Hope for Haiti (HFH), a non-profit organization dedicated to bettering the lives of the Haitian people, is one of those groups of people, and our brand development team had the pleasure of collaborating with the organization for its new brand identity.
A common request from many organizations, and is also one of the most challenging. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a logo can mean a word, reason or plan. The word has Greek origins; it’s part of a theology explaining divine reason in the cosmos and providing order, form and meaning. “Logo” is also the root word for “logic” and “logistics.” Knowing all this history creates a new understanding of the current definition of a logo – a symbol or design that represents an organization or identifies a product or service.
In my experience, a logo acts as the spearhead in marketing and branding, and it needs to 1) tell the brand story, and 2) do so in a compact, visual expression. The first part defines the story of the organization. The second part articulates that story through artistry and craftsmanship.
The success of a brand identity, although dependent on the skills and experience of the design team, hinges on support from the leadership of the client organization. They need to champion the project, navigate the internal culture and ultimately believe in its importance. From our very first introductions with HFH, we could sense the dedication and passion of CEO Skyler Badenoch and Board Chair Tiffany Kuehner; we knew we had found the right advocates to work with. The most important quality that a good partner client can have is bravery, as it sets the foundation for trust, openness and vulnerability. Because designing a logo does not start with sketches – it starts with meaningful conversations.
Meaningful conversations don’t just happen – you have to set the stage for them. It’s very similar to being a talk-show host; a bit of homework about the guests needs to be done before they come on the show. That homework often leaves gaps in understanding who they are, what they do and why they do it. Those gaps would form the initial questions for the interview, as the goal of the interview is to paint a full portrait of who this person is. Knowing their story will yield an authentic creative expression because it will speak to who they are.
In my experience, a brand identity project is an investigative process and requires a creative team that is genuinely curious about people. Our Discovery and Immersion process is designed to spark meaningful dialogue that reveals what people in organizations believe and a value system for their culture. I’ve learned that organizations, especially those that have existed for many years, have a good sense of themselves, of who they are is deep in their bones. But being able to tell people who they are is less intuitive. The goal of the conversation is to tease out insights about the organization that form a story about them.
Knowing who you are designing for and what they believe also defines a framework to gauge the creative output. This foundational step ensures that the client and agency agree on a common objective, a shared view of the brand and the parameters that define success. Most importantly, it sets up a common language, written in a creative brief, so that we know how to talk about the creative output beyond “I like it.”
Our conversations (interviews) revealed that the people of Hope for Haiti are resilient, just like the people they are helping; they affect change by first learning and gaining a deep understanding of the challenge; they are persistent, nimble, and transparent; they are humble and prefer to build and work together with the Haitian people; they believe lasting impact comes from consistent presence in the communities that they serve.
And curiously, even though the organization has been around for thirty years, everyone believed that their current logo did not tell their story. That’s unusual, but not surprising. We considered it an incredible opportunity to begin with a fresh canvas.
Repeat after me: “A logo is a very small canvas.” There is room for only one idea, so the choice of that one idea is crucial. The purpose of the design phase is to run those ideas through the crucible of visual communications. Can the idea be shown and understood? This requires artistry. Can that visual then be applicable across any and all touchpoints easily? This requires craftsmanship. Both aspects continuously test each design with a critical eye until a single idea rises to the top.
When described this way, it sounds orderly, logical, almost linear in approach. In my experience, it has always been the polar opposite. Ideas that are tried and tossed aside often re-manifest themselves in different forms. Sketches that don’t come together in the studio suddenly come together when you are in the shower. Concepts come to fruition serendipitously as inspiration is drawn from unrelated things. And an idea that is frustrating you can have new life in the eyes of a different designer. The process is organic and only in retrospect do the dots connect. The Hope for Haiti logo project was no different.
At the start of the design process, we had to choose the ideas we wanted to show. And there were many from our findings. The strongest theme that rose again and again throughout all of our conversations with Hope for Haiti was the idea of “building together.” It was a deep belief that each person held that bound the organization together, helping to build long-term relationships based on trust and respect. “Building together” meant having boots on the ground and presence for the long-haul until the job gets done. Having presence ultimately leads to a lasting impact that allows the Haitian people to transform themselves beyond day-to-day survival into a thriving community. “Building together” became a root idea that sprouted a few possible pathways. We wrote a simple, one-line creative brief for each of three ideas because remember, a logo is a small canvas, and it has room for only one idea.
First idea: “How do we show the idea of presence?”
Second idea: “How do we show the idea of lasting impact?”
Third idea: “How do we show the idea of thriving?”
These briefs structured a framework to talk about the organization and set the stage for Hope for Haiti to make a strategic decision about the story they wanted to tell through their brand identity. The logo will represent the brand story and become the spearhead in their marketing and communications; it frames all other stories for the brand.
Those three ideas became the three concepts that we pitched. Hope for Haiti ultimately chose the concept of “lasting impact”. The story was powerful for multiple audiences. It assured donors with a story about lasting results and it resonated with volunteers with a story about creating change that would make a difference.
The idea of “impact” is abstract and not easily visualized. This is where our Discovery Process really helped because it revealed a unique brand characteristic that we could use. Hope for Haiti prides itself on learning and understanding before trying to solve any problem. The organization had a unique ability to see the patterns and the pieces that made up a problem. Our design exploration revolved around this idea of patterns and modularity. We sought inspiration that was both man-made and natural.
Any pattern or modular design utilizes a core element that is repeated or reinvented over and over again. The challenge was to find a meaningful element, the right building block. Our design explorations seemed to naturally lead us to use the letter “H” because of its solid connection to the company name and its ability to represent both “hope” and “Haiti.” The letterform was also perfectly suited for the task of “building” because it was stable and easily became a solid building block for ideation.
In the final version, when you look closely at the logomark, you’ll notice that the building blocks are structured so that the negative spaces create the letter “H” stacked one on top of the other, growing exponentially. This block design inspired how we would approach additional touchpoints for communication.
To accompany the new brand identity, we encapsulated their values and their goals into a simple tagline: “Learn. Rise. Thrive.”
The brand identity was resoundingly embraced throughout the organization. Their gratitude for our team was expressed with the following video that left not a dry eye in the room when we received it. It really makes a difference to work with good people and for good causes.
A brand identity is almost always the first impression a business makes. Facilitating meaningful conversations at the very beginning, in a collaborative and supportive partnership between client and agency, is vital. It lets you gain a deep understanding of the brand and it sets the stage for creating connections that tell a strategic, meaningful and authentic story for marketing and communications. If you have a brand identity project, we’d love to help.