UNYA: Where Youth Lead

A case study on fostering independence in a culturally responsive environment


The Urban Native Youth Association (UNYA) has had a transformational impact on thousands of indigenous youth in Canada. UNYA currently provides programming to 6000 indigenous youth annually and is operating out of a small space in East Vancouver. Since 2004 the association has been working on establishing the Native Youth Centre (NYC) a purpose-built, indigenous youth-led center. It will provide up to 13,000 indigenous youth with programs, resources, and services that aim to shape their future by providing them with leadership opportunities and a spirit of independence.


The current website of UNYA has served its purpose well the last 30 years, however, has become outdated. It is no longer reflective of the thoughtful, dynamic and youthful staff and youth that make UNYA a home away from home for so many. The organization wants to rebrand both their website and their current overall brand to raise the profile of UNYA and attract attention to their multimillion dollar capital campaign for the NYC.

Current Website


This project was conceived as part of a student team at Red Academy. The UX part of the team consists of Erin Ramsperger and Lloyd Pan who conducted the UX-related research, planning, paper prototyping, wireframing and testing for this project. The UI part of the team consisted of EA Stewart and myself. As part of the UI scope, we focused on rebranding the organization’s overall visual style and creating the visual design of the new desktop and mobile website.

As this is a project focused on creating the visual design for an indigenous organization, our team wanted to ensure that we remain aware of appropriations and avoid misuse of symbols and colors. Particularly from a UI aspect, we wanted to prevent any whitewashing of the brand and connection to its indigenous roots. In communication with our clients, we attempted to create contemporary designs that respectfully portrait cultural heritage.

If you have any concerns or feedback in regards to possible appropriation please feel free to reach out.


From the kick-off meeting with the UNYA’s communication advisor, Leslie Boldt, the focus of the new brand and website. First and foremost the designs should showcase the valuable impact UNYA has on indigenous youth through their low barrier programs and initiatives. In addition to highlighting youth programming the rebrand with also play a significant role in fundraising $8 million for the NYC Capital Campaign.

UNYA is located in the east of Vancouver and has had a tremendous impact on the indigenous community, the neighborhood and beyond. Vancouver has the third largest urban indigenous population in Canada with over 52,000 people. Half of all indigenous people in Canada are under 25, and the number of indigenous youth in cities is increasing in the pursuit of education and employment. Therefore UNYA plays a crucial role in providing services and programs for local and out-of-town indigenous youth. The NYC will be the first of it’s kind, and in addition to providing an indigenous youth hub, it will also stand as a symbol of reconciliation.

Through the information gathered in our interviews with Leslie and Executive Director, Dena Klashinsky, and the research conducted we defined the core intent that will guide the design of the brand and website. The core intent we strive for in creating the website is to ‘feel a sense of belonging while fostering independence in a culturally responsive environment.’

Design Intent



From the core design intent, we started to create two separate art directions. The first art direction (on the left) focuses on the welcoming, youthful, relevant but subtle nature of UNYA. The aim of this art direction is to ensure indigenous youth have access to a welcoming environment that creates relevant connections that will further their growth. The second art direction (on the right) focuses on creating a modern, confident, successful and proud mood. It is bolder in its colors and showcases the vast opportunities indigenous youth can access through UNYA.

In addition to the two art directions, we also provided the client with two style tiles that encapsulate the art directions in regards to logo designs, color palette, and typography. The left style tile highlights brighter colours with rounder shapes representative of the youthful and welcoming mood which can also be seen in the use of the round sans-serif typeface ‘Ubuntu’. In comparison, the right style tile highlights a bolder color palette and sharper shapes that evoke a sense of pride and confidence.

We presented both art directions and their corresponding style tiles to Dena and Leslie, and they choose to go with the second art direction: modern, proud, successful, confident.


Our clients also provided us with valuable feedback in regards to the color palette. The initial colour palette was derived from the medicine wheel and circle of courage that guide the resources and programming at UNYA. With the additional feedback, we ensured to make the color palette representative of indigenous people across Canada. We learned that the color blue is commonly used instead of white by indigenous people residing in the prairie regions of Canada. Additionally, through the use of black and red, we pay tribute to the Coast Salish People in whose territory UNYA is located.

From our comparative research conducted and from interviews, we learned that many indigenously-related websites appear very dark due to the use of the high contrast colors. Therefore we created a secondary color palette to complement the original colors.


The primary typeface that is used both in the logo and major headings is ‘Poppins’. This geometric sans-serif features larger round shapes that portrait confidence and pride. ‘Poppins’ comes in 5 weights and is easily used across both desktop and web features.

The secondary typeface is ‘Work Sans,’ a sans-serif with grotesque personality. This professional typeface was used as a pairing due to its use of subtle grotesque features that are reflective of the unique personalities of the individual youth that lead UNYA. Additionally, the typeface has been optimized for on-screen use by its designer, Wei Huang.

Both typefaces are accessible for free through Google Fonts and therefore a perfect fit for a not-for-profit organization such as UNYA.


Our client was extremely receptive to a new logo design. Therefore we explored a variety of options. We started the logo ideation process with a whiteboard brainstorm session from which I created more detailed sketches (seen on the left). From this initial set of ideas, I focused on the bottom rows and created another set of iterations. I was specifically interested in using the medicine wheel to create the acronym ‘UNYA’ through the use of its shapes.

After sketching a few dozen logos and interactions, I focused on the two different types of logos that were shown in the style tile and above on the right. The left version features rearranged medicine wheel with a variety of applications. The right version features a more contemporary use of shapes to spell out ‘UNYA.’ In addition to the use of shapes, I explored the use of overlapping and negative space.

With the client choosing to go with the second art direction they also indicated that they would like to further explore the first logo in the version on the right. Their feedback stated that the logo was too harsh and was too far removed from UNYA’s cultural connection.

We discussed the use of shapes used in Coast Salish and Indigenous art such as ‘u-shapes’ and ‘ovoids.’ Through a few different iterations, we were able to find a logo that has both features of the more angled and sharp ‘u-shapes,’ commonly used for fins and wings in indigenous art, and ‘ovoids,’ while remaining true to the visual representation of the organization’s acronym.

Due to the large variety of programming and resources provided by UNYA, we ensured to create a logo system that allows for the use of the logo in different settings. In the case of the Native Youth Health & Wellness Centre, the logo features the UNYA shapes in a color palette representative of the interior design of the Health & Wellness Centre.


As previously mentioned the programming at UNYA follows the circle of courage model which focuses on teaching indigenous youth through the use of four principles: belonging, mastery, independence, generosity. The programming at UNYA can be divided into the same four sections. They provide live-in programs, personal support programs, education programs and sport & recreation programming. Therefore it was important to us to create iconography for the programming pages that communicated not just the activity but also its relation to the model.


As part of the community project programs at RED Academy, the finished prototype has been handed-off to a team of web development students. In collaboration with the design team, the web development team will be developing both the desktop and mobile versions of the site. In addition to the site, the client has been provided with a style guide to ensure brand consistency.

(This case study will be updated as soon as the site has been developed.)