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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Is your design working for you?

Is your design working for you?

At some point, you may wonder if your design is working against you. If you saw our previous post about the success of design-driven organizations and felt a sinking feeling wishing your organization was more design driven…don’t despair! We’re going to give you some things to think about when putting some razzle-dazzle back into your design.


The best identity systems are those based on solid strategy. Consider your overall business objectives and review your logo, brand, print materials & website from a strategic perspective. Has the organization’s focus shifted from the original designs? If you have grown significantly or are reaching a very different audience, it may be necessary to redesign to more accurately reflect your current (and future) growth. We’ve covered strategy here, here and here.


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.


Not all logos need updating. Consider your audience’s relationship with the logo. How much equity does your logo have? If your audience is very comfortable with your current logo, it’s wise to tread lightly when it comes to redesigning. In some cases, a beloved logo that would otherwise benefit from a revision might be better off with the most modest of updates.


A logo that is difficult to read or does not reproduce well is a good candidate for a redesign. Consider how the logo is used and note any difficulties you have in its application. 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 tools and materials to do is as important as having them in the first place. 


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 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 reliable Identity Standards Manual — and then make one person responsible for managing consistency.


Consider how your branding and identity materials fit among your competitors/peers? Gather the logos from all organizations in your niche. Do any stand out as particularly well- or poorly- designed? If your logo looks out of place when viewed side-by-side with your peers, you should take a more in-depth look.


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?

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

For more information or to enlist Union Design to provide a Design Audit of your logo or other marketing materials, send a note to



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Managing Your Brand: Appoint an Identity Czar

Managing Your Brand: Appoint an Identity Czar

No, we’re not talking about a police state or identity theft.

An Identity Czar, also known as the Identity Police or the Branding Guru is the go-to person in your organization who can assess whether any communications material conforms to the brand standards. The Identity Czar is, essentially, the keeper of the brand.

Brands can deteriorate over time if they are not maintained. Just like a mission can drift, so can a brand. It may seem refreshing to send out a fundraising appeal that departs from the brand standards. But too many variations add up to a fractured identity, and a confusing client or donor experience. If nobody is keeping an eye on the message and tone of the materials you send out, it becomes difficult to be unified.

The role of the Identity Czar is to ensure that the brand is accurately represented across mediums. This is especially critical in situations where an outside design firm develops the brand and the organization employs freelancers for ongoing work. An Identity Guide is an excellent reference, but it can’t cover every possible branding circumstance. This is why it is so helpful to have a single person in charge of interpreting the Guide.

This person doesn’t have to be a designer. She also doesn’t need to be called the Identity Czar. (Branding Ninja, anyone?)  Often, the Director of Marketing, Communications or Development takes this role. Sometimes it is the Executive Director. Anyone who participated in the branding process and is familiar with the intimate details such as tone, message and persona can do this job. If you’re working with an outside design firm, they can teach you to learn what to look for.

Giving one person this responsibility makes it easier to keep an eye on the variety of materials being produced. It is important that the person is officially appointed so that their role is not questioned. The Czar is not creating the brand. The Czar’s role is simply to enforce what the entire communications team has already agreed upon.

After investing time and money into developing your organization’s brand, appointing a brand czar will help maintain the consistency (and therefore trust) that you’ve put so much work into developing.



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Affection, branding, and soap.

Affection, branding, and soap.

As much as we want our business to be the best in our field, sometimes the brutal truth is that we are one of many excellent companies. Small businesses can come to dread the idea of competition, and often the idea of having to compete can keep people from promoting their services. You can narrow down your client base, but usually, there are still a lot of people serving the same audience.

So, how do you build a brand around a business like this?
Let’s look at some big brands. Not the exciting ones, like Apple or Nike, but brands for an everyday product: soap.  Neutrogena, Dove, and Aveeno are all brands at a similar price point, aiming for the same general customer. There are some product differences, but essentially they all do the same thing.

The first level of differentiation is in how each brand frames the idea of skincare. Neutrogena emphasizes healthy skin. Dove emphasizes moisturizing cleansers. Aveeno emphasizes natural ingredients.

One of these brands takes differentiation to the next level by going beyond product differences.

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty promotes the idea that all women are beautiful. This has nothing to do with the quality of Dove’s products, but it is persuasive in positioning the brand as pro-women and body positive. Women have talked about (and been internally tortured by) the unreasonable beauty standards set for women for decades, and Dove finally listened. Dove is the only skincare brand that shows up as shared content on my social media feed. It gets shared because the message is powerful. Dove has connected to a powerful “why” for their brand, and people pay attention.

