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Onward and Upward

Progress on the 2019 Grant for Good

Aug 27, 2019 – by Nermin

Every year, we give away comprehensive branding and design services to one kick-ass nonprofit…for the full year. Neat right? It’s called the Grant for Good and we love it. This year’s grantee is a full-on baddie, if I may say so myself. Onward is a national nonprofit that builds individual and organizational capacity for dismantling systems of oppression through innovative learning experiences and racial equity consulting. Like I said, rad.

The What, Why, and How

Since March, we have been pouring our hearts into a brand strategy and visual identity for Onward, with a fresh new website and a handful of print materials on the way. The goal? Translate Onward’s mission — building an equitable world through compassion, creativity and productive conflict — into a solid, ownable design system.

Complex problems require bold solutions…or a mash-up of them. After exhaustive visual exploration, we developed two distinct concepts for the Onward identity: 1) Forward and Onward, and 2) Dismantling Systems. The former was inspired by the plainspoken urgency of Civil Rights era posters. The latter emerged from a simple hand-drawn sketch: an explicit rejection of racism. 

Onward inspiration
From inspiration to concept

Direction 1: The custom-drawn wordmark elicits forward movement through the subtle shift in the counters of the O and D. Letterforms are trimmed at the edges, creating a sense of solidity and togetherness to the wordmark.

Direction 2: The forward-slanted wordmark suggests rhythm and action through the dramatic movement happening between the N and W. An expressive gesture, the two letters link up at the top creating a chain reaction that is inherent in Onward’s work.

Both concepts were simple, yet sophisticated and flexible enough to frame many stories in a unified brand voice. In the first direction, the angled tape-like device (derived from the slanted counters) provides a sense of purposeful agitation, while calling attention to and centering subjects. In the second, color blocking and layering stands out as a modular system inviting the viewer to peel apart layers” and uncover underrepresented stories and experiences.

Thoughts design systems
Layout mockups

While the Onward team gravitated towards the first direction, they enjoyed much about both systems. The former suggested a domino effect” that resonated with Onward’s desire to affect change while eliciting a sense of permanence and strength. The bold layering and colorways of the second system offered a more lively, even playful approach to engaging folks in the work ahead.

By merging two visual styles, we brought forth a third direction that captures the best of both — a testament to the outstanding collaborative effort between client and creative team.

Thoughts third direction
Developed direction

Mocking it up

With a bold palette, versatile brand device, and strong messaging in place, the real fun began. We designed swag, prints, and even… (wait for it)… a fierce onesie for the world’s raddest baby! *tiny fist bump.*

5 onward tote buttons
tote + stickers
6 onward urban posters
urban posters
7 onward onesie
8 onward cards
leave behinds

Hussle & Heal

With a few months left together, we can say our work with Onward has been an extraordinary exercise in not only creative collaboration but humility, compassion and unending gratitude. Our first design presentation was scheduled for April 11 — the date of Nipsey Hussle’s celebration of life, in the wake of his tragic death.

Nothing could have prepared us for our partner’s raw expression of vulnerability and resolve on that day. Like the man himself, they have spent their lives building movements, seeking justice and fighting fearlessly for change. We offered to reschedule the presentation and were assured no, no. To see a glimpse of the possible future might just be a balm for a broken heart.

00 onward nipsey
Nipsey Hussle, Photo Credit: Jorge Peniche

The Latin definition of attention is to stretch toward.” When you empathize with someone, you’re stretching outside of yourself and stretching into that person’s world.* That meeting helped me access new stores of empathy. While we had been perfecting pixels, the Onward team had been in mourning. They needed us to show up whole-heartedly that day. And we did. And we will. Every. Single. Day.

Fresh FB Onward

Design may not save the world. But small acts can change our perspectives and open our hearts and minds. As Onward’s intrepid founder, Thaly, once astutely said, like a domino effect… Onward and upward.

*Chris Adkins, Associate Teaching Professor in the Management & Organization Department at the D.School