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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

Featured image 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.

“I felt that there was a lack of clothing options for trans and nonbinary folks. We needed a brand that was simultaneously inclusive and body positive but also aspirational, sleek and elegant.”

- Finnegan Shepard

Best branding of 2020: Both& apparel
Design direction by Liron Eldar-Ashkenazi aka LIŔONA; Photography by Mischa de Stroumillo.

Pentagram for Remember Who Made Them

The work of multi-disciplinary design studio Pentagram spans over five decades, encompassing everything from branding to exhibition and sound design. The studio’s unique structure is made up of 24 partners across the globe, all of whom co-own the business, create the work along with their teams and serve as the main contact for each client.

London-based designers and Pentagram partners Naresh Ramchandani and Luke Powell were approached by Remember Who Made Them (RWMT), an organization supporting garment workers around the world. Grateful to have the opportunity to support an important social cause through creativity, the team felt this was a crucial moment to help energize a new solidarity economy in fashion. The onset of Covid-19 exacerbated an already pressing issue, leading to fashion brands canceling orders and delaying payments, putting millions of garment workers’ lives at risk.

Following this newfound urgency, their aim was to demonstrate to consumers the extent of the problem and to encourage them to buy less and to buy responsibly. Interweaving illustrations and a bold, colorful language, the brand identity appeals to a young audience, helping communicate important and complex messages in an engaging, easy-to-understand way.

“The language used throughout plays a key part in the brand identity – the tone is designed to reflect the accessible, informative voice of online, youthful activism.”

Best branding of 2020: Pentagram's visual identity for Remember Who Made Them

Human After All for the Climate Group

Human After All is a London-based design agency with a mission to use business as a force for good. Placing their values of reason and empathy at the heart of every project, they work with some of the world’s most influential tech companies with the hope of crafting a better future. The Climate Group is one of the leading organizations the agency partners with, alongside Facebook, HBO and more.

Working directly with business and government leaders, the Climate Group uses its networking power to spark action and drive real progress. They approached Human After All with the task of creating a new identity for their master brand that would tie together and support their many sub-brands.

The agency’s goal was to craft a sense of urgency around climate action and strengthen the group’s position as a central force in the battle to halt climate change. The existing red degree symbol became the focal point of the visual language. A series of animated behaviors brings it to life and portrays a bold, trusted and practical personality.

“The idea was to extend the climate symbol so that it formed part of the brand’s visual language, using it to reflect key traits: collaboration, speed and scale.”

Best branding of 2020: Human After All's visual identity for the Climate Group

Human After All for HBO’s “Human By Orientation”

Another major project that design agency Human After All worked on this year was the branding for Human by Orientation, HBO’s cultural hub for queer communities. The studio was excited at the prospect of collaborating with a premium brand that has earned their status through years of quality programming, in order to create a meaningful platform with a purpose.

With the aim of defining new societal norms through celebrating and promoting queer culture, the studio came up with a central branding idea titled “blurring the lines.” They used colorful gradients based on the iconic rainbow flag to reflect fluidity in people’s choices around sexuality. The resulting brand design is a powerful and optimistic celebration of free choice and acceptance.

“The branding symbolizes how you don’t need to define your orientation or gender: you can be proudly queer without giving yourself a label and range freely across the whole spectrum.”

Best branding of 2020: Human After All's visual identity for HBO's Human by Orientation

Relajaelcoco for MO de Movimiento

Madrid-based design studio Relajaelcoco are always looking for emotional stories and important causes to support through their work. They’ve collaborated with many local and global brands on projects covering a wide range of disciplines, from data visualization to branding and VR.

Collaborating with sustainable restaurant MO de Movimiento gave them the opportunity to bring together two of their biggest passions: design and food, while supporting a valuable cause. They developed a visual identity to support the restaurant’s key values of sustainability, social inclusion and empowerment of marginalized groups.

Relajaelcoco wanted to create a brand that would reflect sensitivity and the restaurant’s openness to react to an ever-changing environment and circumstances. They used the motif of flour, a central ingredient in the restaurant’s menu, to depict various elements responding to one another and dispersing into flour particles when coming into contact.

Staying in line with the restaurant’s use of recycled materials and locally sourced produce, the resulting brand design exudes authenticity and an elegant simplicity that strengthens their message.

“We were drawn to the philosophy behind the project and its emphasis on sustainability and social inclusion. The process was a huge multidisciplinary experience allowing us to be part of a mechanism transforming an ambitious idea into a consistent brand.”

Best branding of 2020: Relajaelcoco's visual identity for sustainable restaurant MO de Movimiento

Matter by Designsake Studio

Designsake Studio is a San Francisco-based agency that recently launched Matter, a safe and sustainable protective coating for packages and products. By leveraging their expertise in the field, they were able to come up with an innovative solution that uses silver ion technology to provide protection by reducing damaging microbes.

With many of us stockpiling on endless disinfectant products and embarking on lengthy hygiene routines, the studio notes that these new rituals yield more landfill waste. What’s more, these new shifts in consumer attitudes and behaviors don’t provide long-term solutions that address our fears about the products we interact with. These observations led to the creation of Matter, an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective alternative.

Now officially on the market, Matter has already been adopted for the packing of skincare company Kulia. Designsake Studio hope that their initiative will start a bigger conversation around better packaging in a post-pandemic world.

The Matter branding is clean and simple, a world away from the classic aesthetics of disinfectant products. Designsake Studio has worked in subtle science-inspired visuals while conveying a friendly and familiar tone of voice.

“We asked ourselves, what if brands could provide protection from high-touch surfaces? What would this mean for packaging as a communication tool for companies? These questions gave birth to Matter.”

Best branding of 2020: Matter by Designsake Studio

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