Remembering the Past and Designing for the Future

In December of 2013, Resist approached us with an exciting opportunity to help them re-launch their website. We had a deep respect for Resist and their work, and we were excited about partnering with their organization. We quickly discovered that just re-doing the website wouldn’t be possible without re-visiting the foundation’s larger identity. The project grew into a comprehensive branding project.

Branding is a major component of modern non-profit communication. As the field becomes more visually saturated, an overwhelming number of messages compete for our attention. At Quilted and Golden Arrows, we believe in the power of visual communication to make important social change. Social justice-oriented branding doesn’t need to look slick or commercial, but it does need to effectively communicate values. Branding means conveying to constituents—as well as internally—who an organization is, what its values are, and why it is trustworthy.

The staff at Resist had a vision for the change they wanted to represent in their organization. Our mission was to help facilitate a process to articulate and communicate that change visually. Because of our shared values and commitment to supporting movements, we began with a foundation of mutual trust.

Founded in 1967, Resist has granted over $5.5 million to nearly 5,200 organizations. It has a deep history grounded in powerful historic movements for civil rights and social change. Our task was to update Resist’s visual representation for 2014 while continuing to honor the organization’s history.

We started with a series of exercises in which the staff and representatives from the board articulated that the main qualities of the brand should be modern, grassroots, activisty, and grounded in the current social movements that they fund.

Quilted is a worker-owned cooperative dedicated to web technology in the service of social change. Golden Arrows is a worker-owned cooperative whose mission is to enable social impact organizations to communicate clearly and creatively through art and graphic design.

Understanding the new brand’s qualities, we realized we had a serious design challenge: to create an identity that honored Resist’s legacy and sophistication, and at the same time, embodied grassroots resistance. The brand needed to acknowledge the gravity of supporting movements for five decades, and as a foundation, Resist needed an identity that conveyed stability and trustworthiness. However, as a grant-making organization that funds radical causes, Resist’s brand also needed to reflect those radical values. It needed to not be too grungy, nor look like part of the establishment.

We took on the design challenge with enthusiasm and found the solution in the challenge itself. We thought of the identity as having two layers. The core of the logo was the classic, sophisticated part, for which we chose a calligraphic-inspired typeface with thick vertical strokes and razor-sharp edges. Moved by the history of protests that Resist was involved in, we drew inspiration for the grassroots piece of the logo from photographs from Resist’s archives.

Around the typography, we drew a frame that could hold a changing rotation of historical and contemporary photos. The original version of the logo displays an image from the first Vietnam war protests where Resist got its start. The images are also a direct, not metaphorical, representation of Resist’s history. Finally, we selected a modern-feeling red-orange color to use with the otherwise black and white palette, refreshing the the over-used red and black revolutionary aesthetic, while keeping the power and intensity of those colors. The result was to complement the restraint of the typography with the passion of photography and color; in this way, we created a brand for Resist that was truly authentic to the movements they support.

To help the brand adapt to various contexts, we wrapped these elements into an identity system and delivered an adaptable logo. A brand system like this affords the ability for the brand to evolve, and for members of an organization to own it by changing it themselves and adding to it. In Resist’s case, the photo the logo is combined with can confront the viewer with a document of the 1960s or a snapshot from the same day’s news.

As designers, we believe the things we make, even digital and conceptual things, should last over time. The best brands are usually those that don’t belong to a moment in history, but only get better with age. And all of us as change-makers, are, at the end of the day, paying homage to our past while creating our visions for the future. This is the work that Resist is engaged in right now. Our team is honored to have created an identity that represents Resist’s pivotal role in social movement building, and to have played a part in their history.