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RPR Brand Assessment


KEY THEMES
We’ve looked at A22 campaigns’ design in terms of semiotics, use of wit, simplicity of form, layout, UX, readability, cut-through, audience appropriateness and overall design value. From this we’ll be putting forward:
A noticeable correlation between campaigns which have developed an extra high profile, and the deployment of high design values - in the A22 space, and beyond.
RPR design values sit at the low end of the A22 range by the above criteria.
A well integrated RPR identity and comms toolset would benefit the campaign, but also provide a template for future, better-aligned sibling campaigns, as required. This is at the core of a hypothesis which can be put forward.
The site’s brand implementation, UX, and content are poor, though built on a good technical foundation
Briefing for any redesign should clarify target audience, scope etc - but also whether to visually align with high profile A22 campaigns
Redesigned ID and collateral should empower volunteers to create and deploy digital content, posters, banners etc easily and consistently, around some simple parameters.
In criticising existing design and comms assets, no disrespect is meant to those have contributed this mahi which will have been invaluable in establishing the campaign. RPR’s increasing profile demands visual comms steps up and so it’s simply assumed that there’s nothing to be gained by holding back on issues where they lie.

Scope

I’ve been asked to compare the Restore Passenger Rail brand and implementation with that of other A22 groups. Here, I will also include XR on account of its obvious influence (especially on JSO) but aso that it probably has the most intentionally and systematically developed identity.

Theory of Change

Some fundamentals particular to A22 unique campaigning approach have informed this assessment:

Disruption and Alignment

Disruptive protest benefits an entire movement, whereas movements without a disruptive component are too easily ignored. While disruption is more cost-effective in general, that effectiveness will be limited by the degree of alignment overall: Between campaign goal, action targets, target audience, messaging tone, and visual identity.
Alignment between campaign goals and disruption targets is understood to be somewhat out of scope here. However, on account of its relevance to brand and identity and overarching importance, I will touch on it.

Campaigns and Entities

Rather build a unified identity capable of multifaceted campaigns, (as with say… Greenpeace) the campaign is the brandname.

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Some questions will arise out of a disruptive-centric model, where in the course of building public support, some of of the public will also be alienated - so clarity on which section(s) of the public to target will be helpful. (See Target Audience - below)

Definitions

A brand is essentially an audience’s perception and connection to an entity or campaign.
An Identity is the language that an engages an audience - usually thought of as visual language (AKA style) but can be tone in general, audio signature, and arguably also in the case of activist groups, the modes of action.
Visual identity elements can include logo, type, palette, thematic elements such as textures.
Branding as a verb means the creation and nurturing of that perception whereas branding the noun relates more specifically to identity elements.
Design Value is the degree to which design principles have been applied effectively – to communicate the value of the message and brand. e.g. the generous negative space, or strong alignment, use of contrast, repetition etc will typically signal the value of a campaign and its message.
While high design values will tend to increase messaging effectiveness, this can be well complemented by grassroots ‘folk’ design. Examples that come to mind are the Occupy movement and the first Obama campaign - the latter was very responsive to leverage the authenticity and creativity of grassroots supporters.


Target Audience

Successful design process is heavily dependent on designing for a target audience using the visual language which will engage that audience, rather than necessarily what personally appeals to either the stakeholders/client or designer.
In lieu of any briefing on this… Chat GPT is suggesting to me that A22 group’s core target audience breaks down like so:
Activist groups like "Just Stop Oil" and similar environmental or climate-focused movements generally target a broad audience but tend to focus on certain demographics or groups based on their goals and strategies. Here are some of the core target audiences for such groups:
Younger Generations (Millennials and Gen Z): Young people are often at the forefront of climate activism. They have a vested interest in the future of the planet and are more likely to be affected by the long-term consequences of climate change. They're also more active on social media platforms, which play a significant role in modern activism.
Concerned Citizens: Regardless of age, many individuals are becoming more aware of and concerned about environmental issues. These are people who might not be activists but are sympathetic to the cause and can be mobilized to take action.
Policy Makers and Politicians: One of the primary goals of activist groups is to effect change at the policy level. Targeting those in positions of power is crucial to enact systemic change.
Businesses and Corporations: Many environmental activist groups target businesses, especially those in industries with significant carbon footprints, to encourage them to adopt more sustainable practices.
Educational Institutions: Schools, colleges, and universities are hubs for activism. Engaging with students, faculty, and administration can lead to institutional changes and the spread of awareness.
Local Communities: Grassroots movements often focus on local communities, especially those directly affected by environmental issues, like communities near oil refineries, pipelines, or areas affected by deforestation.
Allies from Other Movements: Intersectionality plays a significant role in modern activism. Climate activists often collaborate with activists from other movements, recognizing that many societal issues are interconnected.
Media: Gaining media attention can amplify the message and reach a broader audience. Activist groups often target journalists and media outlets to cover their actions and spread their message.Brand Analysis
I don’t have any attribution for GPT’s audience breakdown but it resonates.

