Building a brand from the ground up
The design story of WISE at Northeastern University
WISE, the Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship, is a new student organization at Northeastern University dedicated to increasing the confidence of young women and helping them develop an entrepreneurial mindset. As the Vice President of Brand Design for WISE, I was given the opportunity to create our brand strategy, logo and visual identity. I wanted to create a brand that would sustain our values and goals for future generations of women at Northeastern University.
When many people look at a logo, they may see an image, a typeface and perhaps an aesthetically pleasing color palette. However, what most people are unaware of is the story behind the logo. Branding is an intricate process with every single detail having intention behind it.
To begin this journey, I started with research!
1. Internal branding exercises
To understand our internal views and values for WISE, I asked our team go through a series of brand exercises:
1) Elevator pitch: to concisely articulate our WHY
2) Personality levers: to understand our positioning
3) Adjective of WISE is, and WISE is not: “if WISE was a friend, what adjectives would describe her.”
4) Establishing our core values as an organization: What do we want to stand by and sustain in the future of Women’s Entrepreneurship at NEU?
Once internal views were established, I sought out external insight about our environment and audience. I held interviews with multiple different groups and organizations at NEU to understand how best we can position ourselves.
1) Women representatives from different disciplines at Northeastern: understanding our target audience and how best we can cater to them.
“Entrepreneurship is about creating a business and I don’t have a startup or a business idea, so why would I want to be involved in this community?”
That’s where WISE comes in. Our goal is not to only to teach women how to build a business but also but also to provide women with an entrepreneurial mindset. This entails truly trusting yourself, developing mental fortitude, and finding deep alignment with your purpose.
2) Organizations in the entrepreneurship ecosystem at Northeastern: to understand how WISE can provide value among the innovative community.
3) Women-focused organizations at Northeastern: to gain an understanding of tailored content and visual representation to a niche audience of students.
3. Logos and Design
Now for the fun part — which was also the most challenging. Drawing out some logos! I let my inner perfectionist get the best of me, which prolonged my ability to embrace the ambiguity of creating some really ugly logos.
Sketching out logos on paper allows you to be free without holding yourself back. No matter how ridiculous it may be, it’s an idea. There’s no such thing as a stupid idea.
The first round of digital logos started off with a variety of ideas; I started playing with the concept of ‘interdisciplinary’, potentially having a W that represented this. The concept of having an interdisciplinary W was pretty generic and is usually taken up by a plethora of tech companies in Silicon Valley.
The second round of logo variations revolved around the concept of our 3 programs; WeBuild, WeLearn, WeSupport. While that creates ample ground for us to build our brand, we are a student organization, and as students we’re constantly learning and growing which means the organization will always evolve.
So I scrapped that concept out. I was literally going around in circles, not having any sense of direction. I went to seek advice from Professor Margarita Barrios Ponce who provided me with invaluable feedback and challenged me on changing the narrative behind the logo.
Our logo revolves around the concept of two elements coming together; i.e. students and women coming together and interacting at WISE, and the overlapping path, is the connection and the synergy that is created when people engage with WISE.
Boom! I had my concept! Now it was time to further fine-tune those details, add some typography, pick a color scheme and we’re good to go right? Nope, not even close.
Iterate, test, and experiment until it just works.
Mia, Eliana, and I sat for hours contemplating our color palette and typography. After carefully combing through feedback and eliminating previous iterations, I revisited a blank canvas and followed my energy. I finally found my flow and just created.
1) With anything in life, always do your research, you never know who or what can inspire you.
2) Seeking feedback is helpful, but people love giving their opinions, so seek out the ones that really challenge your views.
3) Sometimes scrapping out ideas and starting on a blank canvas paves the path for fresh ideas!
4) Trust yourself! Being a sole designer creating a brand is challenging, but it gives you the ownership over design decisions and the foundation for believing in your design ethos.
It was two and a half months of constant iteration, frustration, hope, and excitement; the emotional cycle of design. There is nothing more rewarding than branding an organization dedicated to improving the confidence of women leaders at Northeastern University. Branding WISE has helped me believe in my abilities as a designer, helped me face my fears of perfectionism, and truly embrace the ambiguity of the design process. I am forever grateful for this opportunity, for incredible leaders like Mia and Eliana for starting WISE at Northeastern, and for Professor Margarita for giving me honest feedback.