Designing The Resistance

A Case Study for Crafting the Empire State Indivisible Brand Identity

The original NY Indivisible logo (left) and the new Empire State Indivisible logo

Out With the Old … Sort Of

In branding terms, this isn’t a pure before-and-after. Instead, it’s more like a spin-off. NY Indivisible, the mothership org where we originated, popped up around the time of Trump’s inauguration, and over the course of several months, we found a routine in our role as a scrappy grassroots gang of organizers. We met in church basements, made phone calls, wrote letters, posted about events on social media, snapped photos with officials, signed petitions, and more. It’s all simple stuff, but that’s what works!

“Before.” Examples of NY Indivisible identity and social media items.

The Group So Nice They Named It Twice Within a Year

Fortunately, we knew the split was coming so there was some time to create a name for the new group. The obvious ones jumped to mind: Gotham, Five Boroughs, NYC, Big Apple, etc. but due to their unavailability, clunkiness, or narrow focus on New York City only — not to mention the potential confusion with the remaining NY Indivisible — we decided to go with Empire State Indivisible. This reflects a new sense of outreach to other Indivisible groups around the state, as well as a focus on the IDC and other Albany happenings that have a direct and shocking effect on residents of New York City.

The Brief and Early Days

It was at this point Heather and Michael, two of the group’s leaders, reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in helping to rebrand the group. Having helped them a few weeks prior with a promo graphic for one of our town halls, they knew I did graphics, but I don’t think it was clear that a project like this — full on identity update — is right up my alley.

version 0.0

Because of this new urgency, I found myself in a new situation, tasked with providing a “placeholder” identity so we could put something on our website, newsletter, and social feeds to separate us from NY Indivisible. The real one would take time, but we need something now.

“During.” The interstitial “v0.0” identity for Empire State Indivisible
“Lulu Land”, featuring Edie Falco … and the v0.0 logo at the end.

Research, Imagery, and Planning

Moving swiftly but purposefully, we returned to the brief, which was fairly open-ended in terms of visual inspiration and starting points. Still, it felt natural and appropriate to stay reasonably close home, taking inspiration from NYC itself, and from our legacy of people-driven and public-sector graphic design.

New York State (left) and New York City flags
Collecting materials for a New York mood board: baseball, architecture, grand monuments, gold shiny stuff.
Political design lately — getting good!

Concepts and Presentation

My design process is pretty straightforward. I distill the core values and brand attributes into very succinct words or phrases that I can fit on a Post-It. Then, armed with that punchlist, I sit down to sketch. After filling 1–2 pages — yep, that’s it — I’m usually able to see 3–5 approaches emerge. These all still need a ton of work, but already I’m allowing myself to come up with distinct ideas and to be surprised by what suddenly connects when pencil hits paper. That’s what I did here.

Four Approaches

Before I officially sat down to sketch, there had been a wee bit of chatter, often in the form of “wouldn’t it be cool if …” or, when taking a look at an inspiration image, someone might remark “something like this” in a non-instructive way. In my own mind I had already been designing a little, which I know is a bad habit for logos/identities because sometimes it simply doesn’t work out on the page.

“stack” concept, cast aside
First efforts for a custom wordmark, with a monogram symbol
“torch” concept, which pairs an icon with simple type
The script wordmark is inspired by baseball, but also lends something unexpected to the arena of politics and activisim
“hands” concept in early iterations.

Second Presentation & Rollout

With a chosen direction, the next move was to refine it. Work began on the hands themselves, finding (or creating) a typeface to match, expanding the applications to really show how it might work in practice, and generally moving it forward toward being a practical, viable identity.

Hands Illustration Refinement

Just as I was diving in to fix up these hands, I noticed a few other identities in the wild using hands or fists. Indivisible Harlem, for one, used three raised fists as their principal icon. We also spotted a one-off t-shirt making use of the fist, and even a modular hands-focused identity for Springster that was featured on Brand New.

We spotted lots of hands being used in logos.
Hands are not a new idea for artwork or symbols … but that’s a good thing
Main fist icon as it progressed. The rounded 70s-esque approach was ditched for something more angular. In the end, the solution is something in between.
Many hands in many colours — the system goes way beyond that one fist.

