Branding a Superhero
Branding a Superhero: The Friends of Alec Syphas
Who is Alec Syphas?
I met Rachel Hanson when I was a Parent Governor and she was Secretary on the Board of Governors at my son’s secondary school. She was pregnant at the same time as my wife was pregnant with our daughter, there was a relevant connection between us, so we became friends on Facebook and kept in touch.
In July last year Rachel posted that Alec had been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I’d heard about Muscular Dystrophy, but nothing about the Duchenne strain of the disease. So I looked it up, clicked on the links that Rachel had provided, and read a little about this devastating disease. Early symptoms of DMD manifest around the age of four and include; enlargement of the calf and deltoid muscles, low endurance levels, struggling to ascend stairs and walk or run with confidence. By the tender age of 10, children suffering with DMD require assistance with walking aids and braces. By 13, most will be reliant on the use of a wheelchair. As DMD spreads through a child’s body, other areas become affected: arms, neck, and breathing difficulties, are a definite occurrence. These combined difficulties eventually lead to paralysis and death.
What shook me up the most was that, on average, the life expectancy of a child with DMD is 20 years old. I thought of my own daughter born around the same time as Alec and how a diagnosis like this would have affected my wife and our family. I knew that in some way I wanted to help Alec, Rachel and her partner, Roy Syphas.
Rachel and Roy have not only had to come to terms with Alec’s diagnosis they have also had to try to find help and support, discover more information about DMD and also make preparations to maintain a good quality of life for Alec as DMD starts to take hold. DMD is a life-changing and life-challenging disease for everyone.
The Friends of Alec Syphas was created by Rachel and Roy with the main aim of building awareness of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and driven by their experiences in trying to find the help and support they needed. Rachel posted that she needed some help with creating a logo for The Friends of Alec Syphas. This is where I knew eatsleepthink could help.
For the last couple of months our eatsleepthink team has been developing a brand identity for the Friends of Alec Syphas. To start we invited Roy and Rachel to come and meet with myself, Gary Jones our Studio Manager and our design team led by Brad Keeton. We have worked with them to develop their initial idea that the Friends of Alec Syphas should be built around a superhero theme, influenced by Alec’s passion for the genre, and secretly my guilty pleasure as well.
How do you brand a hero?
When superheroes are not battling for good against evil, they often adopt a secret identity that allows them to live an ordinary life, but Alec’s life is anything but ordinary, so he has to stay in superhero mode throughout most of the day. He smiles, laughs and fools around despite the pain, always pretending to be one hero or another. Not realising that he is the real hero, battling a very real villain. We took this lead and concluded that we needed to create several brand components based around Alec being the hero, and place him at the head of his own superhero team, a team that would develop over time as key supporters helped the Friends of Alec Syphas.
We concluded that we needed the following elements:
• A character design for Alec as the leader of The Friends of Alec Syphas superhero team
• A meaningful symbol or crest to go on Alec's uniform
• A Logotype ‘lock-in’ so that the organisations name can sit alongside the symbol
• A strong DMD associated colour scheme
• All the above should be wrapped up with it's own brand guidelines and visual language
The initial challenge was fitting a pro-bono project around a very busy design studio, ensuring that this work did not affect the paid work. We decided that everyone in the company needed to have a core understanding of what was required so that any designer could jump on the project between the paid work, therefore planning was key. Matt Bralsford, our Production Manager ensured that the pace on the project was maintained without losing momentum on the regular work that kept the business moving.
A symbol for Alec
OK, so Alec liked superheroes, so did I and the members of my team. Superheroes are cool! They are the in thing at the moment, lots of people are aware of them. We referenced all the popular films, comicbooks, kids TV shows etc. etc. but the one thing we needed was meaning, for instance Superman’s crest means hope, according to the Man of Steel movie. What does Alec’s symbol mean? Then Roy provided us with the direction towards an answer, he posted the image, below on Facebook, commenting, "Mike, do you see what I see?", and I did!
I shared my thoughts with our Design Manager, Brad Keeton and together we tasked Jordan Trofan, one of our designers with the job of building the symbol. After a week or so of trial and error Alec's symbol was born: The illustration that Roy shared on Facebook was of DNA in an article about Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and how the disorder is caused by a mutation in the dystrophin gene. If you look at the DNA strands they ressemble a capital letter 'A'. This was the inspiration for Alec's Symbol. The disconnection, the snapped connector, between the crossbar on the A not only represents the mutation in the DNA strand but also allows the negative space create an S for Syphas. Alec's superhero symbol is a reflection on his own DNA and tells his own unique origin story.
Alec loves superhero cartoons so we referenced various cartoon logotypes and built a solid symbol and logotype device that would reflect the cartoons he adores. Liam Warsop, another one of our designers, built out the typography and we used a great font from The Fontry, named ‘American Captain’ as our core brand typeface.The colours, silver and green, occurred around this time in the development. Roy had already told us that Alec loved green, and his favorite character was the Hulk, and yes all you designers out there we did try a character design with Alec as the Hulk, but boy was it scary! Green is also the colour used by most of the Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy charities, so it seemed appropriate for the symbol and logotype lock-in to also link to this colour scheme.
Alec Syphas, superhero
When you are a designer that loves comics as much as I do you are often a closet comic book artist, and at some point in your career you wanted to draw comics. So given the opportunity to develop a superhero character you really want to go to town, but hang-on! Remember your brief, this is not DC, Marvel or image, Batman, Spiderman or Invincible – this is a little 5 year old boy. The illustration needs to reflect that. Our long term idea is that over time, as Alec gets older, his character illustrations will age with him in both style and age.Alec Syphas Superhero, is based on cartoons focused around his age group for several reasons, the design is simple and iconic and easy to re-produce on various materials both in line art and colour. It is also bright, colourful and we are hoping, captures the imagination of a child and how they would see themselves as a superhero – clean, uncomplicated and most of all positively heroic.
Pulling it all together
It was another one of our designers Ben Sambrook, who was tasked with building the brand guidelines and giving everything a tighter design rationale and a strong set of values that reflected the core theme behind all the design elements – not an easy task, and as I write this we are already building out some more ideas to put into the book. A guidelines book is a constantly developing product.
Is it a bird, is it a plane…
As I finish writing this blog piece over the last few days Anna Womack, our Production Assistant and Social Media organiser has been teasing the launch of The Friends of Alec Syphas with some close-up symbol reveals, and posting them on social media to gather some initial momentum.
Michael Jamson, our Visual Designer, has put together a small launch movie, and Gareth Davies our Composing Partner at The Sound Boutique has given it some awesome superhero music. Our Partners in the U.S.A. G&S Business Communications have helped us write the copy for the Facebook page, and press release. I can honestly say that I have never worked on a project where all of our team has been so deeply, actively, involved. Where they have given up so much of their time, and where we have brought in other external partners to help out so much. It has been said that it takes one hero to make many heroes, and Alec’s fight has emboldened us all. I have a great team, I have a super team, thank you!
Managing Creative Director
Please become a Friend of Alec Syphas by liking the Facebook page and following The Heroes Against DMD on Twitter.For more information on how eatsleepthink can help you to brand your business please contact us
View more of our work for the Friends of Alec Syphas, including the video, here