Assessment

Effective design varies substantially across the range of A22 brands. Some of the key areas include logos, websites, and the visual design of the actions themselves.

Identity

Logo

Logo is not necessarily the most important parts of a brand’s identity - in fact some brands function well without any logo, but logos are what most people think of in association with branding, and they are certainly critical for A22 type campaigns, as a memorable and identifiable summation of purpose.
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There’s substantial variation in effectiveness across this range. (Note this layout does not factor to compensate to balance optical scale)

LOGO PARAMETERS TO CONSIDER
Wit - double meanings graphical puns etc - wit is can be effective graphically even with serious topics, because it invites users to engage at a deeper level to decode a secondary message.
Simplicity of form
Readability - not unrelated to…
Cut through - standing out in a busy visual environment
Visual Language - appropriate to Target Audience. We might think of this as being synonymous with ‘style’ - but designers prefer to talk in terms of visual language because it references what is going on at a deeper level. And here we’ll make a crude assumption that our audience is along the lines of the breakdown above, is broad but, being future minded, leans towards modernity, and youth, or at least concerned with the future for youth –  in contrast with revisionist or conservative, and many older people.
Some logos include prominent name and/or tagline text, that will affect overall effectiveness, but we’ll simply assess the other areas in their own right.

BREAKDOWN
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CUT-THROUGH & READABILITY
I’ve comped together some of the compared logos in an action context, with more or less equivalent scale. Such a multi-campaign environment isn’t likely, but visually busy environments are - so this comp serves to indicate how much difference cut-through and readability can make to visual messaging.
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And in a competitive visual environment, the RPR logo is, amongst the weakest of the A22 logos for cut-through.
WHAT MESSAGE IS THE RPR LOGO SENDING?
The logo is mainly looking back. The word ‘Restore’ while possibly unavoidable has an almost MAGA-esque nostalgia about it. As does the tagline. But the slab serif type reinforces a ‘retro’ sensibility, as does the composition. The diamond roadsign form is confusing given we are talking about rail here.
The track element is really the only effective graphic here if the goal is to focus on rail and there is nothing in place if it is also to provoke an audience into thinking about the future. This is one of the most striking contrasts with many other campaign logos.
Reflective consideration of key elements, such as the logo, doubtless developed on the fly, should open up some discussion of RPR’s messaging focus.

Broader Identity Elements

Overall Visual Language

In general the A22 campaign target audiences appear similar. In terms of visual language used, the main variation is between focussed and non-focused - essentially between presenting a clear identity and high design value, vs an unfocused identity and low design value.
Main exception here is with Renovate - where there is a more open, mostly less compressed, more modernist style, though in some areas ‘edgier’, that might appeal to an audience with higher design acuity - and we could speculate that that’s evoking architectural design values, in relation to home renovation; though it might just have been a designers own stylistic leaning. This comes through in the typography and particularly the indexed semiotic thematic elements.
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Again, XR has invested in developing a focused visual language, which beyond the now common use of condensed bold uses has a strong colour palette – evoking optimism, complimented by the sharp angular forms of the logo elements suggesting urgency and disruption. These are very simple components but the XR homepage shows how much design value can be leveraged, just from getting these fundamentals right.
This hints at how, by paring back to a simple, clear, strong design language, RPR could also make a much stronger visual statement, across action collateral, online, socials, posters etc

Colour

At their most graphically effective it’s worth highlighting the qualities of visually engaging disruptions: Colour - specifically in clothing, banners, etc is almost a character in it’s own right.
There is a case for using brand colours based on commonly available clothing and materials used in actions.

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Important to note is that orange, does not print well via common CMYK printers (such as digital print shops - A printed orange comparable with ‘screen orange’ requires pricey offset printing with a dedicated spot PMS colour. Without spot colours, orange prints brown-ish, as in this RPR poster.
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Typography

XR and JSO use the bespoke FUCXED Caps typeface – based on Futura Black Condensed – as a display typeface.
with origins in post-WWI Germany before later use in US political campaigns in the 70’s, and later notably by and feminist art activists .
Condensed typefaces are very useful for logotypes which long words.

