Branding work largely is and always has been the bread + butter of our studio’s work for the past thirteen plus years.
For anyone not really familiar with the term, branding goes well beyond your logo. Done right, brand development not only gives you an effective working logo, but, more importantly, it approaches your mission, audiences, vision, and future marketing practices at a wholistic, predictive level, giving your business, non-profit, NGO, or any other enterprise a strategically distinctive voice + edge in a competitive market, regardless of what that market is.
But before we even get to that point as a studio, we’ve always strongly prioritized exploration of differential paths along the way for our clients. Put more clearly, less jargon-y-ly—we want our clients to see a bunch of solid, exciting, and (maybe above all) fun + cool choices from the start; paths that are distinct choices in terms of brand direction, each of which achieve the client’s goals in different ways. After all, there’s no one singular path to success, in this realm or any other.
So we thought it might be helpful—and fun—to share a glimpse into our brand development process in specific, walking through some of the design paths we explored with an actual client. The client in question—GirlVentures, a Bay Area non-profit that inspires girls to lead through outdoor adventure, inner discovery, and collective action. Here you’ll find the organization’s final brand (above) and some of the brands and draft logos we explored for and presented to GirlVentures along the way (shown here with the client’s permission, of course).
We always start theses processes off with a kind of survey that organically teases out some foundational ideas for the developing brand in a way that can easily be understood, whether you consider yourself a ‘visual person’ or not. That’s followed by meetings—be them in-person or remote—so we can talk things through with the client in as natural a way as possible.
GirlVentures came to us through Julia Hornaday, a UK-based marketing consultant + strategist who was in the process of helping the group to evolve their entire mission + vision, putting a greater emphasis on leadership, inclusivity, and social justice through outdoor education and mentorship. Wanting to fold those ideas into an equally evolved brand that would telegraph that newly honed messaging, much of the emphasis throughout the process were on the duality between the “what”—leadership, identity, and community for girls—and the “how”—outdoor education, environmental stewardship, and the profoundness of the natural world.
That, along with further background, story, and audience information that we developed over time in the process, led to multiple branding paths, both in our initial + subsequent rounds of work and presentations. Actually looking back and counting now—8 in the first round of work, and 21 in later rounds, most exploring totally distinct design paths, but a few acting as slight variations on a parent draft brand.
With each draft brand we present, we also show clients some simple mock-ups—we’ve found this helps everyone picture how the brands could be used in the real world rather than just floating in a kind of visual void, especially for self-described “non-visual-types”.
So be it a mock-up of a brochure or publication or some merch or a web page created with design software or actually built on the quick so it’s responsive on screens, we’ve found that doing this extra bit of work up front both streamlines the process as a whole and helps raise confidence in the brand as the client can see it being used, making its benefits + advantages more clear to everyone, ourselves included.
Specially with GirlVentures, we pretty quickly zeroed in on tapping the natural world for our primary imagery, partly because of the universal appeal and root of it in GirlVentures work, partly due to an old branding adage we’ve found holds up to most marketing tests—if it’s in your name, don’t put it in your logo; if it’s in your logo, don’t put it in your name.Even if you know nothing about the group (which is generally a good place to start when thinking about most audiences), it’s clear to anyone who understand English that girls are core to the mission of GirlVentures. What’s not clear in the name is the “how”—the transformative nature of the outdoors. So, early on, that vein of imagery strategically began to dominate the paths of design + messaging.
In the end, after narrowing the range on style and a few basic natural elements, we played around with color, enclosing shape, layout, and other variables until we ended up with our final mark + overarching brand. Then with this branding projects as with all others, we package files, delivering a tidy folder with a full range of file formats for every need and a basic one-sheet with guidance on when to use what and some best practices for logo use. We also create larger guidance publications that can number in the 20s, 30s, or more in pages, but those are usually reserved for our larger clients who know they’ll be doing a lot of cross-org/cross-business work with their brand or have a lot of file use outside their own departments.
But this is just one branding story for one client—though we’ve seen our fair share of commonalities in working through this process over the past thirteen plus years, we’ve also learned that every client and every process is unique, which, in addition to making this work our bread + butter, also makes it some of the most exciting + fun work we do.