Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
What a fun project this was. Challenging, but fun. I'm a huge fan of the National Parks (as was everyone else on the team), and it was really wonderful to work on something we were so passionate about.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) is a mix of parks and preserves stretching over an enormous, ecologically diverse area just outside Los Angeles. It covers over 150,000 acres, with more than 500 miles of trails. Interestingly, a surprising number of Angelenos have no idea it's there. That's great for the people who visit the park regularly, but a key element of SMMNRA's charter is to actively serve everyone in its area. Some pretty large segments of the population, like the inner-city immigrant population, is particularly invisible. The park is also almost completely unknown to the near constant flood of tourists visiting Los Angeles.
To change this, SMMNRA engaged Designory to create a marketable identity... something recognizable that would help raise the parks profile, communicate its unique attributes and, of course, attract more visitors. We absolutely agreed, but also cautioned that achieving their goals would require a well-thought out marketing program, not just a snappy new identity. Fortunately, we were able to squeeze in a really productive round of strategic research looking at both "in park" issues, as well as obstacles to attracting a wider audience. Agreement all around, and we were off.
We began by identifying four possible design "territories". Each drew from something fundamental about the area: the Crasftsman movement, the Central American influence, Hollywood and Contemporary Pop culture. The Craftsman look is often associated with the parks, and rightly so, but we quickly decided it was not distinctive enough. Hollywood deco seemed out of place. We ultimately ended up combining the symbol/pattern sensibilities of Central American design with a more vibrant tropical palette and modern feel.
Any design system for an entity like this requires many components and variations. Not only is there signage to consider, but wayfinding, educational installations, clothing, collateral and even merchandising. SMMNRA also happens to span from the ocean to the mountain forests and is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife. Finally, there are the official palettes and graphical standards of the National Park System to take into account.
To accommodate all of these considerations, we came up with system based on a collection of pictographs representing major players in the park ecosystem. For the primary logotypes, these are clustered in three vibrant color "tiles". Outside the park, the system is used on white, and so has a lot of crisp SoCal energy. As one moves into the park, the palette begins to shift to more muted tones, and integrates the official NPS dark brown and khaki.
There were many stakeholders in this process, leading to more than a few tweaks along the way, but we all love the end result. The park is continuing to roll the new look out over time as signage needs replacing, though it was immediately applied to publications and merchandise. And I'm happy to report that a wide array of outreach programs have been developed to get the word out to a wider audience.
Lead designer: Candy Ho