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on the other hand uses a more open based on Helvetica, in keeping with its generally seriously modernist design language.
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The RPR Slab Serif typeface itself is strong, then ALL CAPS CASE is not as readable as Title Case or Sentence case, and is inefficient spatially, compared with the condensed faces used by many A22 groups.
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Specifically, long words like Passenger are begging for a condensed typeface - the type on the current logo appears so small - because the typeface is inefficient.
It would be fair to say that FUCXED/Future has become a de-facto identity component for the disruptive climate action movement. The use or non-use of this type family would be a key outcome of any decision as to whether RPR or any local sibling campaign wants identifies with and leverages the ‘collective identity’ established internationally, or present a more unique, local one.

Tagline

“Since 1863” as a tagline feels like a lost opportunity in that it’s not future-focussed. Other groups have made use of taglines. to promote key arguments in this simple way – everywhere a full version of their logo ID displayed.
Stop Fossil Fuel Subsidies’ “$22,000 per minute” shows the potential of an effective tagline.

Website

We are considering the sites in terms of brand implementation, UX, and content. Here, comparisons with other A22 sites will be limited - its simpler and clearer to just assess the site by well-established web design and content principles.
In web design at large, user tests show substantial variability in across simple design variables - things as fundamental as the colour of a button, or the placement or size of type, or phrasing.
So its highly likely that making design improvements will make a substantial difference to signups, donations etc. Higher design value will increase the perception of the campaign and prospective supporters will have more confidence to contribute more, in multiple ways.

Brand implementation

Branding as implemented on the sites has been discussed already.

Visual Content

Higher design value websites have clear, big bold with strong calls to action. There is consistent alignment - often based around a modular grid.
Lower design value campaigns like RPR have more modest CTAs, with less contrast between text and background, muddier colour palette, and very little alignment of elements.
As a result such sites don’t achieve the same impact and compulsion.

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UX

Arriving on the RPR home page is confusing, and apart from randomly located donate and join buttons its not clear where users should ideally go. A lot of space is take up with a map graphic which has a lot of image text - widely understood to be bad practice - image text displays very poorly on mobile and is not accessible to people with poor sight.

Story Telling

As with other collateral, and the apparent public profile of RPR, there is a disconnect between the RPR campaign promise and the urgency of climate action in general - particularly when disruption targets appear to have nothing to do with rail. While the connection might be taken for granted by stakeholders, given that the campaign is called Restore Passenger Rail, rail itself appears almost as an after thought.
There is room for much more aspirational story telling painting a picture of a near future with passenger rail, and tightly weaving this content about taking radical action.
This may also help create a more positive perception about the campaign and it’s members, as the romance of train travel is on some level a universally held, or at least understood, feeling.

Content Organisation

Much more thought needs to be given to the organisation of content, particularly for the home page, and its relationship with associated pages - such as About.
An encourages far better take up of digital content is. Full pages of content are rarely ever fully read. This means all the key info should be available at the top/ beginning and the rest is an expansion. Content should rewritten to enable users to grasp the essentials in a glance, but also be encouraged to get the full picture, once they’ve taken the bait.
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An encourages far better take up of digital content is. Full pages of content are rarely ever fully read. This means all the key info should be available at the top/ beginning and the rest is an expansion. Content should rewritten to enable users to grasp the essentials in a glance, but also be encouraged to get the full picture, once they’ve taken the bait.

Layout

RPR site has very limited , forcing the eye to to work extra hard to make sense of content (itself already organised poorly), and this also weakens impact.
The lack of alignment contributes to a sense that each page section s(eg events on home) seems to operate under different laws of physics, without any relationship to each other.
Compare this with the XR home page alignment above, and other high design value A22 sites.

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On the about page the A22 site logos section are inefficiently laid out (single column on desktop).
Mostly, once the site is redesigned, content layout issues can be avoided by providing guidance to publishers on layout options available in Wordpress blocks.

Typography

Key content (as on about page) has more than twice the maximum recommended characters per line, and the type is small, making readability harder. There is inconsistent and poor type hierarchy - especially on home page. There is an overuse of centred type alignment, which undermines impact and readability.

Platform

That the site runs on Wordpress is advantageous - it’s a powerful platform with far greater potential than site-builders like SquareSpace and Wix. This means that, for all its faults, the existing site is a good foundation for redesign and if necessary – functional expansion.

Disruptive Actions

Obviously the visual impact of the actions themselves is one of the most important variables –it’s referenced late here because its harder to make accurate comparisons, than it is for design collateral. As mentioned above colour - specifically in clothing, banners, etc is almost a character in it’s own right, complemented by good composition, punchy typography and recognisable campaign branding. Here it’s extra important that supporters are empowered to easily present a coherent, united visual voice to the public.

Design Recommendations

These are provisional, based on what ive been able to research, and some short conversations.

