Tag Archives: Brand Identity

Julia R. Masterman Branding & Website

During our time in Philadelphia, my partner, Austin, worked at Julia R Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School as their Computer Support Specialist. He worked as a part-time contractor repairing technology and maintaining the school’s website. In 2018, the Philadelphia School District ported all of their website work to WordPress with a visually restrictive template. In large part, this posed a problem because schools needed to entirely redesign their websites to work within a new system with a rigid template. I volunteered my graphic design services to the school to redesign the website and create a visual identity that could be implemented across the board in their collateral.

Expanding Masterman’s Branding

Before I could redesign their website, I had to refine and expand Masterman’s brand system. A few things were already set in stone: the school’s classic navy blue, and their established logo. Everything else was on the table: from color and typography to layout and iconography.

I chose to start with typography because Masterman’s logo already had a serif ‘M’ character in it. My first concern was accessibility. The school didn’t have a design budget, so getting them to purchase the rights to a type family wasn’t in the question. Austin informed me that the school was heavily reliant on the Google Suite. This meant that using a Google Font made the most sense (I can hear the collective groans of every graphic designer). In a perfect world, I would find another option; however, the school uses Mac, PC, and Chromebook operating systems. An easy-to-download and universally accessible typeface is the most realistic solution for this school. I settled on Merriweather as the primary typeface because the ‘M’ character had a stable form. Roboto’s geometric characters were the perfect complement to Merriweather’s classical serifs. It’s also incredibly versatile in that it comes in many weights.

After I created typesetting examples with my Merriweather-Roboto match, I focused on the school’s color story. I felt a monochromatic solution would be the least confusing and would be easier for faculty to work with. I kept the Masterman’s navy color and named it ‘Slate’ for its greyish tones. I chose a medium-toned blue, ‘Sky Blue,’ and a light grey, ‘Steel,’ to compliment it. I wanted a four-step progression from the greyish-navy to white, where the two colors in the middle highlight the overarching chromatic relationship.

Building a Modern Responsive Website

Once I established the visual identity for the school, I could begin to plan the look and feel of their new website. My main priority was benchmarking what other schools around the world were doing with their websites. Rather than diving in and working only within the Philadelphia School District’s template guidelines, I wanted to get inspired by design excellence and find ways to adapt. I was particularly interested in the web design I saw from private schools in Japan. The typography felt crisp, and the layout and color palettes were clean and airy. I found that high school websites in Philadelphia were suffocating in content — packed wall to wall with words. There was an overwhelming contrast between the examples from America and Japan. I wanted to distinguish Masterman from its competitors and portray it in a new light. This design direction was the way to accomplish just that.

I started with a five-column system to keep the website airy. Adding visual cues to anchor information with a given hierarchy is the key to the redesign. I alternated section backgrounds between Masterman’s Steel and white to create visual breaks as you scroll. Icons and photography draw your eye and help distinguish important sections. Variation in typography keeps each page interesting, while also directing the visitor’s eye. By designing a few key pages, I was able to create a design system Austin and the Technology Teacher Leader could implement in the rest of the website. I stayed on as a design consultant to answer any layout questions that might come up moving forward, as well as any design integration that could help with the school’s digital switch during COVID-19.

To see the full design, visit  Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School’s new website today.

It was so fulfilling volunteering to help Masterman firm up their branding and expand it digitally into their website. Working with the technology team and the administration was a joy, and gave me a new respect for the work Austin does. We were even more excited to find that the Philadelphia School District loved the Masterman website redesign so much, they implemented the stylistic decisions into their own website. I felt both flattered and humbled. I truly believe good design is powerful and has the ability to spread like wildfire. I love that I could help make the world just a little more beautiful with this volunteer project.

