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ALLIED ARTS: A Case Study in Non-profit Identity Re-branding


Although “branding” might seem like something reserved for profit corporations, successful branding is as important for non-profits as it is for businesses. Your brand is how your organization is perceived in the community.  Every image, every message and every action influences that perception.  You can leave that impression to fate or you can actively direct how you’re perceived.  It’s your choice whether you build it for maximum impact.

I refer to maximizing a brand as “bolding” it. Bolding your brand ensures it will be seen, be heard and be remembered. It’s standing head and shoulders above the crowd.  It’s building your brand identity to connect with members, donors, sponsors and the community at large — impacting them visually, engaging them verbally and embracing them emotionally.  It’s driven by passion, so it's not the time for whispering — it’s time to be loud!

Recently, I was contracted to help a regional non-profit arts organization update their brand identity.

Allied Arts of Whatcom County had over a 40 year presence in the community, was respected by its members and sponsors, but visually the brand lacked cohesion and consistency.  It certainly seemed that a “bolding” effort was in order.  Although effective branding is a broad exercise in building awareness, as a visual designer my primary focus was having the organization be seen.  

Being seen starts with a powerful logo

Being seen starts with a powerful logo.  A visually distinct mark that is readily acknowledged and enduringly remembered.  The logo needed to represent creative expression in a bold, simple way.  We chose to maintain the original logotype, since it would provide a strong foundation for the addition of a graphic element.  We isolated the “A” and built it into the graphic, enabling it to be separated from the logotype and still carry a typographic identifier.  The splatter mark, a simple representation of free expression, created the high contrast background needed to finalize the image.  

Design the logo to be dynamic, not static

Although the logo represented the organization, its mission and its services, as importantly, it also represented all of its member artists.  We felt it imperative to expand the logo in a way that visually illustrated the diverse range of talent, skills and the full range of mediums, media and styles produced by its member artists.  By making the logo dynamic, we could go beyond a broad representation of the organization, expanding it to represent specific programs, events and presentations.

We chose to enlist a distinct color palette coupled with a set of high contrast iconic graphics to accomplish our objective.  The approach allowed for virtually unlimited expansion, while maintaining the strong visual foundation that would always readily be associated with Allied Arts.  

Building a Visual Brand Theme

A series of patterns was created as secondary graphic elements and backgrounds.  These brand assets would be used across different platforms and media including web, social media, email marketing, print, video, signage and gallery decor.  It continues to build on the free expression theme, but as a secondary, background element that supports rather than visually competes with member art that’s being presented or displayed.

Being Authentic

Be authentic! Building a visual brand theme should be more like selecting your wardrobe than an analytical study in brand awareness.  How you dress your organization should express your personality.  All your brand assets; logo, secondary graphics, color palette, fonts, photos, videos should be authentically true to who you are. Your organizational personality and character is the most unique brand asset you have. It’s also the most relatable.  It’s what sets you apart.  It’s yours, only yours, so you should promote it!

To learn more about Allied Arts of Whatcom County visit:


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