When we first started out as Smith & Diction we literally had no idea what we were doing. No idea what kind clients we were going to get or what kind of clients we even wanted. No real concrete plan at all. A career trust fall if you will. We just sat and refreshed our inboxes every few minutes.
Just kidding. We were extremeeely lucky enough that during our first week we got a call from two people that were literally trying to change the world and needed some help with branding their dream. A dream that a little bit of kindness can go a long way. Those people were some friends from our days at charity: water, so changing the world ran through their blood. And they understood what kind of roll a solid brand could play in the future of their non-profit.
I got off a plane from a road trip to Colorado and went straight into a meeting at a co-working space in Brooklyn, where we chatted about big ideas and went through a really loose pitch deck. At the end, when I asked, “What are you going to call it?” They were like, “We’re thinking about kindness.org,” and I was like ummmmm okay good luck with landing that URL. So we just started working under the idea that we would call this Kindness. Super ballsy, I know. (Oh yeah, a year later they got the URL.)
Kindness can be anything, it can be everything.
To start off we asked ourselves, what is kindness? Is it holding the door for a stranger? Sending a hand-written letter to a friend? Buying dinner for the homeless man you see on your way home from work? Stopping by for a surprise visit to see your grandparents?
Kindness can be big, it can be small, it can be loud and obnoxious, it can be understated and cool, it can be taught, it can be warm, it can be cold (if we’re talking about free ice cream), it can be digital, it can be physical, it can be surprising, it can be ordinary (as simple as a smile), it can be anything, it can be everything.
How do you design for something so mushy? So emotional? So undefined?
Initially, we went through a few clunky and approachable options, but eventually felt they had a little too much youthfulness in them. We really wanted this mark not to have an age. We wanted it to be something that wouldn’t fade with time. And something that people of all ages would feel excited to support. Another early option was super geometric and sharp but kinda felt like children’s building blocks to be a little bit more friendly. When we presented it, the kindness crew loved it, but they asked if we could make it a little softer, specifically like the rounded leg in the K. So we took those previous versions and gave them a more rounded and a little more elevated feeling.
The end mark feels substantial but elegant. It has some weight to it but the weight rests on curved lines, giving it a subtle energy.
The K itself felt really nice but we knew we couldn’t use just one blank shape to define all those different kinds of kindness. It was a solid mark that could do the job for any company that began with a K. So how could we make it relate to kindness?
One big thing that was brought up in that first meeting was that this mark had to feel global. Kindness.org was going to be an international platform. Kindness has no limits, and this mark needed to reflect that sentiment. So first, we introduced a huge color palette. You could change the three separate parts to be practically any color you’d like.
“Okay cool, but what else?”
After working at charity: water for two years, one thing that I was really fascinated with was patterns. While I was there, I got to flip through hundreds of photos from different countries and villages, and I saw all kinds of patterns specific to those regions. And they were all unique and really beautiful. So I thought to myself, “Why not try to introduce patterns into this system?” There are allllll kinds of patterns around the world, let’s see how they will interact with the colors and letterforms. I drew a couple by hand, line by line, dot by dot, zig-zag by zig-zag, and it really paid off. It introduced a level to the mark that felt so right.
What’s that, you’re giving a talk in Switzerland? Sure, we can make a pattern of little crosses. Now you’re in America? Stars and Stripes babyyyyyy. The logo could grow with the company itself no matter where in the world it went. In a few years we’ll be able to build a large library of region-based textures that the kindness team can use wherever, whenever. I felt really happy about this element and the flexibility/personality it brought to an otherwise simple mark.
We gave them a style guide and an updated keynote for them to make pitches and sort of build out the brand on their own terms. Then they went through a bunch of testing and some self-reflection on what exactly they wanted to build and how to go about doing it properly.
You can find out more about their partnership with Oxford University here.
How do you design for the undefinable? You don’t.
Robots vs Blobs
A month or so later, we got a call from kindness again, asking if we could work with their team in London to create a website and a few other things.
The team at Neon took the lead and just asked for “brand support” every now and then. One day they asked if we could make some simple onboarding illustrations. You know when you sign up for something and it gives you a quick step-by-step on how to use it? Simple, right? Not at all.
They were like, it can’t be a human because we don’t want to single out any one kind of person, but we still want it to have some relatable emotion. And it has to be simple enough to fit it with the rest of the brand. Annnnnnd go…
So I banged my head against the desk for about an hour trying to figure out what I could make that felt “fun and relatable to humans,” but wasn’t human at all. Then I was like, “Oh shit, robots are sick and human-like but not!” PROBLEM. SOLVED.
One thing: They weren’t feeling the robots. They didn’t like the preconceived notion that came with them: cold and distant. Even if one was meant to look like Dustin from Stranger Things.
So I went back to the drawing board…literally. I figured, I drew the brand textures by hand, maybe I can draw these characters by hand as well? I took some of the faces I had made from the robots and just tossed them on some hand drawn blobs. I immediately smiled and was like, “Look at this pudgy little thing. It’s adorable and wonky. Just like my emotions.” So I kept drawing endless shapes with no particular “character” in mind. Just all kinds of wobbly blobs. Some hands here and there. A few pairs of glasses. Some eyeballs. Just anything I thought I could use in my toolbox to create blobby kindness characters.
I put together all kinds of different and unique characters using the different pieces and the textures that we used in the K, and it all started to come together. The blobs perfectly related to the rest of the brand. Blobby and wobbly just like kindness IRL.
The team loved the characters so much that we started to develop an entire family of them for all different kinds of interactions and social media. Every time I get to make a new lil bud I smile, because the possibilities are endless and their expressions are hilarious.
We even got to work with our good friend Justin Lawes on a launch post where he made them wiggle and groove a bit. (I still laugh every time I watch them dance.)
Kindness.org officially launched on October 5th and one of their videos got viewed over 5 million times (on Facebook) within the first 48 hours. Notttttt bad for a first day. They’re off to a great start and they’re only going to gain more momentum from here. I’m sure the web team will keep iterating and revising the look as it grows, because that’s what the brand was constructed to do from day one.
One idea we had in the very beginning was that kindness.org would look different every time you visited the page, because kindness is different every time you experience it. That idea is still just an idea, and we’ll see if it ends up making the cut.
Disclaimer: Right now there are only a few set initiatives you can join while they’re still testing the waters. At some point soon you’ll be able to create your own initiative and show the world your own unique kind of kindness.
Peace from the dead.
We presented this logo and was quickly killed because it was weird. I can’t disagree. I honestly don’t know why I thought it was a good idea, but I still think it’s a fun illustration. The idea here is that this is a sign language “K” with a string around the finger to remind you to be kind. The string also has a little K in there too.
Here’s another weird hand with a little K in it.
Anyway, peace out little dudes.
Thanks for letting us be a small piece of a huge idea. We wish our friends at kindess.org all the best and we’ll keep on helping out on this for as long as they’ll have us. Go check it out and join an initiative. The world needs a little more kindness these days. And also check out this video they created with Action Productions, it will make you smile. I promise.