Branding a Product Line

Ever since I was little, I wanted to make art with food. There was something so fascinating about taking something that wasn’t paint or pastel and making art with it. I’d always wanted to design in the food industry, so I considered it was a dream come true to work at Yellowbird Foods as their Graphic Designer. Making art with fresh fruits and veggies, whether it be through photography or package design, scratched that designer-itch I’ve always had. When I first joined the team, all of my coworkers were excited about the upcoming launch of this product, Hot Dip. Apparently, it was this delicious velvety dip based on our sauce flavors. It wasn’t until the Christmas party that I got to try it. It lived up to the hype. We didn’t have packaging for it at that point, and it hadn’t really been branded. It was ambiguous and a totally clean slate. In January, I was amped to see it appear on my to-do list. I’d get to help brand a product line for the first time in my life…and actual human strangers will get to hold it in their hands.

Look and Feel

In the early stages, I created a few research collages to pinpoint what kind of look I was most attracted to. I looked at other competitors in the industry, and brands that didn’t really have anything to do with the food and beverage world. I even took a field trip to Whole Foods Market to see what was going on in the wondrous land of hummus and vegan cheese dips. Inspiration is everywhere, I just had to find an idea that was innately Yellowbird. I had a few ideas floating around, that led to me designing three loose concepts: a hand-drawn garden, a lava lamp, and a version utilizing our existing vector graphics. They were each very distinct, but I had a clear bias. The hand-drawn garden concepting was my favorite…and the thought of some stranger at a Whole Foods Market in Nebraska holding my drawings was mind-blowing. The team unanimously agreed on the first concept, and I moved forward building it out.

For a few weeks, I’d worked on and off sketching. I drew habaneros, jalapeños, tangerines, limes, flowers, etc. Any prominent flavors in the dips required a visual representation. I created as many assets as I could, so I wouldn’t feel like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to finalizing the label composition. I spent a while working in just black and white, moving sketches in a circular arrangement. Once I was happy with my sketch positioning, I addressed typography.

Yellowbird is beholden to the Cholla type family. Everything is typeset in Cholla Slab and Cholla Sans. Our bottle flavor names are typically set in Cholla Slab, Bold and tracked in tightly so the serifs connect. The tracking is iconic for the brand and something that was important to maintain in Hot Dip as well. However, just recently we’d learned that Cholla Slab updated to include a Heavy weight. We set the flavor and line name in Cholla Slab, Heavy to reference the rich nature of the dip. It felt appropriate because it’s thicker than both existing sauce lines.

Once the composition was set, and typography was carefully chosen, I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I had to address color. Honestly, I was dragging my feet when it came to developing color. Yellowbird Original is super minimal. The bottles are white, with black text, and an accent color relating to flavor. Conversely, Yellowbird Organic is ALL ABOUT COLOR. The labels feature colorful paintings on a colored background. They’re vibrant and completely different from the original line. I knew Hot Dip would fall under the Yellowbird Organic umbrella, so I knew it would be more color-forward than the original line. I struggled to find a way to make it feel unique though. If I colored the illustrations accurately, it would look too similar to the sauces. My first reference point was oilcloth designs. I loved the approach to shading, and it felt very reminiscent of our branding.

I changed the colors on Hot Dip Jalapeño one hundred times before stoping and reflecting on what I knew about color theory. I remembered a piece of surrealist installation art by Sandy Skoglund that immediatly brought everything into perspective. Her A Breeze At Work (1987) puts a forrest in the middle of a mundane office scene. That in itself is super creative, but her approach to color is what really stuck with me. The leaves on the trees were blue. There was this monochromatic scene that was visually disrupted by these large blue leaves. This was the exact approach I wanted to take to seperate Hot Dip from not only Yellowbird’s existing lines, but from other refrigerated dip competitors, as well.

Once the labels were designed, there was a slew of other collateral that needed to be ready for launch. We needed a new landing page for the website, product photography to advertise on social media, and animations. The labels were truly the tip of the iceberg, because below the surface of the water, our work was cut out for us. I worked with my art director to create a wireframe of the landing page we’d use as the base for Hot Dip. It’s a refrigerated dip, so we didn’t have to worry about e-commerce, luckily. We mostly had to address the who, what, where, and why of the new product. Once the wireframe was set, it was my job to get to coding.

