Branding by Design: From Nations to Neighbourhoods

Nations, much like corporations and organizations, rely on branding to project a particular image of themselves to others. The design of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games Emblem serves as a case study of the visual branding design process. How a nation sees itself may be completely different from the image it projects internationally. How can one logo capture an entire nation?



The pilot activity was executed in a Grade 9 Integrated Technologies program.

This learning object also links to the following curriculum, its related themes and outcomes:

• Grade 12 World History: The West and the World

• Grade 12 Canada: History, Identity and Culture

• Grade 12 Analysing Current Economic Issues



This activity can take place over 2 to 3 periods. Use the case study to introduce the subject of branding, graphic design and identity at the national and local level. The activity is appropriate for individual and group work, and for in-class work or homework. Students may want to leave the class to create their local or neighbourhood map or identify local green businesses on-line or from home.



Similar to problem-based learning, design thinking and the creative problem-solving process of designers are adaptable to many subject areas. They can be applied either as a means of enquiry, for example as a teaching and learning strategy, or as the subject of inquiry, such as designing a brochure or temporary shelter. In either case, students employ creative, critical, and reflective thinking; they engage in research on the particular subject matter, and they analyse and propose responses while working collaboratively in groups. The real-life problems are human-centred and have social, cultural, and economic implications which, in turn, connect students with their communities. Because design thinking and the design problem-solving methodology result in multiple solutions, there is no one right answer to any given problem. Evaluation is based on depth of inquiry, insight and critical analysis, and the breadth of creative and innovative responses. The learning process is self-directed and teachers act as facilitators and guides. In this project students practice design as the subject of investigation by designing international symbols or icons. Through interactive class discussions and internet research, students are introduced to the concept of semiotics or the language and meaning attributed to images. Brand identity is most commonly associated with corporations, but nations, cultures and organizations also rely on identifiable images to raise awareness and attach value and meaning to a product, service or entity. Students begin the project by exploring the identity of various countries and the meanings attributed to the images. Then they advance to a critical analysis and discussion of corporate identities, some of which they identify with personally. The project culminates with the creation of a number of icons representing environmentally friendly businesses (i.e. pesticide-free lawn care), activities (cycling routes, nature walks), or practices (solar energy, green roofs).



This project is divided into three sections:

1. National Identity: Evaluate the definition of national identity and how it is expressed by governments and individuals. To do this, assess Canadian identity and how it might be perceived internationally. Then, compare branding strategies by different countries.

Consider these questions:

  • What might the Canadian flag represent to people from other nations?
  • What values does the Canadian beaver represent? Why is it a national emblem?
  • What other images represent the Canadian identity? What do they tell us about Canadian culture?


2. Research and identify logos or marks of your favourite retail or commercial brands and then discuss the social implications of compelling brand marketing programs.

Consider these questions for a class discussion:

  • What do these brands or logos mean to you?
  • How would you describe the consumer group/s targeted by these companies in their advertising?
  • Who is excluded as a result (i.e. cultural or socio-economic groups)?
  • What does this say about our consumer culture and our economy?


3. Using the green map concept ( explore your neighbourhood and create icons for a green map of your community. For example, research green businesses, green buildings, and services offering organic or environmentally safe products. Design a variety of icons to represent these services or locations. Assemble your research findings and final icons in a presentation to your classmates. Develop some questions of your own that emerge from your inquiry.



The following words, spoken by the Honourable Maurice Bourget, Speaker of the Senate of Canada, added symbolic meaning to our flag: "The flag is the symbol of the nation's unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion."

Canadian Heritage: Ceremonial and Canadian Symbols Promotion

Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The beaver, another symbol of Canada is used on the Roots Canada logo.


Story of the development of the Nike logo:


Symbols and icons communicate meaning without the use of words or letterforms.

Selection of icons for universal understanding:

AIGA: Navigating Today's Signs: An Interview with Mies Hora

AIGA: Designers at Work Source:



The pilot activity was executed in a Grade 9 Integrated Technologies program. Distributing the assignments and class discussions over the three days of the unit helped to keep the students focused on the particular task. The teacher directed students to find travel-related websites of individual countries for illustrations of national identity. This worked well and engaged the students. Mini group presentations followed this in-class activity. The concept of branding was discussed in the second class period and the students gave their preferences for brands from fashion products to large corporations. They discussed the social values implied in these brands and how they are manipulated by brand marketing. Students were introduced to the concept of eco-friendly or green products and design icons for green products and services.

AIGA: What in the world is graphic design?

AIGA: Designers at Work

AIGA: Symbol Signs

AIGA: Design Archives

Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (RGD)

British Through and Through: Icons, Symbols and Institutions

Canadian Heritage: Ceremonial and Canadian Symbols Promotion

Design of Signage Systems: Notes, Theory, Process, Case Studies, Examples

Green Maps System

Navigating Today’s Signs: An Interview with Mies Hora. Steven Heller, December 6, 2005. getfullarticle&aid =%24%2E%3EG%2B%5F%40%20%20%0A

Peters, Robert L. "Identity Matters". November 14, 2005.

The Credibility Gap – Part 1”. Applied Arts Vol 19, No 5 (October 2004). British Design Innovation News.

International Commission on Technology and Accessibility

Logo Lounge

Nikebiz: About Nike: Heritage: Origin of the Swoosh

Roots Canada

Royal Canadian Mounted Police



Marketing: An Introduction

Kotler, Philip, Gary Armstrong and Peggy H. Cunningham. Principles of marketing. 6th Canadian ed. Toronto, ON: Pearson Education Canada, 2005.

Sommers, Montrose S. Marketing. 10th [Canadian] ed. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 2004.

Welcome to Nike?town! Marketing and Identity in a Globalized World

Kotler, Philip. Marketing Places: attracting investment, industry and tourism to cities, states, and nations. Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada, 1993.

Lury, Celia. Brands: the logos of the global economy. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Mooij, Marieke K. Consumer behavior and culture: consequences for global marketing and advertising. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2004.

Myers, Fred R. Painting culture: the making of an aboriginal high art. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002.

Quart, Alissa. Branded: the buying and selling of teenagers. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishers, 2003.

Silk, Michael L., David L. Andrews and C.L. Cole, Eds. Sport and corporate nationalisms. New York, NY: Berg, 2005.

Twitchell, James B. Branded nation: the marketing of megachurch, college inc., and museumworld. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.




Adams, Sean. Logo Design Workbook: A Hands-on Guide to Creating Logos. Gloucester, MA: Rockport, 2006.

Business skills for creative souls: the Montreal artists' handbook. Youth Employment Services (Montréal, Québec). Montréal: YES Montréal, 2004.

Carter, David E. Little Book of Logo Recipes: Successful Designs and How To Create Them. Harper Design International, 2004.

Peters, Robert L. Worldwide Identity: Inspired Design from Forty Countries. Rockport Publishers, Inc.



Owen-Jackson, G. (2002). Teaching design and technology in secondary schools. A reader. London: Routledge/Falmer.

Owen-Jackson, G. (2002). Aspects of teaching secondary design and technology. Perspectives on practice. London: Routledge/Falmer.

Heather Whitton
Patrick Kusmider, Grade 9 Integrated Technologies Class at Northern Secondary School

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