Fresh branding for a historic Seattle institution.

Libraries have a long history in Seattle, with the earliest efforts for a library beginning in 1868. Since 1890, The Seattle Public Library has maintained a collection now totaling in the millions of volumes across all kinds of media.

The Brief

In this exercise, I had to choose a public entity whose brand I felt needed to be refreshed. There was no budgetary constraint on the project, and the resulting brand needed to have some sort of activation with which the public would interact. This would include merchandise as well as the design for a remote library kiosk installed at key geographic locations throughout the city.

The brand I picked was that of the Seattle Public Library because I felt the organization’s visual identity, while easily recognized, had lost the sense of dynamism one feels when entering one’s neighborhood branch.


SPL hired Hornall Anderson to pitch a new logo design, and after a feedback survey elicited mostly negative feedback on proposed logos (and the rebrand effort in general), the project was abandoned before any new identity elements were actually implemented. HA delivered three logo comps, at a steep cost to the library foundation. Their recommendation was to change the library’s identity entirely: new name, new typefaces, new logomark, new color palette.

Further Reading
Library rebrand could be approved today Seattle PI, October 28, 2015

I was struck by the public response to the rebrand, particularly worries that such a stark departure from the existing design could actually impede access to library services for too many patrons, as well as the large financial burden of updating brand elements across such a large institution.

The Solution

Refresh, not Rebrand

I decided a better solution was to refresh the overall design with cues from the original peeking through. A blue stack of books marks gray text set in Carol Twombly’s Chaparral Pro, which is fresher than the Garamond adorning the existing logo. Together, these design elements reflect the familiarity of the old logo.

The logomark is meant to fill the role of the blue bowtie element while emulating a stack of books. The shape is drawn from the arrangement of the shelves on the floor of the Central Library.

Floorplan of the Central Branch library showing how arrangement of bookshelves translates to logo.

Adding a Punch

SPL’s messaging lacked a strong call to action. I decided to include the “Read Ahead” lockup to drive enthusiasm about reading. It can be used in multiple applications.

Application of logomark implies words jumping off the page.


This project also required a special activation of the brand that would get the public to interact with it beyond seeing the logo or holding a business card. I chose to mock up a “book box” kiosk made from a recycled shipping container outfitted with the hardware and infrastructure needed to serve and receive books.

The solar-powered “book box” in situ.

To serve as many people as possible, the kiosks are placed at locations where a library isn’t directly accessible and where there’s a good amount of mixed foot traffic—playgrounds, parks, community centers, and intersections were among the candidates.

Brand Book

Brand Applied