Website Landing Page

The landing page was designed to be a one-page scroller filled with delicious product photography and helpful information about the new product. To spice it up (pun absolutely intended), we incorporated some marketing phrasing that speaks more to our branding. This is the first product Yellowbird has released that looks entirely different. It’s not packaged in the familiar plastic squeeze-bottle, and it’s the first product released that requires mandatory refrigeration. Communication on this product has to be direct and clear, but that does not mean it can’t be fun. The page sets the scene with a striking hero image of the full product line. As the visitor scrolls, they learn that the product is available nationwide at Whole Foods Market. Beneath that section, there’s a three-column call-out sharing the different ways you can use the product: dip it, dunk it, or drench it. A common issue with Yellowbird Sauce is that customers don’t realize that it tastes great on everything. Encouraging them and providing serving suggestions helps to quickly deepen their relationship with the product. The page ends with the Destiny Store Locator pointing customers in the direction of the dip, and a digital coupon to incentivize.

To see the full landing page design, visit Yellowbird Foods.


Something that’s always stuck with me is that ‘motion conveys emotion’. This design thinking prompted the animation campaign following the launch of Hot Dip. The animations were built in Adobe After Effects and later edited in Premiere Pro. This gave them a more fluid quality so their movements appeared less sharp and mechanical. Another key difference is that the animations use the updated version of the product labels. Due to printing errors and COVID, the first run of labels had some print quality issues. The animations were used in the second round of advertisements for Hot Dip, so they used the updated design.

The ads can be separated into two categories: flavor, and usage. The first run of animations focuses on the key ingredients in each flavor by incorporating the lush garden into a psychedelic kaleidoscope that ungulates and eventually dissolves into the marketing type mark, ‘Dip, Dunk, Drench’. The second animation takes the customer slowly through the graphics hidden on the inside of the lid, inspiring them with the different uses of the dip. The animation cycles through different color palettes according to flavor. All of the advertisements utilize composition and color to create a psychedelic look that’s unique to this product line. This was primarily inspired by the consistency of the dip. Hot Dip Jalapeño looks a lot like an old lava lamp I had in my childhood bedroom, and it was a driving factor in the aesthetics of this animation series.

The process as a whole was very intense, and there were a number of setbacks we needed to manage in order to meet our deadlines. The dielines on our labels changed three times, as did the nutrition facts information. We experienced printing difficulties, and hiccups in our timeline due to this year’s pandemic. I’m in love with how everything turned out looking back, though. We overcame so much in the design process, and watching strangers interact with my illustrations in places I’ve never visited is positively mindblowing. I’m so excited to watch the lifecycle of this product and continue to learn from this experience. The next time I brand a product line, it’ll be even better.

Help Me Excel Logo Design

Following my graduation last spring, my Uncle Jamie approached me with a project. For a long time, he’d worked as a financial consultant, and he’d finally made the decision to launch his own website: Help Me Excel. There was one caveat, though. He needed a logo.

When we had started the project, there were a number of things we discussed. We wanted Help Me Excel to have a fresh appearance and feel different from its competitors. Taking a new visual approach is always risky, so I developed a number of concepts that felt relevant, but not always inspired by the financial nature of his business. First, I had experimented with cues I’d taken from Microsoft Excel since that’s Uncle Jamie’s go-to tool. I was particularly inspired by the rigid grid within the program and looked for ways to integrate its essence into a modern typographic design. I also went with an approach that was less obvious. Since the slogan for the website is, “Saving lives with Excel,” I wanted to create designs that speak to the helpful messaging, without seeming too tied to the idea of finances.

My first round of concepts focused on the idea that Help Me Excel is your ‘helping hand.’ I found that your hands could create an ‘x’ and ‘l’ shape which might act as a fun visual reference to the actual name. At this point, we were also inspired by tropical color palettes because it was unlike anything we had seen in this industry, and he was drawn to the bright nature of the colors.

Introducing a fresh color palette can differentiate you from your competition, or alienate you from your subject matter. It’s a fine line to walk, and it was important to me that we did it right.

Ultimately, there were a few issues with these designs. The pink and purple option didn’t provide a clear read on the hand gesture and its color palette felt more appropriate for a health care service, in my opinion. The yellow and teal option was funky and read more legibly, but it was at this point that we realized utilizing finance-driven imagery might convey the purpose of the company more effectively.

