Emma Lawton

Central School of Speech and Drama


Central School of Speech and Drama is renowned for training some of acting's biggest names. But their pedigree in other areas of theatre and performance training flies almost under the radar.

The challenge

With applications soaring for their performance based courses, CSSD have a strong reputation and an enviable alumni list that guarantees them the best students. But many of their production and design courses don't draw the same numbers of applicants, an imbalance that saw CSSD keen to promote the fact that it's more than an acting school.

A recent acquisition of the word Royal to the title had given them a perceived new level of gravitas externally but had changed them very little operationally and in the minds of its students and staff. They stuck by their mantra 'Elite but not elitist'.

The solution

On visiting the school and speaking to the students it became even clearer that non acting students felt under-represented on the homepage of the website. Everyone we spoke to seemed to be studying something different and had a strong opinion about it. In their breaks students from different courses spilled out onto the grassy areas and into the cafeteria, actors mixing with puppeteers, costumiers with teachers. The building itself had pockets of space between teaching rooms where students could break out and practice lines or talk through a set brief and the more formal rooms where lesson took place could be transformed into a theatre with the release of a raked seating platform. At any time multiple things can be taking place in the building with energy, passion and strong opinion behind it and i liked the conflict of this.

We ran a design briefing session where we explored the brand, the addition of the Royal and what this meant for the school. There was a strong sense of pride, almost arrogance, towards CSSD as an institution, a feel of 'we're Central, people know who we are' and that the design could be brave and embrace this confident attitude.

Design briefing moodboards explore photography and design styles.

Design briefing moodboards explore photography and design styles.

The concept

We presented a number of concepts which provided a platform for photographic snapshots of a day at Central. Each concept was bold in contrast to the existing site, using strong imagery, big text and bright colours to show the energy of the school.

Concepts presented to clients.

The staff and students students still refer to the school as Central even after gaining Royal status so we wanted to play on this slightly rebellious pride in their school. They felt an affinity with the concepts where the name Central took centre stage. The brand typeface Fogarty Inline provided a strong stamp to the imagery on the homepage, the photos become an incidental background to the text, it's less about what it shows than how it reacts with the letters. Sometimes on a light image the text almost disappears, true rebellion and arrogance that the visitor already knows who they are.

It was important to Central to retain a full course list on their home page at all times to represent the multitude of high quality courses on offer. This posed a design challenge in keeping the site uncluttered but by adding them into the footer the courses panel can be opened or closed as needed by the user. This paired with a simple to use Course Finder makes for an effortless course search experience no matter which part of the site you're in.

Course Finder | Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (20140814).jpg

We introduced student profiles for all disciplines, not just acting, to give final year students a platform to promote their experience and give agents and employers a database to search.


We broke each area of study down into its component groups of courses and gave equal weighting in the navigation to performance and non performance courses. 

On subject area landing pages the user can make a selection based on the pathway they're interested in.

On subject area landing pages the user can make a selection based on the pathway they're interested in.

On click, the courses which sit under the Acting pathway are revealed.

On click, the courses which sit under the Acting pathway are revealed.

Testing the concept

We ran guerilla testing with students to gauge their reactions on the look and structure of the new site. The overall impression was that it was bolder and more confident and reflected the ethos of Central. Dyslexic students gave us advice on unclear areas, a vital insight as the school has a high proportion of students with a need for increased clarity and legibility.