If asked to describe a children’s literacy organization, "electric" would be an unlikely word choice. That’s because for the most part, literacy programs have a reputation for being important and noble, if a bit dull. For 45-year-old Reading is Fundamental, however, New York agency Mother added some much-needed wattage to its staid and conventional branding.
The main goal with the rebrand was to modernize RIF, an organization that provides 4 million children with 15 million new, free books and literacy resources each year, and create an identity that would elicit an emotional connection from kids and adults alike.
“Reading is Fundamental is less about teaching kids how to read but fostering a love and hunger for reading” says Mother’s head of new business Krystle Loyland. “A love of reading can really spark ambition in a kid’s life to help them continue to learn for a lifetime. So we determined that the target audience was really parents with young kids in the house, because whether you could afford books for your kids or not, you understand the power of reading and what it does.”
More than a logo redesign, Mother created an entirely new visual language for RIF that is charged with color, art, and energy, an excellent companion to a brand that aims to spark ambition and a lifelong love of reading. With a vibrant blue-and-yellow color palette, the rebrand revolves around an approachable book-shaped logo that serves as a highly malleable design device.
Mother art director Christian Cervantes says the new identity is intended to capture the magic that comes from a child being able to choose and own her own books, which for many in underserved communities, where an average of only 1 in 300 children own a book, is a unique experience. “We wanted this brand identity to capture that enthusiasm and optimism and power and love of reading. We wanted people to have an emotional connection to the brand, so in creating the identity we wanted it to appeal to their inner child,” he says, adding that connection was adults was equally important, as RIF relies heavily on patrons and donors. “We wanted to develop a brand that people would be proud to wear or be a part of as opposed to feel obligated to give money too.”
Aside from the lively colors and modernized logo, Mother created a proprietary typeface and commissioned artists Steven Harrington, Mark Giglio, Todd St. John, Dan Stiles, and Elena Xausa to create a set of fun and whimsical characters to sit atop the logo.
“If you look at the original mark it had a smiley face in it. We felt like it was a bit limited. So our intention was to create a mark that had the flexibility but could also have these faces and characters that people can identify with,” Cervantes says. In fact, people connected with the characters so much, RIF staff duked it out to claim certain icons for their business cards. Additionally, the artists were asked to create whimsical art that would fill the book logo, with the intention of creating an image library the brand could use on all forms of communication. “We wanted every facet of the identity to be ownable and distinctive so that when they do communicate, whether the logo is there or not, the logo, the type, the illustrations all tell you it’s the RIF world.”
Unfortunately for RIF, the need to create an identity that would place them top of mind in their category became even more dire as news that its government funding was being cut came just as Mother was in the process of the redesign.
“That was a curveball that made the crisis more urgent,” says Loyland. “So with the identity and advertising we’re trying to help them become less dependent on federal funding and more independent and open to micro-donations. In order to do that we need to make them an appealing, relevant brand to folks like you and me.”