McMillan Creates a Betterful Brand Identity
November 29, 2017
When the team at H’Art of Ottawa, a studio for adult artists with developmental disabilities, answered marketing agency McMillan’s open call for its pro bono branding competition, they banked on getting a little help repositioning after 15 years in business.
But after winning the contest and spending a year working on a new brand identity, Lin Rowsell, the studio’s executive director, says H’Art of Ottawa got much more than a new look and a new name, BEING. “So much has come out of this beyond the actual process and outcome,” she says. “We’ve connected with so many other people. It’s taken on a life of its own.”
For the second annual Betterful contest, which encourages local non-profit organizations to submit a video on why they need a new brand, McMillan creative director Megan Findlay says they received dozens of submissions that made the final decision challenging.
“It’s good to see all the good happening in Ottawa,” she says. “But H’Art of Ottawa stood out because they’ve been around for 15 years and established a reputation for themselves as a truly supportive organization for artists with developmental disabilities. In a decade and a half, a lot can change for an organization’s brand. H’Art’s own story had changed.”
Says Rowsell, “McMillan really helped us hone in on who we are. It’s a very big undertaking for an organization that’s been around for a while—like most non-profits, we’re very busy and don’t get to take the time to reassess and redefine.”
After years of operating as a studio and exhibition space, Rowsell says H’Art of Ottawa was ready to make more of a national impact. “We’re not just a studio for artists with developmental disabilities. We want to be a model for other organizations all over the world,” she says. “Our community really supports us, and now we have a need to break beyond those borders.”
The studio has exhibited member work at Rideau Hall and Parliament Hill, and participated in an exchange program with a similar studio in Australia. Short-term, Rowsell plans to create a storefront selling artist wares in one of Ottawa’s trendy neighbourhoods, and long-term, she plans to get the studio more involved in international art shows.
To reach her goals, Rowsell knew some things had to change. The website, for one, needed work if it was going to be the face of the charity to a broader audience base. On the front end, that included making the site more visual, and on the back end, making it easier to update and to post new work.
Dropping “Ottawa” from the studio’s name was just as important to bring the organization’s appeal from local to national. Explains Findlay, “We wanted to shed this folksy, homegrown brand and show them as the bold, full-of-momentum organization they are.”
New logo and old logo pictured above
Findlay says that the idea for BEING came out of a collaborative process with the H’Art staff and member artists. “We developed relationships with the artists, and some of them were really involved in the evolution of the new brand,” she says. “One thing that was really important is that these people are artists first. Being adults with developmental disabilities is secondary. That’s where this notion of ‘being’ comes from. It’s also meant to communicate that this is a way of life for these artists, and to convey the passion and energy in their work.”
Rowsell says that even in the early 2000s, H’Art of Ottawa knew its name couldn’t last forever. “These artists are becoming independent, they have bodies of work, and they’re having one-person shows. Moving into the future, a new name is what we needed,” she says.
But like many clients actually undergoing the process of a name change, Rowsell acknowledges that she and her team were a little apprehensive when they first heard McMillan propose BEING. “The word covers so many different things. But they had a video to explain [the context] to us. ‘BEING’ was just sitting there, stationary, with all these words like ‘me’ and ‘happy’ moving around it. And it was like—oh my gosh, of course.” She notes the artists are excited about the new name, and says the artists have produced lists with statements starting with “BEING…” to show what the name means to them.
McMillan created a friendly new logo, with bright colours and bold typefaces. “We designed it to be eye-catching and to stand out like a piece of pop art,” says Findlay. “The rays that encircle the logo—we call them lumens—are like light shining out from the artist. Once they express themselves through art, they let that light out into the world. It’s all about that expression from within.”
McMillan worked with the studio members to have them write their own artist statements for the website, which reinforces BEING’s mantra about “valuing work by valuing the artists who created it.” Ottawa photographer Rémi Thériault shot and donated impactful new images highlighting the work and the artists. The website also includes baked-in web accessibility features including contrast and text-size adjustment.
“BEING is now poised to change the minds of not just people in our community, but nationally, about the value of art created by people with developmental disabilities,” says Findlay. “It elevates them to the level of any arts-based organization in Canada.”
Now that the identity has launched, McMillan will be less involved in the day-to-day execution of the brand identity, but will continue to track BEING’s success though new members and sales. “A lot of us are personally invested,” says Findlay. “But its life now is in the hands of the organization.”
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