Done well, visual identity and logo design is a thoughtful and important process.

If you’re thinking a new logo is a good first step to improving your company’s reputation, you’re on the right track. But before you make any major decisions or changes, consider that there’s more to a logo than meets the eye. And there’s more to your reputation than just a logo. It’s the first touchpoint between your business and your customer. It’s your entire identity, summarized into one stamp. Done right, your audience will understand your value at first glance.

We’re sharing this post with you, plus a showcase of our work, to back up our words. Consider it a tutorial on brand identity development and a sneak peek into the layers of thinking that McKim injects into the creative process and, more importantly, into your success. 

Signalling a change in direction: Wildwood Transportation

Wildwood Transport is a family-owned and operated trucking company specializing in open-deck shipping. Owners Ryan and Kevin Mitchell, sharing a new sense of enthusiasm for the future, felt their communications should better reflect that. The original company logo, shown above, was not reflective of their ambition.

Because Wildwood specializes in high-risk shipments, it’s crucial that the shipments arrive on time and intact. Our discovery sessions revealed that getting things right starts even before the items get on the trucks. And that Wildwood had earned a reputation for seeing things through; a result of years of honing their quality control processes. There was no question there was an opportunity to not only tell that story, but to create a brand identity that was a true reflection of it.

It was about stepping into the future. But, how far could we take that? While working, we never took our eyes off the creative brief, because although the client was eager for change, we also knew we needed to present a range that tested the limits of where the brand could go.

The approach (above) turned out to be the right one. As excited as the client was about the bold and sophisticated end of the spectrum, they understood instinctively what criteria needed to be met. The brand identity had to be true to them. This led the client to an option was that not only new and fresh, but more importantly, relevant. They have established an entry point to the brand that they can stand behind with confidence because it is authentic.

Reflecting your values: University of Manitoba

Evaluating whether your identity is a true reflection of your values takes courage. And once you get started redesigning your identity, it can sometimes be a bit like walking a tightrope. You need to lean forward with care and precision.

As the University sought to confirm its commitment to Reconciliation, it found that the images of colonialism used in their existing identity, seen above, weren’t sending the right messages. This was made apparent through in-depth conversations with many different stakeholders. All of them facilitated by McKim’s higher ed. division, ED.Marketing.

Identity design is about striking the right chord. You have to make the right calculations because a miss can be costly. As Steve Jobs once said, you have to temper your desire to radically rethink what’s familiar to people. He said that even if it’s better to drive a car with six wheels and steer it via a joystick, people won’t accept those changes. People like the four-wheeled cars we drive with a steering wheel.

You have to respect that. Such are the considerations when designing identities for institutions with a long, storied heritage.

And with this kind of identity in particular, landing on the direction and concept is only half the challenge. In this instance, where rationales seem to matter more than usual, there is often a heightened focus on the execution and symbolism. (Think of all the presentations to various groups, which can lead to a fair amount of finessing, refining and revisiting.)

The bison in this identity, for example, was rendered multiple times. Initially, the thought was to make it appear “streamlined”. That notion wasn’t easy to let go of as multiple designers took to trying their hand at rendering it. When the client finally saw it, it still wasn’t quite what it needed to be. “We like this option, but that bison! Get some meat on those bones. It could use something to eat!” Absolutely it did.

Then there was the flame. Or was it a leaf? Or was it a leaf on fire? Maybe its rendering could be simplified? Absolutely it could. And finally, the forms above the bison. Initially, they could only be read as Northern Lights. However, exploring this aspect in multiple ways, yielded a number of ways to interpret these forms. Some began to see water or wind. Which only confirmed what we’ve always believed: A rationale is only a starting point. The nuanced treatment of these elements meant people could attach their own meanings to them, which was especially important here as the desire to honour Indigenous sensibilities needed to be balanced with the need to be inclusive to all peoples.

You can read our case study on this project on the ED.Marketing website by clicking here.

Anchoring an idea: Travel Manitoba

Of course, not every identity has the same considerations. Especially if you are building from the ground up. Take Travel Manitoba for example. McKim was charged with helping to position Manitoba as “awe-inspiring.” While being briefed, it was brought to our attention that some of the international audiences for the brand didn’t have a clear idea of where Manitoba was, although most had a positive association with Canada. It was mentioned that research supported the idea of using “Canada” somewhere prominently in the campaign, perhaps in the URL.

That one insight propelled our creative team down some exciting new paths, which helped us land on a positioning line we were all happy with: “Manitoba. Canada’s Heart… Beats”. It more than served the purpose of educating audiences about where they could find Manitoba, it struck an emotional chord that positioned Manitoba as embodying the essence of what Canada is, and that we are vital, dynamic and exotic.

What visual do you pair with that thought? The line is memorable and compelling. Is it the logo’s job to make it more so? And if so, what subject matter can capture that? A bison? A heart? Maybe a polar bear?

At some point, you may find that the name of your brand or the words that accompany it stand on their own. That was the case here. As the brand was being developed, it was clear that the majestic imagery and warm invitation to explore the province was creating the emotional impact the client was looking for. Also, a province like Manitoba is too multifaceted to focus on promoting one component.

“Sometimes, tying any one symbol to the brand might do it a disservice.”

Brent Morriseau, McKim creative director

And so it became obvious that a simple but confident sign-off made the most sense. There is not a lot of fuss or flavour here. This “quiet” wordmark places the emphasis in the right places, allowing the imagery and storytelling to sing. The small unaffected maple leaf is the only “symbol”. And it’s job is not to tell a story. It is an efficient identifier — an asterisk — to a big, beautiful story.

You can read a complete case study on this identity design and the campaign that accompanied it by clicking here.

In a lot of ways, the Travel Manitoba case study was ideal as the process allowed us to explore the brand holistically. We developed the identity alongside the emotive campaign creative, which allowed the client to see clearly where it fit in and how much weight it needed to carry.

Which brings us to why we say a logo, on its own, is not a brand. Its role and function make it both an entry point — and a reminder. Its true meaning and value is built over time through the stories you tell and the experiences you deliver.

Still, it is an integral touchpoint. You need to understand where it fits in. And you need to re-evaluate it from time to time. Just as evaluating the things that make your company different, “better” and “special” are an evolving process.

When the times comes to design a brand identity, you need to synthesize your reason for being into a tangible identity that works on multiple levels. When will you know that that time has come? Put simply, when your identity no longer reflects who you are and more importantly, where you want to go.

As it turns out, we’re experts at helping you make that self examination. And when you discover that, you need to revisit your brand. And you need a creative team who knows how to take the leap from strategy to the page, and to a solution that works. So choose wisely. We hope you choose McKim.