Bureau Blank

Ideas + Execution

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Assembling the Brand

beyond the logo

Assembling the Brand

As a digital design agency, branding is one of our core services as we help our clients communicate and amplify their mission. On the surface, branding is mostly seen as being a name and logo - but branding goes far beyond that. Branding affects how an organization or service is recognized and perceived. Although the brand name and its accompanying logo is at the forefront, branding encompasses strategic positioning, a visual presence, unique messaging, a tone of voice, and how the brand interacts with their intended audience in ways that resonate to create a strong and loyal relationship.

At Bureau Blank, we run a tight process connecting strategy with our design decisions, making sure our client’s mission is surfaced through their visual presence. We are extremely proud of the work that went into our latest branding project, Assembly, and our engagement with this initiative is a great case study for successful brand development.

Assembly is a new initiative from the Center for Active Design, a leading non-profit organization that uses design to foster healthy and engaged communities. This new and exciting initiative will make a big impact on the way cities approach the relationship between the built environment and civic engagement. The Center’s research findings will become practical design guidelines for city leaders, urban planners and architects to improve engagement in communities.

Strategic objectives

While creating the identity for Assembly, we had three strategic objectives in mind:

  • Capture the new brand’s positioning and value proposition in a clear and memorable way

  • Establish the new brand’s place within the Center for Active Design parent brand architecture

  • Provide an introduction to the work with key themes and talking points tailored for key audiences

When we refer to positioning, we’re explaining what a brand is offering to people. What’s the value? Why is this brand different from others who do or provide something similar? It’s the big idea behind all of the brand’s public language and communications.

A brand’s voice refers to the brand’s personality; how do they speak to people? Are they formal? Playful? Will they use slang? How about humor? Are certain words central to this brand’s identity? Voice is another crucial part of a brand’s communications and messaging.

As we dove into creating the visual components to Assembly’s new brand, we needed to identify the target audiences for the initiative. Who will be using and interacting most with Assembly? To answer this, we talked to folks, from our client to professionals in each of the audiences the Center for Active Design wanted to reach.

Those interviews were enormously helpful and yielded insights that helped us figure a few things out:

  • Where do stakeholders gather to engage in dialogue about how to use design to improve civic engagement?

  • What will those professionals find most compelling and exciting about Assembly?

  • What terms needed unpacking for each audience? (In particular, what did interviewees think about “civic engagement”, a rather broad term?)

From those interviews and research, we developed key identity language and messaging for Assembly that would work in concert with the visual brand, from how Assembly will benefit city leaders to the positive impacts it will have on civic engagement in communities.

Visual objectives

These strategic objectives drove our creative decisions:

  • The new brand must feel like it belongs to its parent brand, The Center for Active Design

  • Naming of the brand should be descriptive and straightforward

  • Graphic elements must be flexible for use across a range of situations

The main objective of Assembly’s visual identity is to create a sense of movement and transformation. This objective ties directly into what we identified as their  unique position “leading the movement of transforming city spaces to invite participation in city life”. To bring Assembly’s mission to the forefront of their visual presence, we applied this strategy towards the main elements of their visual language. This is shown through their logo, typography, color palette, photography, and supporting graphics.

  • The logo is a modified typeface with graphic elements pulled from the letter forms in a way that suggests an active process of joining together or assembling, reflecting the way public spaces are created.

  • A sans-serif typeface has been chosen as the main font for its architectural angles, wide range of weights, and legibility across web and print. A complimentary serif typeface with warm and soft attributes was chosen to work in harmony with the main typeface.

  • A limited color palette of bright hues is used to convey a bold, confident, and inclusive attitude while paying homage to Assembly’s parent brand, The Center for Active Design. The color palette is dynamic and able to be applied in several combinations, which allows for the brand to be consistently presented in fresh ways.

  • Photography used throughout Assembly’s visual presence directly represents participation in city life. Highly curated photography of people in public spaces is a great way to capture and present what Assembly strives to do.