So what does this mean for your business? Even in a crowded and competitive field where you can’t demonstrate that you are significantly better than other service providers, your brand can stand out.

You can stand out by:

the way you speak to your audience
the values you hold
the way you deliver your service
You can stand out by standing up for what you believe.

Dove is an excellent example of an ordinary brand that has hugely distinguished itself through brand messaging — they were clear on their purpose and chose a mission that would resonate with their audience, not a coincidence! Dove makes fine products. One aspect of their brand focuses on promoting features of their product, but they distinguish themselves by the way they talk to their audience.

Can you think of the “why” behind Neutrogena or Aveeno products? Maybe these companies have decided on this internally, but it’s not as clear or as compelling in their messaging as the Campaign for Real Beauty is for Dove.

Questions for reflection:

What aspects of your purpose will most resonate with your audience?
What can you do to align your messaging with that purpose further?

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Your Brand

Your Brand

Your brand is the total experience of your organization. Your brand is your personality, your reputation. It is what you are known for.

Your brand is your story.

Everything that your organization does and says should support and reinforce the brand. It is the way you speak and write. It is the way you use imagery and video. It is the choices that you make, such as supporting this event and not that one.

Branding is not a shallow endeavor.

It goes to the very deepest core purpose of your organization. Branding unifies and explains. Branding infuses your mission and your values into every experience and interaction you have with your audience.

Your brand is not your logo. Your brand is what your logo represents. It is the people you hire, the office culture you create, the unique quality that you bring to the work you do.

Your brand is how people feel when interacting with your business. Create an experience that aligns with your customer’s values, and you’ll insert yourself into their lives in a way that seems effortless, and keeps them coming back for more.

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The Value of Design

The Value of Design

Have you ever wondered how much value design adds to your organization?

As the design field moves toward greater accountability through data & analytics, we are finding more ways to measure the value of design. A 2015 report by the Design Management Institute found that design-driven businesses are correlated with greater profitability. Design-driven companies outperform the S&P 500 by 211% over the last ten years.

You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company in order to benefit from investment in design. Whether you’re running a non-profit or a start-up, ROI of design increases as it moves up the organizational ladder. When design strategy is integrated with business planning at the highest level, you’re setting yourself up to win.

Here are a few ways to increase the value that design brings to your organization:

Improve visual quality.

This applies to products, services, and communications. It’s not just about looks (it’s never just about looks, come on, you know that!). Search for ways to optimize the experience your audiences have with your organization. Show your audiences that you care about them by first understanding them, then developing communication materials that are clear, consistent and engaging.

Unify your design approach.

As customers interact with different aspects of your organization, make sure they are getting the same message and the same quality of presentation and care. Consider all of your materials (print and digital) as a cohesive unit. Identify areas of disconnect and move toward a more consistent organizational look and feel.

Integrate design with overall business strategy.

Perhaps the most important way to boost the value of your design is to think of graphic design as a business tool, not as window dressing. To see the real results design can deliver, time and effort must be spent developing strategic materials with the audience in mind. Skipping over this crucial step limits that value that design can add — and why would you do such a thing?! Develop a design strategy that supports the most important goals of your organization. Using an iterative process around design to drive innovation will improve the user experience and pay off for your organization.

As you become more intentional about your design strategy, measure the results of design improvements so you can see what resonates with your audience.

Get in touch with Union Design to learn more about what good design can do for you.

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You can read more about DMI’s findings here.

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2018 Moon Calendar Is Here!

2018 Moon Calendar Is Here!

In case you haven’t noticed, Union Design’s 2018 Moon Calendar is here!

We love our Moon Calendar tradition and are always so happy to have people display these in their homes!

The second full moon of 2018 is already upon us — January 31 will mark the second full moon of January.

And while usually “once in a blue moon,” means something rare, there are actually TWO blue moons in 2018, they happen in January and March.

A year with 13 full moons typically happens once every 2-3 years, depending on when the moons fall.

2018 also started with a full moon.

We enjoyed finding the moon patterns and facts while working on this calendar. You can purchase the 2018 Moon Calendar here!

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Snail Mail

Snail Mail

Union Design is excited to be working on some fun things to send your way this year, and we think you’ll be excited about it too!

We invite you to click here and leave your mailing address for some sweet surprises.

Don’t delay, the first item is set to go out soon!

*it should go without saying that we respect your privacy and will never sell or share your information, but the internet is a weird place, and we don’t want you to have any concerns about your privacy.

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