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3 min Read
June 23, 2021

Is a cohesive brand built on white supremacy culture?

Brittany Jezouit, editor in chief of Better Marketing, approached the Big Duck team with a question posed by a nonprofit professional. When a colleague on their team asked if she could change the font on her business cards, it led them to question consistency overall—and ultimately ask, “Is a cohesive brand based on white culture?”

The question.

Dear Marketing Mailbag,

Our communications manager (team of one) led a rebrand a couple of years ago with an agency. Prior to this, our marketing materials were all over the place design-wise, and one of the major goals was to implement and manage a cohesive brand for the organization.

Today a colleague asked if she can change the font on her business cards. For context, the comms person is white and the colleague asking for a font change is a Black woman in a leadership position.

Since we’ve become more involved in anti-racism work over the last year, the colleague’s font question made us pause. Why does the font need to be the same? Is a cohesive brand based on white culture? But I think an org/company being recognizable to the community is important. But if the colleague wants to change the font on her business card, why not? Knowing that this may set the precedence for other colleagues to do the same.

Thoughts on this and approaching brand and style guidelines through an anti-racist lens?

The response.

Two characteristics of white supremacy culture — power hoarding and perfectionism — feel relevant here. Based on your comment about a “team of one” having piloted the rebrand, it may be the case that your brand was built in a silo, where just one individual held all of the power and failed to incorporate other voices. If that’s true, a good step would be to open the brand up to some healthy feedback, from your whole staff and members of your community.your typeface generally unappealing? Does it communicate the personality you want to be associated with your brand? Is it resonating with your community? Beyond this reactive situation, how is your brand operating in the world, and what emotions and perceptions are being formed by the typefaces, colors, and imagery you’ve implemented?

Another thread of this conversation is in the tension between pushing back on perfectionism and promoting brand consistency and cohesion. This tension is something that we’re exploring and questioning as well in our work to become an antiracist company. In considering this tension, context matters.

In highly visible contexts where you are forming new impressions, like your website, social media presence and overview brochures, cohesive font use plays an important role. Fonts are a visual language. They have meaning, the same way words do. And they can help tell a story.

In the case of the business card, it’s more blurry. They are design objects, but they also convey a set of information. Systematic font size and placement on business cards may help enforce a rigid notion of “professionalism” constructed and enforced by capitalism and white dominant culture. Does everyone having the exact same card create a sameness that in and of itself is problematic?

Ultimately, if you don’t have the resources or capacity to inclusively incorporate feedback to your brand, it might make sense to allow for flexibility. Perhaps one side of the card — a face that has important brand elements like your tagline, logo, or other artwork — should be consistent so that it creates on-personality experiences, and the reverse can accommodate changes to size or font of contact information or color, so that you’re not rigidly enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach until you can be sure that the template is working for all folks on staff, in all contexts.

There isn’t one right answer to these questions.  antiracism and branding are ongoing and highly nuanced practices. Arguably the most important thing is to make space to stop and question the status quo. Questions we might ask are; “How is that card used? How does that card (or other material or element) connect to marketing, development, programmatic, advocacy, or other goals? Whose perceptions are being shaped, and how much does consistency matter?”