NEW WORK: Brand Strategy for Big Omaha

The big ideas behind Big Omaha’s new brand.

Big Omaha has become synonymous with “midwestern”, “entrepreneurial”, and “community.” The annual conference has been bringing founders, investors, and emerging entrepreneurial leaders together to build community, have conversations, and get inspired since 2009.

And 2015 was a special year for the seven-year-old conference due to two big changes. Big Omaha was acquired by the AIM Institute and 2014 Big Omaha organizer, Caleb Ulffers, was joined by a co-organizer, Joey Wolfe. In the past, organizers unveiled a unique Big Omaha design each year. Ulffers and Wolfe recognized the time had come for a permanent brand to conduct Big Omaha business the other 51 weeks of the year.

Ulffers and Wolfe brought Grain & Mortar on to develop that permanent conference brand as well as a new website, a video, print materials and environmental design for the 2015 conference. Our goal was to build a highly flexible branded identity for Big Omaha. In addition to reflecting the unique energy of the Big Omaha conference, the logo itself needed to work well on websites, mobile apps, in print, on environmental signage, t-shirts and various products.

Big Omaha had never been branded so that was our first goal–to find a permanent identity that remained true to the event’s creative design history. We carefully considered Big Omaha’s visual past, it’s reputation, and the goals for the conference’s future. We began by creating a logo that reflected Big Omaha’s values and spirit.

The typeface–Industry–is utilitarian to reflect the unpretentious vibe of Big Omaha. The year rests on a background shape that hints at the outline of the state of Nebraska–a nod to the conference’s location. We also stacked the type in a shape that resembles the state of Nebraska.

For seven years, a cow has been incorporated into the Big Omaha design and we felt the brand wouldn’t be the same without it. We chose to integrate it as a secondary logo element and created a permanent cow silhouette. Because the brand itself will now be permanent, the cow serves as a vehicle for annual thematic changes. While its shape is permanent, the colors, patterns and style within the cow will change annually.

The benefit of this approach is built-in flexibility. The Big Omaha organizers now have the ability to convey a unique experience from year to year without compromising the brand, or the larger identity.

Exuberance and fun are integral to the Big Omaha experience. This year we chose colors and graphics to reflect that energy. The cow was filled with geometric shapes based on connecting points that suggested a hint of “tech” but weren’t too far out or esoteric. The pattern which was based on sharp, orange and purple triangular shapes, is antithetical to the stereotype of a cow and created an unexpected but fun tension. Conference t-shirts featured fireworks, crop circles and a cityscape of Omaha.

We used scale and different background scenes in this year’s logo iteration to play on the idea of “big.” In one scenario, our cow dwarfs a fence as clouds float by in the background. In another, the oversized words “Big Omaha” are pulled on a banner behind an airplane.

Hands down, we all agree that this was one of the most fun and most challenging projects we’ve worked on in a long time. We’ve managed Barcamp (check out our Barcamp 2012 and 2013 design work) in the past and so it came as no surprise to us how much went into the design and the overall process of hosting this event–from developing the environmental materials, the website and printing, to planning around vendor lead times, ticket sales and marketing. This project gave us the unique opportunity to flex all our muscles–brand strategy, design, illustration, animation, copywriting– plus, we got to tap into our experience from organizing events in the past.

Great conference design, and design thinking in general, goes beyond the identity and awareness for an event. It can impact ticket sales, improve the user experience, and ultimately make for a more memorable event. Our collaborative partnership with Ulffers and Wolfe allowed us to think comprehensively about the Big Omaha experience and we feel the event benefitted from that partnership.

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