Do Right By Nature: Unpacking Wolff Olins’ New Brand for NYBG

19 Feb, 2024 | Admin | No Comments

Do Right By Nature: Unpacking Wolff Olins’ New Brand for NYBG

From a local gem to a global force, the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) unveiled its first significant brand update in over a decade. This refresh encompasses a refined brand strategy marking a new era for NYBG — with the focus on strengthening ties with the local community while extending environmental efforts globally. NYBG partnered with Wolff Olins to evolve its visual identity to reflect this vision while respecting its long history.

The central idea behind the updated brand is encapsulated in the phrase “Do right by nature,” highlighting NYBG’s commitment to studying, protecting, learning from, and enjoying nature. It serves as a call to action and recognizes NYBG’s leading role in environmental stewardship.

The new brand voice mirrors the tone and spirit of New York and the Bronx, embodying optimism, empathy, and purpose. It aims to convey NYBG’s enthusiasm for the natural world, promote inclusivity, and demonstrate expertise.

A redesigned logo emphasizes the NYBG abbreviation in a bolder, more contemporary style, blending the essence of New York City with the Garden’s natural beauty. The typography, featured in our 2024 Typography Report, draws inspiration from hand-drawn natural forms, symbolizing confidence and impact.

Curious about the strategy behind the project, I spoke with Jane Boynton, senior creative director, and Ana Camargo, lead strategist of Wolff Olins. NYBG’s CMO, Michael Crowley, also weighed in. Our conversation is below (edited for length and clarity).

With a vision of deepening community connections while expanding environmental action, what specific elements of the brand refresh aim to strengthen local ties while also addressing global environmental concerns?

AC: The former identity, while elegant, had some cues of a “white box gallery” — where maybe not everyone feels welcome, and not everyone feels seen—places where you usually can’t touch the art. The Garden is such a sensory experience. So we wanted to make sure that in the evolution of the brand, we created a platform in which many different audiences could feel welcome, connected, and seen in the brand. Addressing those issues locally helps us tackle them from a global perspective.

We also wanted to reclaim the fact that this is a New York cultural institution and own that with pride. So, as we thought about the tone of voice being more approachable and empathetic, we also wanted it to be deliberate. We wanted it to be a straight shooter, like New Yorkers are, and residents of the Bronx.

We want NYBG to feel like everyone can own it, from the neighbors to the trustees, the board of directors, and the investors. We created the brand to flex according to all those audiences, from the neighbors to the people who visit the Garden physically, the people who visit online, the people who do research connected to the Garden, and the trustees.

The brand refresh includes a new logo that unites the spirit of New York City with the natural beauty of the Garden. How does the new logo, with its references to natural forms, reflect the personality and impact of NYBG?

JB: The old logo already stood for the ongoing impact on preservation the brand was actively doing and its participation within the local community. So we didn’t want to throw those associations away. We’d like to think that we took the previous logo and amplified it.

Our big, beautiful idea for the New York Botanical Garden is this concept of doing right by nature. Unpacking that idea, the ‘do right’ refers to the active state of the organization, the call to action, the study of nature, the protection of it, the enjoyment of it, and the learning from it. That ‘do right’ is expressed through the boldness of the letter forms. They evoke a sense of confidence that speaks to the organization’s impact and leadership. 

The boldness also speaks to nature. Think about when nature is at its best, and it’s thriving, it’s lush, and it’s rich, and it’s full of form. It’s not skinny. That boldness speaks to where we want nature to be in that thriving state. That boldness is also a nod to the spirit and attitude of New York and the Bronx. We are New Yorkers, and our boldness and confidence in that sense of being direct is part of what identifies us.

Bringing all of these things together, we’re hoping the new logo unites that iconic spirit of New York with the natural beauty of the Garden, paired with the active nature of the people behind the organization fighting against climate change and biodiversity loss.

AC: What I also love, of all the things that Jane has already mentioned, is the ‘doing’ – the action – and the ‘by nature’, which has this beautiful idea of side by side with nature. It’s not behind nature. It’s not in front of nature. It’s not that nature is leading, and we need to follow. We wanted to convey a symbiotic relationship. Because I think part of why we’ve gotten into this environmental mess is because humans have forgotten that we are nature.

Doing right’ is everything the Garden does: taking that perspective of the plants and doing right by them, speaking for them, researching them, and bringing their wisdom and intelligence to life.

The photography is from nature’s perspective, ranging from intimate to immersive shots. How does this POV contribute to telling the story of NYBG, and how does it create a more engaging and immersive experience for visitors?

JB: This element in the toolkit was already working hard for the client. The Garden really invests in photography. They have a photographer on staff and an incredible library of stunning images.

So, our task was more about how we can better align the photography moving forward with this idea of ‘do right by nature.’ Photography offers the opportunity to amplify that wonder in nature and its ability to teach, guide, and inspire us

For the style of the photography, we drew on a diverse set of different angles and perspectives, which allowed us to capture more surprising and unexpected views of all the plants, people, and the place. And more specifically, it’s from nature’s angle or perspective. What would nature’s perspective be if we’re embodying ‘do right by nature’? How would a bird see the Garden? We put nature behind the lends to try to capture the spirit and vitality of this wonderful place and how being here can shift all of our perspectives.

AC: This is a really important point. It’s also part of the evolution we considered because if we’re thinking about that shift, to remember that we’re all part of nature, photography that focuses on the plants and the fungi, it’s easy to forget that we’re part of the same system. As Jane said, that was a vital element to bring the people back in to make all those audiences feel seen and part of that environment.

