Penn Spark (2021)

Rebranding Penn's tech and design community

Overview

Established in Spring 2021, Spark is a community of student developers and designers at the University of Pennsylvania that builds both creative and client projects. As a founding member and external vice president, I led our visual rebrand from Penn Creative Labs to Penn Spark by creating branding guidelines, designing a new website, and revamping our social media and marketing assets.

Timeline

4 months (Summer + Dec 2021)

Team

3 students

Role

Brand Design, Web Design, Social Media Design

Tools

Figma

Background

Reflecting on our first semester as a club, we took note of several areas for improvement, and first was a reevaluation of our branding and visual identity. With the overlap with similar-sounding clubs on campus, we decided to rebrand to Penn Spark, a name which we feel captures the creativity and passion that we hope to inspire in students while leaving room for future growth as a club for both beginner and experienced developers and designers. This rename sparked discussions about a visual rebrand to present ourselves as a creative, yet professional club that emphasizes creative, web-based solutions.

Timeline

June 2021

Phase out old logo and establish new brand system

July 2021

Develop new visual system

August 2021

Design new website

December 2021

Revise and reflect on visual system

 01 — Penn Creative Labs

Problem Space

1 — Narrow theme that represent the diversity of thought

2 — More consistent and inclusive visual system

3 — No brand management or organizational system for marketing assets

Previous Visual System

When we initially branded ourselves as Penn Creative Labs, we strived for a playfulness that would reflect that we were beginner friendly, a rarity among technical clubs at Penn. Thus, we had a smiling sprite as our logo with bright coral, teal, and green as our main color palette with an oatmeal cream color and black for our neutrals. However, this proved to appeal to a narrow audience. Reflecting on these designs, we felt there was a lack of professionalism and that the designs seemed too "cute," making it difficult to pitch ourselves to potential clients to work with. In addition, based on our Spring 2021 applicants, we saw that there was significantly more female-identifying applicants than male applicants, leading us to further believe that the audience our brand appealed to was narrow.

Inspiration & Moodboard

We centered our design objective around capturing both beginner-friendliness and professionalism and ensuring scalability for use in variety of settings. We had sustainability in mind, wanting to create a brand that wouldn't age poorly and could be used over and over. We knew that we wanted to embody a sort of playfulness with our color choices, yet be grounded in our visual messaging. Throughout the process, we took inspiration from several other websites and organizations.
 02 — Rebranding to Penn Spark

With playfulness and profesionalism in mind, we created a new logo to supplement out new name and decided on typefaces and colors that would make up our brand.

Logo


Our rebrand team threw around several logo concepts. Many iterations later (and after a vote), we settled on a logo that I designed! The logo features a lightbulb with a spark, or flame, in the middle. The lightbulb represents our dedication to accessible education--we hope to spark new ideas and excite people of all experience levels, especially beginners. The flame in the center alludes to our passion to build a community at Penn, rather than just a club. Community is at the center of what we as a student organization do and how we work. Beyond just collaboration inside the classroom, we also strongly value the social relationships that our members share.

Typeface


We looked at three typefaces that we had previously used in graphics as a starting point for choosing the main typeface to work with. Right away, to capture the modern, technical nature of our club, we knew we wanted to work with a sans-serif typeface. The first typeface we looked at was Karla, an open-source, grotesque sans-serif typeface designed by Jonathan Pinhorn. We found that the kearning looked a bit off and because the spacing is set a bit too wide, it was difficult to read on longer documents. However, we liked the modern quirkiness of the font. The final typeface we looked at was Menlo, a monospaced sans-serif typeface designed by Jim Lyles. We liked how the font resembled fonts used in coding, but felt that this took away from our club as a joint tech and design community. We decided on HK Grotesk, a sans serif typeface inspired from the classical grotesques that is friendly and approachable, but also designed for body text. We liked the versitility of the font, yet the font still had character, and thus we decided on this typeface.

Colors


Our primary colors were derived from our school colors, red and blue, to reflect the two branches of our club that resulted from our change in structure: Spark Red, teams of advanced designers and developers who create creative and client projects, and Spark Blue, begineers who participate in a student-taught, 6-week bootcamp before completing a 4-week team project. Our third primary color, purple, points to the combination of red and blue, our club united. The secondary colors were supplementary colors, with bright yellows and greens to contrast the blue and red and lighter hues of red and blue.
03 — Dynamic Website

With a rebrand and updated internal structure, we needed a new website to represent our new bold vision.

Features

Landing Page

Hamburger Menu

Graphic Elements

Horizontal Scroll

04 — Our Visual System

Our final step was to market our refreshed organization to the Penn community! This called for new illustrations and graphics to share.

Marketing Our Club


Keeping in mind the design objectives and values, our graphics got an upgrade. Our new graphic style includes minimalist and flat designs, with limited approach to colour use, minimal shading, bold line work, and simplified linear illustrations. We were drawn to this style of illustration and graphic design as offers clean, stylish and easy to read design outcomes which are easily translated across every design format, especially the web. With this style of illustration and graphic design, we wanted our marketing assets, like flyers and social media graphics, to feel like our own, professional, yet playful.

Social Media


Navigating a hybrid semester, with general club meetings and informational sessions being held online, we had a lot of motivation to utilize social media for announcements, meeting reminders, and club member highlights. Thus, we decided to use Instagram as a primary channel for marketing and communication, using our minimalist and flat design graphic style to create custom posts and graphics.
05 — Takeaways

Closing Notes

With this rebrand, we hoped to create an identity that more accurately represented our members and our vision. Spark is an ever-evolving collaborative that grows with the people in it, and that’s the kind of creative flexibility that will continue to drive our organization.

Personally, I had a lot of fun delving into this rebrand to reflect one of my favorite communities on campus. From obsessing over typefaces to creating a more cohesive visual brand with custom illustrations, I'm extremely proud of where we have come as a club and am excited to keep improving and pushing our designs!