When the Consultant Becomes the Client

A behind the scenes look at Alta’s brand refresh

It’s not every day that a consulting firm gets to reverse roles and become the client, but that’s exactly what happened when we decided to refresh our brand identity.

Over recent years, Alta’s leadership reflected on our identity, tuning in to members of Alta’s staff and community partners, and considered issues affecting the world today.

“We recognized that the stories we were using to talk about Alta had evolved,” explains Natalie Lozano, Alta’s Director of Global Marketing. “Our visual identity and domain name needed to catch up to who we had become.”

Following a series of staff surveys, conversations, and interviews, we determined that a brand refresh was needed. This initiative was not meant to be a reinvention of ourselves, but rather a realignment of our visual identity with who we’ve become — a consultancy committed to bringing about positive change by creating places that are geared toward moving people rather than cars, connecting community members to daily needs and human experience, and empowering every person to live an active healthy life.

Alta’s award-winning Visual Communications department stepped in to lead us on the journey forward.

“It was a special and unique opportunity to get to work with the Alta family as a client. We were able to bring our experience and the strategies we use with our external clients, from engaging with different stakeholders to collaborating to establish a scope, budget, and timeline,” shares Art Director Cat Cheng. “Every member of the Visual Communications team played a role in shaping the vision and direction of our rebrand, and I’m grateful for and proud of this team’s work.”

To facilitate a more thoughtful review and decision-making process and allow for greater accountability, we formed the brand task force, a nine-person multi-disciplinary team including Alta’s leadership, communication strategists, graphic designers, planners, and landscape architects, who looked to Alta’s rich history and embarked on creating a new identity that reflects how far we’ve come in the last 25 years.

Our Visual Communications team tells us how they pulled it off.

Alta’s brand development process includes five phases: Define, Discover, Design, Refine, and Implement.

Define and Discover

How does our visual identity reflect who Alta is today?

We conducted a brand analysis that helped us define Alta’s identity today, and led Alta staff through a series of exercises, surveys, and workshops that challenged us to think critically about who we are and how we’ve evolved as a company. We used a series of questions to discuss core values, and explore larger themes around the tone and personality of Alta — our brand voice.

  • Who is our audience? Have our priority audiences changed?
  • Does our current brand tell an outdated story?
  • What do we feel is working about our current brand? What is not?
  • What parts of Alta are we most proud of?
  • If Alta were a person, how would we describe them?
All-staff survey: “What are 2–3 things you like and dislike about Alta’s current logo (this can be color, font, style, look and feel, etc.)?”
Brand discovery workshop

Design and Refine

What does the logo look like? What are its colors, typography, and visual elements?

During the next two creative concept stages, we sketched and refined logo design options to bring discovery feedback and visual style concepts into fruition. Using mood boards, we explored larger visual themes, and presented a range of design options to the brand task force, from a minor refresh of Alta’s existing logo to a more high level redesign.

A series of preliminary logo sketches from our Visual Communications team during the initial design process. We typically start with hand drawn sketches to get ideas on paper before moving into more detailed digital design.
Mood board with initial design concept: “Creating Places, Moving People.” Mood boards use existing and found imagery to explore larger visual themes, and are a helpful tool in helping clients identify design style, voice, and overall “look and feel” preferences. Credit from left to right, top to bottom: Community Farm Alliance branding by Bullhorn, Photo by Tristan Le via Pexels, Dynamic Brand Exploration by Eric Ressler for Cosmic, Photo by Jack Finnigan via Unsplash, Photo by William Short for the City of Santa Monica, Photo: Alta Planning + Design
Initial logo design concepts: The team presented a range of design options from a minor refresh of Alta’s existing logo to a more high level redesign. We typically present first round design drafts in greyscale before bringing color into the next round. This allows clients to review visual elements without potentially being influenced by specific color palettes.

After several rounds of review, we reached a decision on our new logo. The brand task force ultimately landed on a mid-level refresh. We believed our new visual identity should be a representation of Alta’s continued growth and evolution, rather than a complete reinvention of ourselves.

Our goal was to create something modern, versatile, and fresh that still incorporated elements from the original logo. It was important for us to represent Alta’s multi-disciplinary approach, so we removed “Planning + Design” from the logo, but preserved the wave graphic from the previous logo. The updated color palette gives a nod to the outdoors and evokes the sky, ocean, greenery, and sunlight. Our new logo is simple, bold, and approachable — just like Alta.

Implement

What does it take to bring our new visual identity to life?

With final approval of the logo, we created a multi-tiered plan for implementation that reached all levels of Alta. This included prioritizing materials production and developing a phased approach for carrying through Alta’s new brand into existing and future marketing materials.

We refreshed our website, and developed resources and guidelines to support staff in implementing Alta’s new visual identity consistently and clearly, including various branded templates, final web and print-ready versions of the logo, and branding guidelines outlining Alta’s core values, general rules for logo use, messaging, tone and voice.

Alta’s brand guidelines provide guidance on how to use the new visual identity so the Alta brand is communicated consistently and clearly.
Alta’s rebranded website and collateral materials

What do we mean by Moving Forward?

“The fact that we did this all in-house with our own team speaks so strongly to the amazing team of graphic artists, web specialists and our marketing communications professionals we have,” said Brett Hondorp, Alta President. “It speaks to where we are as a firm and how we view our work, not just on the technical side, but in terms of communication, art and beauty as well.”

Moving Forward means that we are continuing to tackle big issues with our work. Human-scale transportation is helping solve and address important problems that we are facing. When we launched our updated brand in October, hurricanes were barreling toward our coasts and much of the west coast was on fire. The Movement for Black Lives was leading the country in demand for police accountability and racial justice. Homelessness is on the rise as are pedestrian deaths, and we are facing folks trying to get back to work safely. Our work can play an important role in addressing these problems and more.

We are proud to work with people who are weaving those issues into our work and addressing the role that active transportation plays in these global issues, one community at a time. That mindset is what has taken us from the “little funky bike planning firm” in Marin County to where we are today, and that mindset is what will take us into the next 25 years to face these challenges.

Learn more about Alta’s Visual Communications team and their work with our community partners here.

Creating active, healthy communities.