Designing IBM Cyber Day for Girls

How I created a visual identity for a STEM event geared toward middle school girls.

It all started with a simple request for a logo…

A lot of designers know how this story goes. A small ask to create something can easily spin out of control. But this time it was different because I was the one pushing for more.


Currently I am a design lead on the IBM Security design team, but I’ve recently found myself between projects. Around the same time this “between time” happened, an email came through to the female designers on our team asking for help to create a logo for an internal event. The event, called IBM Cyber Day for Girls, was to be held on multiple IBM campuses across North America to teach middle school girls about cybersecurity. I imagine the thought was probably just to have one of us create something quick and easy to be used by the internal group planning the event. So I volunteered to help.

I found the assets the team was currently planning on using, some clip-arty images from an internal organization sponsoring the event. And no offense to anyone involved, but I was a little underwhelmed. I have 3 nieces around the ages that were being targeted for this event, and I could actually see all of them rolling their eyes at this, because let’s face it: on the surface, cybersecurity is really not the most interesting topic with 12-14 year old girls.

So I started down the path. I hadn’t really ever seen any sort of branding or collateral for STEM/STEAM events before. In fact, the only thing I could think of was the old, weird NSA children’s site (I wish it still existed, but you can always view it on the Way Back Machine).

I knew I wanted to create something that felt young, fresh, and exciting to help foster interest in the subject. I thought about my nieces and how much they love Snapchat. I looked at some retro-yet-cool inspiration, like 80s-themed graphics and camping badges. I collected all these images for inspiration and created a few color palettes I thought would work well.

moodboard

I sketched out a couple rough ideas and then made a few black and white versions digitally for feedback.

early versions of the logo

We narrowed it down and picked 2 versions to pursue, the ones in the upper left and bottom right (circle badge and shield, respectively). I think all in all, I created about 20 variations of the two logos.

At this point, I sent some of my favorite versions back to the woman in charge of this event. The feedback was really positive with a few changes. And now there was a new request: could I design a girl to be used as a mascot for the event? It’s kind of like that book, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”; if you give people a little bit of something and they like it, they’ll always want more. People are hungry for good design.

a few of my favorite versions, including the final logo on the far right

I could’ve said no to this new request, but I said yes. And I asked for access to the rest of the assets being used for the event. I wanted to see what everything else looked like and if what I was designing would fit appropriately.

Looking at the assets, they were kind of all over the place and I felt a responsibility to redesign everything. I wanted this event to look good and be appealing to these young girls. I wanted them to have fun and be engaged. And I wanted IBM to put their best foot forward. I now knew the list of items I needed to create: a logo, mascot, name tags, stickers, a Word template for flyers, a Powerpoint template for presentations, way-finding signs for campus, a welcome banner, and a podium cover.

This was now going from quick request to small side project, all of my own accord. I found myself feeling really invested in this because I wished that I could’ve had the opportunity to attend something like this when I was in middle school. I wasn’t into cybersecurity then, but I loved computers and the internet, and I think it would’ve been really cool to be exposed to different women who were working in technology in jobs I didn’t know existed.

collage of various assets

I had so much fun working on this. More people stopped at my desk to ask what I was working on during this project than anything else in the past year. I even got my nieces involved to vote on the final version of the logo.

The event itself was a hit. The girls were super engaged and interested in the activities throughout the day. Teachers asked if they could be invited back next year, and one of the girls even asked if she could come shadow us during the summer!

I feel incredibly proud to work for a company that would put on this type of event, and I’m so happy to have had a small part in it. If you’d like to read more about IBM Cyber Day for Girls, check out this blog post. To see pictures from the different Cyber Day events, check out #IBMCyberDay4Girls on Twitter.