Identity / Campaign / Target Alignment

From this vantage point as both a designer and someone who has worked on and sometimes led campaigns - the ‘elephant in the room’ appears to be that a specialised campaign focusing on one specific solution to reducing NZ emissions, is taking on parallel climate issues or at least targeting villains (and non-villains) in other areas outside of this very specifically labelled campaign.
From this POV it is hard to see why its not a matter of urgency, particularly with the change in government, to look to launch a multi-headed hydra of related, coordinated campaigns that address the rapidly multiplying policy failures - and in doing so also access a lot more bandwidth, creating a perfect media storm. While this may seem out of scope - design is never done in isolation from strategy and without engaging with strategic questions. So clarity on campaign focus and alignment would be a good place to start any overall redesign.

Design System

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Its best here to take a approach to RPR and sibling campaigns. This means having a pre-structured common, reusable map of the design elements used across all the campaigns. The appearance of each element (logo, typeface specs, palette, call to action blocks, type styles etc) may vary substantially (or not) but the starting point for each campaign identity is a mapped range of ‘placeholder’ elements which can be changed out in a modular way.
This can be done in the course of designing a RPR’s identity. Website development can be done in the same reusable, modular way. Together this allows for a very quick creation and deployment of new campaign identities and collateral.

Design Projects

Identity design: Logo, Type, Palette, examples
Site redesign & content refresh
Collateral
Templates: Poster, Social media
Canva or Adobe Express Integration
Comms kit
Style and Tool Kit - along the lines of
Help resources, including video if necessary.

Design process

Design projects can be undertaken concurrently e.g. site rebuild alongside branding development.
Agile also implies viewing assets like the site as a living, dynamic tool, improving adding additional tools e.g. submissions generators.
Identity design should think ahead on how to dovetail with sister campaigns

RPR Identity Briefing

Decide whether to leverage the design language of other high design value A22 campaigns, or pursue a more distinctive local identity
The currently RPR identity is weak. It may be that any existing accrued recognisability and investment in collateral like banners would make stakeholders reluctant to make substantial changes.
In reality, the current investment is not great, even for a grassroots group, compared with most redesign situations, and the benefits of redesign would quickly outweigh any transitional costs in terms of recognisability or updating collateral.
The option also exists to retain some aspects of the current identity as a compromise, but this would still be a problematic design constraint. However its highly likely that a track element would find its way into a new design - as a design decision in its own right, with the side benefit of providing some continuity and recognisability in relation to the old ID.
In short - it’s best to avoid constraining design to retain existing elements

RPR Site

Rebuild the current site, to improve in its own right, but also to provide a reusable universal template for other sites - essentially the same in core structure layout, functionality, but adaptable for multiple campaigns - as may become increasingly necessary in the current environment.
Design
Optimise mobile & and ensure content updates are mobile friendly
Have clear, bold Calls To Action, associated to campaign goal benefits and belonging to an international movement (like JSO)
Implement improved visual identity, with bold visual language
Strong promotion of social channels to build relationships with curious but not fully active visitors
Content
Explain the effectiveness of strong action
Provide more information
Paint a picture of what winning looks like
Reference effective rail transport policy in other countries
Consider using text-to-image generative ai to create appropriately-voiced aspirational images relevant to Aotearoa.
SEO - Ensure content is optimised to be found, via a basic keywords strategy and the help of WP Plugins such as Yoast.
Rewrite content in close association with design.( I am usually very hands on with editing and creating content, on most projects I work on).
Workflow: Setup a staging site to develop, preview and pushout design changes
New technology to make selectively pushing out specific parts of staging sites to production sites very easily has emerged for wordpress, just this month.
Work on the site can be undertaken (on a staging site) ahead of finalising.

Empowerment

Redesigned ID and collateral should empower volunteers to create and deploy digital content, posters, banners etc easily and consistently. Here, we have experience working with organisations to be sure that templates and tools are designed around team member’s comms needs and abilities.

Hypothesis

Developing a well integrated RPR identity and communications toolset with quality content, will boost the campaign’s credibility, clarify messaging and form a basis for easily deployable design system for future sibling campaigns. This should be measurable in increased online signups, social sharing, and evident but less measurable in broader public awareness and identification with campaign goals.
An overarching project to develop an identity, site etc will benefit from
A simple but clear brief in terms of Target Audience, Tone, Messaging hierarchy, constraints etc
Basic before and after survey research and UX testing that would provide metrics on gains made, as well as informing design decisions.
Prioritising supporter agency: Creating a tool kit which can be easily and effectively be used to create distinctive personalised collateral which still speaks with one voice
More than anything else the job is to establish who to aim for, and what coherent main message the design should be sending to them, though visual language, hierarchy, and content.

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