In our line of work, we’re constantly thinking about the future. What’s the vision? What’s the ceiling? How does it scale? But seldom do we get the opportunity to engage with the future on a deeply human level. How will the Bay Area — this complex region we call home — actually look, feel, move, and grow over the next 50 years?
In the Spring of 2020, SPUR, a non-profit public policy organization based in San Francisco, had just completed their Regional Strategy research. The body of work was a 50-year horizon project that proposed ideas and actions on everything from revamping our transportation system to protecting our shorelines in an effort to ensure the Bay Area is a region in which all people thrive.
While the ideas inside the strategy were bold, imaginative, and urgent — the form itself wasn’t telling that story. The question became: how do we transform this vital body of work from a data-driven piece of research people understand in their minds, to an emotional piece of storytelling people feel in their hearts? Together with Art+Action, an artistic coalition for civic participation known best for their incredible work on the 2020 Census, we developed a creative approach for SPUR.
For us as an agency, the strategy behind this project was bigger than just hitting our marks. We sought to realize something near and dear to our hearts: a place that holds many of our families, friends, many of our clients, and all of our hopes and dreams for the future. The big idea behind the work was that the future is not an abstract idea, it is a place we must plan for and build, together, from the ground up. The word “growth,” so often regulated to the world of tech and bottom-lines, could be a force for good, for all of humanity. We could reclaim that innovative spirit and infuse it with something more intentional, diverse, and representative. Because it is often the small, incremental shifts that launch us furthest into the future.
The result was transforming their regional strategy into a hand-drawn cityscape that users navigate from the bottom of the page upwards. This reinforced our core ideas of grassroots action, the seismic power of incremental shifts, and the necessity of altering our perspective to clearly see what’s possible.
“It was fun to help craft this world literally from the ground up, from rough thumbnail sketches and taping sheets of pencil drawings together on my studio floor to ultimately drawing vector-based digital landscapes,” says Robert Saywitz, Design Director at Emotive Brand and lead illustrator on the project. “While it may have been my hand that held the pen to help bring this world to the page, this was truly a massive collaborative effort in so many ways — more like working with a multi-faceted crew to write, create, and produce a film than a traditional branding design project.”
Leveraging Art+Action’s relationships with artists, animators, and activists who have ties to the myriad communities of the region, we embedded spot illustrations throughout the cityscape to help alchemize the strategy further, including work from: Michah Bazant, Antonio Benjamin from Creativity Explored, Nina Janina Charuza, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Nimah Gobir, Ryan Floyd Johnson, Krystal Lauk, Innosanto Nagara, and Leah Nichols.
“Art can move people emotionally — and to action,” says Amy Kisch, Art+Action Co-Founder + Artistic Director, “so we felt it vital that Bay Area creatives express the human side of SPUR’s vision of the region’s future in 2070. Their creative response illustrates an inclusive, prosperous, and healthy region where everyone belongs.”
“There are deeply embedded mindsets, decades-long policies, and almost mythic lifestyle expectations in the Bay Area, which must be reexamined if we want to initiate audacious changes — and we must,” says Amy Schoening, Art+Action Co-Founder + Artistic Director. “This series invites audiences to learn more about SPUR’s vital research through the lens of interconnectedness and equity because ultimately, our individual actions have significant collective consequences.”
Part of what made this project unique was thinking outside of the traditional client-agency relationship. With an aggressive deadline and dozens of stakeholders, we adopted a more agile approach. Instead of forcing the client or our creative partners into our studio methodology, we met them where they were, established a shared vision of the future, leaned into rapid prototyping, and privileged momentum over hierarchy.
“SPUR’s work is both complex and specific,” says Karen Steen, Communications Director at SPUR. “Representing our ideas required many rounds of iteration and a flexible approach to communication and feedback — and it worked. It’s rare to have an emotional response to public policy. But what we’re hearing is that the project conjures a lot of feeling for people.”
As an Oakland-based agency, this project represents the very best of our intentions: represent our region with pride, create memorable brand experiences that last, collaborate without ego, celebrate diverse creators, and make it fast, with feeling, for the future.
Emotive Brand is a brand strategy and design agency in Oakland, California.