Nova Pangaea – an inspiring story of British scientific and engineering innovation
Over the past few months we’ve been working with Nova Pangaea Technologies who have spent the last decade building an extraordinary scientific and engineering innovation – turning everyday organic matter into a range of environmentally-friendly end-products. We’ve completed two shoots and completed a new website for the enterprise which is based in the UK’s North East. Backed by the UK government’s Northern Powerhouse investment project, Nova Pangaea offers a fascinating and inspiring story of British inventiveness.
SUSTAINABILITY AS UNIQUE SELLING POINT
Every business needs a hook – the reason that it exists and what makes it special. In the case of Nova Pangaea, that happens to be an initial manufacturing base in the heart of the former steel hub of the North East. Their success and expansion is a much needed story of growth and success in a part of the UK that needs it most.
Every aspect of what Nova Pangaea are doing is ‘local’. Their primary source material is locally-obtained silver birchwood and other green matter, found within a 75-mile radius of their Teesside facility. Rather than cutting down trees, the material is often waste, for instance from railway sidings. While the project has been evolving over some years, it’s in recent months that it has reached maturity with full ‘commissioning’ – successful production of usable materials in other words – taking place during November 2019.
The environmental credentials of the project are central to our website and a fascinating and inspiring story.
The Nova Pangaea Technologies website design
A VISUAL STORY OF SCIENTIFIC ENGINEERING INNOVATION
PART 1: PHOTOGRAPHY
To devise any website, visuals are vital. But the Nova Pangaea project presented an interesting double challenge. Firstly, there’s the physical space the facility occupies and the people behind it – then secondly a complex scientific process.
Longtime collaborator Andy Rose and I started the project by photographing the Board of Directors in London, then visited Middlesbrough and its surrounding areas in October 2019 to chase a journey the ‘Refnova’ process takes every step of the way – from logs to lab.
We began standing in a large industrial chipping facility in rural Thirsk watching logs being processed, then traveled across the Yorkshire countryside to Wilton International’s chemical works. Donning hard hats and protective gear, we observed and captured Refnova step by step. Handfuls of freshly cut barkchips were milled and refined by industrial machinery and ultimately result in the selected, processed outputs. These include sugars (with a range of outputs including xylitol, suitable for food), char (useful for fuel or fertiliser) and glucose (for pharmaceuticals, citric acid or renewable plastics).
During the shoot we met the big personalities behind the company and it struck me that photographing them in their workplace would bring the shots – and the website itself – to life. And so it proved. Nova Pangaea is more than a business, it is an enterprise driven by interesting, bright people who are full of ideas and plans for the future. This sort of people-led approach is pretty unusual in the world of science and innovation. So we’ve ended up with a strong looking site that combines enterprise, invention and the characters behind it.
Our custom brand photography for Nova Pangaea in use on the mobile version of the site
PART 2: GRAPHICS
During the process of laying out the site, Dan, part of the Nova Pangaea team working on the project, sketched out a series of simple drawings explaining each stage of the process to help us understand it better. When these drawings came through I was immediately struck that this sort of immediate, clear information graphic was the visual link the project needed between the photographs we’d taken in Middlesbrough and the completed website.
Explaining the science behind a process verbally is veering into the land of the thesis or textbook. While there’s no desire to patronise our audience, invariably websites are driven by an immediacy of purpose. There’s some argument to say that by explaining the process clearly, you retain interest and ‘sell in’ its ideas in a better, more concise way that merely words could.
To bring this idea to life we sent Dan’s drawings to Francisco González y García, a graphic artist based in Seville. Francisco caught my attention with his ability to, as he put it, ‘turn boring and difficult information into friendly and useful communication graphic tools’. My thought was that we could unpack the process using the graphic language of flatpack furniture instructions. After a few emails and initial sketches we showed our concepts to Nova Pangaea and the conclusion was that this set of highly sophisticated information graphics had nailed the job of explaining the process.
In the end, to my delight the sketches were such a success that the client requested the commissioning of a second set – to explain the outputs from the Refnova process and their practical applications.
Information graphics by Mexican graphic artist Francisco González y García explain the scientific engineering innovation behind Nova Pangaea’s Refnova process.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS COMMERCIALLY
Fundamental to the success of the project is that the design of the website explains a complicated process, its practical applications and ethical credentials. With its combination of technical, practical and environmental pages, I think we’ve achieved this to great success here.
I also think that for investors, a sense of the considerable time, effort and planning this project has taken since its inception in 2008 is key to understanding the breadth of work involved. The stories told on the News and a timeline on the About pages do this well. They also talk about the incredible backing the company has received to get to this point. Not least among these is the UK government’s Northern Powerhouse project, delivered by the British Business Bank. Even if the project itself wasn’t credible on its own terms, this backing speaks volumes.
But there’s another story still be told – of the plant in full tilt production and its products and outputs in practical everyday use – that I’m intrigued to see. It’s going to be such a significant moment in the story of this project when that happens.
DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR…?
We appreciate there are many businesses around the UK (and elsewhere) working on intensely complex scientific and engineering innovation projects that need to tell their story in a straightforward way to investors – or just the general public.
If we can help with this, please get in touch. Call us on 020 7351 4083.