English National Opera: A Design Perspective

Author: James Braithwaite

I recall the debrief with Andy after our successful first meeting with ENO.
I was very excited. We all were.
I believe the term meisterwerk was used.

Back in September when we first started working with ENO I must admit I didn’t know a great deal about the world of Opera. I certainly know more now.

I did however hold a keen interest in buildings and architecture. The London Coliseum, an edifice of Byzantine opulence and the home of English National Opera, would cause most to take pause.

Opening doors in 1904 at St. Martins Lane with the slogan Pro Bono Publico (For the public good), it was designed by Frank Matcham to be London’s largest and finest theatre, one of the only of its time in Europe with the luxuries of electricity and lifts to the upper levels.


After suffering cuts from the Arts Council, ENO had positioned themselves to refresh a disparate visual identity and ageing website in order to get their house in order. The rebrand by Rose was well into its final stages by the time we arrived, and was yielding excellent results.

The mantle passed to us to take this work and produce the same, online.

Seminal to this new brand identity was an invigorating dominance of striking artworks, appealing and poignant in equal measure, specifically crafted for each production. A rare treat in a domain often encumbered with crass marketing graphics. The gorgeous and eminently usable typeface LL Brown from the veritable Lineto, alongside a bold yet minimal palette rounded out the visual components at our disposal.

We spent a good deal of time thinking over the opera production pages. These important pages had a lot to achieve, outside that which is immediately obvious.

We wanted to allow each page to have a distinct feel, a distillation of the production artworks.

To achieve this, a system was designed that allows the content managers to assign a number of colours and gradient ramp values to the page. These then seamlessly blend from the artwork into the background of the content – a pleasant respite from the oft-witnessed cut, where large hero image meets the rest of the page in stark contrast. The result was a production page that had a much greater sense of cohesion between artwork and content, similar to the printed adverts you can see in and around London.