How do you see the updated brand identity actively contributing to and supporting ecological initiatives? How can a strong brand presence influence public perception and participation in sustainability efforts?

AC: Our client was already doing so many amazing things. Our job was to take those actions, enhance them, and amplify them. As we expand the brand to be more empathetic, welcoming, deliberate in how it shows up, proud, and more New York and the Bronx, that platform can strengthen the brand’s presence and put more weight behind it.

Then, NYBG can use that weight behind its sustainability initiatives. We wanted to make sure that more people care about the environment and engage in sustainability initiatives as they’re drawn into the new brand.

Sometimes, when you see brands or NGOs showing up, the discourse focuses on the things that you need to lose for the planet to gain or for the planet to thrive. We wanted to make sure that NYBG communicates in such a way that doesn’t revolve around what any of us has to give up for the planet to continue functioning. It’s about what we can all gain in a more sustainable life, in a more conscious way of being on this planet. We wanted to bring more folks into that conversation through beauty, abundance, and through that lens of what is there for all of us to gain.

What was the most interesting thing you experienced working through this rebrand with the New York Botanical Garden while developing this project?

JB: I represent a lot of the general public in the area in that I didn’t realize there was all this incredible research and rigor behind the organization. I only saw NYBG as a place, as an experience to visit the train or the orchid show. I didn’t realize that behind all of that are these incredible climate and science research efforts. And it’s very inspiring. It’s what makes NYBG unique and different. And to Ana’s point, it is the reason to get people to care. And so that was a big, eye-opening moment when I understood the full breadth of this organization.

AC: So it’s not just a visual transformation by any means. It’s a way to signal to the world all of these amazing things NYBG has been thinking about and putting into practice as an organization and will continue to accelerate over the next few years.

How does the ‘Do right by nature’ idea translate into practical initiatives or programs within the NYBG’s mission and activities?

MC: ‘Do right by nature’ reflects NYBG’s longstanding commitment to plants, fungi, and the natural world. Since our founding in 1891, our mission and activities have centered around three pillars — science, horticulture, and education — that bring plants and people together. We’re helping nature to thrive so that humanity can thrive.

Branching Out, our strategic plan for 2024-2030 includes longstanding NYBG programs and new initiatives to help us achieve five goals, all of which serve people, plants, and the planet. Bronx-centric programs serve our local community through projects such as Bronx Green-Up, which supports hundreds of community gardens, urban farms, and school gardens across the borough, and Bronx Neighbors, which provides free access to our grounds for residents. As a cultural destination in NYC, we help people to find peace and well-being in our natural oasis. Educational programs bring children close to nature from a young age to incubate the environmentalists of tomorrow. And our scientific research programs are re-centered through a lens of environmental action, focusing our diverse efforts around goals addressing the dual climate and biodiversity crisis.

What initiatives is NYBG undertaking to more fully engage with climate and biodiversity crises? How does the new brand inspire public engagement and action towards a sustainable and biodiverse future?

MC: New initiatives include the program for Urban Conservation Strategy, a research and engagement platform that will engage with local and international non-profit and research partners to advance urban resilience and assist decision-makers across New York City— and in cities around the world. The Bronx River Watershed Health & Resilience Program will be a collaboration between our scientists, horticulturists, and local partners to develop local outreach and plant-based strategies to improve our local ecosystem. We will prioritize high-impact research collaborations across various areas where our researchers have expertise, including nature conservation, restoration, and sustainable agriculture. We are committed to pursuing botanical and fungal research with applications that will serve the planet. The new brand foregrounds NYBG Science with its own style treatment, which draws attention to the incredible research conducted by our scientists. Overall, our new positioning as “plant people” creates a more cohesive identity for our entire staff and programs, uniting science, horticulture, and education experts to apply all of our resources to the broader mission of doing right by nature.

The new brand identity is described as an active, bold, and welcoming presence that connects and inspires. How does the brand aim to foster a sense of connection to nature and the NYBG mission among diverse audiences, including current and future generations?

MC: Every aspect of the new brand identity—from the logo to the color palette to the brand voice—was designed to celebrate science and nature and to create a more welcoming and vibrant experience for our guests. The refreshed logo takes inspiration from iconic New York City designers and institutions, but you’ll also find nods to nature hidden within. The logo and our new custom typeface, NY Botanical Gothic, are full of organic shapes and draw inspiration from posters from the environmental movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. We also created a special logo treatment to represent NYBG Science, signifying our scientists’ microscopic view of the plant world.

The colors we use in our new branding are inspired by nature and named after various plants and fungi. Our vibrant color palette is more welcoming and, in combination with the bold typeface, draws visitors in to learn more. It’s a reflection of the biodiversity found on our grounds and represents our diverse city and the borough we call home. After all, the Bronx is NYC’s greenest borough! Our brand reflects the Garden’s 133-year history while looking ahead to a bright and botanical future. NYBG is so many things for so many people – a place of respite in a concrete jungle, a place for cutting-edge scientific research, a place to experience art and culture – and our new brand embraces each of these roles, not just for today, but for the generations of purposeful plant people that follow.

The recently released 2024 PRINT Typography report speaks to an intense balancing act between legacy and future impact of typefaces. This renewed identity for NYBG is evidence of this consideration, with a custom wordmark that is a confident, bold, and impactful embodiment of the organization’s call to action.

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