Stories of design across all media


Wheels4Water: Saving Lives One Mile at a Time

Chances are you don’t think twice about filling a glass with water from the kitchen tap. But for many people in sub-Saharan Africa, safe drinking water is in short supply. Unsanitary water conditions plague the Kaliro district of Uganda, and in the region, water-related death and disease run rampant.

Justin Ahrens, founder of design studio Rule29, first became aware of the water crisis in Africa when the firm was working on a branding campaign for Christian nonprofit water-development organization Lifewater.


Convinced that a group of creatives could become agents of change he, along with Brian MacDonald of Wonderkind Studios, launched Wheels4Water, an effort to use bicycling as a means to raise funds for safe drinking water.

“By partnering with a few good friends who run a video production studio, coupled with our own design and strategy expertise, we were able to elevate and magnify the message across a range of media,” Ahrens says. “Branding, web presence, social media, film, apparel and other tools were all used to bring the Wheels4Water story to life, leading to amazing results. It’s been an exercise in building a campaign from the ground up, using all the skills, talents and passions our team possesses.”


Bringing the Campaign to Life
For the first Wheels4Water campaign in 2014, participants rode bicycles from Boston to Chicago. The second year, 2015, they rode 450 miles down the California coast. This year, one team has ridden through Illinois and a second through Arizona. A third, Team Anywhere, allows for anyone across the world to hop on a bicycle to join the cause. Wheels4Water is inviting people to join them on preset rides at various distances so more can be a part of the cause, Ahrens says.

This year, the Wheels4Water team created promotional pieces for the rides, an updated logo, a redesigned website, as well as shareable social media assets. They also rolled out new merchandise featuring a 2016 jersey design and poster.

Each year the look of the campaign undergoes minor tweaks, such as changes to the color scheme and logo. “We’re just trying to give it a little bit of freshness every year,” Ahrens says.


This year’s design concept was inspired by two things. First, they wanted to help 1,000 Ugandans. Second, they were inviting others to ride with them.

In the logo itself are three different stars to highlight the three different teams. The phrase Wheels4Water surrounds an image of a bike. The year—2016 – and the place they want to help—Uganda—also are a part of the logo.

The initial poster for this year’s ride featured a bike in the forefront of an image of the African continent. The bike is made up of 1,000 water droplets to represent all of the people the effort is trying to serve.

For the color scheme, “we wanted to have two different colors of blue and then a highlight color, which we ended up picking to be sort of a goldish-yellow that we could use on the materials to help it stand out,” Ahrens explains.


Incorporating the Old and the New
One of the most challenging aspects of the project has been coming up with a fresh perspective each year while paying homage to what had already been created before.

One way they did so was by incorporating designs from previous years into the current year’s design. For example, this year’s jersey features the 2016 logo on the front, but it also features the logos from the first two years on each shoulder to show continuity.

The website also merges elements from multiple years. When you click on a link for 2014, you’re taken to the logo and color scheme from that particular ride. Likewise, when you click on the link to 2015, you get a taste of that year’s branding.


Meanwhile, they use video to show ride participants and donors how they are making a difference. “If you’re supporting us, we want to share with you where we’re at every step of the way,” says Ahrens. “We use social media and video to bring you into the story.”

Evidently they’ve done a great job promoting their cause, as over the three years of Wheels4Water’s existence, the effort has raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

“This is just an example of how design and design thinking can help do great things,” Ahrens declares. “It’s the kind of thing that helps you look at your work in a totally different way – it’s really inspiring.”






Author: Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a freelance writer and editor who has written extensively about business, careers and success for such publications as Working Mother, Real Simple, and AARP Bulletin.

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