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Wellcome Sanger Institute 

Ensuring identity keeps pace with the science

The context

One of Europe’s most pre-eminent research institutes,

the Wellcome Sanger Institute has been at the forefront of pioneering scientific research in genomics for the last 25 years, having played a pivotal role in the Human Genome Project.  However, the Institute’s brand and external profile had not kept pace with its science. 


Genomics as a field has witnessed huge and rapid growth over the last decade with an explosion in the science matched by an explosion in the market.  Many new entrants are now rivalling and competing with established brands for talent, funding and influence on a global stage.


To ensure Sanger's profile reflected its cutting-edge science and could support its ambition, it needed to refresh, modernise and update the way it presented itself to the world.


The approach

Depth interviews with Director and senior leaders across the business > horizon scan and market review of global genomics sector and key players  > qualitative research with leaders in genomics research community internationally and major funders > review of major programmes to understand what makes Sanger science, Sanger development of brand strategy framework > complete overhaul of brand identity

The strategic shift

Beyond ‘Sanger sequencing’ - to science at scale

The pivotal role the Sanger Institute had played in the Human Genome Project and its association with the development of sequencing technology, often referred to as ‘Sanger Sequencing’, was both central to its success and central to the issue of image. 

Sequencing per se had become relatively commoditised and, even though Sanger’s science had moved rapidly beyond this, the long-held external association was going to be difficult to shift.  The Institute needed a refreshed brand which better represented its commitment to delivering bold, exploratory research that pushes the boundaries of what is known and what is possible and articulated a story about Sanger science, beyond sequencing.  This positioning was further emphasised in a modernised visual identity, that retained a connection to the past, but spoke of and to the genomics of the future.



It’s not sequencing that’s important, it’s the science it enables

you to do

The Institute benefits from cutting-edge facilities and technology that enables data-driven discovery science on a huge scale.  But it is the combination of these, along with its people – many of the brightest and best genomic researchers in the world – and, crucially, with its core purpose - to pioneer the biggest, boldest exploratory research at scale, enabled by core-grant funding from Wellcome - that truly make Sanger, Sanger.


Our recommendation was to ensure the new brand positioning and narrative was focused not on the technology, but on what the technology enables Sanger to do – for science, for society and for the world in general.

Striking the right balance between Wellcome and Sanger ­

Given that Sanger receives the vast majority of its funding via a recurrent core grant and is Wellcome’s only core funded institute, it was clear that establishing the correct brand architecture and striking the right balance between Sanger and Wellcome was central to its identity.  Close alignment makes sense – Sanger and Wellcome are well aligned in terms of vision, ethos, culture, with strong governance in place - but Sanger had established its own international reputation and also enjoyed scientific freedom from Wellcome to pursue its own research agenda. 


Through a series of working sessions and a brand audit, we were able to explore the optimal relationship and proximity to the Wellcome brand; and the resulting identity retains the Sanger name and a distinct identity, whilst borrowing appropriately from Wellcome’s visual language.

Data-driven discovery science

An explosion in data generated by large-scale sequencing projects around the world, has shifted genomics from a ‘wet lab’ science to a data science. The organisation, storage, curation and annotation of data provides significant challenge and focus for all.  So, to ensure the Institute and its science was firmly positioned at the frontier of data-driven discovery research in genomics, our recommendation was that its modernised identity embraced this - with a new brand identity born of data points, gene blocks and classic sequencing gels, yet reimagined in a dynamic, fluid and progressive way.

Flexibility and practicality, without compromising visual impact

Our engagement revealed that success for Sanger lies in the thousands of small interactions the Institute makes with the world.  Most stakeholder interactions with brand are via simple channels such as papers, email signatures or scientific conference posters. Therefore, our approach was to build the visual identity from the ‘bottom-up’, developing an easily deployable and useable design system, without losing the necessary dynamism to stand out on a global stage.

“Boardroom has been great on the Wellcome Sanger Institute brand project, a project with a variety of complex variables. Their experience, expertise and knowledge really did shine through the advice and support given. Part of that is their capacity to understand the nature of organisations and really drill into what is required to articulate their brand and visual identity in new and compelling ways, whilst remaining true and authentic.  I’ve really enjoyed working with them.”

Steve Palmer

Director of Communications

Wellcome Sanger Institute

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