In the summer of 2020, the Associated Press announced it was changing its style guide to capitalize Black when referring to race, ethnicity, or culture. Now a Black news startup is embracing the capital letter B—with bold branding to match.
Aptly named Capital B, the digital media company launched on January 31 with a focus on news and investigative reporting for Black audiences. The site is less than a month old, but its design draws inspiration from a host of midcentury legacy Black publications and ’90s music videos. As a result, it feels subtly rooted in history, while the contemporary logo brings it into the 21st century.
Founded by Lauren Williams, former editor-in-chief of Vox, and Akoto Ofori-Atta, former managing editor of nonprofit news site The Trace, Capital B seeks to fill a news gap at a time when “misinformation and disinformation are rising,” as Williams recently told The Verge. As a result, many Black communities have lost trust in traditional media.
The brand identity was designed by strategic and creative consultancy Matter Unlimited, with the goal of inspiring trust among Black communities. One of the most visible elements of the proposal is the company’s logo, which spells out Capital B in a bold, sans serif font. This sets it apart from other Black-centered news sites, like The Root, whose serif-font wordmark is more old-fashioned and reminiscent of the past. “We wanted something that was punchy and heavy that stood out,” says Frank William Miller Jr., design director at Matter Unlimited.
The wordmark is defined by a hefty, stretched-out B that gives the title an undeniable presence. “I wanted an on-the-nose statement,” Miller says. “It taps into the idea of taking space.” The wide B makes a bold statement about the place Black people hold in the world, but it’s also a playful element that can become a stamp on a business card, a stand-alone logo on social media, or even a sandbox for marketing within the letter’s enlarged voids.
The site’s overall tone is modern, with a muted color palette that shies away from the kinds of colors often found on African flags, like red, black, and green. (Instead, colors include a dark gray, a warm orange, and a desaturated teal, which Miller says “add gravity to what we’re doing.”)
To instill a sense of trust in readers, however, the designers wanted to tap into Black history. Miller says he was inspired by Black publications like Ebony, which launched in 1945 for an African American audience, and its sister publication, Jet, which in the 1950s was billed as “The Weekly Negro News Magazine.” Both magazines had expressive wordmark logos, but what struck Miller was the way they portrayed Black people (“aspirationally, but also normal”) and how they shot and framed them inside the pages. “All of those things were rumbling at the back of my brain,” he says.
Music played a huge role, too—particularly the way liner notes were designed in the mid-to-late ’90s. “There’s usually a lot of dense compact info and they have to make it engaging,” Miller says of the credits, acknowledgments, and sometimes lyrics that graced the back of every album cover. “That’s how I think of newspapers,” he says.
All of these elements are subtly woven together to help paint an authentic picture of Black culture and Black communities, which major media outlets far too often portray as poor and dysfunctional. As Matter Unlimited’s managing director, Isis Dallis, wrote in a Fast Company article last year: “The words and images we create and choose to circulate create powerful mental associations that define how we perceive each other and the world around us.”
In the case of Capital B, diverse messaging and a multifaceted brand identity are a key part of the offering. “There is such range and dimensions to the diaspora, we made sure that the imagery we were using, and the color palette, were reflective of that range,” Dallis says. “So we weren’t contributing to a narrow stereotype of what Black people look like, respond to, and the energy we bring forward.”