The University of Notre Dame is a 180-plus-year-old, storied institution; one that is proud of its revered brand and committed to its sense of Catholic mission, particularly as it relates to alleviating poverty. COVID’s arrival in 2020, and the subsequent wave of unemployment and heightened economic insecurity for tens of millions of Americans, created a new and even more urgent need for an understanding of how best to battle poverty in America. Notre Dame’s poverty research lab, LEO, knew they could step up to meet the moment, but also knew they needed to more clearly tell the story of who they are, what they do, and why their work matters. A new identity, materials, and website would ensure LEO could act as a more robust resource for service providers as well as policymakers.
Founded in 2012, LEO grew from an idea to a highly respected lab in well under a decade. Leading Notre Dame economists now regularly apply the most rigorous scientific evaluation methods to understand which practices and programs most effectively power upward mobility. Yet, LEO recognized that their ability to continue meeting their mission - identifying and sharing the most promising practices in poverty reduction - was dependent upon their brand’s ability to attract the pioneering service providers leading those practices. When interviewed, service providers who had already partnered with LEO described economists as humble as they were talented. As respectful as they were rigorous. These interviews paired with internal workshops made clear that a LEO brand could tell more than a story of expertise; it could tell a story of LEO’s values. The refreshed LEO brand positioned LEO as a trustworthy and devoted partner to poverty’s fiercest adversaries: service providers.
LEO firmly believes that research serves people, not the other way around. So LEO’s visual identity system needed to feel warm, approachable, and deeply human. In addition, LEO’s visual identity needed to fit within Notre Dame’s long established, prestigious visual aesthetic while conveying the forward thinking, cutting-edge nature of LEO’s research. To address and balance these needs, the logo leveraged Notre Dame’s iconic blue and gold color palette while employing friendly, humanistic lowercase letters. And photography became an integral part of the overall visual identity system, representing both LEO’s belief in the dignity of all human lives and that all people deserve access to economic opportunity.
The new LEO brand launched in October of 2020. It has been embraced by the Notre Dame community and beyond as a manifestation of the University’s values and purpose, as well as a beacon of truth and hope to help America recover from the economic devastation of 2020. As the University’s Board Chair noted, “nothing we do exemplifies the best of Notre Dame better than LEO.”
Just a few years later, LEO hosted the first Outsmarting Poverty conference, convening hundreds of innovative service providers and peer researchers from across the country. There, between buzzing hallway exchanges and impassioned panel discussions, LEO marked its 10 year anniversary true to its brand values: by turning the spotlight on the incredible partners LEO seeks to serve.
“Our relationship with Mighty Good has been a game changer for LEO. When we first started thinking about rebranding, I felt overwhelmed. LEO has several very distinct audiences with a wide variety of interests and ties to our work. How in the world could we communicate LEO's big picture identity in a way that would resonate with all of them? But Mighty Good did it--helping us define our values, find our voice, and build a brand without losing sight of any of the diverse people who are so crucial to our mission to end poverty and help families across America thrive. The folks at Mighty Good are really something special, approaching their work with a deep commitment to develop a knock-out brand for you. Then they spend a lot of time asking questions and listening, bringing you ideas, then asking questions and listening some more. The result is a unique brand identity that feels like you and truly speaks to your constituents. Aside from the quality of their final product, the Mighty Good team is just a lot of fun to work with. Optimistic, positive, dedicated, and as passionate about our mission as we are.”
-- Heather Reynolds, Michael L. Smith Managing Director, LEO