Building an Artful Brand (and Website) from the Ground Up

Building an Artful Brand (and Website) from the Ground Up

Launch date
April 6, 2020
Strategy || Brand Identity || Website Design || UX Design || Messaging || Copywriting

The Mission

The opportunities that young people can find in Milwaukee’s thriving arts community, particularly in orchestra or theater, are some of the best in the nation. But sadly, this level of opportunity for artistic youth was not matched in the choral & vocal arts—until recently. Parents yearning for a proficient and exceptional chorus to stand alongside Milwaukee’s legacy institutions have found their new home: the Cream City Youth Chorale, coming Fall 2020.

The parents named Lynn Swanson, an internationally-recognized expert in developing young voices and young artful minds, as the organization's Executive Artistic Director. Under Lynn's guidance, CCYC was looking to make a statement of intent right away. My mission was to help them announce themselves to the community, communicate their vision for the future, generate interest in their brand, and drive registrations for their inaugural season.

At the end of the year, the organization’s success would be largely decided by the foundations we lay right now for their brand.

The Project

In collaboration with their founder, I designed the Cream City Youth Chorale’s brand identity from the ground up, capturing the organization’s passion and vision in a new visual identity and strategic messaging guidelines. I then built them an engaging, vibrant website to inform and excite their audience while drastically improving the effectiveness of their registration process.

The Impact

Since the website launched, new sign-ups have poured in at a faster rate, users have begun subscribing to their email list at a higher rate than ever, and they’ve more than doubled the amount of financial supporters to the organization. It’s clear to everyone that, despite being founded just a few months ago, CCYC is here to stay.

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A Bold New Undertaking


I founded Cream City Youth Chorale to be a sustainable, healthy organization that upholds a higher standard for the choral arts in our city. Inspired by the young artists of Milwaukee, we want to give our children opportunities to fully develop as artists and singers.”

Lynn Swanson is practically a global celebrity in the space of Youth Singing. Not only is Lynn a master at building choral programs and developing exceptional singers, but she’s conducted extensive academic research on the “changing voice” of children aged 10-14––both domestically at the University of Kansas and abroad with the British Schools Foundation. I won’t go much deeper into her resume but it’s safe to assume that if Lynn is directing your program, you deserve to be taken very seriously.

But as we all know, our 4th grade teachers were wrong: people do judge books by their cover. And Lynn was on a very tight deadline to get CCYC’s bookcover made before the book’s publishing date came.

Thanks to an uncommon dedication to supporting the arts and the presence of iconic youth-oriented organizations like the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra and First Stage Theater Arts, Milwaukee is a fantastic place for a young artist to come of age. Because of the great artistic opportunities available around their city, Milwaukee parents have incredibly high expectations for the organizations they choose to support.

Our challenge was to develop a cohesive Brand Strategy for Lynn’s fledgling organization and help them stake their position among the arts community’s legacy institutions with a state-of-the-art Website.

Oh yeah, and we needed to complete the entire process within 14 days so CCYC could begin registering singers for their upcoming kick-off festival (10 weeks out) as soon as possible. Every passing day was crucial to the success of the festival and, as a continuation, their inaugural season.

Building a Brand


My understanding of what my brand is and what it means to “position” yourself has completely changed. I had no idea so much thought and research went into formulating a strong brand. Now I have a deep understanding about why the brand identity process is so critical to being able to accomplish one's mission.”

Due to our project’s 14 day schedule we needed to substantially condense a process that would typically take anywhere from 4-8 weeks. We were on a tight deadline, and difficult decisions had to be made. But it was doable, mostly because of Lynn. Her commitment to being available around the clock, the access she granted me, and the trust she placed in my process and judgment were the only reasons that it was even feasible in such a narrow window.

On the day of project kick-off we spent hours asking questions, probing for information, and exploring the vision she had for the organization. We went over her desire to create an inclusive, healthy, positive experience for these young singers. Her dedication to helping these young people not just achieve great things, but to elevate their own expectations for themselves and for their peers. She told me about how what they do is about more than just creating great singers, it’s about growing a generation of more confident, mature, and capable people.

As I reviewed and analyzed the recording of our 2.5 hour-long Discovery Session afterwards, there were a group of 10-15 core emotional descriptors that came up continuously throughout the conversation. I carefully collected these into a separate place away from my general notes.

Typically, there’s no better place to learn about a brand than by looking at how their audience talks about them online when they think no one is listening. But here we encountered the first major obstacle in our project. The CCYC was a new organization–so new, in fact, that they didn’t have a pre-existing user base of their own to conduct research on. So I decided to focus my research on the audiences of their past groups and of their competitors. By the end, the list had grown to include more than 30 core emotional descriptors.

With the aid of my trusty whiteboard and thesaurus, I spun these core emotional descriptors out into a web of more than 100, before categorizing them and beginning to cut, one by one. Eventually, I came down to the 6 descriptors that perfectly encapsulated the emotional components of Lynn’s vision for CCYC.

