Diary of a Social Venture Start-up: Design and Branding, Part II

Last time around, we talked about the importance of design and branding. In that article, I put out the call for suggestions. I...

Last time around, we talked about the importance of design and branding. In that article, I put out the call for suggestions. I wanted to know who you thought was doing a fantastic job with innovative design and branding, and I got a lot of great responses.A number of readers were impressed by the efforts of charity: water. I couldn't agree more. Scott Harrison's messaging has been incredibly effective-and incredibly beautiful. From his organization's minimalist logo and intuitive website to their compelling public displays and the breathtaking photography that surrounds the project, it's hard to find an organization who has integrated branding and design more effectively. Take a look at this video to see the whole story (and read this piece he wrote for GOOD here).As expected, the Girl Effect video was a huge hit. It turns out that a number of other organizations have also put out compelling text-based animation efforts. For instance, be sure to check out this fantastic new video for Sustainable Health Enterprises' "she28" campaign. Additionally, the virtual phone system, Grasshopper, uses a similar technique to attempt to appeal to entrepreneurs. Seems like we might have the makings of a young visual trend.The key word there, I think, is "young." Up until now, the stellar design and branding efforts we've discussed have come from what can only be called younger, smaller, hipper organizations. Sure, you know what 826 is, but I doubt your mom has ever purchased a gallon of gravity to help the cause. (Note: If she has, you should know your mom is really, really cool.) But what if you're dealing with a larger, established organization? What sort of role can branding and design play? The answer, unsurprisingly: A huge one.

Case in point: Feeding America. If the organization doesn't ring a bell, it's probably because it used to go by another name: America's Second Harvest. Despite the organization's 30-year legacy, they rebranded in 2008, claiming on their website that they needed a new name that "directly conveys that [they] are providing access to food for people who need it." A complete brand overhaul designed to clarify their mission? Sounds pretty logical to me. Plus, take a look at the different logos at left: Which one is more appealing to you?Feeding America made the change in order to more clearly speak to their target donors. That's the key here. They saw what they were lacking and they reworked their brand to better connect with their audience. Want to know what your target audience wants? Don't have the money for a fancy focus group? Don't sweat it; just ask them. Talk to the people you're trying to help. Chances are, they'll know what they need more than you do.You'd be surprised how open people will be if you give them a chance. They'll tell you their troubles, their fears, their dreams. For inspiration, check out Fifty People One Question, a social experiment and online film series surrounding the connections between people and place. By simply posing the right questions, the joint project from Crush + Lovely and Deltree somehow manages to distill people down to pure, stripped-down, unbridled honesty. The results are astounding. Watch the videos, then go ask your own questions.The Takeaway: As we've discussed, design and branding matter-but so does research. Sophisticated videos and flashy web pages can be fantastic but they've got to be right for your organization. That means knowing your audience. Talk to the people who are going to use your product or service. If you're trying to help a particular group of people, go find out what sort of help they truly desire. Question all your assumptions, learn all you can about your audience, then come back and design something simultaneously stunning and strategic.