For the colour palette, we drew inspiration from shades found in the natural environment, but boosted their colour for vibrancy and optimised them for digital use.

Four images showing how the SEI framing devices are used with images, each cut out on a coloured background.

Typography was also vital in establishing the right tone for SEI. We opted for Calibre for the brand typeface – a bold sans-serif that brings a sense of rigour, clarity and transparency.

A mock-up of an SEI-branded presentation on a conference screen.
Three examples of SEI-branded infographics, a proportional bubble chart (left), a stand-out statistic (centre) and a bar chart (right).
A collage of SEI brand elements.

To help mark the launch of the branding, SEI asked us to write and develop their annual report. The resulting layout made prominent use of the vivid new colour palette, which was then brought to life through cutting-edge digital print production. The design was made more engaging and interactive through the inclusion of a fold-out inside cover, and by cutting the pages to varying widths, which also allowed for ease of navigation between the report sections.

The foldout inside cover page from the 2019 SEI Annual Report.

The most important communications platform we needed to consider for the brand roll-out was, of course, the organisational website –  or, as it was at that point, multiple websites for SEI’s various centres around the world. The institute’s communications team agreed that, rather than simply reskinning these sites to incorporate the updated visual identity, they should use this opportunity to unify their digital presence around a more coherent, user-facing content structure.

This brought all the challenges we usually expect when redeveloping an organisational website –  such as rationalising the list of content types, and identifying an exhaustive but manageably short list of high-level topics around which SEI’s work is focused, as well as ensuring there are clear routes for users through large numbers of reports, articles, projects and events.

However, one challenge we faced here for the first time was how to structure a website when the primary language is English but there is also need to incorporate significant amounts of content in other languages. We developed a solution where users can switch between different language versions of the same page or content item while the navigation and other cross-site elements remain in English. This approach worked so well that we have since rolled it out for other international organisations facing the same challenges.

The site was developed in WordPress, which is normally associated with smaller organisational websites and project microsites. However, the site demonstrates that the CMS is perfectly capable of supporting the needs of international organisations that publish large volumes of content.

The homepage of the SEI website, showing the main navigation and homepage banner.
A Feature web page from the SEI website, showing the navigation and start of the article.

Six months after the brand and new website went live, SEI went to the top of the table in the University of Pennsylvania’s rankings of environment and development think tanks. And this project was just the beginning of our partnership with SEI. We continue to collaborate closely with them on a rolling programme of web and design activities. We also serve as a strategic communications partner, working as an extension of their team to design and deliver engaging editorial content, week in, week out.

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