Back when I was a youngster, a few weeks of gym class every year were dedicated to the President’s Challenge. You’d try your hand at a variety of physical tests—mile run, shuttle run, sit-ups, pull-ups, and some dumb thing called the v-sit—and your performance would determine how valuable a member of society the president thought you were, or something like that. It always seemed very important, and the prize awarded to the best young athletes—a swanky blue patch bearing the Seal of the President—only added to the gravitas. The patch was a serious thing, befitting the office that bestowed it. And if you couldn’t v-sit far enough, you didn’t get a patch.
Times have changed. For one thing, we don’t like to be quite so obviously exclusionary in our elementary schools. For another, with kids more sedentary than ever and obesity on the rise, physical fitness has become an even greater social imperative. Which means thinking about how to motivate every kid in class—not just the ones who can already run a sub-seven-minute mile. In part, that’s what Michelle Obama has been trying to do with her Let’s Move campaign. And for the project’s latest initiative, a collaboration with Nike called Let’s Move Active Schools, Wolff Olins was tapped to come up with a brand to get all kids moving—something accessible and patriotic and inclusive, and ideally, a little more fun than a patch with an eagle on it.
While the designers at Wolff Olins sought to create a visual identity that would appeal more universally to 8- to 12-year-olds, that didn’t mean going full-on Teletubby. "Kids are underrated when it comes to visual tastes," says Todd Simmons, executive creative director at Wolff Olins. "We had to redefine what is cool to a kid in a way that isn’t pandering or too obvious but [still] gets them excited."
The team settled on a mark comprised of vibrant blue and red symbols. Starting with the visual reference point of the stars in the upper left corner of the American flag, Simmons and his designers swapped in arrows, circles, diamonds, and other shapes, creating something that looks as though it’s in motion, even though it’s a static image. It’s fun and bold—the same type of graphic work that most other companies would be happy to have these days. And that wasn’t by chance, either, says Simmons. "It was important to make the Let’s Move Active Schools brand appealing for the communities that make this movement come alive: adults, legislators, school administrators, and parents, to name a few."
But with such a wide range of potential applications, a single mark could be limiting. So the team focused on a design that could be mixed and matched by institutions to fit their needs. "We were very much thinking about something that can be taken apart but still remains iconic," Simmons says. Essentially, the brand is a visual tool kit for schools and their students to use for their own unique needs. "We wanted to have elements that they can easily play and express themselves with, reflecting where they’re from, [and] what their school is about. …This is a brand that’s less about labeling and more about empowering."