  • Profound
  • Experience
  • Unforgettable
  • Transformative
  • Growth
  • Proud

As I began to zero-in on the core of what truly defines this brand with CCYC’s leadership, a central concept began to materialize in our minds: the idea of a spark.

A Spark


I had no idea how much thought and creativity goes into building a website (and brand) from scratch. The design process was thorough and meticulously detailed, and Carter’s project organization exceeded all my expectations.”

Why did we settle on the “Spark” as a perfect representation of the Cream City Youth Chorale’s young brand?

Well, for a few reasons. It’s memorable and distinctive. It is easily extendible across mediums, both digital and non-digital. It’s highly visual. It’s deep, or works on many levels. But most importantly, it is true. Allow me to elaborate.

Above all else, CCYC stands for opportunity. A new path forward. A brighter future.

Their work ignites something deep inside everyone who comes into contact with it.

Within the young people who will participate in their programs, CCYC ignites a blaze of confidence and pride in their ability to create something meaningful. Under CCYC’s tutelage, the spark of curiosity already present within the participants grows into a bonfire of elevated expectations, both for themselves and for their peers. The experiences that come through CCYC transform the participants’ lives and kindle an enduring flame of self-worth that lasts a lifetime.

The parents of CCYC participants feel this warmth merely by interacting with their children. The parents see the light behind their children’s eyes as they rise to meet new challenges, discover their ability to surpass the highest of standards, and embrace the kind of accountability that scares some people who are 10 years their elder. What their children are learning, both about themselves and about others, sets alight a confidence in parents about their children’s future regardless of which path they eventually take.

Cream City Youth Chorale is young. It is new. It is possibility. It is potential. It is opportunity. It is the match that lights the fire. It is a Spark. Just like the youth who participate in it.

Once we decided to run with the Spark symbolism, the rest of the project followed swiftly. In a live session, we settled on a Stylescape for the brand, including color palette, brand fonts, and a central flame icon. We also firmly cemented the priorities, both direct and indirect, for the website.

I then began to build.

As always, I started by developing the architecture of the website through a Site Map. Then I began wireframing the different pages of the site according to our objectives for each individual page. My goal was to make each page distinctive, so as to hold attention, while also creating a visual consistency across the website that would provide a cohesive user experience. More broadly, my goal was to make the site interesting, easy to navigate, and memorable, in that order.

After a quick round of review with the client, I began to build the website itself. Using my preferred tool Webflow, I was able to create the initial draft of the site within a few days. As is the case with every website I build, it was not just mobile-friendly but fully-responsive. This means the site looks and functions great on every size of screen, including large monitors, desktops, tablets, and mobile devices (both portrait and landscape view).

From there, it was all about collaborating with the client through phases of iterative improvement for the design and copy.

After wrapping up the front-end of the website, I had to make sure everything was tight on the back-end. I integrated their new website’s forms with MailChimp and set up their automated tags within MailChimp to automatically segment their audience based on interest. I hooked up their newly acquired domains to the website and set-up forwarding from the old URL.

Finally, I began my standard testing protocols, meticulously testing every single page and every single button using the 3 main browsers on a device of every screen size. After ironing out the last couple bugs, I set-up a call with CCYC leadership.

We were done and dusted, exactly 14 days after kick-off. Check out the final results here—and compare them with my wireframes above for even more context!

Ignite, Inspire, Transform


I’m so proud of our new site and brand identity. It's the kind of website that people actually enjoy going to - fun to explore but easy to navigate. This process has been a game changer because so much relies on our ability to communicate with people online, especially with the circumstances imposed by COVID-19.”

Since the website launched, new sign-ups have poured in at a faster rate, users have begun subscribing to their email list at a higher rate than ever, and they’ve more than doubled the amount of financial supporters to the organization. It’s clear to everyone that, despite being founded just a few months ago, CCYC is here to stay.

Looking back and reflecting, my favorite outcomes from this project were threefold.

Firstly, I love how we found a flexible color palette that contained the cream color of Milwaukee’s “Cream City” visuals while also encapsulating the different hues of the spark.

Secondarily, I love how easily the site can be navigated through different channels and with different methods. Because of the way we structured the site, the main menu is merely supplemental (rather than essential) to navigation. It makes the website seem larger than it really is and empowers people to explore at their own pace and under their own direction.

Lastly, I love the Live Countdown to Season Kick-off area on the site. Using some simple code, I created this second-by-second countdown to the exact moment that CCYC’s first rehearsal will take place. It might not be the most impactful component of the whole, but it is something dynamic and interesting that builds tangible feelings of excitement in users. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about? Getting people excited about what you’re doing?

Below, I included some user feedback that CCYC received (mostly via their social media) the week after the new website's unveiling.

The new CCYC site looks amazing! I don’t know what you paid for it but you definitely got your money’s worth. It looks extremely pro. I just used my phone and it was perfect."

Lynn–the website looks incredible–very high tech and current. I love it."

Impressive website. Looking forward to seeing what is to come.”

“Amazing site! I can’t wait to watch them sing this fall.”

If you enjoyed reading about the design and strategy process of this project and would like to talk about how I can help take YOUR brand to the next level, feel free to reach out to me here.


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