12thirteen uses community involvement to deliver strong new logo for Toronto health centre

Case Study by Randal Boutilier RGD, 12thirteen Design Inc.


The South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC) is a community-based organization located in East Toronto. The Centre offers primary healthcare and health promotion programs to a diverse community who encounter difficulty accessing services. Priority clients include new immigrants and the Chinese community; young children and their parents and caregivers; women and seniors; people without health insurance and clients who are homeless and/or coping with drug and mental health issues.



In the summer of 2013, SRCHC released an RFP on its website for the design of a new logo. The listed project budget was $10,000 and was to be completed by January 2014.


“Our current logo is outdated and does not capture our personality as an organization, nor the important role we play as an active part of this community. We are looking for a more dynamic logo which captures our relationship with clients and community; an image that depicts who we currently are, while also looking forward to who we can become.” 


Former logo:


My experience with the Centre came through volunteering that I did with the Riverdale Food Working Group. The group held workshops about food – from growing to cooking – and in the summer months offered a local market for affordable fresh produce. Recognizing a need for a visual cleanup of their printed materials, I volunteered my design skills to help them with a simple logo as well as some flyers and posters. One of my contacts at the group worked as a Health Promoter at the Centre, and forwarded this project to my attention.


Our response to the RFP covered details on our company history and principles, a list of our clients, bios for each member of the team and three references. Since the budget and timing were specified in the RFP, we were asked to supply a budget breakdown and work-back plan to ensure project feasibility. Finally, we supplied five portfolio pieces with small one-page case-studies for each. In our portfolio, we made sure to represent the work we had done for not-for-profit clients to emphasize our experience  in this sector.


The RFP also involved an interview, in which we were asked to flesh out some of the details in our design process and expand upon the ways that we engage clients with a collaborative approach. Finally, we were asked why we felt we were the best fit for the position, which allowed us to speak about the Centre’s impact on the community, as well as the impact of design in raising the public profile of an organization.



For a Community Health Centre, we felt first and foremost that this logo needed to have community input. To collect first-hand research, we worked with a coordinator at the Centre on different outreach strategies:

  • A booth at an open house event at the Centre where we handed out information and brief surveys
  • A survey of internal staff through a Survey Monkey questionnaire
  • Brainstorming sessions with select staff and client groups


In all of these encounters, we focused on 3 simple questions that were visual, intellectual and creative by nature:

  1. What is the most important word in our name?
  2. What word comes to mind when you think of the people at SRCHC?
  3. What colour do you think represents the feeling of HEALTH?


To encourage submissions, our community surveys were incentivized with a $25 grocery store gift card. This prize offer helped us get over 100 entries, which offered us a wide snapshot of the community.


The face-to-face outreach gave us the strongest connection with the subject and with the community itself. We were able to chat with folks who had different experiences with the Centre, both clients and staff, and get a better sense of its mood and culture.



From the community responses, we experienced a bit of pushback. Write-in surveys included the following messages:

  • “What’s wrong with the current logo? I don’t like to see the history lost.”
  • "Sad to see the old logo go. It is part of our history and contributed to our current model of care. Plus I see this change as money that could be better spent elsewhere.”
  • "Funding should be allocated based on necessity to help improve the HEALTH of the community; everything else is extraneous."
  • "I like the logo we have."

Being familiar with the non-profit world, we understand that a budget of $10,000 is a considerable sum. To those unfamiliar with the importance of design in raising the profile of an organization, spending the money on a new logo seems like a waste. 


Thankfully, the client's communications coordinator became an internal champion for the project and helped to smooth out any internal wrinkles, keeping the staff team informed of any and all opportunities for our focus groups. We also made sure that the results of our external surveys were available to management and board members, so they would also have a clearer understanding of the public’s opinion. For those who considered the price tag too high, we explained the timing and resources that went into the design process from our end and emphasized how these efforts would help with the Centre’s future growth. For those who didn’t want the logo to change, we made an effort to understand their reasons for keeping it and held an exercise where small groups could discuss the pros and cons of the existing logo. By involving people in a critique of the current logo, and offering a list of the components of a good logo, we were able to separate objective and subjective opinions about the look.


Once our interviews and brainstorming were complete, we sat down and developed a set of concepts that moved the look and feel of the Centre in a new direction. Since the house in the original logo was a representation of the Centre’s previous home, we felt that a new approach was needed – and we looked at other ways to depict the idea of ‘health’ rather than a physical structure. This led us on a path of research and development that included riffs on natural medicine, meditation and flocks of pigeons.



We presented five initial concepts to the client and made a formal presentation in front of a group of about a dozen select staff and senior leadership. There was no clear winner in our first set, so part of the meeting was spent gathering specific feedback for each of the concepts – the successes and the failures of each. Among the feedback was a wish to see the ‘old house’ graphic integrated into the design – something we had avoided in our first round in favour of a bolder new direction.


