Brand & Identity work

Landscape design/build identity: Thinking “Outside”

When the owner of a small-but-growing landscape design/build company approached me for a new visual identity, he stated his goals were to differentiate himself from his competition, and to potentially target a slightly more upscale, sophisticated clientele.

He already had the name, business cards, and a simple website, but none of it was working together, and it fell into the all-too-common-for-the-marketplace “green” aesthetic. He wanted something different, that set him apart in his creation of beautiful, livable, and sustainable outdoor spaces.

After doing a competitive audit to see what else was in play, it became clear that for true differentiation in the landscape sector, we had t avoid the conventional thinking and clichés that pretty much defined an entire market.

Rather than focus on the execution – trees, flowers, decks, fences, stone work, etc. – a more conceptual approach was taken that focuses more on the creative process.

Outside - logo

The symbol and colour represent unconventional, uninhibited, “outside” creative thinking. Colouring outside the lines, with the company signature “O” formed in the negative space. The warm and vibrant orange colour was chosen as a direct contrast to the blues and greens so often seen in the landscaping business.

Outside - truck (left)

The result is a bold and distinctive identity that supports and communicates the Outside brand: Outside spaces and outside creativity.

Outside - truck (tailgate)

The tagline, “Spend more time Outside” was also developed to draw more attention to the company name and the play on words. Both horizontal and vertical lock-ups of the identity were created to allow flexible placement on vehicles, equipment, uniforms, and lawn signs.

Outside – lawn sign

The results were immediate and powerful, with many sightings, recognition, and recall of the company truck in High Park and Bloor West Village within days of the new image hitting the streets.

The client couldn’t be happier, and that’s the best result of all.

Decibel Guitars visual identity: One louder

In 1988, i was a teenager obsessed with guitars. (I had always been more interested in the instrument and gear than in actually learning how to be a proficient player.) A friend told me about a guitar shop in Toronto that occasionally offered courses in guitar construction. I followed up on that tip and enrolled in a 10-week course to build my first guitar. I was hooked.

But being on a career trajectory to be a graphic designer, it was too late in my high school career to switch directions, so building guitars was a dream that would have to wait. In the intervening decades, i continued to refine designs with the hope of eventually building again once i got access to a shop.

In 2009, Decibel Guitars was launched.

Decibel Guitars logo

Things are off to a slow but steady start, and the designs have been very well received. You can read (and see) more over at the Decibel Guitars website.

Decibel has also been an opportunity for me to exercise the power and potential of social media, with active Facebook and Twitter content driving traffic to the site and acting as open, two-way conduits of communication between myself and potential customers.

Visa Canada: Leveraging cultural sponsorship

Sonar was instrumental in getting Visa into the sponsorship of film festivals. But the art of sponsorship is more than just getting the logo onto the media wall. Sonar created custom content – originally syndicated radio programming, which later evolved into online video features – starting in 2005 as a way of leveraging Visa’s sponsorship of the Toronto International Film Festival into increased earned media impressions.

The Red Carpet Radio syndicated reports from the festival were morning-after recaps of the previous night’s activity at the Visa Screening Room. These were picked up by radio stations across North America and abroad. The earned media impressions of every “live from the Visa Screening Room” on-air mention tallied up to hundreds of millions of impressions – impressive numbers for a fairly modest sponsorship investment.

As Red Carpet Radio evolved, it became a video feature, with major exclusive distribution partners. The content is professionally produced (it was shot in HD in 2010), and is shot live at gala screenings, then edited uploaded and distributed within hours, where TIFF fans can see the night’s activity before the night is over.

Online activities are supported by offline contests and promotions to drive further traffic to the redcarpetdiary.tv site and further increase the value of Visa’s sponsorship investment.

CUMIS Group: Here for you

When we got the call from CUMIS, we were intrigued. From the appearance and colour scheme of their logo to the placement of their corporate headquarters in the middle of an apple orchard overlooking Highway 403 in Burlington, Ontario, it was easy to think that they manufactured farm machinery. As we were soon to learn, we were not the first (nor the last) to make that mistake.