By using these four elements of visual language and creating Assembly’s brand guidelines, we have created a consistent system for Assembly to visually present itself. Assembly’s branding is strong, unique, and highly recognizable while directly representing Assembly’s mission and positioning it in a leading role in the civic space.

Our work with the Center for Active Design continues as Assembly’s research phase is underway. As the Center builds demand for the forthcoming guidelines with the initiative’s audiences, we’ll continue to use the elements we created for any research updates, and ultimately to present the final design guidelines - so stay tuned!


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Meet Bureau Blank’s New A-team!

Alessandro & Alana

Meet Bureau Blank’s New A-team!

With this week marking John’s official transition into the role of President & COO (check out what he had to say in last week’s blog post ), we thought we’d continue our BB team blog series to introduce our new front-end developer and art director– Alana Farkas and Alessandro Contes! John said it best when he wrote that a key tenet of our newly refined focus is forming a team strong in both their expertise and commitment to the mission of improving the experience and quality of life for people living in cities. With these two folks newly on board, we can proudly check that box and get to work!

I sat down with Alana and Alessandro to pick their brains on what drew them to Bureau Blank, their first impressions of working here and how their experiences as city dwellers of NYC and beyond have inspired them to seek the means to improving the city experience through digital design.

Q: First and foremost–why Bureau Blank?

Alana: What immediately piqued my interest was the GAIN sector focus, which I see as the pillars that sustain a city. The idea of working with the nonprofits and institutions that ensure that the wide range of communities are engaged and informed about the services tailored to their needs was an instant draw.

Alessandro: I came across Bureau Blank in the midst of trying to find a fit in the US after transitioning from life and work in Brazil. Bureau Blank offered the potential to collaborate on truly meaningful work as well as a platform to expand my professional expertise beyond traditional marketing into the digital realm.

Q: What do you love most about working here?

Alana: The environment here is wonderful – welcoming, collaborative, and positive, even in the midst of taking on serious work. To me, a balance in the workplace is very important and I feel like that we’re all on the same page about that. We’ll find ourselves addressing the critical issues while Beyoncé plays (and empowers us) in the background.  

Alessandro: What immediately impressed me about working here that is exceptional is the dedication and focus to planning, executing and refining our process to deliver a project that best addresses clients’ needs. That level of collaboration leaves no room for ego and establishes a “yes and…” mentality that not only improves the quality of work but is a constant lesson in professional development. Having the opportunity to be more hands-on with projects and work in a more strategic capacity present the kind of challenge that I was looking for, and I’m excited to see where that takes me.

Q: What would you consider your expertise?

Alana: I’ve always considered myself as a solutions-oriented thinker with a determination to achieve efficiency in what I do. Coming from my role in the public sector, I hope to leverage the experiences and insights gained there to discover the way to make the information architecture of the city’s web experiences the best it can be. All resources should be a click away and that is a principle of BB’s that I strongly believe in.

Alessandro: Being a good listener, which is the crux of what we now call UX design. Throughout my time in marketing and advertising, I’ve put into practice the principles that we’ve seen renamed and updated over the years.  What has kept me going is the motivation to be as successful as I can be in getting the right idea and message across for each client, which in turn has kept me open-minded and curious.

Q: What previous experience do you have that is important to your work here?

Alana: As a former tour director at the Municipal Art Society (MAS), I had the opportunity to explore the five distinct boroughs of NYC and craft the user’s (or in this case, sight-seer’s) experience in the physical world. As I began working in front-end web development, the importance of facilitating wayfinding in a human-centered way emerged as an immediate extension of that role in the digital realm. One example of that shared need came with my realization of the age demographic that primarily took tours at MAS, which happened to skew older. Just as we tailored our tours to that group of participants, web experiences require the same (if not more) tailoring to accommodate non-native users.  

