With its new brand, one of the most influential funders in the world cedes the spotlight to its grantees who advance justice.
Ford Foundation has a long history of providing essential funding for social justice movements and creative expression. Ford was instrumental in supporting litigation during the American civil rights era of the 1960’s, founding PBS and Sesame Street, establishing the field of legal aid, and advancing rights for historically excluded communities. Today, with an endowment of billions of dollars and offices in various continents, Ford continues to provide steadfast support for innovative ideas, individuals, and institutions that strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement—all with a focus on ending inequality.
Ford Foundation recognized that their brand identity, last updated in 2008, needed to be redefined to reflect their values and work as an organization rooted in social justice and fighting inequality. In a world reeling from multiple crises, where inequality continues to rise and democratic values and human rights are under threat, they needed their brand to clarify their position and focus on uplifting the stories of their grantees, their innovative solutions, and the communities they serve. They also wanted their brand to adapt for digital expression. Our team was asked to create a modern, digitally native brand with an emphasis on accessibility that would lift up the grassroots work of the grantees they support.
Our work aimed to transform Ford's identity from one of a legacy institution to one that is a supporter and partner to social justice activists and organizations across the world. The world Ford operates in is neither simple nor static. It is a system characterized by chaos and unpredictability, constantly in flux. The players are moving at various speeds, bouncing off each other, cooperating, competing, and approaching challenges from different perspectives. Together, Ford and its grantees are part of the larger mosaic of actors who all work for justice. The new brand focuses on revealing that mosaic by lifting up the stories of Ford’s grantees—the visionaries on the frontlines of social change—and their efforts to end inequality.
Introducing Ford Foundation's new brand identity
Unveiling Ford's new brand was a great opportunity to remind the world about their role in the ecosystem of social movements. Ford steadfastly supports the work of visionaries on the frontlines of social change. They are committed to sharing their first-hand stories with the world as a reminder that change is possible. We worked with the great folks at Reed Words on scriptwriting, and with our longtime collaborator, Christian Mroczka on animation and sound production.
The core brand idea
After many fruitful conversations and workshops with the Ford team, we landed on a core brand idea for our work: Ford mobilizes ideas, individuals, and institutions to advance justice and hope in multitudes. This phrase is not intended as a mission statement, but rather as a guiding concept for the brand’s visual expression. Ford works with diverse actors and organizations, across different geographies and theories of change, to exponentially multiply justice.
An expansive and energetic verb to symbolize all the diverse ways in which Ford funds, convenes, facilitates, and transforms.
2. Ideas, Individuals, and institutions
The three dimensions across which Ford works.
The arc of the moral universe bends towards justice and Ford plays an active role in pulling that arc forward, supporting the frontline, and advancing it.
The end-game, the north star that drives all that Ford do: “justice starts where inequality ends.”
The most scarce currency of all, critical to fueling the long-game.
The exponential impact Ford has, the multiplier effect created by the combination of their unique differentiators.
A storytelling approach
Ford brings unwavering focus, discernment, and steadiness to the complex work of justice. Ford’s brand serves as a platform to broadcast the inspiring stories of grantees working in their local geographies to demonstrate, day in and day out, that change is possible. The brand’s visual language aims to project the gravitas and integrity social justice movements deserve.
A confident new logo
Ford Foundation’s new logo conveys the dignified restraint of a timeless institution. The word mark strips away the UN-like trappings of Ford’s former logo and confidently relies on the power of the organization’s name to communicate its identity. The condensed serif typeface is highly legible in small digital contexts as well as large physical ones.
The Ford monogram
For very small uses and social media avatars, we modified the letter “F”, adding balance and sturdiness, to create a monogram.
The understated logo allows for Ford to easily extend its brand to meet the demands of its different initiatives, creating a consistent brand architecture.
Ford Foundation partners with many organizations to further the work of its grantees. Ford's new logo makes it easy to visually communicate balanced partnerships.
An abundance of color
Ford’s color palette was drawn from the abundance of nature, adding warmth and vibrancy to the brand’s visual language and reflecting the physical world in which the work happens. The neutral colors in the palette were inspired by the world of journalism. Special care was placed on selecting colors that allowed for a broad variety of accessibility-friendly combinations.
Typography with gravitas
The brand’s type specimen includes three families: Meursault by Universal Thirst, designed to be used as headline type in newspapers and magazines; Domaine Text by Klim Type Foundry, an elegant, contemporary serif for highly legible body copy; and Good Sans by Good Type Foundry, a mid-century neo-grotesque sans serif for subheads and calls to action.
Ford’s theory of change
The circle motif, present in the monogram and throughout the brand language provides a visual throughline from Ford’s previous identity. In order to illustrate their theory of change—investing in ideas, individuals, and institutions—the circle shape is employed to illustrate the multiplier effect of Ford’s approach.
A mosaic of social justice leaders
The idea that Ford and their grantees are pieces in a larger, layered mosaic of social change work, is alluded to in the visual identity. By zooming out and seeing the variety of actors Ford supports, the visual language helps to convey Ford’s broad perspective of social justice ecosystems.
A flexible design system for digital storytelling
The brand's layout system for print, digital, and video communication is flexible and evocative of newspaper design. It features a clear text hierarchy and a line motif resembling the letter "F" that guides the viewer's gaze and creates a dynamic feeling of connection.
Starting with Accessibility
Building a new system with accessibility and inclusion at the forefront were non-negotiable for Ford going into the rebrand. Accessibility specialists The Constellation Collective collaborated with us and Ford on a number of initiatives: formalizing the communication team's approach, providing training and tools, and setting expectations and standards for the visual design. Readability, clarity, contrast, alt text, video strategy, layout, and photography were all taken into consideration throughout the brand development process. The result is a brand system that is accessible by design — but the process of launching and maintaining accessible communications will be an ongoing effort.
Illustrating the complexities of Ford’s work
Ford uses illustrated explainer videos to explain its complex social justice funding and strategic initiatives. We created a unique illustration style that allows for flexible storytelling spanning between abstract and concrete depictions of the concepts they want to convey and the people affected by them.
A multitude of brand applications
Rolling out a new brand for an institution with hundreds of employees and offices around the world is no small task. From small applications like business cards and letterheads to large ones like office signage and environmental graphics, and from functional applications like maintenance staff uniforms to fun swag for staff, Ford Foundation’s brand has been fully transformed.
- Christian Mroczka
- Reed Words
- Constellation Collective