Fuel brand

The Royal College of Art professional practice service was named ‘FuelRCA’ in 2005.

The name FuelRCA was developed through a series of workshops and student/staff consultation led by InnovationRCA's John Bound and corporate identity specialist David Pike. '(Human) Fuel' was suggested by SU Vice-President Graeme Raeburn (MA Fashion 2005) and endorsed by SU President Cia Durante (MA Photography 2005), both of whom went on to work for Fuel. It was subsequently signed-off by Rector Sir Christopher Frayling, and a visual identity was later created by Jeff Willis, Lorna Turner and Walter Newton.

The following notes by David Pike illustrate the rationale behind the launch of the 'FuelRCA' brand name in Autumn 2005.

The Royal College of Art Professional Practice resource and programme (as it has been known) helps students and recent graduates chart a way into the ‘real world’ and tackle the issues beyond their individual creative focus. There is a great temptation for students to concentrate solely on the creative at the expense of the more practical aspects of having to support oneself through work, whether in a commercial environment or in the precarious world as an artist. The issue is to get students to recognise that while the non-creative work is often less stimulating, and for many a chore, it is not something that will go away. They need to consider and prepare for their next steps when they leave the RCA.

Beyond the students there is a wider group of important audiences who, although they are not primary users of the resources and website, need to endorse the standard of the teaching and support within Professional Practice. As a result it is important that when they browse the website or printed material they make allowances for the single minded targeting of students and put aside their own subjective preferences.

Functional requirement of the name

1. Creating understanding
This is all about shifting perception that while commercial and non-creative issues may be less attractive they are crucial to smoothing the transition from being student to independent life. Any communication will need to be engaging and brief. Few students will commit much energy in the first instance, so a well argued two page article is unlikely to win over many sceptics. On the website and posters this would suggest using more emotive words and imagery.

2. Providing support resources
This will be the grit of the Professional Practice and necessarily more pragmatic and dry. It would be inappropriate to glamorise discussions on patent law, accounting or preparing a CV. In terms of presentation of resources it should be seen to be practical and delivered with the little fuss, minimising the time taken away from the creative focus of the students. The implication for the website is that it is likely to be highly functional and well ordered. However it would be wrong to be wholly rational and an echo of the more emotive arguments would act as a quiet reminder or reinforcement of the value of this works

3. Providing a context for wider audiences

  • Students – prospective and current …the core audience
  • Academic staff – Tutors, Rector and Pro Rector
  • Support staff
  • Alumni
  • Other Colleges
  • Employers – companies, galleries, agencies
  • Funding bodies – Government, QAA etc
  • Banks – e.g. Nat West

Audiences like funders, faculty and employers who see the Professional Practice activity need to be reminded that they are looking at material prepared for students and alumni.  Consequently it would be helpful if the material could be presented in some kind of ‘wrapper’. That could be a physical wrap like a folder for printed materials, or a way into the website that has an introductory paragraph of what the site is trying to achieve.

The overarching ‘brand’
Professional Practice is seen to be worthy and uninspiring and students (and some staff) say that it puts them off. However anyone who takes time to consider what is being covered recognise its merits. So the requirement is for a new name and visual presentation. The name does not need to be descriptive in itself, but if it is not it will need to work with an explanatory strapline. Finally it will need to be clearly seen as an RCA initiative. It may be enough that the resources are delivered from the website or within the RCA but it would be more versatile if there was a considered linkage with either or both the RCA name or logo.

Our discussions threw up four ideas or areas that might be able to carry and embrace the activities of the Professional Practice resource around which we could create the new name and identity

  • A sense of journey
  • A focus on the future
  • The integration of business understanding into the current RCA experience
  • The importance of money/earning a living; realism

Provision of support and education of students to support them through a two part activity

1. to create the recognition amongst students that to fulfil their potential they need to act positively to ensure that their vocation or work supports a life that they are comfortable with

2. to be active and engaged rather than passive is likely to deliver far greater satisfaction or contentment.

With the recognition that they need to be involved in shaping their life, the College needs to give them access to the resources to achieve that within their working life. There are generic skills which give far greater opportunities

Points to remember when developing ‘new’ Professional Practice

  • Needs to engage students throughout their time at RCA to ensure gradual preparation and not last minute panic.
  • Needs to be higher profile in order to make all students aware
  • Needs to have support of the Rector so that it can be truly integrated.
  • Tutors need to have word from the Rectorate that this matters and must be taken seriously
  • Needs to appeal to students in all departments as information is relevant to all
  • Needs to target high number of international students

Possible inspirational words!

  • After the show…
  • Artistic
  • Blossom
  • Bridge
  • Burn
  • Business
  • Commercial
  • Creative
  • Development
  • DNA
  • Earn a living
  • Economics
  • Energy
  • Future
  • Gateway
  • Guarantee the future
  • Guide to creative success
  • Hand
  • Harness
  • Inside/outside
  • Integration
  • Making work work
  • Maximise your potential
  • Next step
  • Nuts and bolts
  • Past, present and future
  • Pathway
  • Practice
  • Practitioners
  • Preparation
  • Professional
  • Profit
  • Real world
  • Springboard
  • Stories
  • Support
  • Theorist
  • Transit
  • …RCA

Next stage
The next stage was to develop a range of naming possibilities: from ‘edgy’ and student focused (Graeme Raeburn - see his notes below) to drier and more external audience focused (David Pike).  Work to start on initial visual ideas for a logo. The shortlist was considered at a follow-up meeting with the new Students’ Union President, prior to presentation and sign-off by the Rectorate. The new identity was refined and applied on the College intranet, flyers and posters, launched at the start of the Autumn term 2005.

