How we built a brand that tells the story of one man’s vision.
It’s not every day that an agency is commissioned to craft a universally recognisable symbol. Even rarer is the opportunity to capture the legacy of a modern-day visionary into visual shorthand. The office of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum — UAE’s Vice President and Dubai’s Ruler — asked us to help them do just that. Tell the story of one man’s tireless, unprecedented and often unknown commitment towards the cause of a better world.
While Dubai is often a hyperbole of seemingly impossible commercial and governmental triumphs, the brand recall — although higher than most 43 year-old cities — almost always amounts to a collection of world’s firsts. The rise of our city is well documented. However, the narrative is often business and lifestyle, less social commitment and change. Cause driven coverage doesn’t typically make headline news from the Middle East.
Public figures lending their name to foundations is no new phenomenon. But when the opportunity of this new organisation arose, the challenge was to find the most honest way to reveal the man championing and directing the impact of over a 1 billion Dirhams ($300M) across 155 countries, touching 180 million lives.
Capturing a Legacy
Dubai has put it’s brand power and financial might towards causes as diverse as poverty, literacy, aid relief and entrepreneurship across the globe. Whether with Dubai Cares and it’s unprecedented charity drives, UAE Water Aid’s on-going support of the cause, the global dialog spurred by the Arab Media and Strategy Forums, the recently launched Reading Nation campaign, or the bold Museum of the Future initiative — this nation’s commitment to lead by example and just get on with it, is very clear.
This new venture springboarded the breadth of work directed by one man into a profound story of unified impact. Approximately 28 entities running 1,400 programs were hand-picked to form the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives. From a brand stand-point, this approach brought with it many a storytelling opportunity — both on a local and international front. We set out to understand exactly how a global foundation of this kind would be interpreted, across various lenses.
Crafting a Brand
Traditional boundaries of commercial branding were a no-go zone for our team at Xische & Co. With two dozen entities — some in existence for over three decades — about to be brought under the masthead of this new entity, we embraced the notion of pursuing a radically simple approach. But,we discovered that achieving simplicity often required the most complex effort.
Over the course of several months, guided closely by the client’s teams, our team built over 50 conceptual directions, across 12 different visual styles to ensure every possible approach was explored, and presented as living brands. Benchmarking the Gates, Clintons, or the Prince’s Charities was only helpful in better understanding routes we didn’t want to emulate.
The story of Mohammed Bin Rashid was unique, and not quite fitting with global formulae for branding socially-driven initiatives. Moreover, the initiative wasn’t a new one at all. The consolidation of over 1,400 entities, programs, awards and initiatives needed to play the role of parent brand, and counterpart, both — all at the same time.
Pardon me for geeking out with some detatil on the creative process at our firm Xische & Co.
We believed that type would embody the personality of the brand in a way no symbol or colour palette could accomplish on its own. Having attempted 12 typographic routes in English, the Campton family seemed to embody the essence of what we wanted the brand to stand for — dignified, confident, contemporary, timeless and exceedingly functional, rather than stylish and quirky. The Arabic counterpart was a tougher challenge, eventually leading us to an inimitable The Sans Arabic family that perfectly balanced the traits in English with its own ligature style and form.
Next, the brand needed to stand comfortably as a master-brand alongside other existing entities — each with it’s own varying visual legacy. There was no way the identity could be conceived in isolation. After nearly two dozen basic shapes and permutations, we settled on a simple line — underscoring the type. The line device was immensely symbolic in many ways — it evokes the divide between challenge and opportunity, and the will to cross the divide with the many initiatives of the new brand. The line also underscored the notion of a starting point and sign-off from Mohammed Bin Rashid to initiate good with his commitment to the cause. Lastly, the line was designed in its size and weight to be capable of dynamically changing into a series of different colours. Sticking to a single color would weaken the message.
We got nowhere investigating the broad colour spectrum of brands selected to drive the Global Initiatives. It was apparent that the colour palette of the new brand needed to be flexible, while retaining some degree of instant recognition. A shade of pale teal (Pantone 3258C) emerged from countless explorations as a primary colour that had the quality we sought — dignified, mature and yet memorable. Next up was testing the identity to play well when it co-existed with a family of sub-brands. And the explorations worked instantly, retaining the one-ness of the primary brand.
Then came the most difficult challenge yet, a symbol. We realized that only a select few broke through and transcended industry, geography, politics and pop-culture to become global touchstones of purpose in every generation. His Highness Mohammed Bin Rashid was clearly one of them. His name, title, accomplishments were synonymous. His portraiture, not so much outside of the Middle East. We attempted to capture his essence, to bring a sense of his personal purpose, and the weight of his sign-off — and then distill it down to a mark. After an incredible number of attempts and eventual failures, the symbol that emerged was a simulacrum that abbreviated the portrait of Mohammed Bin Rashid himself.
Illustrated in twelve strokes, we started with close to four times as much detail, and worked our way down until there wasn’t a single line that was excessive; the absolute basic shapes needed to iconify his face. The simplistic approach had other hidden merits — seamless reproduction and instant recognisability across digital or print — something increasingly important in a world where pixels trump ink.
Telling the Story
With the brand essence in place, a full identity system was built to consistently embody the core message. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives was launched in October, 2015 in the presence of Dubai’s Ruler, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, top government officials, and guests like Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus. We were asked to help craft a story to unveil the initiative for the first time at the event, preceded by a short and incredibly profound speech by Mohammed Bin Rashid himself on the purpose of money, and the daunting journey that still lies ahead in changing the world.
The identity was carefully translated into restrained, poignant and memorable communications.
Finding our Purpose
It is an incredible privilege to witness leaders like Mohammed Bin Rashid changing the world, in our lifetime. Having been in Dubai for over thirty years, it continues to be an even greater privilege to have the opportunity to work in the mere vicinity of a visionary like him. His team embodies the same limitless spark as they push boundaries and tirelessly execute his vision; everyday.
Engaged in projects of this magnitude, it is easy to be consumed by the process alone. But, what became immediately apparent to me, is that nothing can inspire — in any profession, anywhere in the world — quite like knowing there is purpose to our existence.
We are humbled and proud of this privilege.
For the full case-study, visit www.xische.com