Branding Case Study: Families USA
Families USA was founded as a scrappy start-up of healthcare activists and, three decades later, is a well-respected healthcare advocacy and research organization—widely acknowledged to be one of the principle architects of the Affordable Care Act.
As with many grassroots organizations that start out small, the organization’s visual brand and identity developed organically around its issues, and was assumed to be self-sustaining. When I was brought on to reinvigorate the organization’s brand and content offerings (as Director, Content Strategy), Families USA was still sporting the original logo and visual identity from 1981.
Alongside the more obvious challenges of having a dated look and feel, Families USA’s visual identity lacked the energy, strength, and authority that the organization commanded in the news and in the healthcare ecosphere—where the organization was definitely punching above its weight. In digital, however, it appeared disjointed, difficult to read, and out of touch. The organization was even having problems recruiting talent because potential recruits were so put off by the aging website.
We needed a visual identity that not only reflected our influence in the field and helped us recruit talent, but that also worked well across digital platforms.I devised a plan to rebrand the organization to both reflect the strength of the current work but also to boost engagement in digital. We needed to do this fast, as the ACA was in the spotlight, under attack, and there was a ton of offline and offline work the organization needed to do to continue to inform, motivate, and engage advocates to come to the ACA’s defense.
I fast-tracked a series of stakeholder interviews to determine what they felt the brand should convey. From this we derived the brand priorities: progressive, strength, authority, families, optimism, caring. Although stakeholders liked the dark blue and red colors from the previous logo, I recommended aligning our palette with the softer progressive blues and reds (the red was particularly tough to get right, as reds tend to go pink very easily).
We began with a quick competitor and landscape analysis online, and did a search for trademarks, etc. We started sketching out logo ideas. We collaborated on logo ideas, vetting them through a small team of key stakeholders. In the end, we settled on something that I sketched out late one night.
My art director and I joked that, between us, we designed so many derivatives on the “F” in “Families” that at the end of the day we could go into business designing logos for the airline industry (the “F” looks like the tail of an airplane).
As you can see below, the heavy weight of the logo, paired with the tight spacing between the letters, denotes strength and authority. You can’t push those letters over. We tried more modern font derivatives also, but our staff felt more comfortable with a slightly traditional look.
We also needed a logo with a visual component that worked well in digital. For this reason, we designed a logo with a component that could be pulled out for square social media profile pictures—the family unit at the end. I created that piece to feel organic and reflective of how a family blends together (notice how the corners are rounded into the center). Because we focused on poverty issues where single-parent families are particularly vulnerable, I also wanted to design a logo that didn’t assume a traditional family unit. It’s subtle, but it’s there. And it worked very well on social media.
I tested the family component across different digital channels, creating a different version (more spacing) to scale down to the tiny square used by mobile phones.
Of course, we created lots of other derivatives also, ranging from a brand book, cover and profile art for all of our social media channels; infographic, report, and presentation templates; and too many marketing and event collateral to count. Check out the screenshots below to get a better sense of the new brand. (Read a related case study of how we redesigned our publications and refined our writing practices for digital.)