It Starts With Us

How we told the story of the national conference of the Order of the Arrow, Boy Scouts of America.

The Brief

The Order of the Arrow is the national honor society of the Boy Scouts of America, serving over 100,000 of the BSA’s 2 million youth members. In 2015, the OA celebrated it’s 100th anniversary, and in doing so held the largest conference in its history. 15,000 members, nearly double the amount that attended the previous conference in 2012, attended the week-long celebration at Michigan State University.

When we started the brand design for this conference one year prior, we began with a few questions:

How do you sell an idea? How do you use design to tell a story, to change hearts and minds and leave people with a message they’ll remember?

The answer, of course, was to create a brand that’s more than pretty. We had to create a brand that moved people.

The Concept

The theme for this conference, “It Starts With Us,” was based on a simple learning objective: you can create tomorrow with action today. In our centennial year, we needed to energize people to take action in the creation of our next century. The brand design had to tell that story visually.

I’ll admit, as much as I love abstract, connotative design concepts, this phrase and idea stumped me at first. How do I encapsulate the nuances of change and action in a wordmark or a shape? And, how do I create something that works in harmony with the centennial brand [PDF] that the OA had already established? We churned through concept after concept, but none of them seemed quite right.

Then we hit it: a ripple. This was the perfect symbol to represent our message. Every drop of water creates a ripple that extends infinitely outwards when it touches the ocean. Over time, those ripples join together to become an enormous wave large enough to impact anything in its path. As enormous and powerful as the wave may be when it crashes on the shore, it began as a single drop.

The Logo

We took the idea of a ripple, added a sophisticated, clean type treatment and crafted the logo that would be the center of our brand.

The Brand

Designing a brand for the Boy Scouts of America has unique challenges. This brand needed to be powerful and carefully applied, yet it would be in the hands of many non-designers. Indeed, once we developed the logo as well as color and font palettes, we released a simple brand guide to the key leadership of this conference – they would use these resources to create their own conference materials: handouts, banners, you name it.

So the brand had to be usable, accessible and simple.

The Sub-Brands

It also needed to accommodate the unique needs of each conference committee. So we created a comprehensive set of sub-brand logos, each with a unique ripple pattern that became a distinct symbol for their committee.

The Brand Assets

Even with an army of non-designers working to deploy this brand in their own way, we still had the opportunity to create a number of conference brand assets.

The Patch

In Boy Scouts, perhaps the most cherished memento is the patch: that sacred piece of embroidery that thousands of Scouts will display on their khaki uniform shirt for years to come. The design is an extension of our ripple concept, breaking outside the edges of the patch container to emphasize movement, disruption and change.

The Name Badge

It’s common for attendees at any conference to receive a lanyard and ID upon arrival. This could have been a thoughtless, purely practical object, but we took the opportunity to use these to reinforce our message. With the name of each attendee at the center of our ripple pattern, the name badges send a clear message: It Starts With You. It Starts With Us.

The Trading Post

We worked alongside the merchandise professionals to apply this brand to countless “Trading Post” items: shirts, hats, belt buckles and more. Each one used our brand consistently to bolster our theme many times over.

The Apparel

We relied on a proud display of our logo and charcoal brand color to create a dignified staff uniform shirt that became instantly recognizable. Gray shirt? Staff member.

The staff shirts also incorporated those unique committee sub-brands on the sleeve to identify the assignment of each staff member.

The Guest Guide

This conference, we set out to reinvent the guest guide. Rather than creating another unmanageable, text-heavy brochure, we rethought the look, feel, layout and very purpose of this document to create an easy-to-use guide. And, it folded up perfectly to fit the size of a Boy Scout’s cargo shorts pocket.

The Signage

Signage was possibly the most present of any of these brand assets. Signs and banners were everywhere at this conference. We created a versatile signage system that was used to identify official events, locations and stages, all while constantly reinforcing the message behind the ripple, and the theme.

The Impact

Not once did we use the words “ripple” or “ocean” or “wave” in the messaging we deployed at this conference. Yet this idea permeated every program, speech and event. That was the power of this brand. The true message behind our theme, and indeed the message of this conference, was intuited subconsciously through design. It informed everything and influenced people to draw out their own messages, and share them.

When we began this process, I never would have imagined the impact we could have. Nor did I anticipate how fully it would be embraced at the conference. Along the way, we were met with much resistance about “too many rules” or an “overbearing brand.” Yet when we all arrived on campus, when we all recognized the power of this consistent imagery, it clicked. Everyone understood. All of our guidelines made sense now. The brand came together in a spectacular way.

If we think back to our initial challenge – not to make something pretty, but to tell a story – it’s abundantly clear that we exceeded expectations. Designers and non-designers alike praised and understood the brand. They were moved by it. And they’ll most certainly remember it.

“I’ll admit I wasn’t a super huge fan of the branding at first. But it turned out to be really meaningful and versatile. And I love it. You should be extremely proud of your work.”

– Joey Kiker, Communications Adviser at the conference

I would be remiss if I took credit for this entire project – this was a team effort. While I did serve as the main brand designer on this project, there were many people who worked with me to make this come alive. For that, I am truly grateful. So, thank you:

Ed Lynes and Randy Cline for leading the thematic goals of this conference

Todd Leonard for gracefully handling signage requests and dealing with many design revisions

Alex Call and Donnie Stephens for being advocates for our brand among the conference leadership

Yael Ort-Dinoor for giving me design feedback on this project outside of your responsibility to be my graphic design professor

All conference leadership for allowing us the opportunity to create a compelling brand and take the thematic element of this conference to the next level

Photo Credit to the NOAC Photo Team for many of these portfolio images.