Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, an NGO based in New Delhi, India, works for environmental justice in partnership with people and groups from diverse sections of society. Their focus is on ensuring equitable and sustainable production and consumption of materials, and improved disposal of waste, an important part of which is ensuring green jobs, security and dignity for the urban poor, many of whom earn a living as waste recyclers.

The need to have a visual identity was felt just a few years after Chintan was established. Initially, all their communication pieces looked different from each other and the only visual asset they had was a logo based on the concept of a postage stamp.

Above: An example of how the Chintan logo was used before a logo unit was created

Basis the creative brief received, a visual identity was developed for Chintan which made use of the existing logo (since the logo was fairly new then, it was decided not to change it). In due-course, the logo was strengthened in terms of balance and information, name of the organisation was added to it to form a unit which then started to be used as consistently as possible across all communication material.

Above: Improved Chintan logo unit

Youthful, intelligent, friendly and approachable were some key words that came up during initial discussions with Chintan and in the creative brief, that’s how the organisation saw or perceived itself and the designer’s main task was to bring these qualities out through the identity. Chintan’s target audience was vast and varied: from general public to funding agencies, policymakers and government authorities to waste pickers. However, a majority of communication material produced was informative or educational in nature, targeted at the educated class and policymakers.

Above: A certificate design for Chintan using the soft waste bin shape and Washout Thin display font

Out of the two visual identity concepts presented, the one that was approved was based on the simple idea and form of a waste bin, since a waste bin symbolises waste management and then a whole lot of other aspects: waste collection, livelihoods associated with waste collection, consumption, etc. The hard and symmetrical shape of a waste bin was simplified into a soft, friendly and flexible, almost animated shape and used together with a soft and friendly-looking (free) display typeface Washout Thin. Chintan’s simple identity was largely based on just these two aspects!

Above: Cover (L) and an inside page (R) from a Chintan brochure on livelihoods

The waste bin shape was flexibly adopted in layouts and together with the display font (Washout Thin), colours and images, helped to bring out a soft and friendly look. Text in communication pieces was always serious and full of information or research findings or facts and figures relevant to the topic. For body copy, a variety of sans-serif typefaces were used depending on the assignment at hand and amount of text.

Above: Spread from a Chintan fact sheet on electronic waste

A hard and fast grid structure was not followed while designing publications for Chintan. Every time, there was an effort to economise and minimise paper quantity and cost and therefore for almost every assignment, a unique or a suitable paper size (in consultation with a printing consultant) was chosen and the layout done accordingly. Often, communication material was printed in just one or two colour to economise on cost and use of printing inks. For an organisation stressing on reducing the use of resources, this was very important! In many cases, publications were designed with rigid column / grid structures and the soft waste bin shapes used along with formal text placement to add interest, layers and strong elements of identity to layouts.

Above: A spread from the manual Carving Opportunities about children waste pickers, which was printed in offset using two colours

One of the most interesting aspects of Chintan’s visual identity was the use of colour. Colour was used with complete flexibility, often designs were printed in one or two colour offset or even screen printed in two colours and a fresh palette was chosen for every almost every new assignment and colours used ‘appropriately’. A multitude of colours brought about visual variety and vibrance in the volume of communication material that Chintan produced over a period of time, moreover, printed materials were also easy to locate or identify.

Above: Chintan fact sheets with each using a different colour palette

Another interesting aspect of Chintan’s visual identity was the use of photographs. There were very few photographic assets available for use initially and using stock imagery or even getting a shoot done was not an option in most cases specially as most photographs could not be staged, all photographs had to show stark reality, if one can put it that way. Photographs kept trickling in slowly, some shot by Chintan staff, some taken by volunteers, some from events and workshops.

Above: Chintan brochure layouts showing the use of available photographs

The technical and aesthetic quality of many available photographs was far from ideal, some were even unusable by publishing standards, yet they were used. It’s not a perfect world we live in and most importantly, we make do with what we have were two important messages given through photographs used on Chintan communication material. In several cases, the photographs did not print well but the printed material was still used, resources were not wasted. However, many of the photographs had strong storytelling potential and were therefore used honestly!

Above: A far-from-ideal photograph used on the cover of Chintan ‘Scrap Crash’ study

Overall, Chintan’s visual identity had a strong personal touch considering how flexibly it was adopted to meet different requirements. The look, by design (pun intended) was deliberately non-corporate and non NGO-ish (apologies for using this term); it appeared informal, much like the informal sector on which the organisation focussed. Unlike many visual identities, in this case very few rules were applied to ‘hold’ it together.

Above: 13×19 inch poster design for Chintan’s e-waste collection drives

Over the years, Chintan as an organisation has grown substantially in terms of people, expertise and focus areas, it has also bagged several prestigious international awards for its programmes focussing on upliftment of the marginalised and the larger issues of sustainable development and environmental justice. In Chintan’s journey, the identity has perhaps played a small and supportive role.