“We begin at the end.”
When it comes to designing for brands that give back, our award-winning creative director, Ming Ciao, creates to make an impact.
Powerful branding relies on connecting audiences with a brand. It develops a sense of community that inspires long-term loyalty. For brands focused on creating a more equitable world, those relationships are tantamount. Creating design components that grow trust, and motivate audiences to take up a cause, is where Ming comes in.
WaterEquity came to Main & Rose for a rebrand, including a design overhaul, in order to better convey their ethos and attract future investors. Co-founded by Gary White and Matt Damon, who also created Water.org, WaterEquity is an asset manager that mobilizes capital in order to address the clean water and sanitation crisis. It works to guarantee water security for small economies around the globe. This increases access to education, ensures health and longevity, and combats the global climate crisis.
Ming spearheaded the brand concepts and design for WaterEquity and breaks down how to design for impact, from the first conversations with clients to delivering the final assets.
Visualize the Journey
“With this type of request, it’s all about working backwards,” Ming explains. “I always visualize what the end design outcome will be.”
Ming starts by collaborating with the client to visualize the end goal. What does the impact look like, in the most descriptive detail? What does it mean for communities, for households, for the children in the communities? How can you describe what this looks like? The more detail, the more tangible, the more quantifiable — the better. This creates a concrete goal post and a clear vision of what both Main & Rose and the client aspire to reach. Then, they can begin to develop a strategy to realize it. “We design by envisioning how the impact takes place, and we take the journey backwards to figure out how we get there,” Ming said.
This ensures that the original idea and the actual impact, and the steps taken between the two, are cohesive. Ming isn’t just working with the logo. He’s folding the brand’s mission, purpose and values into a recognizable icon that has to convey those elements and empower the audience.
For WaterEquity, that meant creating a logo that acted as a bridge, connecting two main — and disparate — audiences. One: those who were investing the funds. Two: the people on the receiving end. “We overcome that through design by reminding what the mission is, and that serves as the highest purpose,” said Ming. “Understanding the distinction, bridging the groups, that’s our strategy.”
The logo needed to remind all parties of the primary goal and keep WaterEquity’s initiatives front of mind. The result was a droplet of water, interspersed with various shades of blue for a Mobius strip effect. “The water is encased in a round shape to remind us that if anyone suffers, no matter where they are, it impacts all of us,” Ming said.
The shape was also a nod to the infinite cycle of water — and the cycle of funds, from
financial institutions to WaterEquity to remote villages to individuals, and then back. “WaterEquity is about the flow of money, it allows people to prosper and helps people around the world. When you give more, you receive more, and it keeps the good energy flowing.”
“The end design is a reminder of the whole spirit of WaterEquity and its mission,” Ming said. “It communicates the same urgency and same message across the board. No matter what side you’re on, the mission is the same: the desire to unite, to all become as one.”
Being, Not Doing
This emphasis on being and embodying a common purpose is one that also guides Ming’s approach to design for all brands. “It’s important the design is a reminder of the essence of the brand, versus just what it’s doing.”
Take, for instance, the Red Cross. While providing domestic and international humanitarian aid, its brand evokes a sense of love and generosity. “People don’t feel the doing, they feel the being,” Ming said. “Doing can be faked.”
Patagonia is another brand, Ming notes, that succeeds in being. It goes beyond selling outdoor gear and runs environmental and social initiatives that actively aspire to solve crises. It’s not about sales, but about creating a brand mission that people rally behind. “You want to create goosebumps because people believe in your brand mission,” Ming said. That drives brand equity and brand loyalty, along with making a tangible difference in everyday life.
An authentic image to rally around is what drew Ming to WaterEquity’s water droplet logo. Water has been revered for its spirituality for millenia. Waterways, like the Yellow River in China or the Nile River in Egypt, were the breeding grounds of ancient civilizations, and worshipped by the nearby people, bringing life, trade and sustenance. This underscores Ming’s concept for WaterEquity: the connections between history and the flow of universal meaning across thousands of years.
“The design is not just about the aesthetic component,” Ming said. “We take into account the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual parts for our designs.”