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2020 in review: A year in branding

Meet the brands that are making powerful statements through design.

Best branding of 2020: Matter by Designsake Studio

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The best branding does more than convey a cohesive and aesthetic visual identity. Today more than ever, consumers expect brands to take a stand on social and cultural issues, using their influence to drive positive change.

This opens the door for designers to build brands with meaningful and powerful missions, as they respond to major cultural conversations and use their skills to raise awareness, alter perceptions and send strong messages of solidarity and support.

As the year draws to a close, we look back at exceptional examples of brand design created by designers worldwide to support pressing causes.

Best brand design of 2020

Koto for Back Market

Operating at the intersection of brand and digital, Koto is an independent design agency working from their studios in Berlin, London and Los Angeles. They collaborate with businesses of all scales, from small startups to global household names like Airbnb Plus and Venmo.

With tech obsolescence becoming a growing issue, Koto was instantly keen to work with Back Market, the leading marketplace for refurbished devices. Instead of creating a brand with an obvious ecological aesthetic, they decided to take a bolder and more rebellious approach, turning to the world of pirates for inspiration.

Influenced by Sam Conliff’s book, Be More Pirate, the team were fascinated by the self authored “pirate codes” through which crews would organize and govern. The designers decided to write their own code centered around three core concepts: rebel, redistribute and reimagine. This went on to become the brand’s mission statement, as well as to dictate their visual identity.

The branding and messaging combine to reflect the idea of “screw new,” using bold, frank visuals and a humorous, down-to-earth tone. Approaching the serious topic of tech obsolescence in a light-hearted and accessible way, Koto positions Back Market as a small protest against the system.

“If the tech giants are doing this, we’ll do the opposite. They use white, we’ll use black; they use an inexpressive sans serif, we’ll use a super distinctive serif; they’re quiet and functional, we’ll be loud and bold.”

Best branding of 2020: Koto's visual identity for Back Market


Both& is a new apparel brand tailored for and by the trans/gnc community. Founded by Finnegan Shepard, it aspires to bring visibility and voice to a community that is continuously under-designed for. With many clothing options for trans and nonbinary people being either highly functionality-focused, or else branded specfically around being trans or nonbinary, Both& aspires to create clothing that is comfortable, stylish and sexy.

Finnegan launched the brand earlier this year, working on the visual strategy with design director Liron Eldar-Ashkenazi, aka LIŔONA, and art director and photographer Mischa de Stroumillo. From the get-go, the team saw personal experience and storytelling as integral to the brand and its visual language. They regularly interview and photograph members of the community, bringing their stories to the forefront and highlighting the brand’s human-centric approach.

With words being central to the project, LIŔONA placed a particular emphasis on typography within the brand design. The goal was to contrast a cool, queer vibe with a sense of sophistication and simplicity. This is reflected in the typography as well as the color palette that merges lime and violet with more neutral tones.

The chic logotype adopts two different typefaces while giving a subtle nod to the world of fashion. Additional typographic elements use a quirky mono typeface with a justified alignment. “We wanted the typographic system to be clear but also to prompt double-takes, in the way that gender non conforming bodies and identities resist easy and immediate classification,” explains LIŔONA.

This balance between elegance and queer aesthetics also comes across in Mischa’s photography. Photographing people who have mostly never modeled before, her fundamental goal is to make them feel as comfortable as possible. “We are trying to give voice and visibility to this community, and that means capturing them as themselves, whether that is laughing, being insecure, awkward, or sexy,” Mischa notes.

By shooting only on film, she is forced to be patient and wait for the moments when the subjects open up. It also means she can produce high quality photographs with a granularity that gives the shots a classy and slightly old-school feeling. The result is a fashion aesthetic, combined with a very natural, everyday authenticity.