Alessandro: The role of art director is not just about design but more so the ability to establish a vision and long-term goal for an engagement, which one can then mobilize a team of designers around while challenging them to think in different ways. I look forward to utilizing my past experiences as an individual designer and team member to ensure that we are all constantly learning and building on one another’s ideas.

Q: What does GAIN mean to you?

Alana: GAIN are the sectors that make up a city. The work of GAIN organizations in a city is never done–it’s always in motion and evolving. With that need for constant refinement and sustained impact, the people running the programming and services in that sector might not have the time to build or improve their digital presence. The way I see it, I’ve joined a consultancy that serves as a steward of the city and its supporting organizations, wherein I get to ensure that the information architecture is accessible and inclusive to help further the impact of the work they do.

Alessandro: For me, GAIN presents an endless learning experience that taps into the systems that impact my day-to-day life. Whenever I’m asked “Why are you going to work with cities?”, I always take pride in saying that it’s not something that you see every day yet it’s something that is becoming increasingly important. I see this as an opportunity to be proactive in coming up with innovative ideas around user experience for the public sector instead of addressing it as just an afterthought.

Q: How have cities shaped your own life?

Alana: Growing up just outside the city in Westchester, NYC has always been the destination I set my sights on. To me, the city embodies the idea of mobility and independence, from public transit accessibility to the opportunities afforded to navigate within social, economic, political space. Even after 10 years living here, I never seem to get tired of it. There’s a momentum and excitement that is fueled by innovation and ideas that can come to fruition here, which is inspiring to say the least.

Alessandro: Every city has its own atmosphere and opportunities for one to grow in a variety of ways. When I first moved to the capital of my home state in Brazil (Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul), that was the first step in growing beyond the confines of my home town and realize my independence. It was when I moved to Orlando years later that I was first exposed to the tremendous amount of care that can be taken to maintain public systems. The attention city governments in the US give to improving quality of life for its residents has been inspiring and amazing to see. To be a part of a team that works to support those efforts is pretty incredible.

Q: What Bureau Blank project has intrigued you most?

Alana: The NYC Digital Playbook definitely stood out as one of my favorites. It’s a beautifully designed digital tool that I think encompasses Bureau Blank’s sweet spot at the intersection of civic technology and design.

Alessandro: I remember first coming across Bureau Blank’s redesign of the Amtrak NEC site and being in awe of how they were able to take something like transportation infrastructure, which is a topic known for being more dense than “sexy”, and transform the website into a visually engaging resource with the functionality to match.


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A team designed for the future of cities

above and beyond

A team designed for the future of cities

For over three years, our founder Dan Blank and I have been working closely together establishing the focus and overall strategy at Bureau Blank. We’ve accomplished amazing things with our partners, our clients and our team. We made a pivot into GAIN (Government, Academia, Infrastructure, and Nonprofit), working at the intersection of ideas and leaders driving positive change in our communities. As a result of projects we worked on following that pivot, we found that cities really are the epicenter of GAIN and someplace where our unique skills as an agency can have the most impact. That’s inspired us to focus our work on projects for cities and organizations that serve them. At the same time, we’ve built a team strong in both their expertise and commitment to that mission of improving the experience and quality of life for people living in cities.

As I transition into the role of Bureau Blank’s President and COO, with a clear mandate and an exceptional team, my focus will be on our clients’ experience, deepening our expertise, and increasing the impact we make in cities.

1. Client experience
Bureau Blank exists to do phenomenal work for our clients. I’m excited about building new partnerships and using the expertise our team has in GAIN to serve our clients in unexpected and delightful ways. One of our goals in working with you is to leave you with tools to continue and build upon our work using your own industry and personal knowledge. We call this empowering expertise.

2. Deepening our expertise in design
We fully embrace human centered design. It’s not a buzzword for us but a way to create meaningful work that finds real opportunities to solve problems. We talk about our UX practice here and how we think about wireframes for testing here. Part of my role is to ensure that we’re leveraging the best thinking in the way we do our work. This is done through continued training for the Bureau Blank team, participating in our local AIGA chapter, and through an iterative cycle where we create > learn > share > and create again.  

