Case Study: The Exoneration Project
Visual Identity & Website
We recently had the privilege of working with The Exoneration Project, a free legal clinic at the University of Chicago Law School fighting for justice for wrongly imprisoned, innocent people. Their team is made up of leading attorneys from civil rights firms who volunteer their time to represent and win freedom for the innocent incarcerated. Eva Nagao, director of the EP, currently co-hosts a new documentary series on MTV, “Unlocking the Truth,” where she investigates cases of wrongfully incarcerated individuals.
Studio 424 is passionate about social and environmental justice, and we jumped at the opportunity to work with The Exoneration Project. We recognize the detrimental impact on individuals and communities when our justice system fails — presuming guilt before innocence and trapping people without resources or representation in a system of incarceration. We also recognize the role we can play as digital storytellers, packaging the EP’s mission and narrative for the public.
Exoneration is a turning point. EP clients lose years of their lives to wrongful incarceration, their communities feel the void of the missing, and freedom is only the first step to rejoin society. When presented with the stories of EP clients and the EP team’s dedication to truth and justice, we were determined to create a brand and digital presence that reflected the emotional range of exoneration. There is darkness, despair, resilience, determination, and sometimes, victory. We wanted to capture this myriad of stories and personal experiences in a way that embraced hopefulness without ignoring the struggle.
There were a few metaphors that we considered and we sketched out visual ideas based on those phrases. In the early stages, it was quantity over quality, but having that quantity gave us a pool of ideas to sift through and select the visuals with the most potential. It was a multi-person collaborative process involving regular discussion and critique. Of the three or four concepts we presented; we felt the strongest embraced the action of emergence, or moving out from the past into the light. That concept became the final selection by the client and studio.
This wasn’t just designing a logo or wordmark — we were designing an identity system. The concept selection drove our decisions, and informed how the rest of the elements would look. After establishing the foundational rules, we moved on to an exhaustive process of sketching the brand across applications and collateral.
Icons, patterns, and illustrations became central to the visual identity. The patterns are an extension of the emergence theme. The icons are functional — directing and prompting users, while the illustrations are more narrative — depicting stories of wrongful conviction and injustice.
Color was critical. We chose a varied palette with guidelines on how to create color combinations. The expansive palette also allows for thematic assignment of color across digital and print collateral, creating distinctions between content topics.
People are front and center on The Exoneration Project’s new site. We want users to dive in and learn the story behind the name or headline. There are personal stories from exonerated individuals, detailing their experiences with the justice system and consequences of unjust action. These stories are paired with a library of resources on wrongful conviction for academic researchers, legal professionals, and advocates. We also pushed direct action to the forefront, offering immediate options for users to get involved, assist, donate — an invitation to help rebuild individuals and communities torn apart by wrongful conviction.
The new EP brand extends beyond the digital realm, and is applicable to traditional collateral like postcards, stationary, business cards, and pins. Again, we wanted these pieces to incorporate bright, transitional patterns and iconography that tell the exoneration story. Pull quotes and snippets of information reinforce the message of the EP.
Going through a new visual identity process feels chaotic, but there is a general pattern that we follow (see Think). It starts with throwing out as many ideas as possible, sifting through, establishing rules, evaluating each step and repeating until you have the essence the brand. It’s alchemy.
As we worked with The Exoneration Project to create their new visual identity and digital presence, we felt compelled to review the process and remind ourselves why we do this kind of work. Their team is out in real communities, fighting for the very real rights of very real people. We’re doing our part to give them a stronger voice and larger platform through branding and digital strategy. It’s our firm belief that we should be creating experiences that make people’s lives better. The Exoneration Project gives a shit, and so do we.
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