The strength of an organization’s internal communications and visual identity says a lot about how they work with external stakeholders. My first task at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) was to create a logo for the bureau. The organization had already been looking at several logo concepts, but when it became my turn, I decided to take a step back and conduct a full brand investigation that would result in a strong visual identity for the organization, beyond just the logo.
This project was developed to respond to multiple internal requests – one pagers, organizational charts, etc. While all of these requests are important, we had to first get our house in order; the bureau needed some guidelines for consistent, effective deliverables. Previously, the bureau had attempted creating branded elements with only a focus on the final logo, rather than looking at the need for an identity that is flexible and scalable at every touch point.
But a logo wasn’t the sole answer to this branding situation. IIP needed a deeper dive into its history, where the bureau originated, and its mission, in order to have a strong design system that would work across mediums. A competitive analysis was conducted – who is doing digital media well, who influences foreign audiences – as well as an investigation into the bureau’s predecessor, the United States Information Agency (USIA). Historical records, reports, and posters from USIA uncovered the need for people to people diplomacy, so developing the IIP brand to reflect the era of Cold War diplomatic efforts would not be a far cry from IIP’s mission in the 21st century.
Three brand concepts were pitched to Front Office leadership, each with contextual meaning and purpose. The chosen concept was based on the geometric patterns of the USIA era, forming the IIP acronym with rectangles and a half oval, with a slightly off red and blue palette that represents the United States but in a hue that pulls users back into the mid 20th century. The design was inspired by the USA logo developed by Don Ervin of the George Nelson office for the 1959 Moscow Exhibition.
Upon approval, a style guide was developed, and templates distributed for IIP staff to build their own presentations decks, reports, email templates, and one-pagers. Having templates and simple style rules for deliverables helps us focus more on producing great content, and less time worrying about how we will deliver it. This system empowered staff to build their own deliverables without the help of designers, but still with the option for Design approval and adjustments when requested.
Now, when stakeholders receive documents, emails, training materials, or presentations, they feel like they are getting a high-quality piece of content that was developed with data and critical thinking. Not only does this help stakeholders focus on the content of materials, but it reemphasizes the quality, knowledge, and professionalism that IIP strives to deliver.
This branding strategy has been put in place to clearly and concisely express what the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) is, what we have to offer stakeholders at the U.S. Department of State and what can be expected from us.