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Mikva Challenge should be the breath of fresh air in the room of civic engagement in the United States. For 20 years, the organization has asked young people what it is that they want for the future and then created successful tools, resources and frameworks to share youth voice. Started in Chicago by the late Abner Mikva, Mikva Challenge has reached thousands of young people through schools and educators, providing an innovative platform to not only transform young people’s lives in their interaction with a living democracy — but to transform adult perspectives on youth agency and capacity.
With growth throughout the state of Illinois, new satellite offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. and partnerships throughout the country, Mikva was poised to scale significantly from its remarkable beginnings in Chicago to the entire country. Mikva tasked Manoverboard with updating its brand to be an expression of youth and energy and its website to connect with core audiences to promote message. While its existing brand, collateral and website were all very functional, they were also corporate and bureaucratic in tone and to our minds lacked the courageousness that Mikva Challenge ignites for youth across the nation.
During our brand discovery and visual research, we let Abner Mikva’s legacy lead the way. We began by pouring through stacks of archival photos of his activities in politics and youth engagement. It was there that we realized what we were searching for had been staring right back at us the whole time — it adorned the top of leaflets, it shouted from buttons and pins, and it was proudly emblazoned across the back of a t-shirt worn by Abner’s partner Zoe. It was the typeface Cooper Black.
It turned out that Cooper, a friendly typeface with great bones, appeared in various campaign materials spanning many years of Abner Mikva’s activity in Chicago. Designed in 1922 by typographer Oswald Bruce Cooper, the typeface’s Black weight was innovative for its time, setting a whole new trend in advertising typography. For us, it immediately embodied the grassroots, boots-on-the-ground attitude that is needed for meaningful social change. Cooper Black Italic was applied to the organization’s full name, “Mikva Challenge” and to the three chapters in Illinois, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. Best part of all? Cooper designed his Cooper Black typeface in Chicago, the home of Mikva Challenge.
We were unanimous in deciding to provide a wordmark for Mikva Challenge. First, Mikva Challenge is an organization about action, conversation, and immediacy, and about using whatever resources are available. Second, campaign buttons, t-shirts, and countless other brand expressions lent themselves perfectly to a text only mark; creating a supporting graphic or icon for the visual identity would have overcomplicated the work. Finally, the word “Mikva” looks powerful set in Cooper Black Italic and it has appeared this way informally for years. The result: a logo that possesses an assured retro flavor that is hard to achieve authentically today.
Mikva’s new identity stands out unabashedly from the current zeitgeist of bland wordmarks built on fine sans serif backbones. However, while Cooper in its Black Italic weight is refreshing in small doses, you do not want to read a whole book set in it. Neue Haas Grotesk, a carefully restored version of Helvetica by Christian Schwartz, was selected to serve as Mikva’s primary font for the bulk of its written communications, while Cooper Black would be reserved for the logo — and to be used sparingly for promotional materials where a little extra punch is needed. We also developed a bold color palette that is well-suited to impactful communications of all kinds.
Inspiring future generations of youth to take an active role in democracy requires relatable role models who can lead by example. In the case of Mikva Challenge, every student who participates in a Mikva program is that role model for generations to follow. We wanted to showcase those students who stand up and make their voices heard, and who take action in their communities to affect real change. Powerful photos of young people appear frequently in Mikva’s communications, and these photos lend themselves well to use in full color and in black and white, with colored overlays and other posterization techniques applied.
A new website featuring an invigorated brand was then developed as a means to communicate the weight of civics issues and solutions and to advance Mikva Challenge’s Action Civics educational framework through stories and proof cases. We worked with the organization to reduce, reorganize, and reinvigorate its web content into a well-organized, efficient, focused, and colorful new site. First time visitors are now presented immediately with a single, powerful statement: Democracy is a verb. Beside it, a cursor blinks with a sense of immediacy, signalling the importance of the next moment and of taking action, now.
The new website shares ideas, knowledge, and outlooks that increased Mikva Challenge’s communications efforts — helping it raise its profile with institutional givers, validate its work with educators, and create a more empowered, resilient youth voice. This is achieved through a highly considered user experience, clear menuing and navigation, powerful photography and typography, and clarity around the display of content. The new Mikva Challenge website balances the organization’s commitment to youth voice with unambiguous messaging about the crisis of democracy.
Andrew and his team are an absolute pleasure to work with. Our website went live on time, on budget, and is not only beautiful — but easy to navigate. Our team felt Manoverboard really understood our organization and they were able to help us think through new and impactful ways to tell our story online. We look forward to continuing our work with Manoverboard.—Mary Carlson, Chief Development Officer