Custom Type

At the same time I was building the hands, I was thinking about type to match. Revisiting some of the art deco-inspired type and source elements, I put together something that felt like us. Sharp, sturdy, not too dainty, and where the type’s personality wouldn’t overpower the rest of the piece on which it would eventually be featured. That happened pretty swiftly, actually, because of the particular letters needed to spell Empire State Indivisible — and in upper case only — thankfully I wasn’t confronted with the challenge of crafting a full alphabet just yet.

Uppercase lettering has a strong tradition in politics and protesting
Working out the ultimate wordmark and custom alphabet. Some characters are tricky, like the V, S, and R. Shown are alternate B ideas.

Graphic Style and Type Selection

Modern identities are more than just logos. The supporting type hierarchy, colour system, graphic devices, layout styles, and all the surrounding pieces matter greatly, in many cases more than the logo itself.

Our colour system, with main swatches (top-left), demonstrated in proportion (bottom), and paired with supporting greys, skin tones, pastels, and Red/Blue selections (top-right)
We’ve seen Futura many times before—a veteran typeface indeed
Empire State Indivisible typefaces, arranged in our brand colours. The larger visual style starts to take shape.
Putting the pieces together — our stationery and merchandise
Selections of our brand patterns, constructed from decimated icons (left) and from the hands, still in-tact (right).

Making It So

So often with identities, we designers spend most of our energy in the concept and creative phase, with hardly anything left in the tank to put it all in production. In the agency world, this might be the time to hand-off to an in-house team or share down to more junior staff who may not have been involved with the client presentations, but in this case, those scenarios don’t apply. It was go-time from the beginning.

Social Media

Even before it was finished, with all parts and pieces accounted for, the new identity was headed for public view. On social media, that meant staking a claim to the appropriate handles and getting and avatars and backgrounds in place.

Our Facebook page. The orange fist serves as the avatar; our main logo is set in white against a low-contrast pattern background.
Social media sample graphics, in several colour combinations — the “orange ticket” only gets used for the most urgent, most actionable stuff.
A multi-page spread for each colour combination allows me to generate social media images in InDesign without _too_ much drama. Common file templates are included for general use/email, Facebook events, Facebook timelines, Twitter, and Instagram, with room for future expansion to Pinterest or blog formats.
Handling so many individual images means the need for a system. Images are organised by event, and saved to a shared folder. The events add up quick alongside general-use and evergreen items.

Printed Matter

In spite of our modern times, and the budgetary constraints of being a scrappy grassroots org, we did put together some print projects in the early days.

Our bookmarks. Using the blank spaces, folks can record contact detail for their local & state reps, serving as a handy reminder to call!
Empire State Indivisble business cards. We produced a generic back, along with alternate versions featuring contact info for key members.
The buttons are very popular. Sold out in minutes.
Our group, marching with newly-minted vinyl banner.

Style Guide

Style guides range in their size and complexity, but strictly speaking they’re only necessary once the original designer steps back and someone else has to reproduce their work. At the start, the style guide is “in my head”, but as months unfold, that no longer suits.

Colour swatches in our style guide. The level of specificity here is likely intended only “For Designers.” The general public doesn’t need to know Pantone numbers.
  1. For Friends and Press
  2. For Members
  3. For Designers

The Way Forward

Never been much for predicting the future, (see also: 2016 Election) but I have no doubt that our new identity has planted seeds for us that will bear fruit in the future. For now, one benefit I didn’t see coming was the confidence the identity has instilled in the members of our group. Our team wear their buttons with pride. They are fortified when they hand those signed letters to our elected officials, seeing a typographic logo that is uniquely ours at the top of each. The hands feel like an imprint of members own hands, in that they feel the logo represents their hard work and they now strive, themselves, to represent the group and its symbol.

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Independent Graphic Designer & Brand Developer, Host & Creator of The Busy Creator Podcast, Swing Dancer, Old Rugger, Blogger, Simpsons referencer.

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Prescott Perez-Fox

Independent Graphic Designer & Brand Developer, Host & Creator of The Busy Creator Podcast, Swing Dancer, Old Rugger, Blogger, Simpsons referencer.