In the past 2+ years, we’ve seen and felt a radical shift in cultural identity.
The murder of George Floyd, a global pandemic, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and the recent reversal of Roe vs. Wade have forced many of us—individually, nationally, and within the workplace, to re-assess our personal and cultural values, affinities, and identity.
And, in turn, it’s also forced brands to shift their look, language, and purpose to better align with today’s version of inclusivity, and the values of consumers. But how do you build a brand that can withstand the test of time as definitions of “inclusion” and “acceptance” change?
Earlier this year, Lippincott teamed up with Heritage of Pride, one of the world’s foremost LGBTQIA+ Pride organizations, on a new brand identity for its flagship event, NYC Pride. While NYC Pride is rooted in inclusion and freedom of personal expression, its growing community wasn’t reflected in the brand’s visual identity—and they knew a change was needed.
Working hand in hand with the NYC Pride team on a new brand identity was a masterclass in designing for inclusivity. Here’s what we learned about how brands can show up authentically and evolve with their audiences.
01 | Ask the hard questions.
Soon after we began our journey with NYC Pride, it issued a ban on uniformed police participating in the March. This indirectly impacted many of the people on our team who have friends and family on the force. If NYC Pride is to stand for inclusion, when and where is it appropriate for it to be exclusionary?
This was something we discussed with NYC Pride at the onset before diving into our work plan, and the team helped us understand the rationale behind their decision. NYC Pride was formed to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969 in which members of the city’s queer community fought back against routine police raids, harassment, and violence. Since then, it has served as a beacon and haven for those who are marginalized, threatened and afraid to live their truth. The organization’s decision was an act of protest on behalf of many of whom continue to be marginalized, especially at a time when violence against LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, and trans communities has continued to escalate. NYC Pride’s openness to having this frank discussion with our team, and the deep commitment to purpose that framed this action, established a level of trust, commitment, and clarity that fueled our work.
02 | Words matter.
While some inclusionary requirements, such as accessibility, are legally mandated, it’s crucial for brands to consider language that’s both visually and verbally inclusive, too. Why? The language we use reflects the social contract that brands have with their employees, customers, prospects, and influencers. And in the fluid back and forth of everyday conversations across social media, brands are not just in, say, the manufacturing or services business. They’re also in the publishing and content business. What’s more, in the war for talent, inclusion attracts those who will define your brand for the next generation. For NYC Pride, a brand that stands for inspiring and empowering every LGBTQIA+ person to proudly love and live their truth, embracing inclusionary language was vital. We achieved this through a flexible visual system that allows the broad community to embrace and flex the identity toolkit by occasion and over time.
03 | Listen to the community.
While NYC Pride’s team of diverse volunteers were all reflective of the identity’s audience, we needed to tap into the community’s perceptions. After all, the organization is driven by the people it serves. Workshops with New York City students and the Pride community helped us understand how different generations and cultures define and navigate identity. We also dug deep into the history of LGBTQIA+ rights and symbolism with the client team to understand and create an identity and voice that would be relevant and inclusionary today—but would accommodate and embrace the identity as it continued to evolve.
04 | Design for the future.
A flag holds with it a deep symbolic meaning across all cultures. It is carried into battle as a symbol of identity and pride, burned in protest, raised in celebration, and lowered in mourning. For the LGBTQIA+ community, the rainbow flag is historically a symbol of a haven—and we put it at the center of NYC Pride’s new identity, but with a more inclusive twist. Designed to represent the community’s past, present, and future, the new logo features a gradient rainbow flag, that when animated, reveals nine additional flags. These individual colors reflect every facet of the LGBTQIA+ community today: intersex, asexual, trans, pansexual, bisexual, lesbian, nonbinary, gay, and polyamorous—and allows for more to be added in the future.
05 | Embrace principles over rules.
Identity is not a moment in time, it is a fluid conversation that listens, interacts, and reacts as the community and world evolves. Most brand guidelines are highly restrictive around how the brand shows up in the world. Shifting from the traditional, more restrictive guardrails around say, a logo or brand voice, to an openness for key cultural moments can keep the identity fresh and relevant. For example, Google in its voice guidelines offers the advice that it’s ok to wear a suit, but not to be one. Similarly, the NYC Pride identity system and image palette embraces the idea that the event theme and expression will change year over year. It is designed to stand out across varying environments and lends the brand flexibility to consider tone and context, dialing up exuberance when needed in celebratory events throughout the year, but also leading with a strong, clear voice in moments of reflection and protest.
06 | Do, don’t just say.
While one may view corporations’ floats, banners, and branding during Pride with a degree of skepticism, I was struck by the welcoming community as we took part in this year’s NYC Pride March. There was an unadulterated vocal thanks from the crowd at every step of the way. The beauty and joy of the marchers and its crowded audience was its diversity; the polar opposite of the homogeneity, in color, shape, and ideas, that some parts of our society seek. In this time of social and cultural upheaval, brands showing up in word and deed, acting on purpose versus speaking to it or sitting on the sidelines, firmly roots the brand in the community.