Niiiiiiiiiiiikel brand
On the way to Scandinavia, fallen in the Kola Super Deep Circumstances
Nikel is a monotown in the North-West of Russia with all typical characteristics of an industry-dependent locality. It is perceived by many as an edge of the country, but not by locals, who say that their town is actually a gate to Russia. Pechengsky district stands next to both Finland and Norway borders and had friendly cultural relationships with them. Internationaly speaking, it is famous for the Kola Superdeep Borehole, the deepest drilling project ever existed on Earth.

Client: Nornickel and the Second School

Work: Research, branding, design

2020 … 2021
Thanks to the cross-governmental agreement on visa-free entrance for citizens of the frontier zone, collaboration with Norway, both countries hoped for collaborative long-term projects in culture, economy, education, and environmental conservation.
In case somebody didn't know where the gate to Russia is. It is here.
Nikel life changed drastically in 2020, when the old historic smelting plant had closed permanently. That means massive resident relocations and total change way of living for the locals, who used to work & live in a town, focused on industrial life. We had been asked to find the new meaning of the place, for the renewed Nikel after 2020. Refocus, redesigned. We wondered if tourism will fit, but at what cost?

While the industrial landscape is predominant in the settlement, wild natural sites are easy to reach. Citizens perceive this proximity to natural surroundings as an advantage of living in Nikel. This is what Nikel is all about:
Lower three photos by Inna Mikhalchuk
Covid and the baby
We started working on Nikel in 2020, when covid strucked hard and disabled all the common way of communicating we all used to. So the whole territory was forbidden for visiting and we all started thinking online. Besides covid, we had family news and been distracted from work for a few months with the born of a baby. So we visited Nikel only in august, while launching project in the late spring with a baby roughly 2 mo.
We had been exploring the place from both sides of the border. Benefits from proximity towards each other appeared to be the obvious reason where to head further.
  • Online survey

    Covid made its correctives and the survey we typically hold offline went online on a website (currently down) ~200 participants
  • 40 interviews

    From Russia and Norway, to capture the idea from both sides
  • Interactive map

    As always, the mad had been filled from the info locals gave us, which made it important and nonformal. Check out the map
  • Round-table

    Heads of the towns Pechenga, Zapolyarny and Pechenga District had been participating in round table online
We're glad that many things in common between Russian and Norway residents:
  • Russia

    1. Proud of their location and visa-free Norway access — 40 mins away from Europe and high-quality european shopping
    2. If you search internet for tourist attractions in Nikel — you get results from Norway as well
    3. Meet norwegians on the street, who tend to come for cheap shopping and not staying (no places to stay)
    4. Nikel residents think of themselves as a gate to Russia
  • Norway

    1. Living next to visa-free Russia makes it possible for very cheap shopping (especially cheap gasoline), ideal for 1-day trip without staying due to the lack of tourist infrastructure in Nikel
    2. If you search internet for tourist attractions in Kirkenes — you get results from Russia as well
    3. Russians make Kirkenes vivid and vibrant
    4. Quick trip to Nikel is like quick introduction to Russia
  • Collaboration

    1. Ecological. Pasvik Nature Reserve
    2. Culture. Barents-spektakel
    3. Sport. Friendship ski-track
    4. Energy. Paatsjoki River 5 hydroelectric Plants
    5. Domestic. Gasoline, shops, beauty salons
    6. War history
    7. Border protection
    8. Educational
What brand must cure
  1. New economic for the place
  2. Attract new potential investors
  3. Bring new tourists from Russia and Scandinavia
Brand capital
What do we have
  1. Industrial history with Nikel settlement as its core
  2. International cooperation (humanitarian, cultural, tourism)
  3. Northern nature vibe
  4. Pasvik Nature Reserve that is shared across 3 countries
  5. World War 2 history
  6. Frontier zone, war bases, forbidden to entry
  7. Geological specialities
  8. Nickel is a chemical element, recognizable title for a foreigner
  9. Head towards new ecology
  10. Nikel valley, as the possible IT cluster
  11. Moon-like desolate scenery
What we should solve
  1. Language barrier
  2. Pack of obsolete stereotypes towards each other
  3. No tourist infrastructure
  4. Don't know how to navigate
  5. Problems with getting visa
How to solve problems
  1. More language educational programs
  2. Build communication friendly enough to overgrow stereotypes that prevent from growing closer communities
  3. Building multilangual tourist center, social websites, materials
  4. Make tourist maps, wayfinding system
  5. Upgrading to e-visa
Way to Russia & Way to Scandinavia
The brand's communication is open and friendly, informing that both Russia and Scandinavia head towards more cultural and tourism integration. For Russians, it is a "path to Scandinavia," and for people coming from Norway and Finland, it is the opposite: "path to Russia". Important step in going there is getting rid of obsolete stereotypes people had gained (with a reference that we loved — Satwcomic). The word way helps us making fun of it easily with just replacing to with too:
Way too Russian & Way too Scandinavian
Ni (which stands for Nickel, obviously) was all what Nikel was about for the past century. The design also reflects the positive change at the place. The multiplied i in Nikel symbolizes growth and development. Phonetically hospitable word Niiiiiikel tells the new story: New Nikel is not a monotown, we have more: opportunities, services, visitors, investment, businesses". Different colors highlight various ways of the town's development.
As seen on the coat of arms, everybody got used to that Ni stands for nickel element, so we haven't changed the title to cyrillic and left it latin only. When to speak about the concept of international friendship, that haven't confused anybody (it had, actually, but we could convince everybody). Note to see the difference: while nickel (with c) is the chemical element, Nikel (without c) is the town title.