We chose to work up four names to get a better sense of how the names might work, how we would react to them and to stimulate a richer discussion. We also tried to get a range from some that were fairly straight to some that were more ‘edgy’.  

In coming up with the names the most straight, or descriptive, did not seem to make a significant step forward from Professional Practice. The final list was:

  • Launchpad
  • Life Work
  • Burn
  • Fuel

We considered all of them with and without RCA appended to them.

In contrast to the others this name provided something tangible. It made reference to the momentous change after the show. It turned the negative comments about falling off a precipice into a positive sense of stepping out and up. It linked to the course in as much as to be successful requires preparation and planning.

Whilst rational and straightforward and didn’t seem to offer up any significant extra associations to any of the group and left us all feeling rather flat and wanting more. It was quickly discounted.

Burn RCA
This was a much more interesting word for everyone. For each person it had different associations, mostly positive though some negative. Positives centred around intensity, burning the candle at both end, creative spark; negatives around burn out and burning oneself. That brought an edginess and realism that was felt to more in the area that students might respond to. A little bit of the shock factor might be what it takes to wake up some students.

The visual execution failed to really come to life and it was overshadowed by Fuel which could carry all the associations and some more too. Burn was also fairly quickly put to one side.

Fuel RCA
In addition to the associations of energy Fuel also takes in the wider sense of education and nourishment. It could more readily encompass all the activities of the Professional Practice and yet provide the grit and sharpness that the group felt would make it engaging.

Life Work RCA
This was an interesting option and engaged a few of the team at a rational level but felt weaker alongside Fuel. There was talk of how Work was bracketed by Life and the RCA, how life equals works, a play on one’s life work and yet it didn’t leap off the page at us.

It was strong in plain type but failed to make a step forward when presented visually.

What Life Work RCA did throw up was that it made the basis for a descriptive strapline. Looking at some of the other words we’d explored it was suggested we add ‘think’ to make: Think.Life.Work (later changed to Think.Work.Live at the suggestion of the Rector).

All of the names felt more comfortable supported with RCA, ie Burn RCA. To build in InnovationRCA into the felt overcomplicated . However it is important to continue to raise the standing and reputation of InnovationRCA so a clear line of type explaining its role would need to be added to any poster, website or publication.

It was clear to the group that Launchpad and Burn weren’t going to provide the energy and flexibility of the other two options. Of the remaining two Life Work somehow just failed to capture the imagination in the same way as Fuel although everyone could see potential and merit in it. 

Fuel felt the more robust, the most relevant to students and more capable of stretching to take in all of Professional Practice. There was no sense in the meeting that there might be other better words out there and the four presented represented a real choice.

The name 'FuelRCA' was later approved by Rector Sir Christopher Frayling in time for the project's official launch in the Autumn term 2005.
 A strapline 'Think.Work.Live' was used initially but later dropped as the brand became established at the RCA and externally.

FuelRCA's visual identity was updated in 2010 in response to feedback from the Students' Union and MA Programmes. David Pike returned to help develop the brief while Julia won an internal competition to create a flexible range of logotype-based graphic design templates. Tom Lucas managed the transition and has since designed the majority of Fuel's posters, flyers and presentations as well as the website.

Notes on HumanFuelRCA; Preparing Your Future Value by Graeme Raeburn
, Vice President, RCA Students' Union 2004/5 and FuelRCA team 2006/7

  • Sure it’s a cold, harsh, dry, (think Logan’s Run!) and might conjure up images of pig-nosed Capitalists throwing shovelfuls of creatives and their ideas onto their furnaces to drive their printing presses - off which roll crisp fifty pound notes….. but it is wonderfully acute and highlights the fact that you are a commodity, and how you are harnessed and how efficiently is completely up to the individual.
  • I think this coldness is good + healthy! It’s not rose-tinted idealism, but faces reality; you might have to allow yourself to ‘be used’ or get a ‘treading water’ job to progress to the next stage. Again focuses on you acknowledging your worth as a creative person, and not being scared or stating a price eg. on one day's creativity.
  • The coldness will imbue it with a ‘fear’ motivator. PP is no longer a push/shove towards a goal, but a pull – come here, its for your own good.
  • I think it has a fantastic edgyness, (almost bitterness!) which will resonate with the students who (quote) ‘see getting involved with business making their work less pure’.
  • Will you burn brightly and feed power, warmth and inspiration to those around you or will you become spent and cold because you were not prepared?…..
  • You will probably find it further casualy abbreviated to ‘Fuel’ = v identifiable/hip(!)
  • I think this title perfectly sums up the subject. It’s not ‘professional practice’; it’s ‘human fuel’