Case Study: Words in the Wild Brand Identity

Scott Kirkwood
Sep 2, 2020 · 6 min read

A close-up look at Friday’s design process.

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WORDS IN THE WILD IS A BAY-AREA NONPROFIT that uses kids’ interest in science and the outdoors to help them become better readers — an approach that’s especially helpful for those who struggle in the typical classroom setting. When the founder decided to expand her efforts from a small summer camp and after-school program to include teacher trainings and pre-packaged curricula, she asked Friday to create a sophisticated brand that would appeal to her many audiences. Here are some of the critical steps along that journey, for anyone considering partnering with Friday, or for design lovers who just want to peek behind the curtain.

Phase 1: Understand

Friday’s projects always begin with background research and a kick-off call with the client to make sure we all agree on the challenge we’re tackling. In that first meeting, we share our expectations, clarify the items to be delivered by the end of the project, and identify key dates along the timeline. Then we ask questions — lots of questions. Here are a few things we asked Executive Director Alexis Filippini and her team at Words in the Wild:

  • Describe Words in the Wild in 2–3 sentences.
  • What makes your organization unique?
  • Tell us a few stories that illustrate what Words in the Wild is all about.
  • Where do you see Words in the Wild going in the next 5 years? 10 years?
  • To achieve your organizational goals, who do you need to persuade, and what do they want?
  • What does success look like? In 6–12 months, how will you know if we’ve done our job well?
  • Who will approve all of the creative work?
  • What parts of this process make you nervous?

From that conversation and several follow-up calls, a few items stood out:

  • Words in the Wild (WITW) is a teaching approach based in linguistics that shows kids how words can be broken into their component parts — like the connection between sign and signature — rather than traditional approaches that focus on spelling and rhyming words like rat, cat, and hat.
  • WITW takes a cerebral activity and turns into a whole-body activity to be experienced in the outdoors, where kids investigate words in the same ways they investigate plants or insects.
  • Words in the Wild makes learning fun — but that fun is based in serious research that came out of the founder’s own experience earning a BA in linguistics and a PhD in special education.

The next step in our process helps us explore language and visuals. We ask clients to identify 5–6 key words that express their organization; Words in the Wild chose: Discovery, Curiosity, Playfulness, Revolutionary, Expert, and Connected. Then we presented the team with dozens of existing logos and asked them to pick those that were consistent with their brand personality. That process establishes tangible preferences for colors, type, and illustration style — and the conversation around those choices reveals nearly as much as the selections themselves. WITW’s favorites, below, included natural elements, bold lines, and muted colors; we’d only included one or two logos with human figures, and that absence led the team to suggest children be part of the mark as well.

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Collection of logos that illustrates the flavor of the Words in the Wild brand, as chosen by the client team.

The client team told us they wanted a typeface that was clearly legible, so children could easily read the words, and they wanted a logo that didn’t feel too masculine or too feminine, given their students’ gender mix. We also collected logos from “competitive” organizations, below, to be sure the new mark stands apart from other organizations.

Logos of EL Education, Reading Partners, Oakland Literacy Coalition, Oakland Promise, Sylvan Learning and Kumon.
Logos of EL Education, Reading Partners, Oakland Literacy Coalition, Oakland Promise, Sylvan Learning and Kumon.
Logos representing Words in the Wild’s competitive landscape.

Phase 2: Explore
By combining the key words from the client team and the visuals that spoke to them, I worked with our designer, Hillary Celebi, to create a series of “mood boards,” each of which represented a different approach. The idea is never to copy anyone else’s work, but to gather symbols and styles that speak to the emotions we’re trying to convey. Here are two of the mood boards we created, one that represents Adventure and another that represents the theme of Letterpress Printing (which uses wooden blocks to create words, in the same way that trees and nature play a role in WITW’s outdoor activities).

Phase 3: Create
We created six mood boards that inspired six marks (below), which, in retrospect, was too many — we’ve since recognized the need to cull some of the work before the client even sees it. The WITW team reviewed all six logos, and in time, one emerged as the clear front-runner — Explorers, bottom left.

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From there, Hillary explored options with one child vs. two (incorporating both a girl and a boy), and played with slight variations on the typeface and the way the words are stacked.

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Three final options for the Words in the Wild logo, playing with the location of the figure and the way the words are stacked.

As you can see, we landed on a single figure that’s androgynous rather than representing both genders. From here, the client selected Option C, with the child about to leap over the words, representing the beginning of a challenge — a solution that’s more unexpected than the centered options. The final logo represents Discovery, Curiosity and Playfulness, three of our six key words, leaving the copywriting to convey Revolutionary, Expert and Connectedness. That just left the color palette which includes hues found in nature, for obvious reasons.

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Final Words in the Wild logo and color palette.

Phase 4: Launch

From the website header, which shows kids in “hands-on” mode, to the back of the business card, which illustrates exactly how children break words into their component parts, the new brand captures the essence of the Words in the Wild approach, and we’re excited to see where they take it.

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Scott Kirkwood

Written by

Creative director at Friday, focused on graphic design for do-gooders. Denver, CO. https://friday.us

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

Scott Kirkwood

Written by

Creative director at Friday, focused on graphic design for do-gooders. Denver, CO. https://friday.us

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

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