How a Strategist Evolves the Design of Advocacy

Kelly Johnson has become a master of rebranding.

It all started in college at the University of Mississippi where she studied broadcast journalism, but preferred to spend time in the editing bay putting together packages. Then an internship on former Senator Kelly Ayotte (R)’s 2016 re-election in New Hampshire brought her into the world of graphic design.

She ended up learning the programs and then went on a creative career path that led to a nearly four-year stint at the RNC. His time on the committee culminated with Johnson leading a name change as creative director.

Three months ago, she joined Narrative Strategies as a senior graphic designer, where she now leads rebrandings for companies and groups.

C&E: Tell us about the discovery process you go through during these rebrandings?

Johnson: I think a face-to-face environment really helps to see what they’re talking about and what they want. I think a really big driving force is, where does the company want to go? They might have this brand that might be outdated, that might have been adjusted over the last five or ten years, but what do their members or customers look like right now?

What do they want them to look like in 5-10 years? So it takes a lot of research on the front-end. We have an amazing team, people helping us with this research and for the creative team to really focus on creating concepts, designing, choosing colors, choosing fonts, all that fun stuff.

C&E: Is the process different for an advocacy group versus a business?

Johnson: I think for an advocacy group, it’s not just about the organization that you represent, but also the people that [the group] represented. It should only be people.

So even though the group is focused on, for example, building infrastructure, it has that personal touch and has a face in mind. Who are we trying to represent here? I think it’s really important to make sure that each brand has its own style. We do interviews with team members and ask them, how does this color make you feel? How does this font make you feel? It all comes down to how personal a brand can be.

C&E: How long do brand changes usually take?

Johnson: Ideally, you would have a year to do this. But I would say 3-6 months is the norm. But I don’t think it’s a fixed time. It’s about trying to go as fast as possible without hurting the designs. It depends on the client, it depends on the team.

C&E: What is the recommended timing for a rebrand?

Johnson: my last job [as creative director] At the RNC, one of the last things I was able to work on was the rebranding of the RNC, which was significant. There really hasn’t been much done since at least 2016, but I think before that. So it was the first time in many years that they wanted to change the colors, they wanted to change the fonts. I would say most companies 5-10 years is when they would like to do a complete rebrand based on how old they are.

C&E: Fonts are so important in advocacy design, tell us about the trends you see in them.

Johnson: People really like them – I’ll call them old style – but more like old fashioned professional fonts like a good Times New Roman. They like a Baskerville, which I think is something interesting and I had to grow as a designer to get to this point and be like, “Okay, that’s a font that I have I’ve seen it all my life, but people really like it. They like that professional, sleek look.

People are not afraid to use colors. They want to stick with that kind of classic old-school typeface, but they’re not afraid to throw in a neon yellow when needed. It’s cool to see from an advocacy perspective.

C&E: Have you observed any other trends?

Johnson: You see these groups using much more modern design styles and a multitude of secondary color palettes. It’s a big trend I’ve seen.

There are also a lot of block printed designs that I see. Earthy textures. Also, transform this concept of using real images of a person or a building and then add design elements to that. It keeps people grounded in reality, but it adds a bit of fun with those extra design elements. There are a lot of collage moods, a lot of paper textures, a lot of natural textures. I think people have been indoors for so long due to covid that these kind of natural patterns and textures are finding people. “Hey, there is an exterior. Go adopt it in your design work.

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