Throughout history, logos have been used to visually communicate the identity of a group or company. From old family crests to corporate branding, we use logos to represent who we are and what message we want to share with the world.
In 2018 we updated our company values and created a logo system to illustrate our culture, our aspirations and what we stand for as an organization. This visual identity allows everyone at Sprout to seamlessly incorporate our values into their work, from using the logos in presentations shared with customers to “reacting” with them as emojis in Slack. These symbols remind us to put our values into practice and show who we are as a team. In 2020, we applied the same concept to a key initiative at Sprout, our Business Resource Groups (BRGs), which are employee-led groups for traditionally underrepresented communities that are meant to come together at Sprout.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Rusty Cook, Associate Creative Director, and George Mathew, Senior User Experience Designer, to learn more about how logo systems are created and how they capture the identity of each BRG. Read on to learn more and see the bottom line.
What is a logo system and why was it important for us to develop one for Sprout’s BRGs?
Rusty: A logo system is essentially a family of related logos, much like siblings. Each logo represents an individual identity and at the same time shares characteristics with others in the group. There will be some differences between them, but it should be obvious that they are all part of the same system. This can include using the same colors or using external framing devices. BRGs have a significant impact on Sprout’s culture. By creating a logo system, we wanted to strengthen the self-confidence of each group and increase awareness throughout the company.
Why was it important to include a User Experience (UX) perspective?
George: For this project it was important to figure out how to work with each BRG to make sure the logos represent them correctly. I asked myself, “What would Rusty help create these designs and make them feel like they can work on purpose?” Before we could design anything, we first had to understand the needs and vulnerabilities of the members of our BRGs. User-based research is one way to do this.
What was the first step in this process?
George: First we did workshops with the members of each BRG. We asked both specific and open-ended questions to find out what really made each BRG unique. These discussions enabled us to find out what was important to each group and what representations would make them feel seen and heard. Part of this involved discussing and learning about potentially harmful stereotypes.
Rusty: Our job was to act as a translator. We listened to the stories of each group and used our skills to synthesize and visualize them. The challenge was that a logo had to be inherently simple. We have tried to represent underrepresented communities whose history has been that their identity is flattened and simplified. A critical element of the process has therefore been to ensure that we stay away from simple or even overtly stereotyped representations.
What lessons did you gain from these workshops and how did you determine the direction of each logo?
George: The groups shared so many unique stories and symbols that we couldn’t have pulled them out of our own heads. The reality is that we have our own mental models and they are limited to our experiences. For example, I didn’t fully understand what “cafecito” means, and the workshops gave us a deeper explanation for such terms while also showing the diversity of backgrounds within each group. The biggest realization for me was that no one limited their answers to their own struggles. There was a real sense of connectedness and a desire to build bridges together.
Rusty: While there have been many vulnerable discussions about the realities of oppression, many of the stories have been about resilience, pride, and hope. Community support in terms of common identity is one way to survive and / or hopefully thrive against these forces. We had a couple of good conversations in which people said, “This symbol represents us totally, but we don’t want to see it in the logo because it can have a different or reducing meaning outside of the context within our community. ”
An example of this was using a pink triangle for LGBTQIA @ Sprout. They said, “We are all about the pink triangle, but we don’t want it to represent us in a corporate context.” It is important that people have a voice to represent themselves so that we know what is resonance and what is not. Even if you think you are socially conscious, there will be things that you may be missing.
When creating the logos, how did you decide which versions to proceed with?
Rusty: My first approach was to illustrate scenes from some of the stories we heard by piecing together some visual elements into vignettes. When I shared some early designs with George and our creative team, the feedback was that they could be lumped together into a key element. For example, in the vignette for Black @ Sprout, the sun was the most compelling element, so I decided to focus solely on that and get more meaning from there. The choice between versions is a mixture of intuition and evaluation of a number of options for which there is optimal visual balance. In other cases, I got feedback from the rest of the team by asking them to use the discussions with the BRGs to find out which were the most impressive.
Do you have a logo that caught your eye as a favorite? If yes why?
Rusty: Black @ Sprout and Cafecito are my two favorites as they both contain symbols. For Black @ Sprout, the shining sun symbolizes life, hope and joy, and the compass embedded in it is the symbol of guidance to “pave the way”. For Cafecito, the Latinx @ Sprout BRG, our conversation revolved around family, celebration, nature and abundance. The experience of building community by sharing a cup of coffee was meaningful to the group and I was so delighted to find a way to visualize it.
George: I have a number of favorites, it’s hard to choose! Cafecito is also one of my favorites. The way Rusty put the coffee bean and paper flag together is really beautiful and elegant. I also love the Asians @ Sprout logo as we have tried to strike the balance between old and new and the richness of traditions together spanning a very wide range of Asian cultures. Finally, I think the Women @ Sprout logo turned out really well – our conversations with this group were about women coming together to empower each other. The end product, made of organic woven fibers instead of linked chains, was so well done, simple and impressive that that’s exactly what you’re trying to capture in a logo system.
How has this project changed or influenced your work as a designer?
Rusty: For the past two years, my boss has said to me, “If you want to grow, one way is to become more data-driven.” And I went on to say, “I’m creative, I don’t really want to examine what percentage of people clicked on it.” However, through this process, which relied heavily on research and data uncovering, changed my perception to realize that human-centered data actually resonates with me. I didn’t just design in the dark. The results were stronger and more satisfactory as it was an integrative process. I designed for people I knew and had an emotional investment in creating something that would represent them.
George: I think the whole process of involving the people you are designing for is exactly how design should be. My main concern is how much more impactful and meaningful the work is when it is focused on people. When design is intentional and knows exactly who your audience is, the end result is more valuable.
What advice would you give designers looking to create a logo system for their company’s BRGs or other employee groups / initiatives?
Rusty: My advice to anyone else who might want to do this is very simple: talk to the people you’re designing for and create a space for open and real conversation. Listen carefully and reflect what you hear. It will take you to deeper connections and more meaningful presentations.
George: Any design process should start with curiosity and learn about the people you are doing. This is precisely why it is so important to have a process that you can use to derive meaning. Qualitative insights really help you understand people’s motivations, fears, and deeper interests. Hence the extensive data.
Learn more about careers at Sprout
To see the BRG logos in action and learn more about each group’s mission, visit our Diversity Careers page. If you are interested in working with us, take a look at our vacancies and apply today!