The Union Method Round Up

The Union Method Round Up

If you’ve taken our advice on getting started with your annual report (even though you just finished), great job, you’ve given yourself some time to think strategically and thus be more active about your report for next year.

This week we’re helping you get into the strategic mindset by sharing some posts about our method and how it guides people through their project with ease and purpose.

Intention and intuition are vital values here at Union Design, so it should be no surprise that this is where our process is rooted. Design, like a business, is art and science. The highest goal is finding the intersection between form and function, continually assessing our efforts against our goals.

Becuase we want to see our efforts pay off, we have to get to the core of the problem we’re trying to solve. The dialogue starts there, what’s the specific problem? What are the tangible solutions that we can move forward right now?

Rooting our progress in our values is where the strategic magic happens. Next, we explore the depth and breadth of the project, taking what we understand about the specific problem we’re solving, and then aiming to understand the people we’re trying to help.

After digging deep to get a fresh perspective, we take a look at what already exists and evaluate it in an audit. Once an audit is complete, we move forward with the current project with our strategy, goals, and audience all in mind.

We’re always happy to talk with people during their planning process, the sooner a designer can get involved in the process, the more thorough their understanding of the project is, and the better the final product will be.






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Just finished your annual report? Start working on your annual report!

Just finished your annual report? Start working on your annual report!

If you’ve just come to the end of the giant undertaking of finishing your annual report, take a moment to celebrate!

Get some ice cream, go for a walk in the summer air, enjoy the day! Then don’t think about your next annual report until approximately 2 months into 2019…

NO! Just kidding! Don’t do that. You should take time to celebrate what you’ve accomplished for this year, but

Now is the best time to start thinking about your next annual report!

Even if you just make a few notes about what could be better next time, the process is still fresh in your head and future you will really be impressed.

We’ve got you covered with a roundup of our blog posts specifically about knocking your annual report out of the park (summer is for baseball metaphors).

Sometimes it’s nice to start thinking visually – it activates a different part of your brain and gives ideas space to form in a way words don’t (at least that’s true for us, maybe why we’re designers). Check out this post for some soothing visuals and learn how they can be effective. Let’s get visual. 

The last thing anyone wants is to put all of their hard work and energy into something that doesn’t make an impact — check out this post to Make sure your annual report gets read.

Helping your audience understand your organization is about telling them a story, and to tell a good story, you need a theme.  How to choose a theme for your annual report

If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’ll come to obstacles and get frustrated. Being connected to your purpose helps carry you through the rough spots. How to take your annual report from a meaningless obligation to an impactful tool. 

Thanks for reading! Feel free to get in touch if we can be of further assistance.



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Union Strategy : The Design Audit

Union Strategy : The Design Audit

Projects that call for re-branding or repositioning begin with a communications audit. There are two components to this: a design audit and a competitive audit. A design audit is a review of all pieces of designed materials (both print and online) currently in use by your organization. (A more comprehensive examination can include an evaluation of written materials.) A competitive audit is a review of the documents produced by your competitors and peers.

Today we are going to focus on how a design audit can help you make your marketing more effective. Before you begin, review your branding or strategic planning documents. Then write down your organization’s top challenges and goals.  Having this information at the front of your mind will help you approach the design audit with a more strategic perspective. (Can you tell we’re huge fans of strategy?!)

Step One: Gather and Evaluate

Gather all the materials in one place where you can see everything at once, whether on a large bulletin board, spread out on a table. Print out online documents so they can be seen with print materials. Note your first impressions. Look for patterns, inconsistencies, and notice anything that stands out to you. Write it all down; after you have collected these initial thoughts, dig a little deeper. Be sure to evaluate the materials based on your strategic objectives and your audience, not your personal preference.

Step Two: Set Objectives

After assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your current spread of materials, identify the areas where you can take action. Some projects, such as a new website, might be too big to take on right away. If that’s the case, break it down into smaller steps and determine what you can do right now. For more significant projects, set objectives and put together a plan for how to get there.

Step Three: Document It

Summarize your observations in a brief report (no more than 1-2 pages).  Capture your insights and ideas so you can include them in the next communications plan.

