Crafting a new brand to lead us into the future without forgetting our past

Bold choices for a bold future

It was about time for a change. Our organization, though its statute-established mission and core values are the same as they have been for the past two decades, has a different vision of the future since the last time its branding was considered. We recognized that in order for our vision to become a reality, we needed to pivot the way we approach things like design and communications. So in February of last year (2018), we embarked on a journey to rethink how we presented ourselves to the world.

After sitting down and talking with managers of CSIS, a couple things became clear.

  1. The external perception of CSIS is that we are part of the California Department of Education. This misconception causes the true value of CSIS to be lost on the people we strive to serve.
  2. CSIS used to be viewed as an innovative entity within the public sector. Today, we no longer have such a reputation. To re-establish ourselves as a flagship organization in our industry we must diversify our service offerings and find new ways to communicate with the people who stand to benefit from our expertise.

Rebranding wasn’t going to fix all of our problems. But we realized that it was a critical step in order to move towards a future where our full potential could once again be realized. But first, we had to remind ourselves about why were were formed to begin with, what we have accomplished, what we stand for. Doing this would ensure we reflect these fundamental aspects of who we are as we also have our sights set ahead.

When legislation created CSIS underneath the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) back in 1997, it chartered us to assist the state of California in a handful of areas:

  • Timely transfer of records across school districts
  • Submission of transcripts to colleges
  • Information System capability and capacity for local education agencies (LEAs)
  • State and federal reporting for LEAs
  • Data and information on public education for public officials

Our relationship to FCMAT is important to our identity. So as we distilled the essence of who we are into simple words, we also did so with our parent organization. Words such as technology, data, and privacy help to describe what CSIS is and what we do. Words such as finance, management, and business help describe FCMAT. Then words such as education, support, and achievement serve to describe both organizations. Once we had these concepts, it was time to represent them visually.

To give us an initial visual language to work with, we put together some basic icons that represent the concepts at the core of our identify. This became the basis of our first iteration of new logo designs. From this first design round, we ended up with four distinct directions to solicit feedback from. Our rebrand steering committee (comprised of representatives from every department in CSIS) gave constructive, thoughtful feedback that got to the core of how they each believed CSIS should be portrayed moving forward. They tore apart the four directions, discussing the pros and cons of each. This feedback gave us the ability to iterate with extreme intent, resulting in two new possible directions. Feedback on these was collected and a third final brand direction was designed.

We’ll get deeper into the iterations that led up to this design in a later article. For now, we’ll go over the intent and meaning behind our final logo and supporting brand assets.

It became clear that our logomark needed to be circular to represent the concept of inclusion and trust. We work for the benefit of the entire state of California. Equal educational opportunity for everyone is a central pillar in CSIS’s core values. And speaking of pillars, another symbolic choice was the use of the number “three.” Humans and the laws of nature have a special relationship with the number three. The three data lines represent past, present, and future; strength and stability; and a steady rhythm driving forward. These lines intentionally start with a wide gap and narrow as they move forward and upward together showing our work to narrow the gaps in achievement so everyone is progressing and no-one is falling behind.

Once the acronym and color are added, the whole picture falls into place. We chose Filson as our typeface for the “CSIS” letters because of it’s precise geometry, which’s shapes mimic the nature of the logomark, and then opened up the letter-spacing to mimic our organization’s drive for openness and innovation. The type and outer ring along with the central data line are set in a deep navy blue to establish a neutral, strong, authoritative presence inspired by our parent organization, FCMAT (in fact, we call this blue “FCMAT Blue”). The central navy line and outer ring represent CSIS with the tangerine and turquoise lines representing the local education agencies we support. They weave together as they curve upward to show how CSIS collaborates and empathizes with those we support. Our success is their success and vice-versa.

These woven lines can then be taken out from the circle to be used as a design motif, reinforcing everything they stand for.

This redesign of our brand is a small but critical step for us as an organization. We see a future built on the foundation for the past two decades of work to support and improve California’s education system; but also, a future unlike anything we’ve crafted in the past. Bold choices; bold future. Though CSIS has been impactful for over twenty years now, we’re only just getting started.

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Sean Kennedy

Sean Kennedy

I design software for a living. I write to stay sane (if only partially). I also write songs and produce music in my spare time.