When Ben Ostrower founded Wide Eye 12 years ago to provide design services to purpose-driven organizations, he was something of an outlier. Though the Obama presidential campaign of 2008 had shown the value of design and branding in politics, there were still few agencies that were devoted to the space. “The original vision of Wide Eye was this refusal to accept that purpose-driven organizations—folks who are doing grassroots organizing, campaign work, nonprofit fundraising, public affairs work—are less deserving of good design than major corporations,” says Ostrower, who serves as Wide Eye’s creative director.
Today, it’s a different story. Progressive organizations and nonprofits are using design and branding in increasingly sophisticated ways to do what they’ve long done: declare their values and inspire people to action. And corporate brands, pressed by consumers to take a stand on issues, are taking cues from the nonprofit world. “They have to speak their values and [issue] calls to action in a way that they never really did before,” says Ostrower. He cites, as an example, Airbnb’s buzzed-about “We Accept” Super Bowl ad from 2017, which was created just days after then President Trump signed an executive order closing borders to people from predominantly Muslim countries.
With more companies wearing their missions on their sleeves, the purpose-driven organizations that Wide Eye works with—past clients include MoveOn, Crisis Text Line, World Wildlife Fund, and the ACLU—have to find new ways to stand out. “We live in a world where everything is branded, everything is noise, and everything is trying to get people to act and do something and engage,” Ostrower says. “There’s a degree to which people get fatigued by that.”
Wide Eye, which has traditionally been known for designing websites and logos, now extends its creative services into a variety of areas, “from websites to social media, email to print,” says Ostrower. The company is as attentive branding physical spaces as it is Zoom backgrounds—all in the service of looking for smart and clever ways, he says, “to break through that noise.”
Here’s a look at some of Wide Eye’s signature work from the past year.
The Project: Reform Alliance, a criminal justice organization founded by Meek Mill, Jay-Z, and 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin, tapped Wide Eye to reimagine and refresh its website and brand.
The Challenge: Reform Alliance needed a website that educates people on criminal justice issues and delivers a sense of urgency, but still feels warm and approachable enough to draw in potential new advocates.
The Approach: “Advocacy design work can sometimes [look] loud,” says former Wide Eye associate creative director Ida Woldemichael. To create an experience that appeals to people who may be new to issues surrounding probation and parole, the firm decided to combine more traditional calls to action with elements that tapped into the organization’s storytelling and hip-hop roots.
The Execution: The team designed and built a landing page that’s full of intimate portraits accompanied by people’s stories. Eye-catching splashes of electric yellow contrast with the otherwise black-and-cream color palette, signaling the moments where readers can take action.
Virtual March on Washington
The Project: NAACP turned to Wide Eyes to create a brand and digital site for its Virtual March on Washington, to be held in August 2020, in the wake of worldwide Black Lives Matter protests.
The Challenge: The organization wanted to honor the 1963 March on Washington and nod to its own century of advocacy, while reaching out to a new generation of activists, ages 20 to 40.
The Approach: Wide Eye looked for visual cues that would signal the meeting of past and present in the virtual march. The team also created special digital elements, like custom Zoom backgrounds for HBCUs, that participants could use and disseminate.
The Execution: The team created collages that mix old and new photos and deployed metallic and jewel tones throughout the site to signal the march’s legacy. For the logo, they used the Bayard typeface, which is named for Bayard Rustin, who helped organize the 1963 march, and inspired by the posters of the ’60s civil rights movement.
Democratic National Convention
The Project: Wide Eye originally came aboard to help develop convention’s digital identity, an effort that was led by Zero Studios. (They came up with visual system that was inspired by the motto for host state Wisconsin, “forward.”) When the gathering went virtual, Wide Eye’s mandate expanded.
The Challenge: When it became clear that the event would be virtual, the DNC tasked Wide Eye with creating a digital hub for the livestreamed event that could accommodate four days of programming, resources and toolkits for attendees, online actions, and millions of simultaneous page views.
The Approach: Wide Eye set three priorities: Make the website secure, accessible, and able to handle millions of simultaneous streams. “We invested a lot of technical expertise in the site,” says Ostrower. “The better we do on this kind of project, the more our work is invisible.”
The Execution: The website was bilingual and offered a rich experience for visually impaired users. Wide Eye worked with the nonprofit Beyond Vision to ensure the site met accessibility standards. It was engineered to withstand traffic spikes and security breaches.
The White House
The Project: Wide Eye created a digital-first White House brand, centered around whitehouse.gov.
The Challenge: An unusually tight time frame: With the former president refusing to concede, the transition website was delayed, and Wide Eye wasn’t able to start work on whitehouse.gov until the second week in December.
The Approach: After a tumultuous election, Wide Eye sought to convey stability and competency through the website. The team leaned on more somber visuals, to signal the weight of the moment, while ensuring the site’s functionality and ease of use.
The Execution: A blueprint-style White House logo reminds people of the goal to “build back better,” while typographer Jonathan Hoefler’s classic-looking serif typeface, Mercury, offers a sense of trust and gravitas. The website’s text can be enlarged, and pages load quickly.
See more from Fast Company’s 2021 Innovation by Design Awards. Our new book, Fast Company Innovation by Design: Creative Ideas That Transform the Way We Live and Work (Abrams, 2021), is on sale now.