Stories of design across all media


Selling Union City to the World

Every city has an identity. A personality. Nashville fiddles away as “Music City, USA.” Los Angeles is known for glitz, glam and rubbing elbows with Hollywood’s stars. And Union City, Calif., is making a name for itself as an innovative and diverse hub of community and business, while boasting the camaraderie of a small town. Near Silicon Valley, it’s an attractive option for businesses looking to start up or relocate to a diverse community that promotes unity and tolerance for all. To get that important message out there, city officials turned to San Jose’s Zooka Creative to lead the charge.


At the Heart of the City
Zooka Creative began by getting to know the city itself. The best way to learn about this dynamic community was to hear from those who knew it best.

“We worked with the city to engage with the business community, the faith community, residents and schools, and got a whole bunch of feedback on what they were proud of and who they were,” says Chief Executive Officer Steve Decker.

Through their research, Zooka and the City Manager’s office explored:

  • The audience: Who would the cross-media branding campaign be talking to?
  • Brand values: What are the core values of the city?
  • What makes Union City different: Why choose Union City versus someplace else?


With that information in hand, the Zooka team defined what they call a brand promise. “Your brand promise includes the value that you’re going to provide to the audience you’re trying to serve, and why you’re different,” Decker explains. “Once you have that clearly mapped out and everybody says, ‘Yes, this is a description of who we are,’ then – and ONLY then – can you go about the process of designing logos and visuals that do the best job of expressing that personality.

“I hear about so many identity projects where designers jump right in and start making logos. Those projects can easily end up in a vortex of evil because neither the designer nor the client has a clear idea of what they want. Those projects can cycle through countless revisions with the client not liking what they see and the designer not understanding what the client truly wants. A clear brand promise provides a clear goal for what you are trying to visually communicate.”


The Path to the Perfect Logo
Crafting the right logo was a critical part of creating the new identity system. After all, it would appear on everything from letterheads to way-finding signage to the sides of a city bus.

A prospective business would see the logo on handouts with business license information or business attraction materials. A resident would see it on the city’s popular activity guide sent to every household promoting recreation programs for kids.

“We desired to implement a new identity system we felt would transform the way that we are able to market city services to our residents, while simultaneously attracting tourism and business from outside of the city,” says Chase Campbell, web manager for Union City.


They drafted a number of logo options and circulated them to city stakeholders. They even identified keywords that the logo should be able to represent: innovative, diverse, small town, unified and connectivity.

In this evaluation phase, Decker’s process was critical, he says. “When deciding on a logo, don’t ask people what they like. That information isn’t actionable and isn’t even always relevant. Instead, ask which design best reflects the brand promise.”

The city ultimately selected a logo with a modern look and feel that consists of the words “Union City,” along with woven bands of bold color overlapping one another to create the shape of the letter “U.” The portion of the logo without color created a white “U” and was meant to show the connectivity of Union City’s key components and its connection to Silicon Valley. Overall, the logo symbolizes the city’s innovation and diverse culture. Tag lines such as “Where Innovation Grows” shed even more light on the city’s strengths.


“The keywords and brand promise helped drive the design thinking behind the chosen logo. The multi-faceted approach hints at innovation and the ability to see things through multiple angles. The mixture of colors represents the diversity of the city. The natural colors showcase Union City’s great outdoor accessibility and small-town feel.­ And the shape of the ‘U’ unifies all these aspects, connecting it in a way that was never seen before,” says Sean Lopez, one of Zooka Creative’s art directors working on the project.

Because the logo would be used on everything from letterheads to signage, Zooka Creative had to come up with all the different permutations of how it might look under different circumstances. For example, how would it look in black and white vs. gray scale vs. full color? How would it look online vs. a printed brochure vs. a one-color vehicle graphic or on newsprint?

By focusing on those details, they were able to create a logo and identity that could be adapted to virtually any aspect of Union City life. “When you talk about cross-media,” says Decker, “I can’t think of a better example of trying to do something and execute it across every conceivable possible medium we might encounter.”










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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