Step Four: Move Forward

The only thing worse than ignoring strategy outright is spending so much time strategizing that nothing gets done. Sometimes our greatest obstacles come from grappling with our real-world limitations – doing what we can with what we have is always infinitely better than lamenting what is absent. Also, when understanding the gaps in our resources, we can be empowered to fill those gaps.

If this doesn’t sound like work you want to do on your own, give us a call! We’d love to help!


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Are there any circumstances in which you wouldn’t want to update your materials?

Just like a home can build value over time, so can design.

I like to think of someone who still has an AOL email address in 2018. For a period, you might have wondered why that person wasn’t changing with the trends, but after a certain point, the address has become part of their brand consistency.

Another excellent example of this is Craigslist. Craigslist is still using the same UX as they did when the website launched over twenty years ago. Most companies have succumbed to the pressure to update, but Craigslist has remained consistent, they provide an inexpensive local platform to connect people with resources and opportunities they might need.

What is valuable both for an email or a website that remains consistent is that people already know what it is and how it works. These things become part of the reliability of the brand. The design is timeless. Though there are trends, if your design is based on a solid strategy and has been tested, don’t update just because you feel the pressure to be more trendy. The potential to create something timeless when an organization invests in laying a strategic foundation is part of the payoff of doing the hard work upfront.



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Resonance is about what makes sense to who, so getting your materials in front of your potential audience can be a great way to understand what is working and make tweaks.

Beyond the specific design elements, a strong logo furthers positive associations with your organization. Do you feel that the logo accurately represents the organization? Do you like it? Are you proud of it? Does the logo —and the broader brand system— trigger positive emotions for your audience?

Undertaking this type of analysis of your materials and assets puts you in a great position to make more strategic and practical design decisions.

Often things can get framed as “right” or “wrong,” but, many things are either well understood or poorly understood. If your logo and branding materials are poorly received, that doesn’t have to mean a failure of your organization. It does mean you need to make some tweaks that allow your message to be understood.

Resonance is about connection, and connection takes effort. If you are committed to your mission, this kind of effort is always a worthwhile investment. In the non-profit world, many organizations serve people who might come from a different racial, class, educational, gender, ability, or religious background, and have to make sure their work is resonating with the people they want to help — sometimes this is uncomfortable. Don’t let that discomfort stop you from finding a real and genuine connection with your audience — the success of your work depends on it!

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The word “competition” can bring up very binary responses. Some think “win, superior, survival of the fittest!” Others might muse, “unnecessarily aggressive, scarcity mentality.”

Whatever your attitude about competition, knowing where your non-profit fits in the competitive landscape, and having the design that supports your position, is vital to getting the attention you need to rally support and achieve your mission.

Consider how your branding and identity materials fit among your peers. Gather logos and examples from all organizations in your niche. Looking at your peers and competition from a high level can show you what you (and your competitors) have not addressed. While taking a broad view might seem intimidating, strategizing with a clear understanding of the landscape will help you solidify your position.

But if we tend to understand what is familiar, then what makes design both fresh and easily understood? If your logo looks out of place when viewed side-by-side with your peers, you should take a more in-depth look. Do any materials stand out as particularly well- or poorly- designed? Seeing your articles in context with other organizations can bring any design issues into focus.

Also, consider what you might like about brands and organizations outside of your niche. Comparing across different sectors can also emphasize what works and what doesn’t.

Competition does not have to be a threat: especially in the non-profit sector, where everyone aims to help. Your competitors can also be your peers, your community, and your support system. Comparing yourself to other organizations can highlight your weaknesses, but there is also an opportunity to reveal your strengths.

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Strategy is simple.

Strategy is simple.

A strategy is just having a reason for doing something. It’s a hypothesis about what you think will be the next right decision based on what you’re trying to accomplish.

The desire to make strategic decisions is simple, actually making strategic decisions is much trickier.  Even though you make a decision for a reason, that does not mean you will be successful. We hope a strategic approach will take us closer to the success we’re seeking, but a strategy is not a guarantee.

Being strategic requires holding many views of a situation at once. There is a broad view that surveys all that is happening now, a detailed look that assesses how the pieces are adding up to the whole, and a vision for the ideal future you’re working to create. Making strategic decisions is a matter of comparing the ideal to the now and figuring out how to improve the details that are falling short.