CUMIS has operated in the insurance space for over 75 years, serving the credit union space exclusively, with a commanding market position. But decades of the status quo had left the brand somewhat directionless and unfocused.

The first goal was to revamp the logo itself. The name itself (believed to have originated as an acronym for Credit Union Members’ Insurance Society) had pronunciation issues, and the look was pure 1970s brutalist-industrial, depicted in dull mustard yellow on white.

With the new identity, we sought to bring emphasis to the “U” in order to force its pronunciation as a long vowel sound. We also wanted to bring some symbolism to the identity without actually creating a symbol. The change was to be evolutionary, so we needed to keep the mark of identity as a typographic solution only.

The solution was to treat the “U” as if it were a loop of ribbon, one side red and one side gold. These two halves were then split and allowed to “cradle” one another, in a gesture similar to hands cradling, protecting, nurturing, representing the goals of an organization offering insurance and wealth management products and services.

Printed collaterial pieces were another trouble area. When viewed together, all of their brochures and other communications pieces had absolutely no family resemblance at all. They almost looked like they came from completely separate companies.

It wasn’t hard to see that they had a serious brand image problem. This was in part due to: a) the core values that helped to define the brand becoming lost; b) product managers who viewed their departments as “sub-brands” and believing that their needs were different from everyone else’s; and c) an internal creative department lacking inspiration and having grown accustomed to product managers art-directing the creative. Working with the CUMIS Marketing & Communications team, we set out to address each of these issues in an integrated way.

As we set about creating a new visual language for the CUMIS brand, we recognized that key internal thought leaders and stakeholders needed to be brought in early in the process. By presenting and receiving approval on all creative direction from the executive level first, that “top-down” endorsement helped smooth the adoption of the refreshed brand throughout the organization, rather than having to push and fight to sell new concepts into the organization from the bottom up. Rather than creating “brand police” to monitor and control things, we wanted to create an entire organization of brand advocates who wanted to do everything possible to promote a strong and consistent brand.

We extended the “ribbon” idea from the identity into a visual motif that separated the masthead area of cover pages from the image and supporting content. These ribbons also extended to the interior of pieces. Generous use of white space also helped the elements stand on their own and not get lost in cluttered layouts.

Photography was to be used exclusively, with images portraying everyday Canadians engaged in activities together. The rationale was that insurance should allow people to go about living their lives in happiness, with the knowledge that should anything unexpected happen, the would be looked after, as would their businesses, property and loved ones. The sense of community reflected in many of the images was also intended to suggest a connection to the core values of the co-operative movement.

We often say that a brand is more than just the logo on the building. But in this case, refreshing the brand also included the logo on the building! The revitalization of the brand was extremely successful, and in 2009, The CUMIS Group was purchased by The Co-operators, who continue to operate the brand and serve the credit union sector.

imoney.com: Turning green into Internet gold


The year was 1998. The Web had been around for all of about 5 years, and the Internet Gold Rush was on. A plucky team of innovators, funded by now-billionaire financier Gerry Schwartz through Bayshore Capital, started up a venture called FSDirect in an effort to launch one of the first independent financial services sites in Canada.

Reactor was called in to contribute to the user experience of the first generation of the site, and along the way, we managed to land the branding assignment as well. (… or was that the other way around?)

Keep in mind that 1998 was pre-iMac, pre-iPod… pre-iAnything, really. Truly groundbreaking! (You can thank us later, Mr. Jobs… just send the royalties to the following… but i digress…) The imoney brand lasted through several iterations of the site design before it was folded into another financial services site in 2000.

It was very innovative at the time, and even bested the efforts of many of the major banks, who were taking very tentative steps into the online consumer investment and trading world. Alas, the screenshots of the imoney interface design have been lost to the ravages of pixel erosion. Besides, they were so ’90s!

Six String Nation: Striking an “eh” chord


The Six String Nation guitar and related projects were conceived in 1995 by Peabody Award winning writer and broadcaster Jowi Taylor, inspired by the looming Quebec Referendum of that year and by the commitment of luthier George Rizsanyi to the value of Canadian woods over the usually preferred exotics. The guitar was to be made entirely of woods and materials from every province and territory, including many of incredible historical and cultural significance. (Read the whole story over at the Six String Nation site.)