3. Impact for people living and working in cities
As Dan wrote here, I spent a good portion of my career working directly with the city of Jacksonville. That view from the inside paved the road that uniquely positions me to understand the challenges that cities and the organizations that support them face. As my role in the city evolved, I was ambitious and enthusiastic. It was also clear partnering with experts in design thinking to tackle challenges was one of the quickest and most successful paths to good solutions.

Bureau Blank is in a very unique position to bring that design thinking — coupled with our focus areas in GAIN —to solve the challenges that stand in the way of a better life for everyone. That thought encapsulates my tangible excitement about the projects we’ve already done (with New York City’s Office of Digital Services, Technology and Innovation, or with Living Cities) and the projects we’ll do next.

With my goals laid out, I’m curious, what are yours? How can we work better together? What’s your vision? What excites you about the work you do? I encourage you to send me a message.

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Bureau Blank’s new President & COO

our go-to guy

Bureau Blank’s new President & COO

On September 1, 2016, our Director of Client Service John Kester will be taking the reins of Bureau Blank as our new President & COO.

With our focus now squarely on working with cities and the organizations that support them, this is the perfect moment for a leader whose personal story combines years of experience working inside city government with designing communications and digital solutions to improve everyday life for people.

While those who’ve worked with him know John’s track record, including our collaborations with NYC’s Office of Digital Strategy, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Infrastructure group or Living Cities, you might not know that he:

  • Spent nine years with the City of Jacksonville working on technology strategy, design and brand

  • Is six-sigma certified in continual process improvement

  • Has led human-centered design initiatives inside Jacksonville’s energy authority, with the NYC Department of Probation and with municipal leaders inside mayors’ offices across the country

  • Is a passionate advocate for the performing arts (both within our company and in New York City)

As Bureau Blank’s founder, I want to see our company continue to make a tangible and positive impact on the way we experience life in cities and for both our team and clients to thrive in the process. John brings an incredible combination of successfully leading our client engagements, helping to build an amazingly talented and multidisciplinary team, and years of hands-on experience in city government. He is singular in his ability to advocate for both client and team.

Having started Bureau Blank twelve years ago, I plan to start something new, undoubtedly building on what I’ve learned here. I am now excited to see what John and this incredible team can imagine, create and build for our clients and partners in the next twelve.

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Connecting Residents with Innovative Services

Marketing is a Must

Connecting Residents with Innovative Services

Seeing so many creative, smart, effective policy interventions and programs bubbling up in cities nationwide gives me hope in these challenging times. At Bureau Blank, we work with teams supporting women entrepreneurs launching small businesses in New York, using active design and planning techniques to improve public health, and improving the lives of low-income people across the country through innovations in urban practice.

As someone with a communications background, I know how tough it is to get the word out about those ideas to residents, even in the best of circumstances. (Or with the healthiest of advertising budgets.) People encounter so much messaging and content every day, especially online. How can cities cut through that noise to connect residents with great ideas and programs? Because it’s not enough to have that great, data-driven program or pilot project. You have to market it.

I know you know this, dear reader; I also know how many times “do we have to?” or “we can’t, we have no money” concerns arise in conversation with myself and other strategists.

Let’s address “Do we have to?” first, as the question gets at the merits. Marketing can help cities up their impact in many ways. If program performance metrics include the number of residents reached, number of signups, the percentage of a community served, or “bang for buck”, or cost-per-participant, marketing is the lever that can make a difference in meeting your administrative goals. Or, you can not do so, and hope that folks find you.

