New visual style for 30,000 people

Uniting the international mobility volunteers under 5 colours

September 6th, 2016 @mrozilla

The visual system of Erasmus Student Network was already 4 years old in 2014 when we have slowly started transforming it together with Robert Klimacki—ESN's Communication Manager at that time. While there was already a document covering the usage of the visuals, it was in grave need of updating; both visually and content-wise.

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I took the project up in the position of the Vice-Chair for Branding, embarking on a journey to define visuals that would keep an organisation active in 39 countries all over Europe unified and recognisable.

We’ve decided in the very beginning that the project is not going to be a complete rebrand, instead we aimed at polishing up the current state. Here’s what I wanted to achieve:

  • Clarify the usage of the visuals even for non-designers.
  • Create simple-to-use templates for various materials.
  • Bring all files and templates together in one central brand package.

Let’s talk about the elements we looked at one by one.

Logo

Well, there wasn’t much discussion about the logo, as it was one of the parts of the visuals that we didn't update. Created in 2008, the logo stood strong against the test of time, and the central element (the ESNstar) is immediately recognised by ESN volunteers from Reykjavík to Baku. No changes needed here.

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Typography

The fonts used in ESN were one big mess. While there were several fonts mentioned in the original Visual Identity Manual, they were mainly unused become of their general appeal. Magda Clean Regular—the official font at that time—has been the "Comic Sans" of the organisation and every designer was introducing their own beloved fonts for their own designs.

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Creating a test document for the candidate fonts, the first steps in defining the new font stack was to explore the alphabets we have to work with. It turned out to be rather complicated to cover Latin, Extended Latin, and various forms of Cyrillic and the Greek alphabets, all with no budget to be spent on fonts. The test document promptly grew significantly smaller.

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The final selection was Kelson Sans, a lovely humanist sans-serif, coming in three weights, and perfectly fitting our needs for a memorable headline font. After some discussion we've decided it should be accompanied by Lato as the body copy font, mainly thanks to its exquisite coverage of the required alphabets (and some more while we were at it).

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Colours

ESN was flying under 5 colours derived from the logotype for many years, and there was no reason to change them. There was just one problem; they were often used all at the same time, resulting in a "circus" like feeling. As many things in ESN come in multiples of 5 (there are 5 International Board members, 5 Committees, etc.), we have started moving towards certain bodies in ESN choosing one or two colours to stand distinct from the others. The colour overlay effect was introduced to make it easy to create strong-looking visuals with minimum effort.

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VIM

ESN’s Visual Identity Manual (or VIM) was rebuilt from the bottom up, together with the members of ESN’s Corporate Identity Team we’ve taken the rules apart, put their clarity to a test, added examples, and redesigned the whole thing. By the time were done with it, the document’s 44 pages were covering:

  • Definition of the logotype as it was made
  • Usage of the logotype, including safe zones, colour variants, etc.
  • Definition of the ESNstar as a separate element
  • Usage of the ESNstar, including safe zones, colour variants, etc.
  • Definition of the typography and the visual style
  • Implementation rules for various levels of the organisation
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In 2016, we’ve developed a new block explaining the usage of the visual identity in videos and animation—in response to the growing production of the motion pictures in ESN.

Brand Package

I still remember that moment, having the new visual identity ready to be launched. We were not done though. After the official launch at the AGM Ankara (a general assembly of the organisation with more than 700 volunteers) we followed up with continuously releasing elements of the ESN Brand Package, reigniting the interest of the people every month.

Releasing the new versions of the most requested elements of the visual identity—such as a template for presentations or template for social media posts— one by one instead of all at once brought the new visual style into the spotlight multiple times instead of just one “boom” moment.

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All in all, 2 years of work, 5 colours, and 1 identity for 30,000 people. If only they were all using it correctly :)