Nikel coat of arms
Perspective way
The word way is the core of the brand and appears throughout brand communications in a perspective way. Most of slogans and communications had been put into the 3d perspecive to resemble the pathways or roads between Scandinavia and Russia.
Mascots that rock
Stereotypes and the industrial history of the place are the challenges to overcome with the new brand. Hills surrounding Nikel are covered with kerns or core samples, a cylindrical section of a naturally occurring substance, from the depths of Pechenga District. Kern is an element of the town's identity, geological and historical. We converted the industrial waste into local characters. They make jokes, tell stories in different languages, and will become the main guides in the upcoming Museum of Stereotypes. The only problem with these kerns is that they are not allowed to be put in the hand luggage in the airport.
Learn urban dictionary with the kerns
Stereotypical stories told
All the content had been carefully collected in the brandbook. This time, we had been wiser when to speak about illustrated material and we got adhered to the principle of using readymade flat illustrations style, that can be bought on photo stocks easily, rather than personal art style. Brandbook was truly awesome, easy to use and plain for understanding. It had gone through all the approval stages, yet the world had other plans on it.
Set of layouts that prove the brand flexibility
Real liiiiiiiife
Niiikel international brand almost hasn't got any practical usage since release due to political circumstances, as of 2023. That means, all the ideas and concept on "Way to Russia/Way to Scandinavia" has never been used widely. Anyway, the next year after the release we moved slowly to part 2 of the project: the tourist map and friendly wayfinding design.
Check the map and wayfinding system that we've created for Nikel and Pechenga District
That can't be said about design which immediately had gained separated support with the secondary projects like the art-residence "2Art", "UrbanLab", "Polar night" and the small gastronomic event that transformed into the headliner festival of the region, which we'll cover later in this article.
Igor Makovsky
Not much on Niiikel brand in mediiia
  1. Article on 2nd_school homepage on Nikel identity and the working process
  2. Murmansky Vestnik on the Nikel identity approval process
We really like the work the team has done. It's a lively, modern way to showcase our beautiful Pechengsky District. It is a breath of fresh air. I think it is useful to shape the image of the future, including through such an identity. The stylistics of the work is clear to the younger generation and active people who will be happy to come to Nikel.
Larisa Zelkova
International cornerstone
In 2022 the story of international focused tourism irrevocably aborted for the region that borders Finland and Norway. We started joking on the new rebranding, that we thought would sound somehow like this:
Kola Super Deep fail in touriiiiiiism
But you should never give up when dealing with place branding. The vibe of industrial history of the region raised upon the whole situation in fact:
This is where it all begins
Russia begins here
Industrelicious delicious!
One of the most brightly revealed brand reincarnation is the Gastro Industry Festival held in Niiikel annualy since the brand release.
Nikel branding is the perfect example of a live process which place branding has always been. What was intended to become an international cultural branding transformed into the industrial arctic Burning man-type event. Not bad at all for the beginning! Anyway, we hope, that all the ideas, that we got originally would be implemented when it will be the right time.
Natalia Rybalchenko
Gastrofest across mediiia
  1. Gastro Industry Festival website, vk and telegam
  2. Vokrug Sveta on Gastro Industy Festival
  3. Nice Gastro Industry Fest 2022 report on yt
  4. Not less nice Gastro Industry Fest 2023 report on yt
  5. Kudago on Gastrofest
  6. Argumenty Facts on Gastrofest
  7. Severpost on Gastrofest
  8. KN51 on Gastrofes
It was hard to believe that tourism would become a priority by 2020. Now, in 2023, we see tourists coming here to check the industrial past history, and see how ecology takes it back slowly. Pechengsky district is all about industry and nature tourism synergy.
Aleksander Eliseev
  • Natalia Makovsky
    Brand strategy
  • Igor Makovsky
    Art direction, designer
  • Denis Serebryakov
    Type designer
  • O. B.
    Researcher, sociologist, marketolog
  • Denis Shirshov
    Creator of nikipedia project (closed)
  • Thanks to Andrey Fomenko, Natalia Sidorina and Vladimir Chizhov for help
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