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A study in rejection – Branding charity

A study in rejection

Rejection is always hard, especially for someone in the creative industry. There’s a famous saying “Kill your darlings”, meaning that you need to be able to let your ideas go – sometimes your favorite ones. However, it’s not always easy. As designers we invest not only time but ourselves in all our projects. It doesn’t matter if it’s a business card or a website – when we create something we are linked to that. In this blog post we will show you what many won’t – a rejected design project. Significant time and effort was spent developing these designs but at the end the client decided not to go ahead.

SUAS is an Irish based charity with a focus on education, both at home and abroad. Their tagline is ‘Educate. Engage. Inspire.’  and through various programmes they aim to transform lifes through education. We initially made contact through LinkedIn, where the organization had placed an ad looking for help with the redesign of their existing brand. A new website would follow the successful rollout of said brand.

The brief was (relatively) simple – give SUAS a new brand that would respect the history of the organization and heritage whilst giving it a modern and fresh look that would feel relevant to a younger audience. The existing one had never been changed since the inception of SUAS in 2002 (although there was some brand assets designed by an unknown designer in 2007). There were a few reasons why SUAS wanted to rebrand – the original brand was old and not designed for today’s social and online marketing activities. The text under the icon was difficult to read when the logo was scaled down. And the SUAS organization today is a very different organization compared to when it first started.

Original (and current) logo of SUAS
The current logo of SUAS

A brief history of SUAS

SUAS was founded in 2002 by former Trinity College students. It is one of the fastest growing charity organisations in Ireland with educational programmes in India and Africa. Besides its overseas operations, SUAS also has numerous educational programmes in Ireland. The overseas programmes are often run in conjunction with local organisations and Irish students who volunteer their time. As an organisation, SUAS had from the beginning been recognised as an organisation for and by young people. However, as time passed and the organisation grew, the original brand began to lose some of its appeal and relevance.

The charity-problem in Ireland

From the start of this project, one of our key objectives was to create a brand that could sit amongst other similar brands in Ireland (and internationally) without looking dated. The current logo had been designed in 2002. Most similar organisations in Ireland had been established long before that and as a result had a strong brand presence. One of the main differentiating factors, when compared to other charity organisations, was the youthfulness connected with the SUAS brand. We wanted this to be reflected in the brand – that it was an established organisation that still appealed to its young tarket audience.

The Irish charity sector needed a shake up and re-build of their brands in order to regain public trust

Another key objective was to bring trust back into the brand. In 2013, Irish media broke the story of how senior management’s salaries at the Central Remedial Clinic were being topped up with funds that had been collected to fund support for children and adults with physical disabilities. After this reveal, several other charity organisations came under scrutiny for salary top up’s. Understandably, the Irish public’s trust in charities plummeted. Cash donations fell by approximately 35% almost overnight. The Irish charity sector needed a shake up and re-build of their brands in order to regain public trust.

The creative process

After meeting with the team at SUAS HQ, we quickly got busy on writing the creative brief. We usually record early-stage meetings with clients. This way we can listen back to the entire conversation and extract vital information that may have been missed had we relied on note-taking alone. We also sent out a questionnaire, prior to the meeting, which would have given us some direction to begin with. Using the information from the meeting and the questionnaire we created a briefing document that was sent to SUAS for approval.

 

The first step in any branding (or rebranding) exercise is research. Looking at what the competition is doing and also what the history of the current brand can tell us. We identified a number of common themes: Global Citizenship, Idealism, Youth/Student Centric, Education, Human Rights, Social Change and Ethical. The other relevant charity organisations in Ireland use a mix of wordmarks and symbols and it was our intention to provide SUAS with both – a modern symbol that could stand on its own along with a wordmark, that could either be used on its own (perhaps in corporate communications such as annual reports and shareholder communications) or in combination with the symbol. We looked at the literal meaning of suas (it means ‘up’ in Irish) to see how we could implement that in our symbol or wordmark.

 

Our initial concepts were probably too abstract and were quickly rejected by the board. We have included a copy of some of those designs here. At this stage, none of the ideas were taken further than black and white (in some cases a single colour was introduced) and shapes were drawn rather crudely. The objective at this point was to get the ideas that we had on to paper and receive some indication from the client. The feedback was to go back to the drawing board and focus more on the old brand, i.e. a new take on the old logo.

Three different designs submitted to SUAS for consideration
Initial designs for new SUAS logo

Rebrand or refresh?

After the initial feedback we decided to focus our attention on a new direction. Initially, we had been briefed that the new logo did not need to respect the old logo at all, in terms of shape or subject. The only thing they wanted to hold on to was their established brand colours. However, after our first drafts we were asked to keep ‘aspects’ of the old logo. The board was afraid that SUAS would lose their image if the new brand was too far removed from their existing one. So the rebranding project became a refresh project. But we didn’t mind and set to work transforming the current logo and making it more contemporary. We knew they liked their colours but we felt strongly that the market was already full of green logos (this is Ireland) and to stand out they would have to depart from that.

 

After a week we had two new concepts – ‘Trinity’ and ‘Hand’. They were different but still kept the ‘spirit’ of the old logo. They were symbols of hope, change and growth. And they drew on their history as well as the ideology of the organisation. In our view, we had answered their (second) brief by incorporating the idea of their existing brand into two new concepts. Their original logo was an abstract depiction of four figures or maybe the same figure, shown in various states of growth. We weren’t sure what the meaning of the symbol was (neither did anyone in the organisation). So with our new designs, we decided to take inspiration from keywords mentioned in our first meeting with SUAS, such as ‘growth’ and ‘transformation’.

Chart of Irish charity logos, compared to original and proposed logo of SUAS
Comparative chart of Irish charity logos

The presentation

When it came time to present the new concepts, we created a presentation document, outlining some of  our thoughts behind the designs. We also included some mockups of various brand assets, such as printed booklet, Facebook page and website to show possible uses of the new logos. Some of the pages are shown below. Then we waited. We received some feedback (mainly positive) about a week later. Minor tweaks were done to the trinity concept, including more clearly defined space between the lines. Some comments were made about the hand concept but I believe that at this stage, the board had pretty much written off that proposal. Personally, this was my favorite. But we were hopeful that once the small tweaks had been made they would be happy to move forward with the trinity concept. It was the more conventional of the two designs but it had a quality that I really liked. It was simple and conveyed a sense of gravitas about it.

 

The requested tweaks were made to both logos and resent to SUAS. Unfortunately it was not to be. We received a call effectively telling us that the project had been canceled. No real explanation was ever given but I’m guessing the board had something pretty specific in mind when they tasked us with the rebrand/refresh. And what we proposed clearly didn’t meet those specifications. It’s a shame those thoughts weren’t shared with us at the start of the project as we would still have been delighted to do the work. Looking back at the experience and writing about it now I am proud of the work we did and still believe any of the two final concepts would have been a massive improvement on their existing brand.

Final thoughts on rejection

As a designer you always hope for the best (that the client will love your work) but remain prepared for the worst (that the client doesn’t understand/doesn’t like your work) yet it’s always a disappointment when the worst happens. And in those instances the only thing you can do is to brush yourself off and get back to work. Because for every successful project there’s probably 5 failed ones and as a business we can’t afford to dwell on them.

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