So Good: Vibrant campaign from Tamm + Kit helps Cuso International stand out among global development organizations

Case Study by Ciabh McEvenue, Affiliate Member of RGD, Creative and Managing Director at Tamm + Kit

This project was selected as a winner in the Not-For-Profit, Client-Initiated category of RGD's 2013 So(cial) Good Design Awards.

T+K has worked with Cuso International for five years, since 1999, having won the contract through an official bid process. Cuso chose our agency because of our extensive experience in using creativity and design to help attract the right people to the right opportunities.


Discovery: six weeks
Brand and geo-cultural research, strategic design, volunteer interviews, reporting


Development: three months
Conceptual design strategy, communications matrix design, sketch/design prototyping, key message/content design, sensory panel development, value proposition focus, presentation

Production: four weeks
Communications matrix design (internal and external), modular campaign design, asset design

Roll-out: ongoing
Design by media platform, media planning/execution, collateral production, reporting and measurement


Design Challenges

The message of this campaign is complex: Cuso International is asking you to take your expertise, leave your life behind for as much as two years, and travel overseas to share your skills and insight with others. With positions available in industries such as health care, education, forestry, IT, business and more, the campaign needed to be designed to reach a variety of professional audiences. Audience segmentation for this project required us to consider the psychographic element beyond the demographic. 


Few of us can afford to walk away from our obligations and work for lower wages, which is an important factor in the decision-making process for the target audience of this campaign. Time is also a factor with the types of positions offered through Cuso, as positions become available quickly and may not leave much time for consideration before they need to be accepted. All of these elements needed to be factored into how the design of the campaign was presented. 


After researching other global development initiatives, we identified another challenge: most of these organizations take a similar approach to visuals and messaging, making it difficult for audiences to recognize one over another. 


Our goal was to simplify the message and establish a unique back story and brand character for this project to help Cuso International stand out as a tenured, elite organization. 


Working in close partnership with Cuso, we conducted focused research with experienced members of the organization and its volunteers. Their input and knowledge of the organization's goals helped us better understand the message for the campaign and establish an appropriate design approach. 


Research / Resources

Following a comprehensive audit of competing organizations within the sector, we understood the importance of achieving visual differentiation and maintaining the brand's focus on global development. We researched textile print techniques from the countries and regions where Cuso partners with local project teams to produce a suite of relevant, vibrant textile patterns for use across multiple media platforms. The selected patterns were shared with our client team so they could become familiar with the look. 



Different textile patterns were used for advertising assets relating to projects within specific geographical regions to help differentiate the opportunities offered by Cuso. For the master brand assets relating to Cuso International in the broader sense, we developed a design that brought all of the individual assets together. 


Sketching and adapting a pattern based on the core colour palette and organizational logo, our graphic design lead created a vector pattern that reflected traditional block printing techniques for textiles. The pattern works as a mosaic print and as a kaleidoscope in digital environments, reflecting Cuso International’s evolving global partnerships.


Research had shown market confusion among potential volunteers due to the overuse of ‘global development imagery’. This insight informed the core tactical design strategy.


Our visual approach was to avoid the overplayed imagery of westerners working in diverse geographies among local citizens, choosing instead to incorporate textures and patterns drawn from familiar cultural textiles to establish a stronger sense of place. The patterns fill the word forms, creating strong visual impact through colour and contrast. The strategy was to deliver a simple, stand out message and eliminate the heavy content from frontline visual assets, drawing potential volunteers to the website to take a self-guided tour of the deep content based on their unique backgrounds and interests.  

The roll-out strategy involves reaching out through both targeted and broad North American media outlets, customizing content based on the specific audiences we are trying to reach. We also developed a Returned Volunteer Kit, designed to provide volunteers with collateral to help promote the organization and their experience across their professional and personal networks. 




Success for this project is measured via the attainment of specific recruitment benchmarks, under tight timelines. Last year, Cuso sought a blended cohort of 120 volunteers of diverse professional background and language to match distinct volunteer opportunities around the world. The ratio for success is roughly 10 to one, or 10 recruits to successfully find and choose one volunteer. The secondary goal is to grow a community of future volunteers around the organization to build a pipeline and ease the pressure of the annual volunteer drive.

Last year’s recruit exceeded targets, and due to the mix to positioning and direct campaign assets and events, continues to feed the pipeline for this year’s volunteer group of 80 people, differentiated by a strong focus on Spanish-language volunteer recruitment.


“The new creative has helped advance the visibility of our brand. The clean copy and design help us cut through the noise and increase the strength of our message in a very crowded market. We love it.”
- Jennifer Buter, Communications Officer, Cuso International

“The 2013 Cuso International Campaign allowed our organization to refresh our message, re-captivate our warm audience and target new audiences. The ads are colourful, attractive and the ask is clear and direct.  We are incredibly pleased with the positive response we’ve had to the campaign—the solid recruitment numbers say everything.”
- Erin Bateman, International Placement and Recruitment Manager, Cuso International


Designer Takeaways

  1. Design for efficient communicationGood design reduces the need for extraneous content that can dilute the effectiveness of the message. Consider every element of your layout, look for opportunities to clarify the message, from typeface and colour palette selection to the visual hierarchy and grid you choose.
  2. Research. Research not only informs good design, it evolves a designer’s creativity. A designer is only as good as their curiosity and their ever-growing set of cultural references.
  3. Strategy. It’s critical to your process and workflow that you consider your design from all angles, not only for flat print pieces, but also for a digital and 3D environment. Cropping doesn’t always cut it.

Client Takeaways

  1. Simplify your message. While ideally every asset could contain all of the information about your product or service, your assets are likely to drown under the combined weight, leading to disappointing results. Good design is about applying an intelligent hierarchy, selecting which elements and messages are most important and letting those dominate your communications.
  2. It’s okay to be different. Just because your competitors are all doing a version of the same thing, doesn’t mean what they're doing is effective or that you should follow suit. Finding the courage to push your brand and communications into new territory and applying a long-term strategy for organic design and brand evolution separates the strong from the weak and defines sector leadership.
  3. Your brand is not confined to your logo and tagline. Brands are a collection of every design element, message, experience, and expression your organization puts to market. The best brands have the agility to engage in an evolving with multiple audience segments. Building a brand with distinct characteristics based on authentic ideas and ‘personality traits’ will keep the dialogue moving and ensure a more natural, consistent, and rewarding creative communication process. 

About the So(cial) Good Design Awards

Every year, RGD invites submissions of graphic design projects done under the theme of communication design for social good; work with the power to incite action and make meaningful change in the way we live our lives. When we approach social issues creatively, we can make a real difference in the world. The So(cial) Good Design Awards gives voice to the important work designers are doing and can do to change the way we think and act.

For more information on the So Good Design Awards, click here


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