Easier said than done!

You can get at strategy through digging into big questions, but you can also consider the overall values of your organization. Sometimes making a sound strategic decision is just finding out where your principals are out of alignment with your actions. A strategy is always about being intentional and seeing the big picture. Often people get uncomfortable and uncertain when thinking about the big picture questions, and just move forward to get over the discomfort of the unknown.

A strategy is about creating the future by being intentional; this is why a strategic plan is so critical to design. Designers create something from nothing.

If we are to be successful in our endeavors, we need to know what purpose our design serves in the first place.








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What makes something easy to use? What process will set you up for success every time? These are the questions at the core of design usability.

Sometimes we (the end users) internalize poor design usability. If you’ve ever been frustrated with the way something works, you’ve probably been the victim of bad design. This is why design cannot happen in a vacuum (hello design thinking). Designing with usability in mind is designing for success.

If we imagine what can happen in a perfect world and create solutions for that world, our solutions will always fail, because they aren’t based in the lived experiences of the people they are meant to help.

For example, a logo that is difficult to read or does not reproduce well in many formats is poorly designed for usability. Consider the end user, but also consider what has to happen to get an item in the hands of the end user. Usability extends to the pain points that might prevent an organization from fully employing all of the materials and tools available to them. Knowing what you want your materials to do is just as important as having them in the first place.

Anyone else love to come up with perfect solutions while completely ignoring who they are in real life?!

For example, if I make a dinner date and know that it takes me an hour to get there, know that I don’t finish work til 6, the logical thing to do would be to plan for dinner at 7. But somehow I always think I can teleport and make the plans for 6. Totally unrealistic. Then I feel like I failed because I didn’t make it in time — but I set myself up to fail. Design takes into account real world limitations of the materials and people using them.

Usability is not just what the end user does, but what happens to get something in the hands of the end user in the first place. If we don’t think through the way we think and do things on a day to day basis, and work with our real limitations, we will never get our work into the hands of the people who need it the most — that’s usability. Literally, what is useable. What is doable. What’s realistic given the limitations of the circumstances we’re facing.


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Is your design professional?

Often, smaller organizations launch with materials designed by a volunteer or a student. While that may be appropriate in the early stages, as the organization grows and seeks greater opportunity and influence, the quality and professionalism of the design need to keep pace.

Being professional is like being dressed appropriately for an event. You might be able to get away with some thrift store gem at a black tie affair (ie keeping your student-designed logo as you step into the big leagues), but that’s going to be a rare case.

Having professional design isn’t just about the finished product, it’s about the process of getting the work done in the first place.

Professionalism extends to working with the designer, you want your experience to be fun and pain-free, you want someone who “gets it,” without weeks (or even months!) of revisions. Experience lends itself to professionalism — you need the job done well and the process to have a sense of ease.

In the end, a professional design has an intangible quality that you might not be able to explain, but you’ll know it when you see it. The visual world has its own language, the good design allows messages to be understood by your ideal audience. The level of polish in a design is part of this message.

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In design, as in life, consistency builds trust.

We all had that “fun” friend in our twenties who was super cool to hang out with, but when you really needed someone who could show up on time, be supportive, and generally act like a responsible adult, they were nowhere to be found. They probably also changed their hair a lot, had a different job every few months, fell in and out of romantic relationships with ease, but they never really had it “together.” They weren’t the person you called in a crisis.

But what does a look back at the toxic relationships of our twenties have to do with the non-profit we work at now?

If your materials and messaging aren’t consistent, you are this friend. Worse yet, you’re coming across as the flakey friend to people who really need your help!

Do you have too many variations in your materials? One type of font & color scheme for one event, and something entirely different for the rest? While this is not generally an issue for smaller organizations, larger companies with many departments may find that they’ve lost control of the brand. This is an excellent reason to revisit the design — and create a strong Identity Standards Manual — and then make one person responsible for managing consistency.

While you deal with your brand day in and day out and know it like you know your Starbucks order but your audience will never be as familiar with your brand as you are.

If you truly want your organization to make a positive impact on people, you first have to earn trust. If your branding materials are inconsistent, you’re creating unnecessary obstacles for your clients to benefit from what your organization has to offer.



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