A pioneer in humanities programming in Chicago, the Chicago Humanities Festival began as a humble dream shared by a group of local cultural leaders in 1989. They sought, unapologetically, to spread their love for the humanities. This led to the first Chicago Humanities Festival held a year later on November 11, 1990. Today, the festival has grown from a one-day event into seven separate sub-branded programs, reaching thousands of inquisitive Chicagoans and travelers each year.

After over 26 years of humbly and quietly building an exemplary brand, new leadership at Chicago Humanities Festival created a new vision of “Expanding Horizons”. Seeking to be more deliberate about their programs, audience and extraordinary impact, Chicago Humanities Festival reached out to Otherwise.

Since then, we have used a process of “emphatic inquiry,” providing an opportunity for earnest and relaxed expression and absorbing information through attentive listening, to understand – and ultimately illuminate – why the Chicago Humanities Festival matters. Throughout the past few years, we have immersed ourselves in brand-related work, including the strategic plan, internal thought documents, audience research and competitive analysis.




In this exploration, we discovered that patrons and affiliates of the Chicago Humanities Festival, share very little in terms of demographics – they come from all age groups, professions and walks of life. We found, instead, that audience members, speakers and staff share a similar mindset – of exploring new perspectives, using them to better understand the world around them, and to recalibrate their own ideas, assumptions and opinions. After this powerful insight, we began to use the term “cultural explorers” to define the audience of CHF. To connect meta-strategy with marketing strategy, we created a blueprint for all integrated marketing activities with a clear brand positioning statement: For cultural explorers, Chicago Humanities Festival creates rich connections and celebrates the social life of ideas by curating live events that enable audiences to see the world differently. This statement continues to guide and inform all copywriting, programming and development within CHF.




Capitalizing on the spirit of the cultural explorer and informed by the positioning statement, we introduced the vernacular of a “path” as a metaphor for discovery in the logo. A composition of five lines, varying in length, create a “path” that is open-ended, without specific destination. The identity then builds into subbrands that are represented by a system of paths – each with a uniquely designed “course” (also comprised of five lines) and color.



Also informed by the positioning statement, we developed a brand architecture that clearly organized all CHF programing. Under the masterbrand, Chicago Humanities Festival, each subbrand has a two-part, short and crisp name. Instead of using “Festival,” sub-brands use “Fest” as in FALLFEST and SPRINGFEST. We also introduced “CHFnow” as a sub-brand for singular events that take place throughout the year, to give them a level of visibility and importance that is consistent with larger groupings of events.

We then used this new visual identity to create diverse print material for the Chicago Humanities Festival. To promote the 2016 FallFest, we created advertisements, t-shirts, event badges, uniquely sized business cards for staff and a new program book format and design.