The second round of concepts was inspired by the grid in a Microsoft Excel document. It has a very distinctive form—made up of long cells that are immediately recognizable. These two designs were ultimately more contemporary in nature and gave the logotype a geometric modernism that was missing in the first round of concepts. It felt more masculine but still friendly.

The first design cut into the letters in a way that resembled the cells of an Excel document, without sacrificing the legibility of the name. Though I felt it was a successful design, Uncle Jamie was particularly drawn to the second option that featured an ‘XL’ shape. I integrated the grid pattern into the letters without interrupting their overall silhouette. It was a quick read, and we both felt strongly that this design had the most impact…but the color was all wrong.

During the revision phase, I worked to refine the type in the mark, tightening its overall presence. It was important to me that I made the logo versatile so that it could work within the website for any screen size. It had to be responsive — moving from a single mark, to a vertical, and then horizontal orientation.

I also fought with color palettes. I knew that the tropical color route wasn’t right for this project — it was random, and lacked any connection to the financial sector. I needed a strong green that wasn’t a carbon copy of what Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel had chosen. In the second round of concepting, I loved the jewel-toned purple I had chosen for the first logo. Obviously, I couldn’t make the Help Me Excel logo purple, but it drove me to pursue jewel-tones. In my research, it seemed that no one else had gone this route, so it felt unique to Help Me Excel. This path also helped me to develop a cohesive palette for the brand.

Once I had finalized the mark for Help Me Excel, I got into one of my favorite things: brand building. I love creating a story for the visual identity and supporting the logo with carefully chosen type living within a cohesive color system.

I’ve been saying for years that gradients are coming back to the design world—and for years my peers and coworkers called me crazy. The second Instragram rebranded and releaseed their new logo, gradients came flooding back into the mainstream. I was all too excited about this, and jumped on the opportunity to use them again.

For Help Me Excel’s brand identity, I used a deep navy and the green I worked so hard to decide on. The gradation between the two hues was beautiful, but I still wanted to integrate the grid into the color space. When I designed Uncle Jamie’s business cards, I used both the grid and gradient together. It created a high-contrast space that pushed his mark to the foreground.

I also typeset his brand in Gill Sans. The letters themselves have such a sturdy presence, and it’s honestly a classic. Not only that, but when I thought back to how this project started, Uncle Jamie made it a priority to communicate the helpful and friendly nature he wanted Help Me Excel to have. The humanist styling of Gill Sans makes his brand feel welcoming and helpful with its rounded geometry.

Developing the logo for Help Me Excel was one of the best early learning experiences I’ve had. I’m so lucky that one of my first freelancing projects was with someone I love and trust so much. It helped me understand the creative process between the designer and client much more intimately than I had experienced while working within a company. Now that I’m freelancing more, I feel comforted that I could figure the process out with my family before developing my business relationships.

xHeight by AIGA

The following is a program I designed as a Creative Enterprise assignment for my Master’s Program. It is, in no way, an extension of AIGA’s mission and should be viewed as an academic hypothetical. Continue reading

My Best Friend’s Brand

There are some people you’d do anything for. When my best friend of ten years approached me to help her with her personal brand, I was excited to help (and exhausted from working on my senior thesis). Kelsea’s a film major at the University of Nevada Las Vegas with a dream of becoming a professional photographer. She takes on clients in the Clark County area working on graduation announcements, family portraits, and an assortment of other jobs. Kelsea didn’t really have a logo, website, actual business cards, or any brand really. She’s always so busy working towards her degree or scheduling appointments with clients, that she didn’t have enough time to take on her own personal identity. I couldn’t wait to flush out and build a concept for her.

Some of Kelsea’s favorite photos are candid moments captured at the perfect second. I know this because I grew up with her taking random pictures of me as we walked, talked, and ate ice cream. She always had a camera on her and made sure she was in the middle of the action – capturing everything. When I left Las Vegas to study at Drexel University, I took a few art history courses on photography. One day, while studying black and white photography, I learned about Henri Cartier Bresson. He was the photographer that invented the concept of the “decisive moment.” A lot of his photos look like candid snapshots, but they were taken at the perfect moment to create beautiful compositions.

