CNIB introduces a touchy new brand identity

Who: The CNIB Foundation and Zerotrillion.

What: “A Brand You Can Feel,” a new brand identity that is specifically designed not to be seen, but felt.

When & Where: The branding was unveiled on Monday, timed to coincide with National Accessibility Week.

The brand elements are already in place at the CNIB Toronto Community Hub, an accessible space where participants can access programs such as career support, tech training, book clubs, etc. in a community environment. The brand identity can be found on everything from exterior signage to coffee mugs, notepads and business cards.

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Why: A logo and other traditional brand elements have no meaning for people who are visually impaired.

This is specifically aimed at creating a brand identity that has meaning for the CNIB’s constituents.

The project also underscores the importance of inclusive design, particularly as the “contactless” world becomes more prevalent. It’s a reminder that some community members still navigate the world by touch, says Suzanne Decary-van den Broek, executive director of CNIB Foundation Ontario South (GTA).

A perfect example of non-inclusive design, says Decary-van den Broek, is the recent introduction of signs and floor stickers in grocery stores to ensure that customers maintain appropriate physical distance from fellow customers. Such signs, of course, have no meaning for visually impaired Canadians.

“As we move to a more contactless way of living, society could inadvertently
rebuild barriers the CNIB Foundation and the people it serves have spent more
than 100 years tearing down,” said the CNIB Foundation. “Now is the time to ensure Canadians are aware of the importance of the tactile experience for their neighbours, family members and colleagues who are blind or partially sighted.”

The backstory: The new identify started with a conversation that Zerotrillion’s creative director Adam Fierman had with someone who had lost their sight later in life. He wondered if it would be possible to create a brand story using only touch, enabling it to be experienced by everyone.

It was shortly after Zerotrillion opened its Toronto office last year that Fierman was walking past the CNIB Community Hub in mid-town Toronto. Seeing the organization’s bold visual identity rekindled his idea.

We wanted to create a brand texture that told the story of what the CNIB does—eliminating the hundreds of little hurdles in the lives of people who experience sight loss,” says Zerotrillion CEO Alex Paquin.

How: Zerotrillion’s original idea was focused on that idea of  eliminating the hurdles. They imagined a texture of ridges disappearing to become smooth, and held workshops with visually impaired people to validate the idea and improve it.

“Within about two minutes at the first workshop, they told us in unison exactly why our idea was so bad,” says Paquin. “They told us that with sight loss, life is never smooth. There is no eliminating the hurdles. There is no forgetting the challenges.”

Instead, CNIB turns “stumbling blocks into stepping stones,” by providing people with the skills to anticipate life challenges and deal with them. The final design builds on that idea, starting with a series of jumbled shapes that become more orderly and harmonized—though never entirely absent—as people run their fingers across them.

“The resulting texture is nothing like we imagined,” says Paquin. “And yeah, of course it isn’t. Because inclusive design isn’t just about the final product, it’s also about the process.”

And we quote: “The visually impaired community will tell you that too many well-intentioned people are always trying to design things for them. But what’s needed more than that is for the visually impaired community to be both the ‘by’ and the ‘for.'” — Alex Paquin, chief creative officer, Zerotrillion


Chris Powell