Second, the no-money problem. Of course, most cities and nonprofits have really tight budgets — that’s the reality, especially if you’re a smaller city. It’s helpful to remember marketing encompasses many activities — and not all of those cost money. Does your policy initiative have a public champion? For instance, here in New York, First Lady Chirlane McCray has been on a speaking tour promoting #ThriveNYC since its launch. There is, literally, an uptick in site traffic after she’s made a speech or community visit on the subject. You can also activate supporters to talk about your service on social media; it’s more personal, effective, and creates momentum for your new service or policy to see multiple people advocating its use and impact.

Using target audiences is another way to get more bang for your buck. Even with a limited budget, precise outreach via social media can yield big returns. Remember, different platforms reach different communities especially well. Snapchat may not get you a lot of engagement with seniors, but if you’re looking to reach Generation Z, it’s a great bet.

Regardless of platform, what works best in city services, or any type of marketing, is a personal approach. People pick up on insincerity pretty quickly; on the other hand, hearing themselves reflected in a personal story can make a powerful connection to your service. That’s the approach we took with the New York City Small Business Services outreach campaign, featuring the voices of people of color and women business owners. That campaign leverages newspaper, social media, and subway ads to spread the word near and far about what SBS can do for underrepresented business owners.

It’s also key that your communications team is empowered to use all avenues at their disposal to get the word out. In the fast-moving digital world, that may mean embracing new methods of reaching audiences that you may not personally use — but your audiences might. (“Snapchat?!”) Digital marketing and communications is analytics-driven, and your team can measure your campaign’s impact in order to adjust tactics and even platforms. Meeting folks where they are shows that you’re listening to your constituents.

To sum up, if you want to truly make an impact in your city, make sure you market that great new program.

  1. Doing so will improve your financial bottom line and program performance metrics.
  2. Marketing doesn’t have to cost a lot — or any — money to be effective.
  3. A genuine, personal approach enables your audience to connect with your work well.
  4. Empower your communications team — internal and external — to use cutting-edge digital platforms to reach your audience where they already are.
  5. Measure your results and fine-tune your tactics to make a bigger splash.

Seen any particularly inspiring campaigns lately? Fill us in!

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The blueprint for successful web design


The blueprint for successful web design

Before jumping into the execution of any project, one of the most important things to have is a plan. Planning ahead helps create a clear path that is driven by strategies and objectives which help lead to desirable outcomes. It is often said, “If you are not planning ahead, plan to fail.” When it comes to web design, the best way to not fail is to plan your project around strategy objectives and follow a tried-and-true design process. A crucial part of that process is wireframing, which is the first step in shaping the site itself and reflects the project strategy and content organization in a tangible medium.

Wireframes are used to establish the content organization and structure, as well as the interaction architecture of a site before moving into visual design. In terms of a complete design process, wireframing falls after both the content strategy and site map have been developed, and before the visual design and development phases.

Generally, wireframes are presented in either sketch or digital form, and stripped of any design elements (graphics, logos, photography, color, etc) beyond what is necessary to understand what is being outlined in the wireframes. Take this scenario as a baseline example of best practice: it is not valuable in the wireframe stage to decide whether a button should be red or blue, but it is valuable to use shades of gray to indicate active/inactive states, hierarchy, or other information).  

There are three main reasons why wireframes should consistently be a part of the design process.

  • Low-touch design makes it easier to experiment, explore, and generate multiple ways to arrange layout and content hierarchy.  This makes it easier to conduct iterative user testing on a variety of layouts, allowing the designer to narrow in on the solutions that work best.

  • Rapid prototyping and running user tests with wireframes is an efficient way to study how well user interactions and flows are working while allowing for the ability to make revisions on the fly.

  • Wireframes are great to review with clients as a way to confirm content hierarchy and site functionality will meet client needs and align with communication goals while the design itself is still flexible.

The ultimate goal for wireframing is to get stakeholder buy-in and approval on content structure and hierarchy, as well as interactions and high-level layouts. Once this approval is given, designers are free to narrow their focus on the visual design stage, confident they are building on top of a strong foundation.

Want to see how some of your favorite websites look like in the wireframe stage? Check out the links below.

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