Round One:


When there is no clear winner, it is a good idea to start pulling your designs apart to see what elements can be salvaged and to ask specific questions about font, colour and symbolic imagery. If you start off with a wide range of visual options to consider, there will be many factors and elements to consider. Facilitate the discussion by having many people in the room speak up and make sure that no single voice overtakes the feedback process -  everyone is creative, and everyone wants to be heard! Most importantly, smile. Make sure that you’re approachable when receiving feedback, or it makes the room cold and nobody will want to speak up. 


Back in the studio, we pulled the successful elements from the mix, revisited the ‘old house’ graphic, and developed four revised concepts to present to the same group. The result again was not extremely positive, which was a bit of a let-down. Despite having gone through a set of explorations that worked to push the Centre in a new visual direction, there was an overall sense of loss of the Centre’s history. Although the Centre no longer operated out of the building that was in its logo, there was a strong hope to have the logo maintain something from the old house drawing. While the group appreciated the concept we developed to integrate the older logo, the consensus was that it still looked dated.


Round Two: 


Two rounds of failed concepts was really something our team had experienced before, and we were worried that we had misunderstood our research or pushed things too far out of the comfort zone of those with a long history of work at the Centre. While it seemed to the consultation team that this was going to be difficult process, we managed to hammer down a few design elements – a font colour, a preferred palette and an overall theme.


Back in the studio again, we sat down and studied the original logo to figure out how to update it. We did so by tackling it as a visual exercise – removing elements and features in the logo until we had the base essence. Doing so led us in a new direction – which helped jump-start a more contemporary look and feel while using the same source of inspiration. As an unintended outcome of this design approach, the logo also ended up depicting the exterior of the current physical space of the Centre.


Round Three



This time we presented a set of six variations of an updated logo and were met with a room of smiles. We had finally discovered something that was contemporary, engaging and reflected the history of the Centre! In that meeting, we narrowed it down to three of the strongest ideas and then opened it up to the community.


This project had a fixed budget, so it did not change based on the extra time and effort involved. A collaborative design project of this scale was a new experience for our team, so there was a bit of a learning curve. The lessons learned by our team and the chance to work in fun and engaging ways were opportunities that went far beyond monetary compensation. We’ve since adopted some of those processes into other projects, which I think is an overall win for our studio.



Those within the Centre always wanted to make sure that this was a community-influenced project, and in doing so left the final logo decision to those who use the services of the Centre. In a manner similar to our original introduction to the community, we posted the three selected designs on a bulletin board in the lobby and invited people to vote on the version they felt was the strongest. Again, we incentivized the entries with a gift card prize draw and surveys were conducted in paper ballot and through a Survey Monkey questionnaire.



We knew at the start of the process that we needed to integrate public feedback, especially since the vision of the Centre is for ‘empowered, healthy and thriving communities where everyone belongs’. At the start of the project, we had thought of having focus groups involved, but it was agreed by all that arranging this would be too time consuming and demanding for staff to schedule, and limiting for people who might only be available during certain hours of the day. After some discussion with our main contact at the Centre, we felt that an open vote would reflect well on the process. The lobby of the Centre is a space that has the most foot traffic, and the walls are usually decorated with art projects and other notices for volunteer opportunities. We felt that by promoting it within this space, we would receive the widest range of opinion and remain true to the spirit and practice of the Centre.


It’s a bit of a nail-biter to have the final decision rest on a vote, but it was a great way for the Centre to engage the community and emphasized the control that the community has for the direction of the Centre. Everyone was thrilled with the final selection, from front desk staff to the Executive Director, and work proceeded on a few sample materials for the Centre staff to use in the future.


While it took a couple of months longer than the original timeline, the end result was worth the effort. The logo was unveiled to staff and quickly adopted thanks to the internal efforts of the Communications Coordinator. Since then, we’ve been asked to work on the Centre's last two annual reports, and have successfully bid on RFPs to rebrand their website and produce materials for a 40th anniversary celebration in November 2016.



Designer Takeaways:

  1. Opportunity knocks when you least expect it. We only came to know about this opportunity thanks to a committed coordinator at the Centre. What started as a pro-bono volunteer task helped get us noticed and invited to engage in this particular RFP.
  2. Design by Community can be fun. While many shy away from ‘design by committee’, it can be an energizing experience. Everyone can be creative, and finding ways to engage people in a bit of play will help generate new ideas and perspectives, and give a friendly face to the design process.
  3. Open conversation is best when it comes to critique. Sometimes feedback can be put in blunt terms, and while the emotional response is to shut down and be defensive, the intellectual response should be to engage in further research. As designers, it is our job to probe and investigate those responses in order to flesh out feedback. We found that be being open and engaging, despite tough feedback, really helped give us more to work with when it came to developing new concepts.


Client Takeaways:

  1. The design process is a community builder. Use a design project process to build ownership within the various levels of your organization, from front-line staff and clients through to management and the Board. Opening up this process to a number of levels can find commonality and ensure your goal is true.
  2. Community feedback can come with pushback. Design is seen by many as a ‘frill’ in the non-profit world. Be prepared to explain the need for the expense of a design process in order for an organization to raise its profile.
  3. Successful design requires an internal champion. Once the design studio’s work is done, you need to have someone committed internally to execute the final vision, especially with a rebrand. A style guide is of no use if there’s nobody around to encourage (and enforce) it!