Bringing a Brand to Light: Four Must-Haves to Successfully Shift from Idea to Marketable Business

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Lauren Dandridge Gaines and Nick Albert—two lighting design experts with backgrounds that merge theatrical, interior design and architectural perspectives—were motivated by their mutual passion to join forces and co-found a new kind of lighting design practice focused on equity and inclusion. This vision and purpose were clear from the start. Together, Lauren and Nick could make a positive impact on the industry and the communities they serve. By making high-quality, thoughtfully designed light more accessible, they could shape the experiences people have in public and private spaces. But they needed a strategy to move from ideas to implementation. They needed a brand: a voice, a visual identity, and a vehicle for communicating their vision and purpose in a way that could be easily understood by others.

Nick Albert and Greg Nelson, the founding principal behind Altitude Design Office, had crossed paths earlier in their careers when both had been involved in bringing Hotel Indigo DTLA to life. Greg and his team had been involved in the names and visual identities, experiential graphics, and architectural signage for multiple spaces throughout the hotel, while Nick had led the property’s lighting design. They’d each taken note of the like-minded ways in which the other worked and occasionally stayed in touch. When the two reconnected over lunch years later, Nick acknowledged his plans to launch a new lighting design company with Lauren Dandridge Gaines, and Greg—having launched Altitude in 2015 after years of working in-house at large design firms—offered his perspective.

Back-of-the-napkin ideas and friendly advice soon turned into a formal engagement and visioning session hosted between Nick and Lauren and Greg, who was joined by Altitude’s studio director and strategist, Kate Tews. Keen listeners, Greg and Kate heard Lauren’s and Nick’s stories, witnessed their personalities and values, and understood their mission and goals. A thorough review of the lighting industry’s competitive landscape, paired with a deep analysis of what Greg and Kate heard Nick and Lauren articulate during that dynamic visioning session, ultimately led the Altitude team to recommend a brand strategy: a name, a visual identity, and a brand narrative and voice that would inform the new firm’s launch, including a website, social media, and print collateral. Chromatic was born, ready to “give light to the human experience.”

Weeks of refinement went into the development of the new brand, and yet to the leaders of both Chromatic and Altitude, this collaboration felt easy and natural, not only because Nick and Lauren had such a clear vision for the kind of business they want to lead, but also because Altitude shares similar values. Both firms are motivated to inspire progress for individuals, organizations and communities by designing with a purpose. Altitude heard Chromatic’s story and immediately understood it—felt a personal alignment with it—and knew how to transform the ideas into designs.

Bringing a brand to life is a complex process, but four core principles helped Altitude and Chromatic and can help other leaders turn ideas into marketable businesses, too.

  1. Be true to yourself. Know what you’re passionate about—what inspires you daily and motivates your work, and don’t be shy about speaking that truth. By leading with passion, you’ll inspire like-minded people with similar missions, goals and passions to join you in making an impact. Chromatic’s leaders share an unwavering commitment to equity and inclusion, and when they didn’t see enough of either in the lighting design industry, they made the bold decision to create it themselves. This is the kind of passion that people—clients, customers and collaborators—notice and are drawn to.

  2. Be respectful of others. Appreciate the power of positive relationships. The way you do business and (more importantly) the way you treat people as you do business makes a lasting impression on others and impacts whether (or not) people seek you out to do business together again. Nick and Greg first collaborated years before they had the opportunity to work together in bringing Chromatic to life, but because they’d each noticed the other’s positive and respectful ways of working, collaborating again came naturally and led to a partnership that was fruitful for both parties.

  3. Seek diverse perspectives. Create a welcoming, inclusive culture that invites participation. By definition, diversity breeds more innovation, less sameness. A common set of goals builds a solid foundation, but the ideas, strategies and solutions that grow from that foundation can take many interesting forms when they’re fueled by diverse experiences and perspectives. Altitude’s team members have diverse backgrounds in architecture, interior design graphic design, fine arts, strategy, real estate and business, and serve numerous client industries from healthcare to residential to sports. The firm is also certified as a LGBT-owned business enterprise in order to demonstrate its advocacy for the advancement of the LGBT community. Chromatic similarly prizes different perspectives and aims to expand opportunities for people and communities often found on the periphery.

  4. Leverage design to bring your brand to life. A written plan often seems like a suitable way to launch a new business, but a designer’s perspective helps your audience see, hear and feel your mission, values and goals and engage at a deeper level. Taking the time to develop a brand story provides foundational language for your firm and its offerings, solidifying your positioning strategy and marketing potential. This story also informs your brand’s visual identity—the logo, font and colors that are often used for years to help your firm gain client and industry recognition.

Chromatic’s logo is based on the Gilbert font, which was created to honor gay rights activist Gilbert Baker, designer of the iconic rainbow flag that now serves as a worldwide symbol of pride. A multicolored typeface, Gilbert was designed to express diversity and inclusion. Altitude’s color customization and gradient on Chromatic’s behalf still present a spectrum of color, while also calling to mind light gels, referencing Chromatic’s professional services as well as its transparent social justice mission.

In the days following Chromatic’s summer 2021 launch, Nick Albert reflected on the path they’d followed, and recognized that “the key to others’ understanding lies in how clearly and directly you can communicate your vision. Greg Nelson, Kate Tews and the team were able to take our vision and purpose and distill them into a clear, thoughtful and beautiful brand design that gets right to the core of who we are as a company. We always were Chromatic, we just needed Altitude Design Office to help us realize it.”