Everybody who heard and was moved by the compelling story volunteered their time to help bring this vision to fruition. I was honoured to be asked to create the visual identity for this truly inspiring project. The chosen identity was envisioned as the view from inside the guitar, looking out through the soundhole at the passing Canadian landscape, with the strings resonating into a subtle suggestion of the shape of a maple leaf.


At the Toronto launch of the guitar in 2006, i was even more humbled to learn that the logo was inlaid into the guitar itself and embroidered on the strap. In 2009, the Royal Canadian Mint also honoured the Six String Nation with a guitar pick-shaped coin featuring the rosette designed by luthier George Rizsanyi and the Six String Nation logo reproduced holographically in the middle of the coin. Also in 2009, Douglas & McIntyre published a book documenting the development of the guitar, the history behind some of the materials, some fascinating stories of the guitar’s travels, and photographs of some of the thousands of Canadians who have held, played and had their pictures taken with this cultural icon.

It was a tremendous honour to be invited to share in the creation of such an important and significant Canadian cultural artifact.

Sector:
Categories: Brand & Identity, Design

Delta Hotels: A fresh change



Delta Hotels is one of the largest hotel management companies in Canada, and as they grew, they saw a need to update and refresh their brand and visual identity to better reflect their aspiration to be the best of the mid-tier segment of the hospitality industry. In addition to designing the identity, we applied it and the new visual language to everything from signage to advertising and printed collateral, loyalty programs and all the miscellaneous amenities you encounter in a hotel… matchbooks, bathrobes, soap and shampoo… if it could be branded, we did it.

Sector:
Categories: Brand & Identity, Design

Caramilk: A ‘secret’ identity


At Reactor, we had the pleasure of doing a lot of collaborative work with various agencies. One assignment that came in was to develop a mnemonic device or visual identity that could be used in campaigns that centred around “The Caramilk Secret”. After a few rounds of creative exploration, this is what we ended up with. The agency Photoshopped in an actual Caramilk square over my illustrated version, but other than that minor change, this iconic symbol is still in use over a decade later, appearing in TV and print advertising, point-of-sale promotional displays, online contests and packaging.

From the vault: Various identities

Some of these were branding exercises that launched and then went in a different direction (or that vanished for one reason or another). Others were just creative exercises or playing around with ideas.

Top row: (left to right) Brand identity for an initiative by Cadillac Fairview to expand their IT reach into their retail properties by offering data and networking services to their tenants. // A creative accident turned into an exploration of a possible future visual identity direction for a Canadian television network. // Reactor art-directed the first few issues of a new hockey magazine. This was my contribution for consideration for the masthead.

Bottom row: (left to right) Brand naming and visual identity for an IT outsourcing joint venture between Capgemini and Hydro One. // Creative exercise to come up with a name and identity for consumer media free of digital rights management. // An data synchronization service where information becomes “loyal” to its owner, and changes get automatically pushed out through the network to subscribers. What better represents loyalty than a retriever?

Grocery Gateway: Enabling a new category


The brief for this project was interesting. The branding agency’s research showed that people liked the tangible elements of shopping for groceries. It was the logistical problems they didn’t care for… getting to the store, loading the kids into a cart, carrying bags, loading up the car with the bags (and the kids) and unloading it again once they got home. And those are the people with cars. Those stuck using taxis or public transit – or those unable to get out at all – faced even greater challenges.

Grocery Gateway’s revised positioning was to be more like a traditional grocer that just happens to be Internet-enabled. Every effort was made to have drivers work the same delivery routes, so you see the same face every time, helping establish that personal relationship between consumer and the grocer at the most critical touchpoint. The only difference being the consumer no longer has to physically travel to the store, and can now shop at home (or at work), at their leisure, any time of the day or night. Naked.

The refreshed visual identity features a cheerful delivery van (nicknamed “Little G” by the folks at Grocery Gateway) bouncing over the horizon. The bright colour palette and expressive illustration were designed to express that moment of joy when the groceries are delivered. Ten years later, it still feels fresh and fun.

Sector:
Categories: Brand & Identity, Design