Black Thought Neat Podcast Branding

The John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, commonly known as “The Warfield”, is the research and programming division of the Black Studies community at the University of Texas at Austin. The Center has a wide-ranging art collection that spans from African objects, to work from contemporary artists worldwide, and focuses its research on the intellectual, political, artistic, and social development of people of African descent in the African Diaspora, as well as the African continent.

In early 2019 the Director of the Warfield Center, Dr. Minkah Makalani developed a new editorial product to help promote the work of the center nationwide. The premise of the podcast, titled “Black Thought Neat” is deceptively simple: Dr. Minkah interviewing “academics and artist who are either of African descent or who do work about Black folks in both the US and abroad”. The interviews will have a free format and will take place primarily at bars, while having drinks — that’s it.

Needless to say we absolutely bounced with excitement the idea of working on this project.

Process

Along with the concept, the Warfield approached us with a sketch of elements they wanted us to keep in mind when developing the visual identity for the podcast. More than a visual guideline, the sketch illuminated the mood of the podcast–that is, how the identity should it feel: smart, cool, confident, yet laid back, fun and out-and-about.

Standing out is pretty important in the tile-scroll world of podcast discovery. And there, we saw an opportunity in using illustration. This is in stark contrast with most podcasts nowadays, which base their visual identity either on highly-produced photographs of their hosts, or on thickset typographic treatments.

The illustration takes cues from the work of American artist Aaron Douglas, a prominent painter and illustrator during the Harlem Renaissance. The feeling of pride, strength and warmth that is visible in most of Douglas’ depictions of human bodies matched mood that we wanted to convey with the visual identity.

We paired these illustrations with a rich but restricted color palette and a contemporary typeface that is easy to read when rendered in tiny tiles.  The result is a visual identity that pops immediately when browsing the dull monotony of filter-treated faces in the Podcasts app on iOS and other platforms.

Results

Whether displayed digitally, or used in events, the visual identity we built is an in-your-face brand that immediately grabs your attention without straying away from the values (again, the mood) we needed to convey. The color palette works great on digital and print materials, and the flexibility of a fully-spelled-out wordmark, as well as an abbreviated one, allow for all sorts of fun applications.

Lastly, we felt it was important to develop a visual universe that was ready for growth, so we developed three illustrations to go along the three first seasons of the show. Cheers for more to come!

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