By your side

Investment houses typically present themselves as corporate and serious. Ruffer are not a typical investment house, and they called on Sparks to develop a brand as original and distinctive as they are.

Ruffer LLP - By your side
Ruffer LLP - By your side

Opportunity

Ruffer is an investment management partnership, founded in 1994. It has always taken pride in its good stewardship, a careful approach that sometimes seemed out of step with the wider industry – but then proved its worth when Ruffer emerged ahead of the market after the 2007–08 financial crisis. We started working with them in 2009, building their first website. They now manage over £20 billion in assets for clients around the world.

The firm operates with a distinctive guiding philosophy, consistent and reliable and quietly innovative behind the scenes. They needed a brand that would express who they were, and that would stand out in an industry where many firms look very similar. 

Creating the brand

Building knowledge for a strong foundation

Back in 2009 Sparks ran workshops to get to understand the core of the company’s approach. Originality emerged as a key characteristic, a willingness to think differently from their peers. They were not afraid of being perceived as quirky, if the unusual approach delivered results. Alongside this was an ‘old fashioned’ ethic of service, professionalism and courtesy.

Ruffer have always been clear that they don’t want clients who are only interested in the numbers. They want people who understand and agree with their responsible investment philosophy – where others talk about growing capital, Ruffer talk about not losing it. This discerning approach allowed us a degree of freedom: theirs would not need to look like any other brand in the sector. 

We built Ruffer a website where visitors were greeted on the homepage by an animated drawing of a gentleman doffing his hat. It was certainly unique. Just as importantly, it captured the sense that service and character were more important than data and technology.  

Here’s what it looked like.

As Ruffer has grown we have continued to work with them to bring the brand to life across a range of materials, including a radical take on an annual investment review, recruitment brochures, and a third update to their website. 

Illustration

Illustration is an established part of Ruffer’s visual tradition, often using humorous or satirical sketches. As part of the brand refresh, we worked with Ruffer to develop a portfolio of illustrations for the website and other communications. There was a delicate balance to strike, aiming for something that didn’t take itself too seriously, but that was not childish. It also had to fit well with a more modern website, and the ‘humble servant’ connotations of that original animation needed an update. The bowing man in the top hat had to go. 

Working with an illustrator, Sparks presented a series of illustration styles using line drawings and blocks of colour. 

This was refined into the more specific idea of capturing the essence of Ruffer in a single character, a development of the dog that had featured in previous illustrations. The dog would have to represent Ruffer. It would be wise and alert, playful, curious, faithful. It would also be animated, with a series of subtle movements that brought the dog to life. 

Potential clients visiting the new website see a dog holding an umbrella, reflecting Ruffer’s aim to deliver results in good times and bad. The dog tilts the umbrella to look at the sun. Its tail wags in greeting.

Photography

There is a certain risk in a wealth management firm not taking itself too seriously in its brand. Nobody wants to trust their wealth to a cartoon dog, and the website needed to balance the playfulness with a sense that there were real experts on hand. To build trust while maintaining its distinctive approach, Sparks found an unusual yet entirely fitting solution to the portraits on the ‘who’s who’ page. 

Through a professional test shoot, we explored five approaches to the staff portraits. Each route expressed a subtle difference in the Ruffer personality. The resulting photographs are immaculately lit and composed formal portraits, with an unusual green background that immediately sets the Ruffer team apart from a thousand other similar pages. 

Web design

Sparks presented the client with three different iterations of the new website. Each alternative would push the brand in a slightly different direction: did Ruffer want to express themselves as bold and modern, more corporate and business–like, or more direct and pared back? 

We worked closely with Ruffer to identify the core of what they wanted to communicate, and to whom, and refined the concept into a finished product.

Through wire–framing workshops we established the possible pathways through the website that potential clients might take, depending on their particular interests. This tried and tested approach ensures that the website is as carefully considered in its logic as it is in its visuals.

The Ruffer brand would stand out anywhere, but particularly in the staid world of financial services. Through the website, and other key communications such as their annual review, Sparks have brought out Ruffer’s personality and unconventional approach. 

See our design for Ruffer’s annual review.

Impact

“Working with Sparks is a completely collaborative experience. They know the right questions to ask, to get to the heart of what we’re trying to achieve. It never feels like a shopkeeper/customer relationship; with every project, big or small, there’s a healthy back and forth process, taking our opinions on board.

On a practical level, deadlines are met, and the people are all friendly and professional to deal with. Even though it’s a small agency, there’s always someone I can speak to for updates on our project.

On a creative level, the work is outside the mainstream. Sparks’ designs for Ruffer have made people sit up and pay attention.”

Joan Gillison, Ruffer LLP