Balancing empathy and impact: how co-design helped guide the National Centre rebrand

Trigger warning: This article contains discussions about child sexual abuse. For support, contact the National Office for Child Safety.

The National Centre for Action on Child Sexual Abuse was established in 2021 on the recommendation of the 2017 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It’s a heavy cause, but an important one, and something that for many probably seem worlds away from the concept of brand identity.

But, when the stakes involved risk failing to engage the public in a such an important issue, or mishandling its sensitivities, the creation of the right brand identity is something of a crucial necessity.

“It was critical to strike the right balance between empathy and expertise,” National Centre CEO Leanne Beagly tells Mumbrella.

“Getting this wrong would only have devastating impacts. A future where nothing changes, and the pain and suffering of victims and survivors is prolonged unnecessarily,” she says.

In February this year the organisation started on a five-month long process with Melbourne branding studio, Storyfolk, to develop a brand that could resonate with victims, survivors and diverse stakeholders.

The task was intricate, “demanding careful consideration, frequent evaluations, and a keen sense of alignment” says the agency’s partner and design director, Cass Mackenzie. Whatever the National Centre brand would look like, it would be critical that it did not risk retraumatising victims and survivors, nor diminishing their trust in the organisation’s ability to advocate on their behalf.

This, she explains, is where co-design became foundational to the branding process.

Defined as a participatory approach to designing solutions, co-design is a process that is undertaken by agencies and organisations when the outcomes of their work directly impacts a minority group.

For Storyfolk, this involved several weeks of workshops and conversations with victims and survivors, as well as National Centre experts, industry professionals and government representatives.

“These conversations became the core of the work, allowing us to craft a brand that could truly resonate with all stakeholders, paving the way for genuine collaboration, empathy, and hope in the face of an issue as sensitive and crucial as child sexual abuse,” says Mackenzie.

Agency partner and creative director, Sarah Gross, asserts that this was more than just a box ticking exercise, with the primary objective being to ensure these stakeholders “felt genuinely seen, heard and validated every step of the way”.

The process is not dissimilar from the approach taken by Guide Dogs Australia and Keep Left in recent campaign, ‘For A Boundless World’. As Keep Left ECD, Blair Kimber, told Mumbrella on Monday, the input Guide Dogs clients was invaluable in creating campaign materials that understood their needs for accessibility.

For Storyfolk, from discussions with victims and survivors emerged a directive to bring “Stories to the Forefront”, recognising the failure of the statistics used by the media to capture the complexity of child sexual abuse and its lasting impact throughout a person’s life.

This concept is illustrated in the thumbprint imagery created by Storyfolk, which combines visual design and typography to tell the different stories of victims and survivors. Its many iterations have since become a core element of the National Centre’s visual brand identity and marketing collateral.

The outcome, says Mackenzie, is that the rebrand was able to achieve an intricate balance between “protection, understanding and thoughtful communication.”

And for the industry as a whole, Gross stresses the impacts of co-design on nuanced communication briefs.

“Co-design is a commitment goes beyond being a buzzword or passing trend; it represents a conscious shift towards a new and more inclusive way of operating.”



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