Henri Cartier Bressen’s approach reminded me of Kelsea’s process. She’d want to take a picture of me jumping, and she’d make me jump several times before she’d get the perfect moment. She’d take a million photos of me walking until my hair finally fell the right way in her composition. She’s a patient photographer that would wait until the perfect moment would come. After making this connection, I was able to move in a direction to build her brand.

During the sketching process, I focused a lot on imagery found in photography. I spent a lot of time looking at film and the form of a camera. I tried a few ideas that involved an oculus because it reminded me of a camera lens, but I didn’t like the way it looked when paired with the angular letterforms that made up her initials. There was something so sharp about capital ‘K’  and ‘A’ that didn’t feel appropriate with her style. I then took a moment to remind myself that Kelsea loves shooting in nature. Some of her favorite places to shoot are in the Wetlands Park and in the Red Rock Mountains. It was at this point that I started working with lowercase lettering because the ‘a’ looked more organic and in line with her style. I liked the concept of framing her initials in a square because it acted as a nod to the elemental route I was taking for her brand as well as the framing element that goes along with photography and filmmaking.

After I established her logo, I had to work on building a branding system. As a concept, I liked, “The element of a fleeting moment.” But in all honesty, that’s really broad and hard to wrap your brain around. Whatever her identity would end up looking like, it would have to somehow visually explain that powerful concept. I asked Kelsea for any photos she’s taken that included textures. I went through bokeh effects and spider web textures, but ultimately loved a smoke texture she shot. It was delicate, strong, and went along with a series she had just shot of a model with smoke bombs. I felt like this was a great start. I worked in Photoshop to give the smoke a green coloration so it would pop on a black background. Kelsea loves dark colors, and she’s always been a fan of olive green.

Smoke references the gaseous state of certain elements, while also offering a visual representation of a fleeting form. It constantly changes and then fades away.

I flooded the back of her business card with the smoke photo but grounded her logo on the bottom of the card. The smoke texture is so light and airy. It’s important to provide these moments of negative space to really give the smoke room to breathe. On the front of the card, I carried the smoke texture up the side but grounded all of her information toward the bottom – much like what I did with her logo. I made her title and website green to give them more prevalence in the hierarchy of information. I wanted the first thing you notice to be her bold, large name, then her title and website, and all of her tertiary contact information last. I love all of the white space at the top of the card because it adds a sense of modernity as well as promoting that airy quality mentioned on the back of the card. I added a soft touch finish to the card to give the smoke a soft tactile sense. It’s always a good feeling when you get a business card that’s a little heavier, or embossed, or textured. You want to work with someone when they make a good impression, and business cards are one of the ways we accomplish that.

Building Kelsea’s website was an entirely new challenge for me. I’ve studied responsive web design in the past but building a website in the back end of a content management system felt like an entirely new animal. My main concern was making sure Kelsea’s services were clearly outlined, and that she had a portfolio and a blog that were easy to update. I’ve found in the past that when I code custom websites in HTML, it’s difficult for my clients to update their content. That can be viewed as job security on my part, but in the end that’s not what’s best for the client. Today, more than ever, it’s important to keep your websites updated and responsive. It’s the main way someone will learn about your services, and they’ll probably be doing it on their iPhone.

After a few meetings, Kelsea made it very clear that she wanted a system that allows clients to view and request her services directly from the website. She also wanted a way for them to log in, and specifically view their full resolution images. At first, I was hesitant to create a login system because importing full resolution photography into a content management system can significantly slow down the website. After doing some research and fighting to get a standard login system up and running, I found that if she keeps her site updated and only posts one client’s selected photos at a time, her website should still work seamlessly.

Putting together Kelsea’s brand was an actual pleasure. The process of sketching out her logo and building her identity felt like a labor of love – like I was baking her a sheet of cookies. The web portion was frustrating, and took some time to gather all of her content, but ended up acting as a finely tuned tool she should be able to use for years to come.

To see the full design, view Kelsea’s website today.

Click here to view Kelsea's website design.

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