It began around sunset, one grey October afternoon in 2013. I was walking through Holyrood Park on my way home from visiting my mum and I was thinking about the new job I would soon be starting. That job was to be the graphic designer on Yes Scotland's digital team.
For nearly ten months I had been making my own social media graphics, supporting a Yes vote in the referendum on Scottish independence. In that time I had made infographics, message graphics and graphics that combined the two strands, with one thing that tied them together – the bare bones of a brand based on Yes Scotland's simple white and blue logo. This was a safe brand – blue, white, red, Helvetica – and it was not very exciting to look at.
Branding, in a graphic design sense, uses colours and fonts to establish a look, feeling or character, that people will hopefully come to associate favourably with the brand's company. It is a large part of what creates the public face of a company and it needs to match up well with the company's audience. The larger that potential audience becomes, the safer – or more bland – the brand needs to look, in order to appeal to as many different people as possible.
This was were Yes Scotland's simple logo came from and its widespread use shows that it worked very well. It appealed to everyone. In my graphics I had helped spread that logo and look, using a safe design style, one that seemed almost corporate. Safe to say, it was not really setting my heather alight.
Walking through the grey gloaming of Holyrood Park, after a few hours discussing the indyref and thinking about my new job, revelation struck: there was no branding for Yes Scotland, only a logo. I alone had inferred a brand from that logo and worked within its imagined parameters. No one was making me do that, or even expecting it and I realised that I was finding it constrictive and dull.
I turned the idea on its head. Could I simply do what I wanted? Was I really that free? In a moment of near-giddiness, I realised that I probably could and probably was. My excitement grew. A few ideas occurred to me. I wrote them in my notebook and started to walk faster, to get home and get started on something new.
My basic idea was this: with a lifetime of love for art and design, there was potentially an endless supply of (at the very least) styles, colours and fonts to take inspiration from. This was as exciting a prospect as I could imagine. I had never knowingly faced such a blank design canvas before.
As is often the case with a revelation of this nature, intuition begins the process while reason comes along later and fills in the details. The details here would be me using a wide array of styles gathered from art and design history, to create graphics that could potentially reach a wider audience than if I used a one-style-fits-no-one brand. Put simply, with a whole country to try to reach, I could use lots of difference styles to try to fit lots of different audiences. And there was more.
In making use of established styles, I could subliminally reinforce the idea that Scotland's independence was not new and untested. For example, an Art Nouveau style graphic would have 100 years of history behind it. It would not look like something new and frightening.
There were two weeks to go until I was to join Yes Scotland. I decided to use that time trying out my idea and I began by creating a design to carry the most basic message of the campaign: 'Vote Yes'. I looked to Art Nouveau for inspiration and in particular Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, whose work is synonymous with the movement.
I was pleased with the resulting graphic and shared it online. Others liked it and they shared it. It got around. A few months later, one Chris Law of Dundee contacted me with an idea to put the design on the side of a vintage fire engine, that he proposed to fill with pro-indy materials and tour around Scotland. On the side of the soon-to-be-named Spirit of Independence, the design took to the real world and spread further still.
To this day, I've seen it recreated on walls and in tattoos, while countless people have used it as their online avatar. Just a few days ago, a white van parked outside my flat with a postcard of it tucked behind their windshield. It seems as if it got everywhere. I have even seen it described as a symbol of the whole Yes campaign – an idea that overwhelms me.
There is a theory in art and it is this: when an artist is creating, their work is for them. Once that work is finished, however, the work is for everyone. Nothing else I have created has quite embodied that theory such as this design.
Thank you, everyone, who helped shape what this simple graphic has become.
– Stewart Bremner