Explaining the central dogma of molecular biology without words
Developing a visual identity is always a challenge for a designer: devise something visually appealing, that meets the client’s expectation and that captures the essence of the brand or product at a glance! The challenge is particularly big when it comes to science given that the concepts and ideas that define the brand are usually plenty as well as very complex.
But we are always up for a challenge and Prof. Victor de Lorenzo brought us one that put all the team to work! Victor is a chemist and research professor in the CNB-CSIC where he leads the Laboratory of Environmental Molecular Microbiology and he wanted us to design a visual identity for a European project. So far, so good. But it wasn’t any regular project but a FET-OPEN, well known for funding the craziest ideas in the best sense of the term, only ground-breaking and game-changing ideas get this funding! Stakes raised quickly!
With the name of both the religious icon and the pop star we were introduced to MADONNA. But as you can imagine, “she” had nothing to do with neither of them. MADONNA was no more but the acronym for «Microbial deployment of new-to-nature chemistries for refactoring the barriers between living and non-living matter». If you had to read the title twice and you still don’t understand what the project is about, don’t worry, it also took us some time. What Victor and his colleagues propose here is a major revolution. They aim at engineering microorganisms with new features so that they can turn industrial waste into resources closing the production cycle and fostering circular economy. Outstanding, right? The real mind blow came when he told us about how they wanted to do this. Instead of using a traditional genetic engineering approach they aim at introducing a new suit of chemical reactions by overcoming the unidirectionality of the genetic information flow, or in other words, turning the central dogma of molecular biology upside-down!
Now you remember what we said about the challenges of capturing the essence of a project and representing concepts? Ha. After a few seconds of shock and a long conversation we narrowed the list down to these four key concepts and got to work:
Anabolism and catabolism cycle
Reverse coding abiotic chemical reactions
Turning waste into an asset
We started with a quick drafting and came up with the following ideas: Arrows would for sure be part of the design, to represent the metabolic cycles, the reversing of the central dogma and the circularity of the industrial process. And colours could be our allies to introduce the concepts about the industrial waste and strengthen the sustainability aspect.
We chose dark bluish grey (#3e4250) to represent the industry and the waste and as a contrast aquamarine (#80b7b2) to represent the clean process and the recycling and we kept elaborating our favourite designs until we proposed this identity to Victor.
The main element of this visual ID combines the first and last letters of the logo in the form of a zig-zag reminiscent of a strand of DNA. In addition, the spaces between the letters are used to insert the arrowheads to illustrate the integration of new-to-nature chemical reactions into the DNA code as well as depicting a closed loop that represents the desired circularity of the industrial process.
The composition with two differentiated parts and colours provides symmetry and balance. In particular, the transition between grey and green as the logo develops represents the evolution towards a greener production by turning waste into an asset.
Finally, we chose the font Roboto, an easy-to-read modern sans-serif type, that gives a state-of-the art touch to the whole identity aligned with the novelty of the project ideas.
At this point of the way most of our work was done, we managed to synthesize all the concepts into an eye-catching visual identity, and it was time to make the final step and see if our proposal met our client’s expectation. Luckily Victor and the rest of the consortium liked our idea very much and were happy with the outcome.
We really enjoyed this assignment and are very glad to have contributed with our grain of sand to this ground-breaking project!