Abigail sat down with longtime elefint client and friend, Kate Levitt, to chat about how Leadership Public Schools’ brand has evolved since we first started working together in 2015.
AM: Hi Kate!
KL: Hi Abigail! It’s so nice to see you in person!
AM: Agree! Thanks for taking time to chat today. I want to get started by going all the way to 2015 when we started to work together. Why did LPS decide to rebrand at that time?
KL: We decided to rebrand for two main reasons. Number one, we were founded in 2002, so when I came on in 2014, it was time for a re-fresh. The logo we had back then was two purple paper-cutout people, holding the world and some books and stars. It worked for the time but so much had changed in that 12 year period and the logo didn’t reflect the innovative, cutting-edge approach that we take now. We wanted something that felt more tied to our work and values. Number two, we had a healthy budget and the resources to invest in the re-brand so it wasn’t a difficult decision to make.
And if I can name a third factor, it might be me! It’s about having a person on staff who can be the champion and manage the project, making it a priority for the organization for the year.
AM: You are definitely that champion! What type of buy-in did you need from people to get everyone on board with a new logo and brand?
KL: People were excited, in theory. There was some good positive energy and we created a buzz by forming a small redesign advisory group to help give input into the process. But it took a lot of work to continue to put it on the table and make sure that we allocated the resources and staff time to keep everything moving forward. The actual day-to-day work of rebranding – looking at designs, giving constructive feedback – was sometimes hard to push though and make a priority.
AM: Looking back, what were the biggest challenges you encountered during the entire rebrand?
KL: The biggest challenge was the time factor. In a nonprofit, or school…we’re all wearing so many different hats. I didn’t realized how long it might take for the entire project, and I didn’t prepare others to understand that it can be a longer process. People thought, give us some options, we pick one, and in a month we are done and we’ll post it everywhere. But the truth is, it took a lot of conversations–both with elefint and internally–to even realize what we wanted. If I could do it all over again, I would spend more time early on understanding what people on our team wanted.
AM: And on the flip side, what were the biggest opportunities you saw during the project?
KL: The real opportunity was to engage staff on our updated look, and how it adds value to our work in schools, and with families and students. By making our resources more available and creating a recognizable logo that people could relate to and be proud of – that actually contributes positively to the work of providing a great education. Since the launch, I’ve seen people’s excitement play out in different way, like the accent colors. Each school has their own accent color and that might be the best part of the rebrand! The schools love their colors, and really own them. They make all this cool swag like vests and tumblers.
AM: I would love to see this swag! It’s been four years now… How has the new brand evolved as LPS continues to grow?
KL: The approach we took – because we are small and lean and pride ourselves in being flexible – was to share the brand book with the schools, but not have strict rules to enforce it. We’re seeing that people are using the brand really well at our schools. It’s been really fun seeing staff and students and families use the website more now too. Since it’s mobile friendly, it’s just easier to navigate and I’ve noticed people checking it out more and getting more involved with the different content.
For me personally, the most exciting thing to see as the brand has evolved is looking at our materials over time and seeing how consistent they are now. I feel really proud and think they communicate who we are a lot more clearly than previously, when the look of materials would change every year. We had an event for our Board last month and unveiled our newest impact report. We decorated our office with beautiful posters taken from the report that elefint created, and also installed an interactive timeline inspired by the designs. There was this beautiful consistency in everything and almost every person there commented on how powerful the branding was. It was really nice to see it all come to fruition.
AM: What was the biggest benefit of having a go-to design partner?
KL: It’s invaluable. I couldn’t do my work without a design partner. I feel fortunate to have been connected from the start with elefint. It would be hard to find a new designer every year. The elefint team understands the challenges and limitations nonprofits face, but they also see the opportunities and are willing to work responsively and flexibly. Even when we don’t have the right language, a design partner who understands our context helps to create a productive feedback process in order to finalize our content. Just because we are a non-profit doesn’t mean that we don’t want designs that are professional and impactful. Working with elefint has been a huge benefit to LPS and my work.
Seeing a room full of current and former board members note how well branded we are and feel a sense pride, I really credit that to the relationship we’ve built [with elefint] as we communicate how LPS is.
Also, I love that elefint is women-owned and a neighbor in Oakland.
AM: What tips do you have for nonprofits launching a new brand?
- Be realistic about your timeline.
It could take awhile from picking the designer, to iterating on the designs, to launching a new brand and website. Communicate the timeline with the staff so everyone is on the same page.
- Get buy-in from the decision makers
- Bring a lot of optimistic, can-do energy to the project
- Be really organized on your side
- Do work early on
This helps get a sense of what people want and what their priorities are
- Think about the people you are serving
and get stakeholder feedback.
- Make it easy for your team to give valuable feedback
- Work with designers to set timelines
Designers can create a feedback schedule that is feasible for your team
- Make a plan for rollout
After you have a brand, make a plan for the rollout that is realistic. I wanted a big thing with fireworks and stickers and totes and that took a little bit of time.
AM: So tell us, what exciting things are on the horizon for LPS in 2019?
KL: Always. So. Much. We have a new superintendent! There is a lot of potential to do great outreach and make new connections in this transition. We’re creating a leadership fund as well as starting new innovative work collaborating with other charter schools in the area. We’re funding an alumni pipeline so LPS grads can pursue meaningful careers in education. It’s going to be a good year.
View more of elefint’s work for LPS here.