Established in 2017, Onward is a small, nonprofit, consulting firm based in New York, NY, that works with corporations, nonprofits, school systems, and communities to “dismantle systems of oppression, to be the change, and to build an equitable world” with the goal of building personal and organizational capacity for change. Their services include organizational strategy, executive coaching programs, learning opportunities, and tools to support partners in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. Lacking a brand and digital presence in its first two years, Onward has introduced a new identity designed by Chicago, IL-based Firebelly.
After exhaustive visual exploration, we created an assertive, custom-drawn wordmark. Subtle shifts in the counters of the O and D convey forward movement, while the trimmed edges of the letterforms create a sense of solidity, as well as solidarity. The wordmark lends itself to stacking, a demonstration of strength in numbers.
There is so much to like about the wordmark — although I totally understand that there might be a lot to dislike if our subjective preferences differ — so let’s start with the most distinguishing element, which is the angled counterspaces of the “O” and “D” that create a moment of visual dissonance. While the explanation says they are meant to convey forward movement, which they do, I interpreted them more as being a metaphor for creating change from within by doing things that may seem uncomfortable and starting to move things in a new way, starting on the inside. Philosophical musings aside, I love the contrast they generate and how they even help frame the word like book ends, with one slash on each side. The letters themselves are pretty cool as well, with those chunky semi-ink-traps that create some sturdy-looking shapes. If I had one complaint it might be the bowl of the “R”, which feels like it was just sliced at the end. The stroke version looks good too as does the stacked lock-up but it’s definitely its strongest in full color and one line.
The olive-led color palette is quite nice and works so good with both orange sparks and black tone-on-tone elements. I would have left the blue out or gone with a really pale one.
When broken out from the wordmark, the forward slash functions as a layering, connective or disruptive device. The system’s underlying grid is flexible and cohesive, with images cropped at the same 15 degree angle, adding to an overall sense of progressive momentum.
The device can be used to frame content, and to tether items together or tape over them, creating new ideas and energy.
The identity uses the 15-degree angle from the counterspaces and a contrasting 75-degree angle to create some great layouts with plenty of tension and a great balance of white space, photography, typography, and minimal elements. The supporting serif is nice but perhaps it was a choice with too much contrast, like it’s trying to demand a lot of attention — by the same token, that could be a good thing as it highlights their messaging. Speaking of the messaging, the identity mixes the serif with a sans serif in the same sentence, which is a decent approach but, again, I think the serif is somehow fighting the approach. Still, everything has a great energy.
Onward urges compassion alongside discomfort to create what its leaders call “productive disequilibrium” through empathy-building exercises, self-interrogation and actionable strategies for dismantling systemic racism. This brand is made to express itself, in all its complexities, as a trusted advisor, activist and builder of a better world to come.
Overall, this is a really great identity that gives Onward a bold and confident voice that manages to capture a sentiment of change and revolution without being too antagonistic as they literally try to fight against decades of detrimental habits, attitudes, and systems in companies, organizations, and communities.