Archive for September, 2010

September 25, 2010

Theme Opportunities Missed

For-profit businesses, due to more consistent management, are better at developing a consistent communication theme. It seems that the nonprofit sector has little knowledge of using a cohesive strategy. Instead, it is most common to vary graphic directions in response to management shifts. From the most basic symbol of the organization through thematic recognition, most groups don’t build on what they have. For example, it is typical that those who have great logos don’t maximize their use into a visual language that can elevate memorability.

See “Thematic Language” for the best in the Midwest.
Exploring effectivenss reveals a new classification:


These organizations have a good start out of the gate to graphic recognition but stall on the track. Perhaps they don’t perceive the race they are running, have too many political hurdles to jump, or haven’t made their visual communication a priority. Regardless of the reasons, much can be gained from perceiving missed opportunities.

spiral bulletAmerican Osteopathic Association,
AOA combines an acronym and illustration in their logo that also sets up an elegant typestyle. No where is this graphic potential expressed. It is obvious that few resources are committed to the online graphic presentation, causing this group to look less professional than is appropriate.

spiral bulletAmerican Society for Bioethics and Humanities,
ASBH stereotypically uses stock photography—like a painting on our wall that you stop noticing until you move it somewhere visually unfamiliar. The simple geometric logo could spawn a symbolic geometric language to house the content. Unfortunately, a really exciting group is made to look pedestrian.

spiral bulletInternational Special Events Society,
Although the logo uses the most common of elements, the arrangement of the letters within boxes is unusual and adds a special movement to the composition. The parts become greater than the whole. Such a playful typographic/geometric relationship could carry into the website graphics, but it doesn’t. If it did, the visual presentation could represent the exhibit presentation of the organization.

spiral bulletNational Safety Council,
NSC doesn’t have a very visually appealing logo but it does communicate. Taking advantage of the universal “+” (as established by the Red Cross), this logo has instant validity. Although the it is as basic as it can be, the site does build from it with appealing icons and pleasing content composition.

spiral bulletNorthwestern University Alumni Association,
NUAA has a logo that is both friendly and formal. It is a beautiful blend of an “N” with the the oak leaf illustration. Though the website is basic, it is friendly. Further visual development could make it more engaging. NUAA has the beginning of a graphic foundation with the purple color to tie into NU’s colors, typographic style from the logo, and illustration potential.

Creating a theme suggested by a logo is not difficult yet missed so often. The fastest way to give all materials and communications unity is to set up some basic stylistic rules and stick to them. Care must be taken not to choose rules that are too restrictive or too lax, but act as tools to generate appropriate and consistent uses.

Nonprofits are particularly vulnerable to losing consistency due to too many cooks in the kitchen. Writing bylaws for design use can also support a process for decision-making, minimizing personal power plays. Design can be a volatile political football because it reveals motivations, misunderstandings, and missions. It becomes the organization’s self-portrait by first becoming its mirror.

The Sebastian Study: Midwest Nonprofits is completed in this blog. If  you wish to know if your organization was considered, please visit and contact me; I will be happy to share the review ranking with you.

The Sebastian Study: Second Life Nonprofits now begins, so watch for reviews, overviews, and experiences shared in upcoming posts. The ten best presentations will be analyzed, the almost-greats critiqued, and new conclusions drawn to help evolve effectiveness.

the end

September 13, 2010

Second City

Second City’s graphics snuck into this study. Usually the top visuals begin with a strong logo. A script handwritten-style symbol is an easy solution—too easy for a high visibility group. Yet their site is exceptional and worth a study in style and navigation.

Five Criteria for Graphics that Work:
Evaluating Second City

spiral bullet Use of logo: An organization’s logo has a story to tell—encapsulating the personality, philosophy, and tone of an entire organization.
If the name “Second City” is covered up, this logo could be for any organization that wants to appear friendly. The script has a thick/think brush quality to make it bold. The overall shape is easy to use and the script can appear in a variety of sizes and media. If the image were distinctive, these would be positive attributes.

spiral bullet Theme: The visual first impression is dominated by the total gestalt—look, feel, purpose, and benefit. Further contact is consistent and supports personality and philosophy.
A theme for a theater is obvious, but Second City presents with panache. Carrying excitement from one metaphor to another is rarely better accomplished. On their website, there is a visual unity between their long history and their great variety of productions, training, and locations.

spiral bullet Content composition: Building from a recognizable theme, the presentation is easy to grasp, clear, and engaging.
Second City’s website is engaging through its big picture presentation: the current attractions along the top and history along the bottom. Consistent throughout page visits, this frame allows the central portion of the screen to change—like a video controlled by the viewer. This site conveyis a love-affair with the subject and the audience. Their navigation is particularly masterful. I feel inspired every time I view it. But, of course, the point is to inspire me to attend, which I do regularly.

spiral bullet Consistent style: A series presents a visual language and an ambient atmosphere, promoting a positive experience and relationship with the audience.
Second City’s visual language uses the casual handwriting for headlines which makes them inviting and easy to read. Strong black backgrounds and small areas of jewel colors offer a platform like a stage for their many subjects. Study this site for how it both carries the elements and varies them throughout the sections of the website.

spiral bullet Distinctive: The most successful presentations have a memorable twist—something extra that is unique.
Overall graphics give Second City its personality. With much to be proud of, this organization also keeps its cutting edge and status in national theater. Successfully bridging double audiences (those who attend productions and those who are students for training), this is one of Chicago’s best examples of an arts group bridging to business relevance. The graphics reinforce this connection though an identifiable and enjoyable visual approach.

Second City slips into this study due to their strong website. There are other groups that have average or even poor logos but good sites that may be over looked, so suggestions for inclusion are invited.

See the Overview of the best Midwest organizations to present strong and compelling graphics.

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September 3, 2010

Interactive Integration

Overall, organizations put more resources into websites than any other graphic category. Requiring an ongoing budget and sustained attention, an association’s website compiles and represents their largest projects. Allocating resources to the pages that are read the most, using templates for informational pages, and featuring visuals to augment versus dominate, the best sites are engaging.

A small percentage of organizations pair a strong website with a strong logo. A standard has been formed that places the logo in the upper left corner. Commercial sites can deviate but nonprofit sites are wise to follow viewer expectations. Having a site even provides the opportunity to closely study viewer participation. A marketing tool like no other, the interactive quality can build a cyber community. The best graphics create a personality and an experience, combining relevance, mystery, point-of-view, style, clarity, and focus.

Of the nonprofits that possess memorable logos (27 out of 700 Midwestern organizations), only 6 have truly exciting websites(view three currently reviewed). Then there are those with good logos but don’t realize the potential begun.


spiral bullet Chicago Symphony Orchestra
A moving target, this site changes often—a recent one has gone from warmer to more aloof. Of all sites that should be welcoming and demonstrate the personalities of their musicians, CSO could enhance online offerings.

spiral bullet Mainstreet Organization of Realtors
Illustrations used in logos run the risk of looking cartoonish, are stylistically dated, or become too complicated. MOR finds a great balance in their aesthetically pleasing and classically appealing symbol. But they don’t carry this exciting beginning into their website design which?

spiral bullet Strategic Account Management Association
Making a great use of icons, SAMA offers a website with easy navigation. But what it has in intriguing visual elements, it lacks in finesse. Confronting the viewer with many choices, the structure is average and the most interesting graphics underplayed.

spiral bullet Urban Gateways
Many websites depend on engaging photography to give the site a personality. Urban Gateways demonstrates the conceptual rift between photo image and the rest of the site. Though the information presented is appealing, how it is presented could match but doesn’t. Of particular interest that has potential to increase the online experience: meet the artists, use the blog for more than a news vehicle, and develop a graphic theme that supports the photographic images versus the opposite.

spiral bullet Word of Mouth Marketing Association
This site offers warmth, engaging content, and demonstration of their own expertise of using technology to connect. However, the parts are greater than the whole: individual elements are fun and upbeat, comprehensive offerings include guides, blogs, videos, and social media. It is unfortunate that the graphics don’t represent the vitality of this group.

Please see reviews of several other organizations with have graphically communicative elements that could be better integrated:

Giving Institute and Foundation: PreviewReview
Green City Market: Review
Madison County Chamber: Preview; Review
Metal Construction Association: Review
Water Quality Association: Review

The Sebastian Study: Midwest Nonprofits is completed in this blog. If  you wish to know if your organization was considered, please visit and contact me; I will be happy to share the review ranking with you.

The Sebastian Study: Second Life Nonprofits now begins, so watch for reviews, overviews, and experiences shared in upcoming posts. The ten best presentations will be analyzed, the almost-greats critiqued, and new conclusions drawn to help evolve effectiveness.

the end